Any former Capitol Hill intern is familiar with the concept of a clip book, which young staffers compile, every day, to give their bosses a sense of how news outlets are covering them. This is a standard practice for Democrats and Republicans alike. Indeed, once upon a time when I was an intern in Chuck Schumer’s office, my responsibilities included assembling a daily package of news articles that contained any mention of him.
But the purpose of that document — and of nearly all clip books — was for the senator and his senior aides to get an accurate portrait of how he was being covered in the press. Like any normal human being, Schumer preferred to read positive coverage of himself to negative, but the goal of the exercise was to help ascertain what was actually going on in order to inform future decision-making.
That is not Donald Trump’s goal. He, by contrast, seems to just want to hear that people think he’s doing a great job even though the best evidence we have is that people do not, in fact, think he’s doing a great job.
As Alex Thompson of Vice News, citing “three current and former White House officials,” reports: In the morning at 9:30 and then around 4:30 in the afternoon, Trump is presented with a briefing document full of people praising him.
The folders, according to Thompson, “are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.”
The point of this is to improve the notoriously media-obsessed president’s mood by reminding him he has a lot of fans and admirers out there, and in a hilarious detail, reportedly some in the White House even refer to this clip package as “the Propaganda Document.” And, in a very bad way, it is.
Clip books are common, but cocooning is dangerous
Obviously, nobody who is in the news as much as the president is in a position to read all coverage of himself. But it’s dangerous for a president to be cocooned in a world where he doesn’t know what kind of criticisms he’s facing.
Indeed, even from the standpoint of the president’s own self-interest, it’s probably counterproductive to be isolated from accurate information. Trump, for example, seems very taken with news coverage that emphasizes the number of jobs that have been added to the economy so far in 2017.
This is perfectly fine spin as far as spin goes. The reality, however, is that thus far in 2017, job growth has been somewhat slower than it was in 2016. If Trump believes that economic growth is booming when it is in fact slowing, he is unlikely to take action to reverse the slowing trend, even though both Trump and the American people more broadly would be better off with faster rather than slower job growth.
This problem will, of course, only be exacerbated if objective conditions at some point take a southward turn. If nobody wants to deliver bad news to the Oval Office, then there will be no way for problems to be addressed before they spiral out of control.
All administrations face some version of this problem, but part of good staffing is to push against it. Yet so far there’s little indication that anyone is really trying to break through with Trump, as opposed to letting him rely on Fox & Friends as his go-to news source. There’s a reason they say, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Trump doesn’t appear to know what it is.