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Commander In Tweet: Trump Avoids Media Filter With Twitter


President-elect Trump continues to be busy on Twitter. Last night on Twitter, he claimed credit for saving a Ford plant from being sent to Mexico, although Ford said it never had plans to move the plant to Mexico. In some ways, his activity on Twitter is in line with the tradition of presidents going around the so-called filter of the press. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Three days after winning the presidency in 2008, President-elect Barack Obama held a press conference.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This morning, we woke up to more sobering news about the state of our economy.

KEITH: Three days after winning the presidency in 2016, President-elect Donald Trump turned to Twitter to say he had a busy day planned in New York. Quote, "we'll soon be making some very important decisions on the people who will be running our government!" Trump was asked about it in an interview with "60 Minutes."


DONALD TRUMP: I pick up - I'm picking up now - I think I picked up yesterday 100,000 people. I'm not saying I love it, but it does get the word out.

KEITH: Trump hasn't held a press conference since July, instead opting for the more controlled setting of interviews and, of course, Twitter, over which he has total control. "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl pressed Trump on whether he would continue using Twitter in the same way as president.


TRUMP: I'm going to do very restrained if I use it at all. I'm going to do very restrained. I find it tremendous. It's a modern form of communication. There should be nothing you should be ashamed of. It's where it's at.

KEITH: Since then, Trump has repeatedly tweeted to criticize what he calls the failing New York Times, insisting that, despite reports to the contrary, his transition is going smoothly. Before his team sent out a press release, Trump tweeted a list of countries whose leaders he's spoken with. He also mused about the Electoral College.

BRENDAN NYHAN: Presidents want to get their message out unfiltered by the press. In that sense, what Donald Trump is doing with social media is not new.

KEITH: Brendan Nyhan is a professor of government at Dartmouth College and contributes to The Upshot at The New York Times. That hesitation you hear in his voice is that he's not sure Trump will observe other conventions and norms past presidents have followed.

NYHAN: FDR was not getting fireside chats about why The New York Times was a failing institution.


FRANKLIN D ROOSEVELT: My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.

KEITH: President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his first radio address, known later as a fireside chat, in March of 1933, in the midst of a crisis of confidence in American banks. Their purpose was to reassure the public directly. He was going around the filter. President Obama's team used social media, releasing its own highly produced videos and posting photos on Flickr rather than letting journalists into the room. And when he needed to sell the Affordable Care Act to young people, Obama sat down between two ferns with comedian Zach Galifianakis.


OBAMA: I mean, I have to say, when I heard that, like, people actually watch this show, I was actually by surprised.

ZACK GALIFIANAKIS: (Shushing) Hi. Welcome to another edition of "Between Two Ferns."

KEITH: Last week, when Trump met with President Obama at the White House, reporters who were let in to document the final moments shouted questions, as they often do.


OBAMA: Thank you everybody. We're not - we are not...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Do you have a message to those protesting...

KEITH: And Obama offered some advice to his successor - don't answer them.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Seek as counsel?

OBAMA: Yeah, come on, guys. Let's go.

KEITH: Administrations have a way of building on each other when it comes to limiting press access. On January 20, Trump's team will be given the keys to the @POTUS Twitter account, though Trump actually has more followers on his own account than the current president.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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