Last night I had an opportunity to speak with Bob Woodward about President Trump’s use of Twitter. Both Woodward and I work with the amazing Tony D’Amelio to manage our speaking engagements, so with Woodward in Boston for book tour event at The Wilbur Theater, I seized the opportunity to speak with the icon of journalism.
Bob Woodward joined The Washington Post as a reporter in 1971, and is still there today, now as an associate editor. With Carl Bernstein, Woodward did much of the original news reporting on the Watergate scandal, prompting the government investigations that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Woodward and Bernstein wrote a book on the story All the President’s Men, called “the greatest reporting story of all time” and which was turned into a film with Robert Redford playing Woodward and Dustin Hoffman playing Bernstein.
Woodward has covered nine presidents for the Washington Post and in his 18 books. His newest book Fear: Trump in the White House, is the most intimate portrait of a sitting president ever published during the president’s first years in office. It is the number two bestselling book of 2018 just behind Michelle Obama’s memoir.
But what about Trump’s use of Twitter during his presidency?
For insight into Twitter and the Presidency I had to ask Bob Woodward.
“Donald Trump’s tweets get amplified because the press covers it,” Woodward explained. “He's Houdini. It's a mystery. What he's going to tweet about?”
What I found particularly interesting is that Woodward’s reporting uncovered that even the people who work for Trump don’t know what he’s going to tweet next. “People who work in the White House go to work and need to find out, what has he tweeted?,” Woodward says. “They don't know. No one knows! Houdini appears and it's a magic tweet about something unexpected.”
It turns out that Trump pays attention to the metrics of his tweets and alters what he tweets about as a result. “I have in the book that he asked people to examine his tweets and when there are more than 200,000 likes, he wants to know what it was,” Woodward says. “And it turned out the more inflammatory, the more abrasive the tweet was, the more likes there were. So it feeds on itself. Everyone's just taking the bait.”
There’s no question that Trump is proud of his Twitter skills. Woodward shared this with me: “When Twitter went to 280 characters, he told one of his aides: ‘Oh, 280 characters, what a shame because I was the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters’.”
While Trump had been popular on Twitter for several years before he started his campaign in 2015, his popularity on the social network took off after he started his run for the White House. But when he was actually in office, it grew to massive proportions, with 56.2 million followers today and tons of engagement in every one of his tweets.
Woodward says that’s because of the awesome power of the Presidency combined with Trump’s need to be the center of attention. It is an explosive combination. We conducted the interview just a few days after the Bush 41 funeral and just a few hours after an Oval Office meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to discuss funding of the border wall and a possible government shutdown over funding.
“You saw the power with the presidency in the George Herbert Walker Bush funeral and all of the coverage on that,” Woodward says. “A lot of people liked him, and he had some strengths, but the funeral was primarily President worship. We love our Presidents. They are royalty and they have power. They can start wars, they can end wars, they can lift the economy, they can destroy the economy, and people understand that. So the spotlight is always on Trump and of course he likes that. Today you saw he had Pelosi and Schumer in the White House and it's all a show! It's a show! They said: ‘let's do this in private’, but Trump was: ‘No, no. I'm going to do it before the cameras’.”