Barack Obama: Presidents Should Avoid Too Much Cable News And Too Much Tweeting

Obvious advice is obvious.

Barack Obama is saying that Presidents should avoid watching a lot of television and spending time on social media:

Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday offered up his advice for clear decision-making in the Oval Office — avoid TV and social media, which only “clouds your judgment.”

“What you have to do is to create a process where you have confidence that whatever data is out there has been sifted, sorted and the core issues that are going to be important to your decision, you’re able to see it around,” Obama said during an interview onstage at a technology conference in San Francisco.

“And that requires not just a good process but making sure you have a team that’s got a diversity of opinion. The other thing that’s helpful is not watching TV. Or, you know, reading, you know, social media,” he said to a cheering crowd.

“So those are two things I would advise if you’re president not to do, because it creates a lot of noise and clouds your judgment.”While Obama didn’t name President Donald Trump in his remarks about TV and social media, Obama’s successor is a prolific viewer of cable news and a frequent tweeter. 

Obama has occasionally criticized the President — such as when Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and in the wake of Trump’s first travel ban executive order — but it is rare for modern presidents to criticize their successors. When referring to current news, Obama has frequently avoided using Trump’s name.

(…)

Obama said Wednesday that it’s important that presidents be clear “that you want facts” without “sugarcoating.”

“You can make sure that people who are providing you that information get a clear signal from you that you want facts, and you want bad news first. And you don’t want spinning and you don’t want sugarcoating and you want a diversity of opinion, and you send that signal strong at the outset.”

He added that presidents shouldn’t become concerned with outside signals that can “sway your decision-making in an unhealthy way.”

“If you are susceptible to worrying about what are the polls saying, or what might this person say about this topic or you start mistaking the intensity of the passion of a very small subset of people with a broader sense of how the country or people who actually know something about the topic you’re dealing with think, that will sway your decision-making in an unhealthy way,” he said.

The former President didn’t mention the current President by name in his remarks, but he didn’t really need to do that. With the possible exception of Lyndon Johnson, who became obsessed with the nightly news coverage of the Vietnam War, there hasn’t been a President who has become perhaps the most well-known addict of cable news in the nation. According to the many reports about how the President spends his time that has come out of the White House, Trump spends several hours in both the morning and evening and time during the course of the workday, watching news coverage on one of the cable news networks. Usually, he’s watching his preferred network, Fox News Channel, something that one can tell usually by following his Twitter feed where he often repeats things that had just been covered on Fox & Friends.

Trump is also the most prolific political Twitter user out there, a habit he developed long before running for President and one that he has continued during the nearly three years that he’s been in office. Indeed, Trump’s twitter account has become his chief means of communicating with the public, especially since his Administration has basically ended the practice of the daily press briefing. There is seldom a day that goes by without a Twitter outburst of some kind from the President and, often, one that ends up defining the news day. He has also used his Twitter account to announce staff and Cabinet Department changes, such as the departure of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Trump’s addiction to the news and social media stands in sharp contrast to his immediate predecessors. It was fairly well-known, for example, that President Obama avoided watching the news and that he confined most of his television times to evening hours during which he’d mostly watch Sports Center on ESPN or basketball games. Similarly, President George W. Bush, who was famously not much of a night owl, was reported to be another President who avoided excessive exposure to cable news, as did President Clinton before him.

Given the contrasts between those Presidents and the current occupant of the Oval Office, Obama’s advice is well-taken. Presidents already have access to all the information they need through their staff and the intelligence community. Adding to that by obsessively watching cable news, regardless of which network it might be, deprives a President of the kind of information they really need and, as we can see on a daily basis with Trump, fills their head with useless information, biased coverage, and self-reinforcing commentary that causes them to revert into an ideological bubble. The same is true of social media. That’s not to say that they don’t serve a purpose, but that both should be used in moderation and in ways that don’t create the kind of ideological bubbles that this President, and far too many other Americans, has fallen into.

Former President Obama’s advice is well taken. Not just for Presidents, but for the rest of us too.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    Since joining Twitter, Obama has tweeted 3.4 times per day and Trump 11.7 times per day.

    2
  2. drj says:

    I recently happened to come across a video of Obama’s inauguration with Springsteen and Seeger singing This Land Is Your Land.

    Things were definitely looking up then. It feels like ages ago.

    Now we have this evil, demented toddler in charge.

    It’s enough to make one weep.

