Variety dissects the inspiration and meaning behind one of President Donald Trump’s tweets.
What’s Behind It: On Wednesday, the Republican chairman and Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee held a press conference to give an update on the Russia investigation. There were no bombshell revelations, but Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said the probe of whether there was any collusion between Russian sources and the Trump campaign is still very much on. There’s been a lot of speculation that Burr is facing some pressure to wrap things up, and that may have been one purpose of the press conference, to show how far they have come.
But what’s clear is that the press conference did not absolve the Trump campaign from the collusion issue, something that Trump has repeatedly dismissed as “fake news.” What’s more, there are new questions about the role of social media platforms in influencing the 2016 campaign, albeit Burr said what they have seen so far shows that the Russians were “indiscriminate” in their desire to sow chaos in the election.
That press conference happened at the same time that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pushed back against an NBC News report that he had grown so frustrated with Trump that he threatened to resign and called the president a “moron.” NBC News is standing by the story, and other news outlets like CNN also confirmed the remark.
Nevertheless, Trump was still bashing NBC News on Thursday, not specifically because of the “moron” claim, but about whether Tillerson wanted to resign. Tillerson made a statement to reporters on Wednesday that he “never considered” leaving his post. The New York Times reported that despite the denials, Tillerson did indeed discuss quitting.
Why Now: A Tillerson resignation would create even more tumult in the Trump cabinet, after the departure last week of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price was ousted after Politico reported on his use of private air travel.
The Fallout: The prospect of congressional investigations into news gathering sets off alarm bells in the media, among First Amendment advocates, and certainly among lawmakers of both parties that profess to be advocates for freedom of the press. In one sense, Trump’s tweet is disconcerting, but it also falls in line with his attacks on the media when it reports on stories that he doesn’t like. He previously referred to the “fake news media” as the “enemy of the American people.”
Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been invited to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Nov. 1 as it proceeds with the investigation into Russian interference. As much as the social media platforms have said they will be cooperative, it’s not hard to imagine that they would also turn to First Amendment concerns when it comes to placing limits on their sites and determining what news is fake and what is not.