Truth be told I’m less troubled by Donald Trump’s war on the media and obsession with ‘fake news’ than the fact a 72-year-old tycoon can’t seem to appear in public without painting himself orange first.
It is too reminiscent of deluded Golden Age Hollywood actors living out their dotage caked in dust, face powder and self-obsession.
That the new ‘leader of the free world’ has jumped straight into banning anyone who dares challenge his own views is troubling but body swerve the broadsides and ‘burning the books’ ideology and Trump raises an interesting question:
Can a government – or other major institutions or organisation for that matter – communicate direct to its audience without the use of the mainstream media?
“We don’t need you – we have Twitter and YouTube,” bawled a Trump aide on BBC 2’s Newsnight programme after Trump’s infamous “the BBC, another beauty” put down of correspondent Jon Sopel.
The simple answer is yes… but only to a degree.
If you want to issue dictats and unopposed opinions then delivering your message directly to your audience on social media may be fine. Go direct, cut out the middle man.
But if you’re concerned by contra opinion then the essential interaction of social media is likely to cause consternation.
That’s why the healthy scrutiny of the mainstream media is effective. Leaders can be challenged. It is when the best ones often step up to the mark to prove their worth.
Sounds obvious, but to reach millions of people instantly you need a balanced diet of TV, radio, newspapers …and, yes, latterly, social media. Banning time-honoured, well respected media groups can only alienate swathes of your audience.
And here’s the irony, Trump’s stunning success – like several other recent against-the-odds worldwide electoral winners – has been to connect with an audience who have felt marginalised by mainstream politics.
In saying he’ll ‘Make America Great Again’ and will put ‘America First’, Trump has tapped into a constituency that is open to nationalistic rhetoric and excluded from the potential of a wider world view.
Say it loud and shrill enough and he also hopes to drown concerns of fairness or fear of foreigners.
And here’s the rub. Can you remember what platform Hilary Clinton stood for other than more of the same?
Trump sold his message consistently.
On this side of ‘the pond’, the Prime Minister Teresa May and leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, largely side-stepped last year’s Brexit debate and internal party politicking aside, share lukewarm public support.
By contrast, UKIP seem to only have one message – they don’t care much for migrants, and with the Lib Dems struggling for a new post-Brexit fence to sit on that that leaves the Scottish Nationalists enjoying unprecedented success. Why? Because, again, they have a clear line to sell -What do we want? Independence. When do we want it? Now.
But it isn’t 72-year-old billionaires who are confused about a potential new world (social) media order.
When Teresa and I recently lectured third year media students, some of them – despite journalism being the most obvious profession open to them – also thought major organisations and high profile celebrities could live easily without the need of mainstream media to poke their noses in. Confused or what?
Fact is – the message will always be more important than communication methods (which change). Reliance on Twitter and YouTube may seem ancient history in 10 years’ time.
By then, hopefully, a president seeking to communicate solely via social media will also be a distant memory.
Chris Green is an award-winning author and broadcaster and managing partner of Chris Green Media – our aim is to inspire business people to communicate better.