Mainstream media errors in the Trump era: Your catalogue of the media’s bias-fueled failure-fest
The press has a problem, and it seems to be getting worse.
Whether through bias, sloppiness, or sheer panic, newsrooms have dropped their standards since President Trump was sworn in as 45th president of the United States.
Instead of adjusting adeptly to Trump’s easy relationship with the truth and his tendency to abuse members of media, by dialing up their standards, a significant number of journalists have tripped over themselves recently to repeat every bit of gossip and half-cocked rumor involving the new president and his administration.
The rush to get these supposed scoops out in the open, whether in print, on television or on social media, has, of course, produced a rash of shoddy reporting.
Now this isn’t to say that all coverage of this new administration has been slipshod. Rather, it’s to say that there has been a disturbing and unusually large number of stories that have turned out either to be overhyped, inconclusive, half-true or flat-out incorrect. There have also been a number of reports whose sourcing is so thin, that to believe them would be to take a major leap of faith.
The one thing that these reports have in common is that they fail to provide readers with a clear and indisputably accurate picture of what is really going on at White House. The press’s most important role is to shine a light on those in power. Bad reporting only muddies the waters, and it gives powerful people more room to do as they please. After all, whom are you going to believe: the guy at the top or the newsroom with a recent track record of botched reporting?
We didn’t get to the point people find the press less credible than the Trump administration by some freak accident.
We’re keeping a database of all these media misfires as they occur, and we’ll be updating this list whenever some new bit of crummy journalism appears. Depending on whether reporters settle down and treat their supposed scoops with greater care, this database may turn into a four- or eight-year project.
Starting in order of most recent, here is our best effort at a complete list of the shoddiest media misfires since the Jan. 20 inauguration:
Feb. 18: Swede Emotions
The Claim: “Trump Cites Non-Existent Sweden Attack,” “Trump Appears to Reference Non-Existent Terror Incident in Sweden.”
The Facts: Trump never actually claimed there was a terrorist attack in Sweden.
Here’s what he said Saturday:
Here’s the bottom line. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.
You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris. We’ve allowed thousands and thousands of people into our country and there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was no nothing. So we’re going to keep our country safe.
His remarks are certainly confusing, and his references to Sweden are ambiguous. Trump clearly seems to have alluded to real terror events, including recent attacks in Brussels and Nice, France. But there still isn’t enough clarity in his speech Saturday for newsrooms to claim he cited a specific, and non-existent, attack in Sweden.
It’s possible that Trump, an avid cable news-watcher, was referring to a Fox New segment that aired on the evening of Feb. 17. That specific segment focused on Sweden’s open door immigration policy, and recent report alleging the country’s recent spike in crime is correlated directly to the number of refugees it has admitted.
Again, as is often the case with this president, his comments are jumbled and confusing. He could’ve been referring to a non-existent terrorist attack, or he could’ve been referring to a Fox News segment that aired the night before. It’s unclear.
At any rate, newsrooms don’t have nearly enough information to report with certainty that Trump created a terrorist attack from thin air.
The Claim: “Trump weighs mobilizing Nat Guard for immigration roundups.”
The Source: The Associated Press.
The Facts: There is a lot wrong with this story. From overselling the leaked Department of Homeland Security memo on which the entire report hinges, to failing to provide proof that Trump was even aware of draft proposal, readers would be wise to remain skeptical of the AP report.
To be clear, the draft memo mentioned in the story is definitely real, as confirmed by DHS officials. It’s just that it doesn’t say what the AP reported.
For example, the memo didn’t specifically suggest nationalizing the National Guard, as suggested by AP’s reporting. The draft memo also never used the 100,000 figure referenced by the AP, though it’s possible the news group got this number by tallying the National Guard units currently stationed in the 11 states where they would supposedly be used to crack down on illegal immigration. If that’s how the AP got its 100,000 figure, which, again, it doesn’t explain, it means they reported an assumption, not a fact.
