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Former Trump campaign press secretary and deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House on June 4, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Harnik) Former Trump campaign press secretary and deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House on June 4, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Harnik)

Former Trump campaign press secretary and deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House on June 4, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Harnik)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy January 18, 2021

Trump spokesman falsely claims Trump ‘can’t say anything’ on Capitol riot without social media

If Your Time is short

  • President Donald Trump has many ways to communicate with the public despite being barred from several social media platforms.

  • Trump can host White House press briefings, release statements and mailers, go on TV, and talk to reporters. He has made public remarks since the U.S. Capitol riot.

  • Presidents communicated with the public for decades before social media.

Former Trump campaign and White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley falsely claimed that President Donald Trump cannot speak out against the violent breaching of the U.S. Capitol because tech companies have kicked him off their social media platforms.

Gidley accused critics of Trump of "trying to have it both ways" during a Jan. 17 interview with Fox News host Howard Kurtz, who asked about the president’s conduct on the day of the riot.

"On one hand, he should be censored by Big Tech and not be allowed to talk. He also shouldn't say anything because it's divisive," Gidley said. "And then when he doesn't say anything and can't say anything because the platforms have removed him, they say, 'Where's the President?'"

Gidley’s claim came as tech companies like Twitter and Facebook cracked down on Trump’s and other accounts for spreading misinformation or extremist messages. Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s Twitter account, which had millions of followers, for example.

Gidley’s claim also came days after Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. and a staunch defender of the president, wrongly claimed that Republicans had "no way to communicate" without Parler, a social media platform targeted to conservatives. PolitiFact rated Nunes’ claim False.

PolitiFact reached out to Gidley for comment, but we did not receive a reply.

Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of communication and affiliate professor of history at American University who once worked as a speechwriter, said Gidley’s comments made his jaw drop.

"There's a reason Theodore Roosevelt called the presidency a ‘bully pulpit,’ and that was because of the platform it gave him to communicate with the public and advocate for issues," Steinhorn said. "That was way before television and radio."

Former congressional staffers who spoke to PolitiFact recently described many ways public officials can communicate with the public beyond social media. They can send out press releases or mailers, hold press conferences, and give interviews, to name a few.

Steven Thomma, executive director of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said that Trump can appear anytime in the White House briefing room and talk to reporters as he wishes, whether it be outside Marine One or with a smaller group inside the Oval Office.

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"His remarks will be covered by the news media in any of those cases, including on camera, as well as streamed live via the White House web page," Thomma said.

Trump can also sit down or phone in for interviews with major TV networks, mainstream news outlets and local TV and radio stations. Throughout his presidency, Trump regularly appeared for interviews on Fox News shows such as "Fox & Friends."

"He can basically pick up the phone and talk to any journalist in the world," said Mary E. Stuckey, a professor at Penn State University who specializes in political and presidential rhetoric and political communication.

Since Twitter banned Trump’s account on Jan. 8, Trump has delivered remarks in Texas and gaggled with reporters, according to Factba.se, an interactive transcript website that tracks his public statements. He and other officials have put out official White House statements.

He also released a five-minute video Jan. 13 discussing the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol, when a crowd of Trump supporters stormed the building in an effort to overturn the election. The House impeached Trump for inciting the insurrection that same day.

The video was broadcast to Twitter and Facebook via the White House. Gidley, whose Twitter account remains active, shared it to his followers. (White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s Twitter account is also active, although she did not share the video.)

Twitter was founded in 2006. Facebook launched in 2004. But long before those platforms took off, presidents were communicating with the public successfully. 

Steinhorn said Gidley’s claim not only shows a "misunderstanding of the way a president can communicate to the American people," but also a "complete ignorance of our nation’s history."

Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at a battlefield, Steinhorn said. George Washington wrote his Farewell Address in a letter initially published in a newspaper.

More recently, Franklin Delano Roosevelt used "fireside chats" to usher the country through the Great Depression, and Lyndon Johnson spoke to a joint session of Congress after Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, Steinhorn said. 

Our ruling

Gidley said Trump "can’t say anything (about the U.S. Capitol riot) because the platforms have removed him."

That’s wrong. Trump has many tools available to him, including the ability to go on TV or call reporters to the White House briefing room. He has made public remarks since the riot.

We rate Gidley’s statement False.

Our Sources

Fox News, "MediaBuzz," Jan. 17, 2021

Factba.se, accessed Jan. 18, 2021

The White House, "Briefings and Statements," accessed Jan. 18, 2021

Axios, "All the platforms that have banned or restricted Trump so far," Jan. 11, 2021

History.com, "How US Presidents Have Communicated with the Public—From the Telegraph to Twitter," Feb. 24, 2020

PolitiFact, "Nunes falsely claims ‘Republicans have "no way to communicate" without Parler," Jan. 13, 2021

Email interview with Mary E. Stuckey, professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State University, Jan. 18, 2021

Email interview with Leonard Steinhorn, professor of communication and an affiliate professor of history at American University, Jan. 18, 2021

Email interview with Steven Thomma, executive director of the White House Correspondents’ Association, Jan. 18, 2021

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Trump spokesman falsely claims Trump ‘can’t say anything’ on Capitol riot without social media

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