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The Briefing: Trump's tweets = wasted time

WASHINGTON – The president of the United States is wasting his time, and ours.

Really, would it not be better for the president of the United States to go to bed at a respectable hour rather than to take to Twitter at 11:37 p.m. Friday to attack basketball superstar LeBron James and CNN's Don Lemon? Does it really make sense for the news media to get all in a lather over President Trump's Sunday morning tweet in which he really just repeated what he said a year ago? And how many times does Trump have to tweet about "Fake News" to distract us from the true fact that he's now uttered a whopping 4,229 whoppers since he entered the White House?

And don't we all have better things to do than to pay attention to Trump's Twitter feed?

These are all legitimate questions in light of an increasing outpouring of outrage from the president.

In his infamous tweet from Friday night, Trump said Lemon "made LeBron look smart, which isn't easy to do." Moreover, he called Lemon "the dumbest man in television." This comes about six weeks after Trump branded Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, "an extraordinarily low IQ person."  And years before that, Trump tweeted his way to political prominence by claiming President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States.

There appears to be a pattern here. Lemon, James, Waters and Obama are all African-American.

But don't make too much of that pattern, because of course, Trump doesn't just attack African-Americans. He attacks all sorts of people, both online and in person, as the Washington Post's Philip Bump proves in this rather detailed analysis of all the people Trump has called stupid.

Which raises an important question: What in God's name does all this insulting have to do with being president?

When Trump was sworn into office, he took an oath, which says: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Now that sounds like a big job – one which doesn't include insulting basketball stars, television anchors or anybody, really. So it's legitimate to ask whether every second Trump spends on his Don Rickles routine is a distraction from the awesome responsibilities embedded in that oath.

Of course, Trump's tweet insulting James made big news, because just about everything the president says is news, and because it fed the 24-hour news cycle at a weekend low point.

Yet it's more difficult to understand why the media wasted so much time over Trump's Sunday morning tweet about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting that his son, Donald Trump Jr., arranged with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president:

This was headline news all over the country, on television and print, largely because that Trump Tower meeting is one of the key issues special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating.

But news is supposed to be new – and nothing about this tweet is, really, as Andrew Prokop of Vox noted, Trump said the exact same thing a year ago:

Now that year-old tweet doesn't use Trump's current go-to phrase, "Fake News." But this one from this Sunday did:

Where to begin?

One would think that someone with a track record of – we repeat – 4,229 false or misleading statements in 18 months as president would be careful about calling other people "Fake News." And while this "enemy of the people" stuff is getting old, it also could leave Trump with blood on his hands, as Bret Stephens said in the New York Times recently. After all, some madman might actually believe that journalists are the enemy of the people and start shooting the enemy.

What's more, this tweet came from a man who routinely attacks black athletes and celebrities and all sorts of other people on Twitter, who coined the nicknames "Crooked Hillary" and "Lyin' Ted Cruz" and countless others, who mocked a handicapped reporter. And he accuses the media of causing division and distrust? Politician, heal thyself!

And the media causes war? The Spanish-American War, maybe. But you can't name one other American war that the media started.

Trump tweets this sort of garbage for a reason: He's trying to get the American public to turn on the media and trust him instead.

As was noted in this space three months ago, Trump is using the same rules of propaganda that the 20th century tyrants used to entrench themselves in power, including the "rule of redundancy," which is saying the same thing over and over and over again in hopes that people will start to believe it. That's why, by my count, Trump has tweeted about "Fake News" 55 times in the past three months alone: He hopes that you'll fall for his rhetoric if he repeats it, and repeats it and repeats it.

It's a diversionary tactic from a president who, to repeat yet again because it is factual, has made 4,229 false or misleading statements since entering office, many of them on Twitter.

So if the president's Twitter feed is largely a series of highly inaccurate rants, why pay much attention to it?

It's the job of the media to hold the powerful accountable, so we reporters have to do so.

But you don't. In fact, you really don't. A Gallup poll earlier this year found that only 8 percent of the U.S. population follows Trump's Twitter feed, and that only 4 percent reads most of his posts.

Clearly, an overwhelming percentage of Americans have better things to do with their time.

Happening today

Not much. President Trump remains on his working vacation at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., and Congress continues its summer recess. That being the case the "Happening today" section of The Briefing will appear in the coming days only when something really is happening.

Good reads

The Washington Post tells us that the Trump team has a new explanation for its frequent falsehoods: the notion that "facts develop" ... The Atlantic shows us how Trump radicalized Immigration and Customs Enforcement ... The New York Times says Republicans are testing a new election strategy – polarization – in a special House election in Ohio ... Vox explains why YouTube, Facebook and Apple are cracking down on right-wing crackpot Alex Jones ... And Politico looks at who's paying the legal bills for members of the Trump team that have gotten caught in the Russia investigation.

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