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Illustration: Sam Jayne / Axios

There is a very specific — and dangerous — formula for manipulating the media and hijacking the Twitter/cable/conventional media industrial complex. Trump sets this formulaic trap increasingly often. And news organizations keep falling for it.

Step 1: Throw an early morning Twitter bomb, usually but not always timed to "Fox & Friends" fodder or reinforcement. The Tweet-bomb frequently hits "fake news" or some social topic with racial undertones.

  • Within minutes, thousands of Trump's Twitter followers retweet it, and the sparks fly in response. Trump knows this and has bragged to staff about the storm he's stirring as he hits "publish."
  • The data: As president, Trump has tweeted about fake news 124 times, mostly before 9 a.m., and his tweets about fake news average more retweets and likes.

Step 2: The outrage machine kicks in. The first hour of "Morning Joe" is consumed by reaction to either that morning's or yesterday's tweet bomb. But the real action unfolds on Twitter, with scores of journalists and activists howling in protest.

"He exerts a deeper level of control simply through his ability to bait hostile media at will with his every seemingly nutty utterance," conservative columnist Bret Stephens smartly noted Thursday in the New York Times.

Step 3: The cable beast awakens. MSNBC/CNN/Fox are basically 24/7 politics now, and the reporters who uncorked on Twitter sit alongside the hosts to dissect/condemn the Twitter bomb. They tweet the highlights. The rage builds. The cycle speeds.

  • One result: "A political opposition that is exhausting itself — and much of the public — with its perpetual state of moral apoplexy," Stephens writes.

Step 4: The fringes foment. Breitbart belts out a stream of stories, usually supporting Trump or mocking cable hysteria on the left. It pumps its greatest hits through Facebook, where both sides game the algorithm to play to their team's emotional response. Twitter wars usually ensue.

  • The data: Many of the most engaging politics and news pages on Facebook in October were hyper-partisan political pages, according to social analytics company NewsWhip, and the most popular reaction to them is the "angry face" emoji.

Step 5: Opinions fly. By nighttime, MSNBC goes hard left, Fox hard right, peaking with their highest-rated champions (Maddow on the left and Hannity on the right) tucking like-minded people in with soothing stories of why they were so right today.

  • The data: Hannity averages more than 3.1 million viewers a night over the last two months, and Maddow averaged 2.6 million.

We go to bed, sleep poorly, wake up and do it again. "How do we pay attention without paying him a kind of homage? Can we respond to his outrages without drowning in our own?" Stephens concludes in his must-read column.

Sound smart: We are all amplifying and participating in this endless sideshow. There is no easy solution, other than clinging to reality and clinically exposing Trump's make-believe. Check the facts, pay attention, but ignore the pure crap.

"The truth about Trump is not that he's crazy. He's a narcissist and a neurotic with a feral talent for attracting the attention he craves," Stephens writes. "In Russia, Putin can compel attention thanks to his complete control over most media and many other aspects of ordinary life. In the United States, citizens can deprive Trump of his political oxygen simply by turning off and tuning out."

Go Deeper: Exhausted by the Trump presidency? Brace yourself. White House officials expect Trump to be even more outrageous and cocksure in coming months.

Sign up for Axios newsletters to get our Smart Brevity delivered to your inbox every morning.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

4 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.