Over the weekend, as Air Force One made its way to Vietnam, President Trump was questioned about Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Wasn’t it time, Trump was asked, for the president to cut his support of Moore, given a spate of allegations about his behavior with teenage girls several decades ago?
“Well, again,” Trump replied, “I’ve been with you folks, so I haven’t gotten to see too much. And believe it or not, even when I’m in Washington and New York, I do not watch much television. I know they like to say — people that don’t know me — they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources — you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot, and different things.”
Trump continued, saying: “I actually read much more — I read you people much more than I watch television. But anyway, but so I have not seen very much about him, about it.”
There are a lot of contradictions in that response.
The Washington Post’s story about the allegations ran on Nov. 9; Trump was speaking two days later. There were more than 100 stories about the allegations in newspapers and on wire services on Nov. 9 and Nov. 10, according to Nexis — plus whatever coverage was on television. The National Republican Senatorial Committee had already pulled its funding from the race, though Trump claimed not to be familiar with the issue.
Notice, though, that his response reveals how he takes in news: by seeing it. He doesn’t say, “I haven’t gotten to read too much.” And in case you think he’s using “see” in the broader sense of seeing things on TV or online, he quickly explains that he’s talking about television.
Which he says does not watch much.
After he left Vietnam, he traveled to the Philippines for a summit. While there, he was subjected to a horrifying experience: Being “forced” to watch CNN.
There are multiple levels of weirdness here. Who did the forcing? Couldn’t he have chosen to not watch any television at all? Isn’t feeling compelled to watch television an odd thing to cop to days after insisting that you don’t watch a lot of television?
That was one of two television-related tweets on Wednesday morning. The other:
“Fox and Friends” is Trump’s favorite television show and he watches it regularly. We know this because he tweets about and at it all the time. Since his inauguration he’s mentioned “Fox and Friends” 86 times on Twitter, including seven times in the last month.
There are multiple articles linking Trump’s tweets to things airing on the show. One morning in May, he spent hours watching the show. When the “fake news” says Trump watches a lot of TV, it’s generally this show that’s offered as evidence.
Trump is also apparently aware of what’s coming up on the show. Not “‘Fox and Friends’ showed much of my trip,” but “will be showing.” One reason Trump watches “Fox and Friends” is that it is blatantly and explicitly pro-Trump. Before running for president, he had a standing weekly interview segment on the show. After, he’s repeatedly praised and promoted it. How he came to be aware of what the show plans to air isn’t clear (media outlets covering a subject invariably tip off those subjects at some point), but that it is planning to promote his trip isn’t particularly shocking.
The statement “I do not watch much television” is certainly relative to context. Trump may not watch much television relative to his pre-politics days, and he certainly spends more time reading briefing documents than he did two years ago. But Trump clearly watches more television than most presidents, relies on it as a primary news source and prefers to watch deferential coverage. It’s similar to how he uses Twitter.
That’s not the image Trump would like to convey, as his comments on Air Force One make clear. The “fake sources” that say he watches a lot of television, though, center on a source very close to the president: his Twitter feed.