Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan, daily politics newsletter where I answer reader questions from across the country. If you found Tangle online, you can subscribe below.
Today’s read: 7 minutes.
The new Twitter rules and a question about life after Trump.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Photo credit: JD Lasica / Flickr
Some personal news.
Mazel tov! To me! And my new fiance. Last night, I popped the big question, and she said yes. It’s been a thrilling 24 hours and I can’t wait for what’s to come. She has been an absolute rock for me as I navigate this crazy industry, and she was one of the first people to throw her full support behind the idea of Tangle as she encouraged me to keep writing. I can’t think of anyone who has done more to keep me grounded, and I’m so thankful to have a long future ahead together. A major shoutout to her best friends and sister-in-law, who helped create this special scene while we were out to dinner.
The House passed a resolution approving its procedures for the impeachment inquiry into Trump around 11:30 (EST) in the morning on Thursday. This opens a new phase of impeachment that will allow much of the evidence to be presented publicly. It passed 232-196, roughly along party lines, with 2 Democrats (Collin Peterson of Minn. and Jeff Van Drew of N.J.) and every Republican voting against it. Click.
Last night, President Trump ran an advertisement during the World Series, presumably seen by millions of Americans. It’s one of his first major ad buys of 2020.
What D.C. is talking about.
Twitter. Yesterday, the CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, announced that the company would no longer accept political ads on its site. Dorsey said political messages should be earned, not bought, and cited Twitter’s more limited resources in handling disinformation. Dorsey warned about how misinformation, deep fakes and increasing sophistication of lies online are poisoning politics. Twitter clarified that it was banning ads that promote any specific policy position or candidate, but said it would still allow certain paid political-adjacent ads like voter registration pushes. In a not-so-veiled-critique of Facebook, which makes far more money off of political ads and lets candidates run false information, Dorsey tweeted this:
What Democrats are saying.
For the most part, they’re thrilled. Democrats have been taking Facebook through the wringer recently, citing the Trump campaigns spending on ads that tell lies and the way conservative news outlets are dominating the site. While Big Tech is often criticized for being overtly liberal, Facebook’s top publishers are consistently President Trump and other right-wing news outlets or pundits. A lot of them are paying for that traction. That has come under increased scrutiny in the last two years, and Facebook’s role in spreading disinformation during the 2016 election was a major dent in its reputation. Now Twitter is taking the clear, principled stand that will eliminate the opportunity for political misinformation to spread online. "When faced with a choice between ad dollars and the integrity of our democracy, it is encouraging that, for once, revenue did not win out," Bill Russo, a spokesman for Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign, told CNN.
What Republicans are saying.
They aren’t thrilled. While Donald Trump benefitted most from free media on television, Twitter and Facebook were a big part of his strategy in 2016 and have been since. Republican politicians have tried to emulate what he’s doing on Facebook, and they fear Twitter’s new rules might push other social media platforms to crackdown on political ads, too. Brad Parscale, the man who often takes credit for Trump’s digital ad campaigns, said that it was “a very dumb decision for their stockholders” and insisted it was “yet another attempt to silence conservatives since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever known.” He also guessed that Twitter would lift the ban after 2020. Other conservatives criticized Twitter, saying it was limiting free speech (Dorsey had pre-emptively responded to those criticisms, saying “paid speech is not free speech.”)
For the most part, I’m happy to see this change. I can understand why conservatives may feel it’s an attack on them, but I think that’s a pretty overblown idea. This impacts both sides pretty evenly. Despite Parscale’s claim that he’s a digital mastermind, there’s a good deal of evidence that he really isn’t. And despite Trump’s competing claims that Twitter and Facebook both helped him win and are viciously anti-Republican, the truth is there’s little evidence that paid digital ads move the needle. And even if they did, they were far less important than all the free media he got on social and television.
That being said, the best criticism I’ve seen of this decision came from Jessica Alter, an expert in tech campaigns. She made the case that candidates pay for TV, mail, radio and all sorts of other media, and they should be able to buy up social as well. Basically, she makes the point that politicians with less money but stronger grassroots followings — and perhaps social media followings — can leverage that to make a big impact with cheaper social media ads. Without them, they’re boxed out of television or radio, which is far more expensive.
Still, even though Twitter is not making a ton of money on political ads and isn’t a big player in the market, I think it sets a good precedent. Dorsey’s point about “earning” media vs. paying for it resonates with me, but more importantly, I agree with him that our Democracy can’t afford to let politicians pay for fake news on huge platforms. It’s a really messy game deciding what is and isn’t fake, so tearing the root out and not allowing paid political ads at all is a simple solution.
