Even Without Social Media, Trump Finds a Way to Shape the News

Even Without Social Media, Trump Finds a Way to Shape the News


Tim Murtaugh served as communications director for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign last year, witnessing firsthand how a single tweet could dominate the news cycle. Now, with Trump banished from social media platforms, the former president is still finding a way to wield his influence.

Through daily postings on current events and political issues, Trump is once again commanding attention. Murtaugh, a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation and Daily Signal contributor, explains what it means on the latest episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast.”

“President Trump absolutely has a way of throwing a wrench into a news cycle if he so chooses,” Murtaugh tells me. “And as much as the media likes to pretend that, oh, they hate President Trump and they’re tired of the tone and the mean tweets and all that stuff, they can’t get enough. And so when he puts out statements, it really does roil the news cycle for that given day.”

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Rob Bluey: We are joined on “The Daily Signal Podcast” today by Tim Murtaugh, the former communications director for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and now a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation and contributor to The Daily Signal.

Tim, welcome back to the podcast.

Tim Murtaugh: Great to be with you again, Rob. Happy to be here.

Bluey: Well, the world has certainly changed in the last month since we spoke. Masks are now out. The Middle East is ablaze. Inflation is on the rise. Gas prices are also up. The border crisis is worse, it seems, than it was before. And the Biden administration appears to be unable or unprepared to lead us through these many chaotic moments that our country finds itself in. Tim, do you think the American people miss Donald Trump yet?

Murtaugh: I should think that they would. I mean, when Donald Trump was president, I know people had to suffer the mean tweets and that’s what always had the media atwitter, so to speak. But the president, President Trump that is, was always very decisive and he knew precisely where he stood.

Let’s take a look at the coronavirus situation. The news media said that he couldn’t do it, said that it was impossible, that the timeline that he had set forth with the Operation Warp Speed was unattainable.

And here we are now in the Biden administration, and the multiple vaccines that were created under President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed are allowing [President] Joe Biden to take credit for the path that we’re on and beginning to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

So, I think that President Trump laid the groundwork for a lot of the things that Joe Biden is going to be able to take credit for. And I think Americans ought to be able to remember that it really was only four months ago that the guy who put all these policies in place was in office.

And then if you look at the ones that Joe Biden has undone, like unraveling President Trump’s border policies and absolutely creating the crisis, and that’s what it is, it’s a crisis on our southern border even though the Biden White House won’t use that word, you can see that the Trump policies were actually working for this country. And where Joe Biden has made changes, it has blown up.

Bluey: Tim, you talk about the success of Operational Warp Speed, and it really was tremendous, and the efforts that the Trump administration made, of course, Vice President [Mike] Pence leading the coronavirus task force, so many people contributing to that effort throughout the final year of his term in office.

Yet, President Biden talks so often about the importance of bipartisanship and working with Republicans. It strikes me as odd that he’s unwilling to give President Trump any credit or acknowledgement for the success and the reason he was set up in the way that he was. Why do you think it is so difficult for him to acknowledge his predecessor’s work?

Murtaugh: Well, he’s not permitted to by his liberal Democrat base. I mean, I think that’s pretty obvious. You are not permitted in any capacity, if you are a Democrat, to acknowledge that Donald Trump ever did anything worth noting positively.

I mean, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, has been directly asked, “How come you guys don’t give any credit to Donald Trump for Operation Warp Speed and the vaccines?” And she says, “We try not to talk about the former administration as often as we possibly can.”

So, they are flatly refusing to acknowledge that the prior administration did anything worthy of praise or support, and I think that is extremely partisan.

As we said all along during the campaign in 2019 and 2020, it’s because Joe Biden is absolutely a prisoner of the extreme left. And if anybody from the Biden administration were to get up, or God forbid the president himself get up and say, “Hey, you know what? Donald Trump did some pretty good things on X, Y, and Z,” the left would erupt, and so, Joe Biden absolutely can’t do that. That’s why.

Bluey: Tim, your most recent column touches on the media’s failure to accurately cover or critically report on some of the failures of the Biden administration, some of which you’ve already touched on here. One outlet even suggests that they’re mere brush fires. Has any president benefited as much from this favorable media coverage in your lifetime than President Biden?

Murtaugh: No. I mean, this is really something to behold. What has happened here is that you have a press corps who worked as hard as they could for four entire years, including during the presidential campaign, to undermine and defeat the incumbent president, Donald J. Trump.

