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How best to treat Trump tweets?

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B. Jay is a former deputy White House press secretary to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also headed the communications offices at the Republican National Committee, U.S. Department of Commerce, and Yale University. He is a former reporter and is the retired deputy managing director of APCO Worldwide's Washington, D.C., office. He is the father of three daughters and grandfather of five boys and one girl. He lives in Marion, Mass.

Before Donald Trump was sworn in to the presidency, I wrote that the media needed to find a better way to report on his tweets. To treat each as a huge presidential statement of policy, I said, seems wrong, especially with Trump who, as we’ve learned, runs by gut instinct. Now that I’ve seen the coverage for 20-odd months, I feel the same.

Since he took office, Trump has lied, according to The Washington Post, more than 7,000 times, many in his tweets. Since he took office we heard his former press secretary Sean Spicer announce that his tweets were “presidential policy,” and his “attorney,” Rudy Giuliani, say the tweets are “his opinions,” not instructions to his staff or administration.

We have seen Trump threaten war in tweets; disparage various folks he feels, at that moment, are his enemies; declare trade wars; and harass his own Cabinet members.

In short, his tweets are sometimes important, sometimes not. He often ignores his own tweet statements and his Cabinet has too. He is a transactional president focusing on the problem at the moment, for the moment. He often contradicts his own tweets.

Giuliani seems closer to the truth than Spicer on this one.

Cable news networks must have one person assigned to stare at Trump’s Twitter feed 24/7 because within seconds of a tweet, Wolf Blitzer is reading it live on TV and tossing it to his “expert panel” to dissect it for the next 12 hours. And dissect they do because, well, that’s what they get paid to do.

Thus, Trump is dictating the news in many news cycles because of his tweets. Which means he can get the media off a truly important story by texting an inane tweet that forces them to cover the insanity.

Now sometimes his tweets do command such coverage. I’d say the President of the United States threatening war, whether he means it or not, deserves immediate coverage as the world tries to figure out what’s going on.

But not every tweet is equal. Often, the ones I presume are written by his Twitter guy are not news and already aren’t broadly covered. These typically tout the latest good economic news or give credit to Trump for a recent primary win for a Republican.
Others are beyond the truly mundane but still don’t reach the yardstick of “news.”

Since his lawyer tells us these are “just his opinions” and not intended as policy directives to his Administration, that’s another reason they aren’t so newsworthy.

The media is correct to fact check his tweets in real time, which they do. But that’s not enough. If the media did not make such big news of almost every crazy Tweet, the President would lose most of the method in which he spreads his madness. Much of it just false.

And, the media would be right to make the change since more than half the time he doesn’t mean what he says. It also might make the former daily White House news briefing (which has become a “whenever the White House feels it wants one” briefing) more relevant because his press secretary couldn’t as easily get away with saying “the President has spoken on this,” meaning he’s tweeted on it. But Sarah, what does he really mean? That is if you even know, which most times, I’m guessing, you don’t.

Trump almost never holds a true press conference. We see few presidential statements. He often will talk during photo opps if he has something he wants to say. The daily briefings have become next to useless. When Trump does want to make a splash, he tweets. The media pounces and gives it wall-to-wall coverage. There is no give and take with the president to try to “unpack” what he’s really thinking.

So, what do we do about it?

First, I would suggest the reporters ask Sarah the important Tweet question which is, “Sarah, which is it? Spicer said from that podium (which in the past has legitimately been taken as policy) that the President’s tweets are government policy. Rudy Giuliani fluffed them off saying they are merely his opinion. Which is it?” If they are all policy, we have a different problem.

She surely will not answer the question but it needs to be asked for the record.

The print media could just print a daily report of his tweets in the same place every day and the public thus would see them (those that don’t see them in real time on his Twitter feed) and draw their own conclusions. The print and broadcast media could apply the same news judgement they apply to everything else and only focus on a tweet when it seems relevant – threatening war seems to qualify for that; taking on LeBron James does not.

Both topics, though, pushed the cable news stations to cover those tweets for hours, if not days. Which meant they got off whatever important topic was at that moment being covered.

