Thursday, May 3, 2018

Can the president use social media to promote other people's books?

Ainsley Earhardt is a Fox anchor. She co-hosts "Fox & Friends," has a Hannity segment called "Ainsley Across America," and expresses support for President Trump. Her book, The Light Within Me: An Inspirational Memoir is referred to by publisher HarperCollins as "a powerful, uplifting look at her life and her spiritual journey, reflecting on her family, her faith, and her successful career." The book includes an interview with First Lady Melania Trump. President Trump tweeted on May 2 that consumers should "bring it to number one."

"Number one" on what list, we aren't sure. Presumably not the standard-bearer, the New York Times, which the president claims to hate. Perhaps Amazon (where, as of the morning of May 3, the new release was placing first in one category: Hardcovers in "Biographies & Memoirs > Arts & Literature > Television Performers." OK.

And never mind that he misspelled Earhardt's name in this advertisement. She probably doesn't care too much.

The bigger problem here is that the president is using his office to advertise a product. It was not OK when Kellyanne Conway gave a "free commercial" for Ivanka's fashion line in February 2017. As the White House did not "take any meaningful disciplinary action against her," according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, when she was promoting the financial interests of the president's family, it seems even less likely that the White House cares if the president promotes the financial interests of someone outside his family.

It does, however, still seem contrary to the law. "Use of public office for private gain," 5 C.F.R. § 2635.702, stipulates: "An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity...An employee shall not use or permit the use of his Government position or title or any authority associated with his public office to endorse any product, service or enterprise...

Earlier the same day, the president promoted The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump by another Fox anchor, Gregg Jarrett. Not only would Jarrett profit from sales of the book, but the content of this book clearly is meant to buttress Trump's political power.

As of May 3, these tweets did not appear on the official @POTUS Twitter account, but it doesn't matter much what account he used. His tweets are presidential records regardless.

Update

He repeated the book recommendation at the end of the month, this time clarifying that it still had not yet been released (and we may presume that he had not read it when he recommended it the first time):

So?

What do you think about this use of social media by the government?

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