    24
  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    One of Obama’s former aides said on Twitter that Obama has always held those views…so I’m not reading too much into this.
    Trump does plenty of fuqed up stuff…his TV and Twitter addiction is just one of them…and many
    of the rest of them are impeachable offenses.

    3
  4. gVOR08 says:

    @drj: Thanks for the reminder of the Obama inauguration. A joyful feeling that we’d done a good think and things were going to get better. And they did get better. Democrats should find ways to run on that feeling.

    4
  5. gVOR08 says:

    Yesterday LGM posted TRUMP AS “REPLACEMENT-LEVEL FOX NEWS JUNKIE”.

    One thing I’ve thought for a while is that one of the best ways of characterizing Trump is that he’s just a replacement-level seventy-something Fox News viewer. He does not have even the level of sophistication you’d find at the high end of the expertise/awareness distribution in the mass public, let alone a bona-fide member of the political elite like Obama, either Bush, or Clinton.

    Like any other replacement-level Fox News junkie, he loves the symbolism of toughness, and it allows him to distinguish himself from negative reference groups/opponents on the domestic front. The problem is that the average old man parked in front of Fox for his daily mainline hit of resentment and identity politics doesn’t have to grapple with the real-world implications of performative toughness. But Trump eventually does, and he fails to grok those implications until he’s beaten over the head with them at the very last minute by one or two of the few non-yes-men he has left (e.g., Dunford, nameless Pentagon lawyers). And in Trump’s somewhat idiosyncratic case, this is compounded by the fact that he combines his penchant for performative toughness with an isolationist streak — and seems to have little consciousness of how the implications of those two things might conflict with one another.

    The result is strategic incoherence: “’Trump is in a box of his own making,’ said Philip Gordon … ‘He has put in place policies — ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran — guaranteed to provoke an aggressive Iranian response, but he’s not prepared to respond aggressively in turn, and the Iranians know it.’”

    3
  6. Kit says:

    Trump does us all a service by using Twitter. Had he never picked up the habit, we’d have far less feel for the man we are dealing with. At worst, his fans are forced to embrace his ugliness; at best, one of his tweets will some day land him in prison.

    2
  7. Moosebreath says:

    @Kit:

    “At worst, his fans are forced to embrace his ugliness”

    Umm, no. His fans view his ugliness as a feature, not a bug. They proudly celebrate his ugliness.

    9
  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Moosebreath: And they do it with great joy and fervor.

    1
  9. Kit says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Umm, no. His fans view his ugliness as a feature, not a bug. They proudly celebrate his ugliness.

    That’s what I was trying to say.

    1
  10. Kathy says:

    You’d think the president, or in this case Trump, and even the White House staff, would have access to more, not to mention more detailed and better information, regarding most topics covered in the news, especially as regards foreign policy.

    I mean not just classified information, but lots of useful info that’s not interesting enough to make the news, and some that even news junkies would regard as too dry to bother with. You know, the kind of information that lets you better understand the nuances involved.

    Of course someone like El Cheeto would prefer a slanted, incomplete summary on “the shows.” It’s less demanding on an intelectual level.

    4
  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: Exactly. Trump has the entire information gathering and analysis resources of the US government at his beck and call. And he watches FOX. As Obama said, you have to signal the staff you want good information. Or not.

    2
  12. Kathy says:

    @gVOR08:

    Well, good info is essential if you want to make intelligent decisions.

    1
  13. CSK says:

    @gVOR08: From what I understand, Trump doesn’t listen, because he has the attention span of a flea, and wouldn’t understand the info even if he did listen. Mattis said dealing with Trump was like dealing with a sixth grader, Kelly said Trump was an idiot, and Tillerson said he was a fucking moron.
    .

    8
  14. Joe says:

    @Kathy:
    You would think someone in there would know that Greenland is an autonomous country that Denmark is not in a position to sell or that 2019 is not the same place culturally as 1959, but, hey these are deep mysteries.

    1
  15. Teve says:

    Didn’t they say that to get Trump to read something you had to make it like one page, preferably with bullet points and pictures, and using his name a lot?

    4
  16. CSK says:

    @Teve: Yes. I think his name had to be boldface, too.

    1
  17. Franklin says:

    Why do trolls often type as if they campaign copywriters from 1984?

    13
  18. Gustopher says:

    Did Obama say anything about how presidents shouldn’t commit treason, or direct government money to their own businesses, or accept foreign money through his business?

    Because most of those seem worse than tweeting.

