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Trump's reliance on conservative media is a festering problem

Donald Trump's "primary source of information gathering" is conservative media. It's causing problems that are hard to ignore.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla.

Donald Trump raised more than a few eyebrows last night, boasting about the size of his "nuclear button," and effectively daring North Korea to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities. But what went largely overlooked was the first part of the Republican president's dangerous tweet: "North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the 'Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.'"

But Kim Jong-un hadn't "just" stated that; he'd actually made the comments nearly two days earlier. What had actually "just" happened was that Fox News had aired a segment on the North Korean leader's remarks, and Donald Trump had "just" seen it.

The Toronto Star's Daniel Dale published a fascinating observation last night, connecting the American president's online missives to what he happened to see on his allied cable news network.

7:48 a.m.: Attacks Justice Dept., Abedin after Fox segment8:44 a.m.: Tweets to Fox8:49 a.m.: Tweets about taxes after Fox segment9:08 a.m.: Talks North Korea after Fox segment9:13 a.m.: Takes credit for aviation safety after Fox segment7:49 p.m.: Mocks Kim Jong-un after Fox segment8:16 p.m.: Urges people to watch Fox show11:03 p.m.: Live-tweets Fox Business

And that was just yesterday. When Trump sat down with a New York Times reporter on Friday, he pointed to evidence of China providing oil to North Korea. Did he receive this information from a U.S. intelligence agency? Trump said he knew the information because "it was reported on Fox."

Earlier in the day, he said his approval rating at the end of his first year was "the same" as President Obama's. That's ridiculously untrue, but Trump said he saw it reported on Fox News.

The week before, the president expressed amazement that the FBI had reassigned attorney James Baker. He said he learned about the developments by way of Fox News.

After White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had been on the job for a month, the New York Times  reported that Kelly "cannot stop Mr. Trump from binge-watching Fox News, which aides describe as the president's primary source of information gathering." Evidently, this hasn't changed.

When addressing the subject in general, Trump tends to get defensive about his television habits. "I do not watch much television," the president famously claimed. "I know they like to say -- people that don't know me -- they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources -- you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don't get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I'm reading documents a lot."

When the New York Times  reported last month that Trump spends "at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television," he offered a defensive, angry response.

But the president's own tweets give away the game. Trump's denials are easy to dismiss based on the evidence he readily provides with his own social-media habits.

I suppose the next question is, so what? Does it really matter if the president relies on conservative media as his "primary source of information gathering"?

I think it does. We can say with certainty, for example, that Trump's media consumption has led him astray on far too many occasions. As we discussed in September, Trump’s allegations that Barack Obama illegally tapped his phones were based on a bizarre piece published on a right-wing website. He soon after told the public about terrorist violence in Sweden – which didn’t actually exist – because of something he saw on Fox News. Around the same time, the president made odd claims about the national debt based on a bogus argument on Fox News, which got the information from a strange right-wing blog that’s notorious for publishing nonsense.

The public may not appreciate just how quickly a sitting president can have any question answered. Trump can pick up the phone anytime and say, “I’d like some information on security threats in Sweden,” and very soon thereafter, a group of people will appear in front of him, providing him with as many details as he’d like. If he wants to better understand the deficit and/or the debt, he can make a simple request and have a half-dozen economists in his office, ready to give a tutorial at a time of his choosing.

This applies to practically any topic, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a perk of the office.

But Trump doesn’t avail himself of this unique access to facts, preferring instead to make conservative media his “primary source of information gathering.”

Vox's Matt Yglesias added this morning, "For the president to govern effectively, actual problems need to be brought to his attention. But in the propaganda bubble that Trump prefers to inhabit, there is no endless darkness in Puerto Rico or falling life expectancy amid a growing opioid crisis.... Instead, we have a president who not only avails himself of information cocooning to maintain the support of his shrinking base but actually inhabits the bubble himself."

The effects on Trump's presidency are becoming painfully obvious.