I know this isn’t easy. But the current practice means that Trump controls the media attention he complains so much about. He is as masterful at using the media as anyone has been and the media should not lay back and be manipulated that way. Determining which tweets are newsworthy I know is difficult. But it seems the media need to try to figure it out. Otherwise they will continue focusing on such unimportant things (for a president) as football players kneeling during the anthem when real issues that matter float by.

I believe the mainstream media has done an outstanding job covering the Trump Administration. And they can get even better without compromising their values if they can figure out how to properly cover Trump’s tweets.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jim Coats

    August 16, 2018 at 9:37 am

    So this author says disrespecting our nation is “unimportant”
    All I need to know about this article and about the author. NO THANKS

    “Otherwise they will continue focusing on such unimportant things (for a president) as football players kneeling during the anthem ”

  2. Powel Harding

    August 16, 2018 at 9:22 am

    Pathetic situation…and who’s fault is that!

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Opinion

OPINION: Michael Cohen is no John Dean

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There have been a slew of comments about the so-called “John Dean Moment” when Michael Cohen was set to testify in an open hearing before a House of Representatives Hearing last week. It never happened.

Michael Cohen has now appeared before the House Oversight Committee. It may have been the longest and closest view (via television) that people ever had of Mr. Cohen. This piece does not presume to say whether or not he was being truthful in the Hearing. It does presume to say that there is both a circumstantial and personal difference in the two events and the two people.

When John Dean spoke, the country was already in a crisis which included members of both parties. The very continuation of Richard Nixon’s Presidency began to unravel as a result of Mr. Dean’s appearance and testimony.

When Michael Cohen spoke, there was a strong feeling by one political party that the testimony would portend the end of the Presidency of the other party. This is still far from happening, and Mr. Cohen’s testimony did not affect both political parties – only one.

When Mr. Dean spoke, here was a dignified (although young) lawyer whose testimony was clear and convincing to both parties. There really was no question of whether or not what was said was truthful. Dean emerged as a hero of the Watergate era.

When Mr. Cohen spoke and continues to speak, there is a question about whether or not what is heard is truthful. One political side says “yes” and the other side says “no”. Mr. Cohen is a convicted liar (via his own plea). He is on his way to a 3 year prison term. He may very well be telling the truth, but he clearly does not carry the same presumption of honesty that Dean did.

The issue of a Presidential pardon is the latest twist to this convoluted puzzle. Did Mr. Cohen probe a possible pardon or not?

What will happen next in this Presidential drama we are living through is certainly not clear. What is clear is that there is a world of difference between John Dean and Michael Cohen.

In full disclosure, I am a fellow Georgetown Law graduate and have had occasional contact with John Dean over the years. I have had no contact with Mr. Cohen.


Charles “Chips” Lickson | JD, Ph.D.
Front Royal, Virginia

Former practicing lawyer, mediator, teacher and Associate Professor of Political Science at Shenandoah University. Lickson is the author of eight previous non-fiction books. He is currently finishing a fact-based novel, REFUGE FOR A SCOUNDREL, due out in Fall, 2019.

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Opinion

Disappointment with the Korea summit and the Cohen appearance

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Just a few days ago, it seems, I wrote about the irony of seeing Air Force One landing in Hanoi for a summit between President Trump and North Korea Leader Kim Jong-Un. Like many Americans, I was optimistic (perhaps overly so) that something concrete would come from their meeting. Wouldn’t it have been helpful in tamping down the negative rhetoric of both political extremes if we could have seen something positive emerge in Korea? Political critics and supporters alike would have had something they might agree upon – if that summit had been successful.

And at the same time as the summit, Michael Cohen appeared before the House Oversight Committee. It is most unfortunate for all that these two events coincided – tearing apart the media coverage. It turned out the Hearing was also unsuccessful. Did it get at the truth? One side thinks so; the other does not.

After over 50 years in law and conflict resolution, including having taught hundreds of people in the private sector and many government agencies the skills of mediation, and after having written an internationally well-read little book on “Ironing It Out”, I have learned the dynamics of push, pull or dis-engage.

Perhaps this hiatus, as short as it may be, is a good time to dis-engage and think about what has transpired in Hanoi and at the Hearing Table in Washington. Feelings are so strong on both sides of the political-presidential aisle, it is questionable that anyone can really think about what they are doing or saying on Twitter, the press or on television.