    6
  19. montanareddog says:

    …by obsessively watching cable news, regardless of which network it might be, deprives a President of the kind of information they really need and, as we can see on a daily basis with Trump, fills their head with useless information, biased coverage, and self-reinforcing commentary that causes them to revert into an ideological bubble.

    Valid commentary, Doug, if Trump was interested in governing the US. He has no such interest. If you were to see him as a pure narcissist, who lucked into the most high-status position there is, and whose only focus is to be re-elected to that position simply in order to protect his self-image, then concentrating on the media in a news cycle-driven political world makes perfect sense.

    1
  20. DrDaveT says:

    @Cris Ericson:

    Our United States Constitution is being ripped and torn and shredded and burnt before our eyes.

    Wow. There was actually one important fact buried in that otherwise incoherent, spittle-flecked screed.

    14
  21. DrDaveT says:

    Aside: Am I the only one who winces every time someone labels something like Fox News Channel “cable news”? It’s not news, at least not the parts that Trump watches, and it’s not just on cable. How about some truth in labeling here? “Opinion media”, perhaps, or maybe good old-fashioned “propaganda”?

    5
  22. Kathy says:

    @Franklin:

    Well, if you need to have it explained that Peace is Slavery and Freedom is Ignorance, then there’s no point, is there? Doubleplusungood!!

    Completely off-topic, I just bought a can of something called Coca Cola with Coffee, and it was actually pretty good.

    1
  23. Teve says:

    @Kathy: Coca-Cola tried something called Coca-Cola black in 2006 to 2008 and it flopped. Now they’re trying something new that supposed to be a lot better tasting.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/05/30/business/coke-with-coffee/index.html

    As a coffee maven I’m curious. How was it?

    1
  24. An Interested Party says:

    Has there have been a more enormous disparity than between these two presidents? Good grief…

    1
  25. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    I remember Coca Cola Blak. I tried it, only once, while vacationing in Orlando in 2006.

    The latest was, as stated previously, pretty good, but not in a serious coffee drinker kind of way. more like in a “Well, it does have a coffee-like flavor in there mixed with the usual coke flavor.” A bit sweeter than Coke Zero, too.

    At the office, I make drip coffee using grounds from local roasters from Veracruz, Oaxaca, or Chiapas. But I’m no purist. I also like coffee-flavored beverages and deserts, like lattes, cappuccinos, mocha, coffee ice cream, and even coffee jell-o (when I bother to make any; dissolving the unflavored jell-o is a pain). If you like such things, you might like the newest Coke with coffee.

  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: True, now if only you and Cris both agreed on who is shredding the Constitution, we’d have something. His comment only has the appearance of insight. In context, it’s just more lunacy.

  27. Teve says:

    @Kathy: I’m not a coffee snob, I’m a coffee maven. I love it in numerous varieties. Now that arabica beans are everywhere, even a lot of bad coffee is good. All summer I’ve bought the Colombian Walmart coffee because I’ve just been making a 32 oz au lait every morning with chocolate powder, you could probably put Sanka in there and you wouldn’t notice. 🙂 Coffee ice cream is the best, I can’t wait to try this new kind of Coke.

  28. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    IMO, coffee mixes very well with lots of things, and improves the taste of these things.

    I don’t mix Coke with other things, but I do like Coke with other flavors in it, like vanilla Coke and lime Coke. The thing is Coke, and soda in general, tastes from off to terrible without fizz. So I’ve never tried Coke jell-o.

    I once tried mixing it with milk. Problem: milk has high surface tension, which means bubbles formed in it last a rather long time. This is great for cappuccino, but when mixed with Coke it tends to become all foam.

    But the taste wasn’t bad.

    1
  29. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    I don’t mix Coke with other things

    Two words: barbecue sauce.

    Bobby Flay knows what he’s doing.

    4
  30. rachel says:

    @DrDaveT: One word: rum.

    2
  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: On the old Laverne and Shirley show the girls would always offer each other milk and Pepsi when ailing. I looked it up, and the combination was thought to relieve nausea and stomach upset (and probably feminine discomforts, but I’m oblivious to that sort of joke). I know it works to relieve upset related to acid reflux.

  32. DrDaveT says:

    @rachel:

    One word: rum.

    Cuba libre!

    For me, if the rum is good enough to drink straight, adding coke ruins it. If the rum isn’t good enough to drink straight, it isn’t good enough to drink.

  33. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Interesting. I take something carbonated when I feel nausea, which seems to help.

    I may get another can of Coke and Coffee later and mix it with milk. A Coke au lait 🙂