And now, they’ve got their guy now. Maybe it wasn’t the guy they would choose, Joe Biden, but he is their guy. Once he became the Democrat nominee, he became the candidate of the press corps. And now that he’s president, he is the president of the press corps. He is one of them. There’s no question to that.

The column you just mentioned, Joe Biden was set up for an easy glide path into success. There were so many things lined up. The economy was coming back, the country is emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, the Middle East was in peace, the economy was roaring, millions of jobs [were] being added, and all he had to do really was not screw it up.

He’s like a golfer going into the final hole of a tournament with a three-shot lead, and all he has to do is keep it in the short grass and he’ll win the tournament. But instead, Joe Biden has been in the woods and in the water and in the sand trap and out of bounds, and he’s blowing it, just like we’ve all seen the golfers do with the jitters on the 18th or the 72nd hole of a golf tournament.

So, what he’s done is he’s thrown so much federal money at the coronavirus problem and at the economy that he has made it more beneficial for people to stay on unemployment benefits than to take jobs. We’ve got 8.1 million open, available jobs in this country.

And from coast to coast, small businesses, restaurants, all kinds of employers say that they can’t get people to come to work because the benefits of unemployment are better. And now, we have the very real fear of inflation, inflation.

People won’t take the jobs. There’s so much money being thrown at Americans. They talk about the spending to rescue America. They have effectively doubled the size of the federal government in just the first four months of Joe Biden’s administration. It’s really, really reckless, and Joe Biden is in the process of blowing the pretty easy setup that he had.

Bluey: Tim, as you talk about some of those issues, and I want to delve into a couple of those in just a moment, but as you think about the press’ coverage, I mean, let’s face it, when Bill Clinton was in office, the conservatives complained that he was getting an easy ride, same thing with Barack Obama, but there was a point in each of their presidencies where you did see critical and unflattering stories from the news media.

I’m not suggesting there haven’t been any from media outlets that paint the Biden administration in a negative light, but the overarching narrative tends to be focused on the positive things or excusing some of the crisis that he may find himself in.

What is it going to take? Or do you think that the press corps has just fundamentally changed and we won’t ever see a press corps that is tough on a Democratic president?

Murtaugh: No. I mean, unless something radically changes, and it may take a generation of reporters, I don’t know—but take a look at Lester Holt, who’s the lead anchor at NBC News. He got an Edward R. Murrow Award recently, and he said, this is a direct quote from the anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” “Fairness is overrated,” he said.

So, I think that the entire press corps has given itself permission to take sides. I think they absolutely have. Just look at Politico for one and The Associated Press for another.

Politico is a very “inside the Beltway” publication, but The Associated Press reaches virtually every news outlet in the country and around the world. Those two news outlets have said that their reporters are not to use the word “crisis” to describe what’s happening at the southern border.

Now, why is that? Well, it so happens that the Biden administration won’t use that word either, and they went first. And so now the AP and Politico are falling in line, saying they’re not going to use that word either.

Well, it is a crisis. And when you have these two major news outlets towing the line and following the lead of the administration in not wanting to acknowledge that what’s happening at the southern border is bad and is in fact a crisis, you have the effect of major news outlets—which influence all other news outlets, The Associated Press absolutely does—willing to run cover for the administration. It really, frankly, is unheard of for something that widespread to be happening.

And for them to have given themselves cover to actually take sides in a political debate, really it’s not healthy for journalism, certainly, and I don’t believe it’s healthy for the people of this country.

Bluey: Tim, one other story that has come out recently, which actually some New York Times reporters, Jeremy Peters in particular, criticized, was the White House demanding that they have quote approval on reporters’ stories.

Particularly, if they’d give a background interview the White House does, they want the reporter to then send the quote back to them to review it before they allow it to be printed or published.

Certainly, as somebody who’s been on both sides, on the journalism side and the communication side, I can’t imagine many reporters granting me that permission. But it’s also come under criticism because, frankly, it’s another example of how the Biden administration is maybe playing by a different set of rules than what happened previously in Republican and Democratic administrations.

You’ve been in the communications business a long time, what’s your take on this particular thing that’s popped up?

