Twice a day since the beginning of the Trump administration, a special folder is prepared for the president. The first document is prepared around 9:30 a.m. and the follow-up, around 4:30 p.m. Former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer both wanted the privilege of delivering the 20-to-25-page packet to President Trump personally, White House sources say.
These sensitive papers, described to VICE News by three current and former White House officials, don’t contain top-secret intelligence or updates on legislative initiatives. Instead, the folders are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.
One White House official said the only feedback the White House communications shop, which prepares the folder, has ever gotten in all these months is: “It needs to be more fucking positive.” That’s why some in the White House ruefully refer to the packet as “the propaganda document.”
The process of assembling the folder begins at the Republican National Committee’s “war room,” which has expanded from 4 to 10 people since the GOP won the White House. A war room — both parties have one regardless of who’s in the White House — is often tasked with monitoring local and national news, cable television, social media, digital media, and print media to see how the party, its candidates or their opponents are being perceived.
Beginning at 6 a.m. every weekday — the early start is a longtime war room tradition — three staffers arrive at the RNC to begin monitoring the morning shows on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News as they scour the internet and newspapers. Every 30 minutes or so, the staffers send the White House Communications Office an email with chyron screenshots, tweets, news stories, and interview transcripts.
White House staffers then cull the information, send out clips to other officials, and push favorable headlines to a list of journalists. But they also pick out the most positive bits to give to the president. On days when there aren’t enough positive chyrons, communications staffers will ask the RNC staffers for flattering photos of the president.
“Maybe it’s good for the country that the president is in a good mood in the morning,” one former RNC official said.
Contacted by VICE News, Spicer disputed the nature of the folder. “While I won’t comment on materials we share with the president, this is not accurate on several levels,” he said in an email. Asked what about the story was inaccurate, Spicer did not respond.
Of course, every White House monitors media coverage to see how they’re being covered, and the RNC may have decided more staff was needed after the party won the White House. As the political media environment has become faster-moving and more frenzied, the efforts to follow it have also become more robust. The Obama White House usually had at least one very caffeinated point person and two others dedicated to watching Twitter, online publications, print media, and cable news, and then compile relevant clips and send them around to White House aides.
But the production of a folder with just positive news — and the use of the RNC to help produce it — seemed abnormal to former White House officials. “If we had prepared such a digest for Obama, he would have roared with laughter,” said David Axelrod, the senior adviser to Barack Obama during his first two years in the White House. “His was a reality-based presidency.”
“The RNC is always going to work to defend the White House, the administration, and its members of Congress, and our war room’s efforts help capture and drive how our team can echo that defense,” said RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Jancek.
Another current White House official said that the idea for the twice-daily ego boost came from Priebus and Spicer, who competed to deliver the folder and be the bearer of the good news. “Priebus and Spicer weren’t in a good position, and they wanted to show they could provide positive coverage,” the official said. “It was self-preservation.”
In the two-plus weeks following the departure of both Spicer and Priebus, White House officials say, the document has been produced less frequently and more typically after public events, such as Trump’s recent speech at the National Boy Scouts Jamboree in West Virginia. It’s unclear what will change, if anything, once a new White House communications director is appointed to replace the briefly tenured Anthony Scaramucci.
“It needs to be more fucking positive.”
It’s not the first recorded instance of Trump welcoming excessive flattery.
He frequently cites or thanks cable television hosts like Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and the hosts of “Fox & Friends” who cover his presidency more favorably.
And at a broadcasted Cabinet meeting in June, Trump listened contentedly as the vice president, his chief of staff, and nearly all of the 15 Cabinet secretaries heaped praise on him. Priebus took that opportunity to tell Trump: “On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”