Whether its Twitter or YouTube, Donald Trump’s bid to overturn what he sees as the media industry’s "monopoloy on news" will be fought on platforms that beam his views "directly to audiences," claimed his top aide Sebastian Gorka.
The president mounted a sustained attack on the media yesterday (16 February) in a fiery press conference that saw him rant at the BBC, CNN and other news outlets for what he believes is dishonest reporting. He pointed to coverage of his campaign’s alleged contacts to Moscow as well as those critics who claim his administration is in disarray following his decision to fire a top advisor.
Observers have branded the attack a “meltdown” and yet Trump’s broadside had purpose and was calculated; his prepared remarks labelled the gathered media “dishonest” purveyors of “very fake news”, part of a rudimentary attempt to rile up his supporters. Their reaction, particularly from the right-wing press, portrays the commander-in-chief as a kind of political circus ringmaster who has whipped the media, and in doing so delegitimized their efforts to supposedly undermine the achievements of his administration to date.
While Trump has also publicly rebuked both Amercica’s judges and intelligence agencies, going after the media seems happy hunting ground for the former real-estate billionaire, who blames the likes of the BBC and CNN for the swirl of negativity around his adminstration. So much so that he will continue to rely on his own direct channels to speak to his supporters, with one of his top aides claiming it would eventually break “monopoly” those organizations have on news.
“We will continue to do what we did so successfully [last year] and the thing which put the former Apprentice host in the White House, which is break your sense of monopoly on the news,” Sebastian Gorka, one of Trump’s top aides told the BBC yesterday.
Trump is no stranger to bypassing the media bubble, he went straight to YouTube to outline his post-election plans in November, and although he arguably has little incentive to go through traditional channels it's no secret that the press and Trump have helped raise one another's profile over the past 12 months.
“The mainstream media no longer gets to monopolise the news and we’re going to go straight to the audiences," continued Gorka.
"Whether its through Twitter or YouTube, it doesn’t matter; we’re not going to put with distortions and people who believe they have a monopoly on the truth simply because they have 60 years of a letterhead above them. It’s not going to happen; we are going to communicate with our audience domestic and international."
Gorka's somewhat astonishing exchange with Newsnight presenter Evan Davis, coupled with his assertions that the Trump administration will directly break news on social media comes as his reliance on Twitter is increasingly under the spotlight.
Trump uses Twitter for everything from defending his policies to complaining about big brands like Norstorm. During the social network's earnings update last week Twitter's chief financial officer Antony Noto implied the president's preference for the platform above other social networks was good for business.
While he conceded that Twitter's sluggish user growth hadn't benefited from a predicted 'Trump Bump,' the executive said that the leader's use Twitter had showcased the social network's "power."
Trump's reluctance to engage with the media and instead share his views via 140 characters and the tap of thumb is indicative of how the relationship between politicians and reporters is changing. In Trump's America, the media no longer get scoops, they're forced instead to amplify and analyse the President's status updates as readers flock straight to the source.
And while the media is on the defense, Trump's social media updates are also perturbing some of the world's biggest brands. His tweets have a real-world impact, and since the start of the year his Twitter complaints against the likes of General Motors and Lockhead Martin have temporarily wiped millions off of the firms' share prices.
Trump is thrusting Twitter into the public's consciousness every day, but what is good for Noto and co is far from ideal for those in the president's firing line. Trump's penchant for going "straight to the audience," is likely to have further repercussions for both the media and big brands in the coming months.
Trump's war against journalists has undoubtedly been good for the newspaper business. The New York Times posted record digital subscriber growth in the final three months of 2016, adding more paying readers in the final quarter of the year than it did in the whole of 2015.
Meanwhile, two thirds of global media chiefs have said the rise of fake news, which rose to prominence in the lead up to the presidential election, has provided an opportunity to help quality journalism stand out. Some 70% believe their position will be “strengthened” by audiences’ desire for trusted brands and accurate news at a time of uncertainty. Forbes recently voiced a similar opinion, with its chief revenue officer Mark Howard saying the fake news dilemma could be “just what brands needed in this distributed content world to rise to the top again”.
The flipside of the coin is that the media's coverage of Trump ultimately contributed to his election win. Two weeks out from the election Trump had spent $74m on advertising, about a third of that spend by his rival Clinton. Earned media in the form of countless TV appearances and column inches amounted to roughly the same as $5bn in free advertising according to MediaQuant. So although the press needs Trump to keep eyeballs on screens and noses on papers, Trump needs the media to continue making headlines out of his inflammatory tweets and sound bites.
President Obama may have been afforded the title of the first "digital" president, but Trump has certainly redefined what that means. As he moves towards fighting the media industry's "monopoly on news" journalists would be wise to remember that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Reporting by Rebecca Stewart and Seb Joseph.