Lastly, just to be clear, the word “deportation” is never used in the memo. As far as National Guard troops are concerned, the memo only floats the idea of giving them the authority to assist in the “investigation, apprehension and detention” of criminal aliens.
“We stand by our reporting,” the group’s spokeswoman, Laura Easton, told the Washington Examiner.
The AP said it gave the White House at least 24 hours to respond to requests for comment, and said no one took them up on their offer. Amazingly enough, the AP also said it didn’t contact DHS until the morning of the story’s publication.
The Claim: President Trump’s erratic behavior suggests he’s suffering from a serious disease he caught from all that sex he had in the 1980s.
The Source: The New Republic.
The Facts: The article is a work of 100 percent speculation. The notion that Trump suffers from neurosyphilis is based entirely on the author’s personal musings.
This particularly ugly bit of conspiracy mongering is an op-ed, and it’s not the same thing as a botched news report. Nevertheless, this article has a special place on this list due to the fact the New Republic and the author, Steven Beutler, are careful to emphasize his credentials as a doctor, and his background in treating infectious diseases.
The neurosyphilis theory is presented as a bit more than the usual op-ed griping. It’s presented as a serious discussion, from a serious physician. The author practically dares his readers to question his authority on the issue. The unspoken point of having Beutler write the article is to give the totally unfounded conspiracy an air of legitimacy. For that, this op-ed ends up on this list of shoddy and unprofessional post-inauguration media bungles.
The Claim: Trump allowed Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg to eavesdrop on his calls in January to Lockheed Martin.
The Source: ProPublica’s Michael Grabell.
The Facts: The report cited by Grabell said no such thing. Rather, the Bloomberg News story, titled “Trump’s F-35 Calls Came With a Surprise: Rival CEO Was Listening,” reported Trump allowed Muilenburg to sit in on calls made to the Air Force general who manages the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jet.
Grabell eventually deleted his initial tweet, and he noted his mistake.
“I tweeted a story with incorrect reading earlier. I was working and didn’t note the [number] of [re-tweets],” he said. “Fine, it’s a correction my original tweet was wrong. Read the story.”
Before he deleted his incorrect interpretation of the Bloomberg story, it had more than 600 shares. As of this writing, his clarification has been re-tweeted 60 times.
The Claim: Following Michael Flynn’s resignation on Feb. 13 as the president’s national security adviser, the retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General remarked on Twitter, “While I accept full responsibility for my actions, I feel it is unfair that I have been made the sole scapegoat for what happened.”
“But if a scapegoat is what’s needed for this Administration to continue to take this great nation forward, I am proud to do my duty,” the general supposedly added.
The Facts: Flynn said no such thing on social media. The Times was duped by a parody Twitter account. Flynn temporarily deleted his personal account several weeks prior to his resignation.
Feb. 14: One Hell of a Buried Lede
The Claim: “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.”
The Source: The New York Times.
The Facts: This entry is slightly different from most of the others on this list.
The Times reported Trump’s people communicated with Russian intelligence officials at around the same time hackers were publishing personal email stolen from of Democratic National Committee staffers and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
By all accounts this appears to be a legitimate story, and it raises serious questions about the Russians and the 2016 election.
However, the issue with this particular Times report is that there is a crucial bit of information that the paper doesn’t mention until after the reader has already been introduced to the idea of Trump/Russian collusion.
The story opens with these two paragraphs
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump‘s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
It doesn’t look good for Trump. The report’s headline alone leads readers to suspect a disturbing partnership between the president’s people and the Russians.
But buried at the third paragraph in the Times report is a crucial detail: “The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.”
That’s an important piece of information, and it should have been included in the story’s first paragraph.
Feb. 11: An Olympic Never-Mind
The Facts: Muhammad claimed in an interview on Feb. 7 that she was detained “just a few weeks ago” by U.S. Customs agents, who held her for more than two hours without any explanation. Reporters ran with her claim, tying it to Trump’s recent executive order temporarily barring immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries. Few journalists bothered to corroborate her story.