Your questions, answered.
Remember: Tangle is built on reader questions. If you have something you want to know, write in and ask by replying to this email.
Q: There is a focus to remove Donald Trump from the presidency through impeachment or the 2020 election. If that happens, it does not seems likely that Donald Trump would honor the informal tradition of past presidents refraining from being overly critical of the current president. How likely is it that Donald Trump continues to dictate the national conversation or make headlines (like in the Obama years) due to inflammatory statements on Twitter? Would the media choose to shut him out?
- William, Pittsburgh, PA
Tangle: Of all the things that I struggle to imagine, a post-Trump political world is probably at the top of the list. His existence has become so consuming and so tied to everything — in a way few presidents ever have been, besides maybe Obama — that I really have a hard time picturing politics without him. For one, a lot of Republicans who sacrificed their values over the last four years are going to have to decide whether to move on with Trumpism or get back to conservatism. Two, a lot of Democrats who have made a killing with a historically unpopular president are going to have to find new ways to win besides simply dunking on Trump.
I certainly don’t imagine a world where Trump will stay quiet if he isn’t re-elected. With Twitter alone, he has dictated what headline stories the media is chasing on a daily basis. Add in the fact Fox News will always take his call and Trump’s own willingness to push the boundaries in order to catch a headline, and I really can’t see a world where he isn’t making news on a daily basis.
How the media will handle him, though, is an entirely different story. I often say that talking about the media as a monolith is a dangerous game to play, so I’ll try to avoid that here. My suspicion is that the major newspapers, like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post, will cut their coverage of him down quite a bit. They’ll have to, by virtue of the fact their resources will be going into investigating whatever the new administration is. The flip side of that, though, is that as soon as Trump is out of office the flood gates are going to open on former staff members writing books, leaking, speaking publicly, etc. And that will be fodder for every top D.C. reporter and a lot of investigative reporters who are currently working on stories that they’re trying to piece together. Administration officials are always a lot more loose-lipped once they’re out of office.
As far as television goes, I suspect CNN, MSNBC and Fox News will continue to pound the Trump beat. And why not? Each is raking in record profits in the Trump era because people care about him — a lot. Either because they love him or hate him. I see it in my own work, too. Tangle emails with Trump in the headline have higher open rates than ones without him. Articles I write and share on Twitter or Facebook almost always drive more traffic if they are tied to Trump vs. if they aren’t. I try to resist those cheap clicks and urges and focus on what’s important, but every media org has to balance those incentives and the money that comes with them with their own moral and ethical standards. TV news is going to blow up with former Trump advisors who will have a lot to say about the administration that succeeds him. And I imagine the conservative websites like Breitbart, The Daily Caller and The Daily Wire will all keep publishing Trump-related content because they make money off of page views.
All told, no, I don’t think the media will shut him out. I do think the more sophisticated and well-sourced papers of record will feel pressure from their readers to move on past Trump, because those readers will probably insist on not spending every waking moment thinking about him like they do now. But when you have liberated former Trump staffers, Trump himself, and the Trump family free from the baggage of the presidency, I imagine they will say a lot of newsworthy stuff. If the last few years is any indication, I don’t think the media world is in a position to ignore them.
A story that matters.
America’s obesity rates are climbing, and health troubles stemming from those rates will continue to strain our system, Axios reports. As obesity rates keep rising, so too will Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. That, combined with the opioid and addiction epidemics in Ameria, is putting a massive strain on an already wildly expensive system. New research from the CDC suggests it’s only going to get worse — and it’s unclear what America’s plan for the crisis is. You can read more here.
- 18. The percentage of American kids who are now obese, according to the CDC.
- 40. The percentage of American adults who are now obese, according to the CDC.
- ~11. The approximate percentage increase of obesity in adult men between 1999 and 2016.
- 100. The percentage of confidence Rudy Giuliani said he has that Donald Trump won’t turn on him, according to TIME Magazine.
- 40. The percentage of farm profit this year that has come from trade aid, disaster assistance, federal subsidies and insurance programs, according to the Department of Agriculture.
- The numbers on Democrats in Trump-friendly districts who just voted for impeachment:
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Have a nice day.
A massive price drop in the antibiotic drug that fights tuberculosis could prevent millions from contracting the disease. 1.7 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population, are infected by tuberculosis but show no symptoms. The antibiotic stops the latent form of the disease from becoming active and just became 66 percent cheaper than it has ever been. Via The Guardian: “The price drop, negotiated on a volume basis by Unitaid, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, means the drug can be used in 100 low- and middle-income countries.” You can read more here.