The will-they-or-won't-they saga of a potential summit involving President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un included a mystery Tuesday: What was Kim Yong Chol doing in Beijing?
An Associated Press camera captured the high-ranking North Korean official's arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport, and South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported that he was bound for the United States. But American media outlets were not certain of Kim Yong Chol's plans.
Then Trump tweeted.
Trump misspelled Kim's name and misstated his title. Nevertheless, in slapdash fashion, the president reported breaking news.
“Trump confirms top North Korean official is on his way to New York for meetings about summit,” read a Washington Post alert.
Kim's impending visit quickly became a lead story on CNN, which attributed the scoop to the president. Coverage was similar elsewhere in the media.
This is the news delivery system Trump has always wanted — major media outlets acting as stenographers, as he dictates the headlines.
Journalists, skeptical by nature, often regard Trump's statements as dubious. As president, he has made thousands (The Fact Checker keeps track) of false or misleading claims. By the end of April, for example, Trump had falsely asserted 72 times that he signed the biggest tax cut in history — a claim that does not become any truer, no matter how many times the president makes it.
Yet Trump can make a summit with Kim Jong Un come true, so long as Kim remains willing to meet. Trump can essentially speak a sit-down into existence, which positions him as an authoritative source of information.
If the president says the meeting is off, as he did last week, then the meeting is off. And if the president reopens the door to a possible summit, as he has in recent days, then the summit is possible again. All the while, Trump forces news outlets to chronicle his vacillations.
Trump, a former reality TV star, is building suspense and acting as a one-man news service, tweeting updates on the status of diplomatic relations with North Korea. Since calling off the summit, Trump has posted the following messages:
Note that Trump's reports on North Korea have included efforts to discredit the New York Times. The president charged that the Times fabricated a source, when in fact the source of the article was a White House official briefing reporters. But that's a familiar charge for Trump. During the campaign, he suggested that all unnamed sources are made up.
Trump's apparent goal is to establish himself as the only reliable source of news about the potential summit with Kim Jong Un, ahead of the Times and everyone else.