On Feb. 11, Muhammad clarified the alleged incident occurred in December 2016. Barack Obama was still president at that time. Trump was sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2017. His immigration order was signed into law on Jan. 27.
“Thanks to all who reached out regarding the December incident at customs. I will continue be a voice for all impacted by profiling & bigotry,” she said in a tweet.
A Customs official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed in an interview the Washington Examiner on Feb. 13 that Muhammad had indeed been detained – in December 2016.
Feb. 10: A Fact-Checking Gone Wrong
The Claim: Trump wrongly accused the New York Times of pushing “fake news” after the paper published a story alleging he hadn’t talked to Chinese President Xi Jinping in months.
The Facts: The Times published a report on the evening of Feb. 9 alleging Trump hadn’t spoken with the Chinese president since November 2016. The story’s original headline read, “China’s President, Stung by Taiwan Call, Is Said to Shun Trump.”
Later that same evening, Trump spoke with Xi by phone.
The Times updated its online report accordingly, amending significant portions of the story to note the president’s Thursday evening call Xi. The report’s headline was updated Thursday to read, “After Silence From Xi, Trump Endorses the ‘One China’ Policy.”
However, due to a deadline mix-up and inclement weather, the Times did not update its national print edition before it went out to subscribers. That version of the story still claimed Trump hadn’t spoken with Xi. As the president is notoriously fond of hardcopy, it’s fair to assume he received and read the print edition that claimed incorrectly he had not spoken with Xi. see here: http://bit.ly/2lptshu
Trump tweeted at 8:35 am on Feb. 10, “The failing @nytimes does major FAKE NEWS China story saying ‘Mr.Xi has not spoken to Mr. Trump since Nov.14.’ We spoke at length yesterday!”
Members of the press pounced, and many tried to fact-check Trump’s tweet with screen grabs from the updated online version of the Times’ story.
But the facts here lean more in Trump’s favor.
The Friday print edition claimed incorrectly that the president hadn’t spoken with Xi. The president responded Friday morning to the story. Journalists then tried to “gotcha” Trump with the online edition of the report, but fact-checking him with the retroactively updated online version of a story that appeared differently in print doesn’t seem the way to go.
The online edition of the Times’ story carries no editor’s note or clarification noting that it has undergone significant changes.
Feb. 9: Trump Backs the Gang of Eight?
The Claim: Trump is ready to get behind the Gang of Eight immigration bill, a piece of legislation that he has vigorously opposed since a little before his entry into the 2016 GOP primary.
The Source: Politico’s Seung Min Kim.
The Facts: Trump assured a group of senators in safe and businesslike terms that he’d at least hear them out on the immigration bill, according to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.
“We were trying to explain the [Gang of Eight] bill,” the senator told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt. “[Trump] says, ‘well, I know what amnesty is, and I’m totally opposed to amnesty.'”
“I said, ‘but this, this 10-13 year pathway forward — that you have to play by the rules.’ He said, ‘well I want to see it.’ So he was very anxious to see it. He says, ‘I know what amnesty is.’ And I said, ‘sir, I don’t think you’re going to find this amnesty at all.’ [Trump] is open — he is open to reviewing this piece of legislation. He says, ‘well you’ve got to start working on it again,’ and I says, ‘absolutely we will,'” Manchin said.
Feb. 9: Do You Know The Dope Man?
The Claim: President Trump’s father had a pair of racist ads produced in the late 1960s for a potential run for mayor of New York City.
The Source: Longtime Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal and the London Review of Books. The claim took off in press circles on Feb. 9.
The Facts: The ads mentioned in Blumenthal’s essay for the London Review of Books are fakes. Fred Trump never ran for NYC mayor, he never had commercials made up for him and the videos mentioned by Blumenthal were created and posted online last year by an art project group called the “Historical Paroxysm.”
The group specializes in producing “found footage from alternate realities.”
Though this bogus story isn’t about the current president or a member of his administration, it was still used against him before it was eventually disproven. It therefore earns a spot on this list of botched Trump White House reporting.