It seems we have no choice in the matter if we are going forward and hope to accomplish anything new in Korea, the rest of the world or here at home. Dis-engagement may be working on the China Tariff front. Let’s all see, if we pause and think first, if it can work for these deep divides here at home.


Charles “Chips” Lickson | JD, Ph.D.
Front Royal, Virginia

Former practicing lawyer, mediator, teacher and Associate Professor of Political Science at Shenandoah University. Lickson is currently finishing a fact-based novel, REFUGE FOR A SCOUNDREL, due out in Fall, 2019.

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Opinion

Air Force One in Hanoi, Vietnam

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A friend of mine said yesterday that he found it quite ironic when Air Force One bearing the President landed a few days ago in Hanoi, Vietnam. We are all following the “summit” between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un because it portends very good or very bad things in the future for the U.S. and North Korea – and probably the rest of the world.

Some of us are old enough to remember when there were other U.S. Air Force planes in the skies above Hanoi and many other locations in both North and South Vietnam. Some of us were in uniform when soldiers from the U.S. and from North Vietnam were engaged in horrible conflict.

The Vietnam location of talks between the President and North Korea’s “Dear Leader” is significant for many reasons – including the reconciliation between the U.S. and Vietnam. The horrors of war and the suffering of people on both sides in the Vietnam War are proof that no one really wins when it comes to the shooting and the killing. Unfortunately, even as I write, India and Pakistan are learning this lesson. Let’s hope they learn soon.

Let’s also hope that the U.S. President is successful; that something substantial and beneficial for all concerned can come of the meetings in Vietnam.

Another irony is that our President is out of the country at the time, and his own former lawyer is saying unkind things about him on television. Whether all that is said is true or not, he is the President and we should all wish him well.

Let’s also hope that the location of their talks also counts. If so, there will be good news coming out of Hanoi.


Charles “Chips” Lickson
Front Royal, Virginia

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Opinion

Thoughts on the death of Marvin Reifsnyder

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Marvin Reifsnyder presented with a picture of him and Lee Greenwood which was taken at the 2018 Warren County Fair. Photo courtesy of Warren County Fair Facebook page.

We learned of the death of at Hidden Springs Senior Living this past week. We first met Marvin last summer when we were putting up an art exhibit there.

Often, he was sitting outside when the weather was nice and if he was not outside, we probably would find him sitting in the Lobby. Sometimes he would be sitting with other veterans who were living there. If we didn’t see him right away when we arrived at Hidden Springs, he was probably lying down resting in his room or visiting another resident. Whenever, we saw him, he would be proudly wearing his World War II Veterans hat with service ribbons.

Whenever we got to Hidden Springs, we looked for Marvin. He was special not only for his age, but for the stories he would occasionally tell. His military service was also important to us.

We’re both so pleased that now active duty military and veterans of the several wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other places are given a well-deserved “welcome” and “thank-you” for their service. Chips (who is an Army veteran) recalls that this was not always the case. When Chips (and too many veterans) traveled in uniform during the Vietnam conflict, it did not engender many warm welcomes or thanks.

It was an exhibit of paintings and prints which brought us initially to Hidden Springs… and there was Marvin. Along with Vicky and Daryl Davison, the Principals of Hidden Springs, we always got a warm reception there.

We still plan to go to Hidden Springs on occasion, but we won’t see Marvin. We will be among the many people who will miss him.


Bryane Miller Lickson
Charles “Chips” Lickson
Front Royal, Virginia

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Opinion

Jesus in Valentine’s Day

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Dear Editor,

Valentine’s Day is now upon us, and of course, the central theme is Love. It is the showing of one’s love for someone and being desirous of and asking for another to return such love in a way to say “I love you too”. A proposal, if you will. In this regard, (which involves a suitor) the dictionary defines such as; a man who courts a woman; a wooer. It further defines a wooer as: to seek the love or affection of, especially to marry; to court.

In this respect, allow me to present to you my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. For the greatest act and show of love the world has ever known, let me direct your attention to the figure there on Calvary’s brow: I can only humbly say, behold Him there! For I am not worthy so much as to even approach Him. As you gaze upon him you will see that he is hanging from a cross by nails driven into his hands and feet. He is covered and “bathed” in his own blood, for as the Scriptures say, “…his visage was so marred more than any man”. The result of a savage, brutal, and one might venture to say, demonic beating.

