It is a question that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson faces constantly: how do you handle President Trump's tweets? On Wednesday, as heat Stanford University, Tillerson gave his most detailed assessment of the the president's social media. He started by explaining how his approach differs from the president's.
"He is world class at social media, and I'm not," Tillerson told Rice. "And I am going to confess, here in the heart of the creation of this great technology, I have no social media accounts,. Have never had any and I don't intent to have any," said Tillerson. "I think I am probably going to go to my grave and never have a social media account."
Tillerson then explained that he gets Mr. Trump's tweets the old-fashioned way because he does not have an account to monitor them in real time.
"My staff usually has to print his tweets out and hand them to me," Tillerson said.
The manner in which Mr. Trump impulsively tweets took a while for Tillerson to get used to. Tillerson describes Mr. Trump's approach as "unconventional." The president does not pass along his foreign policy tweets to the secretary of state before posting them for his millions of followers around the world to see. That means Tillerson can't do anything to prepare. He reads the short public message and puts it to use.
"By the time I have found out about it, there has actually been some period of time, and depending on where I am in the world, it might be five minutes or it might be an hour before somebody hands me a piece of paper and says, 'Hey, the president just tweeted this out,'" TIllerson said. "I already have the early reactions to that. And it allows me to now begin to think about -- all right, how do we take that then into -- if it's a foreign policy issue, is it -- what is, you know he is tweeting about, how do we take that and now use it?"
Tillerson said social media can be quite effective, and it gets everyone's attention.
"It is a great tool when it's used well," Tillerson observed. "The president has used it to great effect, by bypassing the traditional means of communicating. And he absolutely thrives on this ability to instantly communicate not just to the American people but to our friends and allies, or to our adversaries, to the entire world."
The secretary says that the tweets do not change the agreed-upon objective. Mr. Trump has, however, sent tweets that clash with Tillerson's efforts diplomatically. For example, he called Tillerson's efforts to negotiate with North Korea a waste of time. Mr. Trump has, in the past, also tweeted to deny reports of Tillerson's departure from the administration.
"The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon - FAKE NEWS! He's not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!" Mr. Trump tweeted in December.
Despite his lack of a social media presence, Tillerson has been more open to interviews in the first few weeks of 2018 than he was in 2017. He told CNN in an interview that he intends to stay in his job for the full year.