It’s rather unusual for a president to proclaim to the world that he is making his own decisions.
Can anyone really doubt that President Trump, in these early weeks, is what George Bush used to call The Decider?
But the 45th president, reacting to a wave of negative media accounts about stumbles and staff screw-ups, tweeted yesterday morning:
“I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it. Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!” Trump also accused the “failing @nytimes” of writing “total fiction.”
This came after “Morning Joe” chatter about the sizable role of chief strategist Steve Bannon and a New York Times piece reporting on “Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council.” From now on, the paper said, “Mr. Trump would be looped in on the drafting of executive orders much earlier in the process.”
The tweet also follows a Time cover on Bannon as the “Great Manipulator” (he wasn’t quoted), along with an “SNL” skit portraying Bannon’s Darth Vader as the real POTUS.
The “fake news” charge is now thrown around so often that its meaning has been diminished. The Times story, for instance, quotes Sean Spicer, Chris Christie and Ari Fleischer, among others. But Spicer yesterday called the piece "the epitome of fake news," saying it was "so riddled with inaccuracies and lies that they owe the president an apology." He said the portrait of Trump wandering the White House at night in his bathrobe is untrue because the president doesn't wear a bathrobe.
Another Trump tweet yesterday took issue with the polls: “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.”
I think the polls actually help him on this point. A Gallup poll showed a 49 percent plurality supporting his temporary travel ban, a far different picture than the media coverage portraying the policy as a gargantuan mistake. (The rollout, however, has been undeniably rocky and is now tied up in court.)
Polls can be wrong, misleading or improperly weighted. But they are not fake. Major news organizations, including Fox, hire professional pollsters to do these surveys, and when a spate of polls show Trump’s popularity in the same range, it gives you a rough indication of public sentiment. I’ve argued that Trump’s numbers are depressed because he is fighting so many battles in what remains a divided country.
The president is also taking heat for calling the federal judge in Seattle who temporarily blocked his travel ban a “so-called judge.” That seems unduly dismissive. But he’s certainly entitled to say that the ruling is “ridiculous” and “will be overturned.”
Ultimately, the Trump administration will be judged on results, not tweets. But with so much focus on the early skirmishes involving the White House, he is pushing back increasingly hard against the press.