He wasn’t there merely by chance, but because mankind was under the curse of God’s law which says; ” the soul that sinneth shall die.” His agony was so great, that he cried out; “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And thus, being made to be sin for us, He took our sin upon Himself! And now hear the prophecies as detailed in Psalms 22, “…I am a worm and no man …despised of the people …I am poured out like water …and all my bones are out of joint …my heart is like wax …my tongue cleaves to my jaw …am brought down to the dust of death.”

His being there was the fulfillment of his intent and determination to die in our place! This was the price that God himself set for our redemption: God himself had to die; God himself had to shed his very own blood! By saying, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me,” He is doing exactly that on the cross. He is drawing us, asking us, “to come unto me.” Yes, and by asking the Father to, “forgive them for they know not what they do”, He is throwing the door wide open for us while tugging at our hearts. And, one could almost hear him say “Be Mine”.

Be mine and your sin will be forgiven and no longer under the curse; I am reminded of the prophet who said, “though your sins be as scarlet ye shall be white as snow. Be mine for I am going to prepare a dwelling place for you. Be mine and you will never die, for my special gift to you is eternal life; and you will never thirst or hunger, for I will give you both the bread of life and the water of life.”

But what could be the proper response to such a suitor and his appeal or proposal? To learn of the best, and indeed, the only accepted response (a simple I will) we need only to look again at Calvary’s brow and hear the thief on a cross next to our Saviour when he says; “Master, remember me when you cometh into your kingdom.”

In saying “Be Mine”, “come unto me”, and “Whosoever believeth in me shall never die”, isn’t he asking us to consider and look expectantly upon the eternal, heavenly scene. We have the ‘picture’ of a people for whom a pure, white, shining garment has been prepared. And as we stand so arrayed before the very throne of God our hearts are suddenly filled with an overwhelming measure of love, and our eyes are filled with great tears of joy; for we are now aware that He is present! The Lamb of God Himself has stepped forth from the midst of the throne. And, performing the acts and duty as our Groom, places a wedding ring on our fingers; and then presents us to all the holy, righteous hosts of Heaven as his greatly beloved, glorious, precious Bride! The Church! And all the host of Heaven bow down; reverently, lovingly, and adoringly as kings cast their crowns down before Him!

And so, indeed, as the Lord said on the cross, “It Is Finished!” Thus, the message of God written indelibly throughout space and time by his own blood is there for all to see: I love you! Love has conquered!

Rev. Jess Shifflett
Front Royal, VA

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Opinion

A day and night of football in America: Exactly what we needed

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I know that Football may be controversial. It is violent, potentially injurious and often played at less than perfect weather times. How could the coming Super Bowl be better than the Championship games played less than 2 weeks ago.

Yet, on football Championship Sunday – 2 weeks ago – from 3PM until almost 10PM (EST), America was transformed from our divided Nation where blame is rampant and people may be suffering into a huge collection of football fans and even non-football people who had to watch TV because someone significant in their lives was glued to the NFL-AFL Championship round.

And were we ever treated to a spectacular display of talent of players and coaches on the football field. There probably never has been in sports history such a day as yesterday. We, who love the sport, were treated to professional football games that will go down in sports history.

So, for close to 7 hours of play and many hours of hype before and after the games, we had to set aside our politics and painful political choices. Instead, so many Americans and people across the world, watched or listened to men and women talking about football – Not the Shutdown, Not who was right or wrong, Not impeachment, Not the Probe, Not the Russians, Not the Leaks, Not the Chinese, Not even the future of this wonderful country.

For this escape from what we are thinking about, and talking about, from wondering what political parties are going to do next, from our concerns about hurting people, from what happens next – to being thankful for the brilliant performances on the two fields of play and for the coaching and TV or radio coverage of two of the best Championship football games ever!

Thank you Los Angeles Rams. Thank you New Orleans Saints. Thank you New England Patriots. Thank you Kansas City Chiefs.

Now, back to the reality of what happens next.

BUT WAIT, we still have the Super Bowl coming this weekend.


Charles P. Lickson
Front Royal, Virginia

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