Talking Points

If Trump returns to Twitter, he'll win every news cycle

Donald Trump says he's not coming back to Twitter, even if new owner Elon Musk lifts his ban from the site. "I am going to stay on TRUTH," the former president said Monday.

Yeah, right. 

It's not just that Trump has barely made an appearance on Truth Social, the crumbling social media platform he actually owns. It's that nobody really thinks that the man who once sent 200 tweets in a single day can resist coming back to the platform where — even more than television — he seemed most fully his loud, all-caps, obnoxious and demagogic self. His staff still prints out tweets from politicians and journalists for him to read. If Musk lifts the ban, Trump will be back. Count on it. 

What does that mean for the rest of us?

Will the media return to its old habits of chasing every tweet, every insult, every lie and every half-baked idea the former president puts out into the world? Or can they figure out a way to impose some discipline on themselves, to back away from the constant churn of misinformation Trump will surely generate — again — if he has a chance?

I'm not optimistic.

The thing about Trump's Twitter account is that he never used it merely to communicate with his millions and millions of followers, although he did that quite effectively, his reach was far beyond the platform and into the world at large. That means his tweets can't be ignored entirely — they did and would shape reality for many of our fellow citizens. Does the Jan. 6 insurrection happen without Trump's endless lies that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, or his invitation to followers to come to Washington, D.C., for the "Stop the Steal" rally? Probably not. Journalists won't have much choice but to pay attention.

But Trump also used the platform to — as Steve Bannon so memorably put it — "flood the zone with sh-t." Politico recalled one aspect the process Tuesday morning in its Playbook column

Back in the day, Trump would tweet something outrageous in the morning, and reporters would spend the rest of the day asking Republican officeholders for their reactions. In fact, then-Speaker Paul Ryan was so sick of journalists peppering him with questions about Trump's latest incendiary utterance that he took to denying he'd ever seen them and couldn't comment.

That's the journalistic equivalent of a dog chasing its own tail — an extraordinary waste of energy and resources in pursuit of a bunch of "no comments" from cowardly politicians.

For journalists, finding the right balance of covering Trump's tweets just enough but not too much is a difficult task. That's why they — we — didn't get it right the first time. But if Trump does return to Twitter, the media needs to be prepared and thoughtful about how to cover him. Otherwise, they'll just be accomplices to another flood.