Murtaugh: Well, I don’t get up in arms about that necessarily because in the course of my career, I’ve had reporters send us the quotes that they plan to use. That doesn’t mean that we get quote approval, that means that they were giving us a heads up, “Hey, this is what I took from the interview. Heads up, this is the quote that I’m going to use.”

We never had a situation where we had final authority to say whether something that was said on the record was allowed to be used or not, or to be able to edit those quotes. I don’t think that that’s something that’s normal.

I also don’t think that it’s normal for the press corps to be relying so much on anonymous sources, and in many cases, anonymous single sources.

We had a pretty embarrassing episode for The Washington Post and some others when … the Georgia secretary of state and an elections official had a phone conversation with Donald Trump while he was still president. And based on the single anonymous source, everyone wrote a story attributing quotes to Donald Trump. And then months later, the actual tape of the conversation came out, and Donald Trump had never said those things. Three major news organizations, The Washington Post and a couple of others, had to issue retractions.

Now, how is it that a single anonymous source could be the basis of a story without anybody actually checking to see that the source was in fact accurate? And then somehow, other publications were able to independently confirm the first story. It’s amazing. And then of course, they were all wrong.

So there’s a lot of practices that go on, both in journalism and on the White House side, that I don’t think that we’ve really seen before. And again, it’s just not a healthy situation.

Bluey: Tim, I attribute some of these to a failure of journalism programs, but also newsrooms themselves for not having better standards.

For instance, I remember years ago, as somebody who has a journalism degree, “Intro to Journalism” was taught by a professor who was more interested in pursuing kind of a socialist, activist ideology in terms of how you pursued journalism than actually teaching the fundamentals.

Fortunately, there was a change in professor during the course of the semester, so I was able to get an “Intro to Journalism” class where we had at least a standard of three sources needing to verify something—

Murtaugh: Yeah.

Bluey: … so you didn’t rely on a single person who could have an agenda and be steering a reporter in the wrong way.

There’s a reason that you check with multiple sources in a situation like that. Particularly at an organization like The Washington Post, you’d think that they’d have a standard in place where that was more important.

So yeah, I hear exactly what you’re saying. I bemoan that. That’s why I think here at The Daily Signal, we stress the importance of that, and why I get frustrated when other organizations with a lot more resources and a significantly larger staff can’t abide by those same standards.

Murtaugh: Yeah. I think that’s important. Another thing I want to bring up that I think is bad for journalism, and therefore the public at large, is social media.

A lot of these reporters have Twitter accounts. I would say, actually, 100% of them have Twitter accounts. And that’s a place that for one reason or another, all these reporters feel pretty safe in spitting out their hot takes on any given topic and injecting an awful lot of opinion in the 280 characters of a tweet.

So, that is a very easy way to have those kinds of opinions bleed over into their actual reporting.

I know that reporters chase retweets and likes on Twitter, like everybody else does. Everyone likes to see that what they have said is interesting to other people, but it encourages journalists to issue all of these hot takes, and show how witty they can be, and show how woke they can be.

I think it’s not too hard to see that all of these takes that the reporters just spew out all the time always seem to trend in one direction. They’re always coming from the left. And I don’t think it’s healthy for reporters to feel like they have absolute, complete free rein to exhibit their personal opinions and not have to ever really play the role of an objective journalist.

Bluey: And Tim, on that note, I want to mention a story that’s more localized, that maybe some of our listeners aren’t aware of, but Virginia recently had its Republican convention, nominated a black woman for lieutenant governor, a Cuban American for attorney general, and you’ve pointed out that for all of the stories that are written about the historic firsts that are happening in politics across the country, somehow this was just overlooked on the part of a lot of reporters.

Murtaugh: Yeah. Somehow the Republican ticket in Virginia did not come to the attention of the Washington, D.C., or the Beltway media, or any media, frankly, not even the Virginia media has paid attention to this.

NBC News wrote a story just a few days ago about all of the black women who are going to be candidates in the 2022 cycle, and it did not mention Winsome Sears. Now, she’s the 2021 cycle, but still, the point holds.

Winsome Sears is the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia. She is the first ever black woman nominated for a statewide office in Virginia history. Now, her misfortune is that she’s a Republican, and therefore the media doesn’t pay any attention to her.

If she were a Democrat, you’d see stories about her with the word “historic” in the headline, over and over and over again. But because she’s a Republican, they want to erase her and pretend that she has not broken this barrier.

