Yet another sign that we’re embarking on the cable-news presidency: Last night on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show, University of California Berkeley professor of public policy and former labor secretary Robert Reich was asked about Trump’s propensity to tweet about stuff he has seen on television. Kicking off his answer, Reich addressed the host: “Well, Donald Trump is doing this a lot, Anderson.”
A moment or two later, however, Reich pivoted. He addressed the president-elect of the United States:
Let me just say because Donald Trump is probably watching right now, let me just say with all due respect, Mr. Trump, you are president-elect of the United States. You are looking and acting as if you are mean and petty, thin-skinned and vindictive. Stop this. This is not a Fireside chat. This is not what FDR did. This isn’t lifting people up. This is penalizing people for speaking their minds.
What you did with Boeing the other day, minutes after the CEO of Boeing was quoted as saying that you, Mr. Trump, you, President-elect Trump were wrong on international trade, what did you do? You tweeted that Boeing should have an order canceled. You called it a $4 billion order. And that meant Boeing’s own share prices plummeted. So, in other words Mr. Trump, what you would like is for no one, not a CEO, nobody on television, no journalist, nobody to criticize you. You take offense at that. Well you are going to be president very shortly. You are going to have at your command not just Twitter, but also the CIA, the IRS, the FBI. If you have this kind of thin-skinned vindictiveness attitude towards anyone who criticizes you, we are in very deep trouble. And sir, so are you.
Under other circumstances, Reich’s direct appeal to the highest power in the land would come off as showmanship — a guy trying to score some Web follow-up from his cable-news appearance. In this case, however, Reich was merely being practical. He had every right to suspect that Trump was tuning in, given events from earlier in the evening. On “OutFront” with Erin Burnett, Chuck Jones, a union leader involved in the Carrier deal, said that Trump over-hyped the number of jobs being saved from migrating to Mexico. “I just wish that he’d have had the numbers down,” said Jones to Burnett.
Trump’s fickle mind and lack of core convictions apply as firmly to his cable-news habits as to his positions on critical policy matters. Last year he hyped a Fox News boycott over its allegedly unfair programming, only to concede in an interview with Megyn Kelly that he really didn’t boycott. And this is also the guy who has attacked CNN over and over, especially on Twitter. “.@CNN is so negative it is impossible to watch. Terrible panel, angry haters,” reads part of a tweet from April. So why does he watch?
For the country, the implications of a president addicted to cable news are dire; for CNN, the implications are higher ratings, more revenue, high-flying guests in search of an audience with the president and more easy nights for the network’s producers. If the president tweets about your coverage during the normally slow early evening hours, that’s a gift.