Stop Blaming Only Trump or Only his PR Staff or Only “the Media” for Trump’s Message Problems
(This item has been updated and lengthened since its initial publication)
The PR issues that president Trump faces are caused by multiple factors; not one specific factor such as only the president, or only his rapid response/research/social media staff or only the media.
Case in point: The WSJ posted a headline Wednesday May 17th late morning that “Russian State-Run Bank Financed Deal Involving Trump Hotel Partner.” The headline has you believe that a Russia-government bank financed a Trump deal when in fact the second paragraph of the WSJ item reveals that a Canadian-Russian businessman paid the Trump Organization fees from money he earned in a separate deal with a Russian bank. The headline essentially says that I finance your drug habits because you are buying drugs with money I gave you when I bought your house… (A more accurate example of a “Russian state-run bank financing” something is the U.S. subsidiary of Rusnano pumping $35 million into Joule Unlimited when John Podesta was a one of its ten board members from 2011 through early 2014. Three board members are Russians; two of them are related to Russian bank Sperbank which hired the Podesta Group as lobbyists in 2016 after the bank was hit with U.S. sanctions).
Even if the WSJ item was as the headline suggests, it is hardly news or proof of collusion that a multi billion dollar company like the TO crossed paths with Russian money.
Despite the fact that the headline is contradicted by the item itself and despite the fact there is no story here, the WSJ still ran with it and it went viral within minutes of its release. This is indeed an issue of a partisan media but fault also goes to Trump’s communications team because they failed to point out the holes in the item within minutes of its release or ever at all. This push-back should have been on White House staff social media accounts, in reporters’ inboxes, and in inboxes of pundits, lawmakers and surrogates within minutes the item went out.
The WSJ adds, “The Toronto deal [between the Canadian-Russian and Trump] adds a new element to the list of known connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.” Really? Are we in a situation where Kosher business dealings between the TO and a Russian is part of a “list of known connections” in context of collusion? This is the media environment that Trump’s lives in and one which any Republican president would face.
Another example of multiple factors harming the president’s PR standing came when the Washington Post reported Monday May 15th that the president spoke with Russia officials a week earlier about an ISIS threat which was based on intelligence from another country. This was an “explosive” news for 24 hours which is quite strange. Consider: Unnamed, intelligence community (IC) bureaucrats want to dictate what a president can or cannot share privately with a global power which is active in the fight against ISIS. Worse, if the IC officials believe that sharing the information privately with Russia is dangerous, why are they leaking to the public the very same intelligence, its methods and sources? These officials are doing the very damage that they claim they want to stop the president from doing.
This drama was not created by a tweet from the president or by an action from Trump’s message team; it’s a media pile on. But on the other hand I did not see the president’s team pointing out that the premise of the article (intel officials dictating a president) and the rational of the article (it is dangerous if the intel leaked) is undercut by the article itself. The inaction from the White House staffed helped give the story more life that it should have had.
The media say that president Trump’s tweets on this matter — where he said that he did speak with Russia about ISIS — undercut his team, but this is false because Trump only acknowledged speaking about the ISIS threat and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the president did not share the source and methods of the intelligence. There is no clashing of message, yet the media created a narrative (‘the president is undercutting his team with his tweets’) which was not true, but the president’s team failed to stress effectively that the president’s tweets did not contradict McMaster’s pushback on the story. Having said this, one also has to admit that the president’s tweets on this should have been more coherent. It would help reduce the chance of the press to misrepresent what the president tweeted and it would also reduce the workload off of his staff.
Basically, 40% Trump’s PR issue is the media; another 40% is Trump’s communications staff, and 20% is the fault of the president himself for not hiring a good rapid response/social media staff and at times not tweeting/speaking clearly enough. In fact, of the major eight anti-Trump stories in the week of May 17th (Trump “leaked” to Russians; Trump undercuts his staff with the tweets on the story; Comey’s let Flynn go memos; Russian bank financed Trump; Special Prosecutor appointed; 18 contacts between Trump associates and Russians in 2016; nut job comment, and a Sr. WH official is a Person of Interest in the Russian investigation), only one was a direct result of Trump’s tweets and that news was dishonest too as explained above.
Another example of this dynamic came when the president suggested in an interview that he fired Comey because of how he showboats the Russian investigation, yet it is accepted that the president said he fired Comey simply for having an investigation. This is false. In fact, the president told Lester Holt “I want that thing [the Russia investigation] done properly… I want the investigation seeded up… I want to find out if there has been a problem with an election…” Then there was this exchange.
POTUS: I want very simply a great FBI director
LH: Would you expect that they would continue on with this investigation?
POTUS: Oh ye sure. I expect that.
Because the president did not express himself clearly in the 15 minute interview and his staff did a bad job stressing what the president said in addition to media wanting to spin what they heard, “everyone knows” that Comey was fired because he was investigating Trump-Russia when in fact the president said he fired Comey for the showmanship of the investigation; not the investigation itself.
Going forward, the president would be helped if he has a senior staff person whose focus is only shaping rapid response. This person should not give advice; nor appear on TV or speak with the press. The only work this person should have is shaping rapid response for press reports and social media narratives, and to work with the White House press shop/social media team to get the White House responses out there.
Shaping rapid response facts and notes is not work that a communications director or press secretaries can do because they have loads of other work on their hand including working on policy message, speeches, press briefings and TV appearances. This is sure not the work of policy advisers. This is stand alone work that should be delivered regardless what policy the White House releases or tweet that the president sends.
READ my February 16th writing: How Trump Can Restore Order Within a Week
On Twitter @YossiGestetner