She’s the first black woman ever nominated for a statewide office in Virginia history. Virginia is the mother of presidents. It’s the cradle of our democracy. She’s the first black woman ever nominated statewide, and the media could care less. It’s remarkable.

And then that leads us, of course, to Jason Miyares, who’s the Republican nominee for attorney general. He is of Cuban descent, and he’s a very strong conservative, and he rails against what his family experienced in prior generations escaping from the Castro regime and the socialist paradise that is Cuba. Of course, the mainstream media doesn’t want to hear any of that either.

So, Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares have broken barriers in Virginia. And if we weren’t allowed to talk about it here, you and me, Rob, I don’t think anybody would ever hear about it.

Bluey: That’s true too, Tim. That is so true.

Well, speaking of breaking through the news cycle, even after being exiled from social media, President Trump is still making news. He’s ramped up his commentary of late, both on current events and political matters. He even was able to dominate an entire news cycle when he compared President Biden to Jimmy Carter.

How do you see President Trump, having previously worked for him, shaping the debate in the future, even if he’s not allowed to have a Twitter account or a Facebook account?

Murtaugh: Well, he still clearly does. I think it really chafes the news media that he is able to control news cycles like that. It was made easier that the Carter reference, the Carter comparison, by you pointing it out to me, the really bizarrely proportioned photo that the Carter library released when the Bidens went to visit where you had giant Joe Biden and little Jimmy Carter and their wives there. It was a very strangely composed photograph.

But President Trump absolutely has a way of throwing a wrench into a news cycle if he so chooses.

He’s not on Twitter, he’s not on Facebook, he’s not on YouTube, but he puts out statements every day, and they call them press tweetleases, or something like that. And the news media picks them up and he comments on various things, sometimes multiple times a day. And he is a former president.

And as much as the media likes to pretend that, oh, they hate President Trump and they’re tired of the tone and the mean tweets and all that stuff, they can’t get enough. And so when he puts out statements, it really does roil the news cycle for that given day.

With regard to how long that’s going to be—and the president, President Trump still controls the momentum and really the heart and soul of the Republican Party. He absolutely does. It’s because of the policies that he enacted. They were so successful for the American people, and we can see how successful they were because Joe Biden is undoing them and causing lots of problems all over the place.

The rank and file of Republicans in this country still stand by those policies and the man who brought them to the country. And that’s why President Trump still has so much influence, is because so many millions of Americans still respect and admire and want more of that kind of leadership.

So, Republicans in Congress and those running for governor or any office anywhere else, they need to have the support of the voters who still support President Trump. And that’s why President Trump still has so much great influence.

Bluey: Tim, let’s end on this question: Because Republicans on Capitol Hill are confronting some big legislative challenges—the American Families Plan; the election integrity bills, whether it’s HR 1 or HR 4, both of those seem to be still out there and moving and a threat to our election integrity; a major infrastructure package, which of course we know is not much infrastructure but a lot of other things that the left wants to prioritize—what is your advice to them as they go forward and confront some of these big legislative priorities on the left?

Murtaugh: Well, I don’t think they need my advice. Particularly, I think they know what’s going on. But it’s important for them to still stand for the principles and understand that what the Democrats are doing is trying to ram through all of these radical ideas. During this, we hope, small window where liberals can pass things with the numbers that they have in Congress.

They want to federalize the elections. That’s what HR 1 and S 1 are all about, making sure that liberals cement their power in not only federal office but in state office for decades to come.

The infrastructure bill, you mentioned it, less than 10% of the money that is planned to be spent in that infrastructure bill goes to things like highways and bridges and railways and airports and seaports. Everything else is a liberal wish list.

And look, with all this spending, as I said before, they are effectively doubling the size of the federal government in just the first four months of Joe Biden’s administration. And when the Republicans block that, the Democrats cast that as, “Oh, they’re standing in the way of getting rid of authoritarianism,” as though objecting to the doubling of the federal government is somehow authoritarianism. I thought when government gets big, that is authoritarianism. So everything is backward.

And I think that Republicans have to effectively message this because the Democrats make it an easy sell all the time. Well, very often they say, “Oh, we want fair elections,” and leave it at that, and don’t explain exactly what it means when they’re actually making it easier to cheat in elections.

Bluey: Well, Tim Murtaugh, thank you so much for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” We appreciate your contributions to The Daily Signal and we look forward to talking to you again soon.





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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.