Feb. 9: Doesn’t Smell Right
The Claim: During a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump was confused by references to New START, the 2010 treaty imposing limits on the number of warheads deployed by the U.S. and Russia.
The Source: Reuters.
The Facts: Though the story has not been disproven, the bit about Trump being unfamiliar with New START rings hollow. First, the claim hinges entirely on anonymous sources. That’s never a good sign. Secondly, as the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman noted, Trump talked privately with officials about New START four weeks before his call with Putin. The anonymously sourced claim that he didn’t know about the treaty doesn’t smell right.
Feb 7: Yemen Has Had Enough
The Claim: “Yemen Withdraws Permission for U.S. Antiterror Ground Missions.”
The Facts: Several newsrooms published reports stating Yemen had ordered U.S. Special Operations to cease anti-terror operations on its soil. These stories relied entirely on anonymous U.S. officials.
The Associated Press threw cold water on this narrative on Feb. 8 with an on-the-record quote from a Yemeni government official.
“Yemen continues to cooperate with the United States and continues to abide by all the agreements,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdul-Malik al-Mekhlafi told the AP, stressing that earlier reports alleging his government had ordered U.S. forces to cease operation were simply “not true.”
Feb. 7: A Grizzly Tale
The Claim: Newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos thinks school administrators should carry guns because you never know when a bear might attack. It’s a narrative that won’t die.
The Source: The Washington Post, repeating what many others have claimed since mid-January.
The Facts: DeVos said during her confirmation hearing that there should be no blanket federal policy regulating guns in schools.
Asked by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., whether she supported federal solutions to this issue, she responded by saying she doesn’t think it should be left up to Washington. She argued that states and localities are best suited to make these judgments, and she said federal policies tend to overlook the individual needs of individual schools.
This is what DeVos said: “I think that’s best left for states and locales to decide. I would refer back to Senator Enzi, and the school he was talking about in [Wyoming].”
“I would imagine there, that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies,” she added.
This is hardly the same thing as saying she thinks schools should be armed against possible bear attacks.
Feb. 5: Turn Out the Lights
The Claim: Trump’s team is in way over its head. They don’t know where the doors in the White House lead or where the light switches are located. Also, the president likes to lounge around in a bathrobe while watching television.
The Source: The New York Times.
The Facts: This isn’t an example of a story that is clearly false or misleading. Rather, it’s an example of a report with major sourcing issues.
Though the story is not obviously incorrect, and it’s possible its authors have provided readers with genuine information, the story’s sourcing is so thin that it should give readers pause. By not providing their audience with clear sources, and by not even citing who is responsible for the Trump administration details until several paragraphs in, the Times is asking an awful lot of its readers.
Feb. 4: Bannon vs. Kelly
The Claim: White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon tried recently to order around Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly over the issue of Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries. Kelly reportedly pushed back hard, telling the Trump confidant that he had no authority to issue orders to DHS. There was supposedly an in-person confrontation between Bannon and Kelly at the DHS headquarters, as well as words exchanged during a 2:00 a.m. conference call.
The Source: The Washington Post.
The Facts: We’ll let this Washington Post editor’s note, which appeared subsequently, speak for itself:
The article has been updated to reflect comments from White House press secretary Sean Spicer. The article previously stated that Stephen K. Bannon visited Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly’s office on Jan. 28. Spicer said Bannon did not make such a visit. He also said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Bannon did not participate in a 2 a.m. conference call on Jan. 29. The article also previously stated that President Trump approved a pause in executive orders pending new procedures. According to Spicer, it was White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, rather than the president, who approved the new procedures, but not a pause.
Feb. 3: A Secret Service Purge?
The Claim: Certain manager-level Secret Service personnel were forced to resign last week, and they were escorted suddenly out of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
The Source: The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons.
The Facts: An agency spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner that the claim is “absolutely false.”
Clemons himself backtracked later, and said on social media that he meant to say that it was the White House Chief of Information Security who was “forced to resign.”
“I have confirmed that the Chief of Information Security at White House forced to resign. Was error in tagging him as Secret Service,” he said. “It is the [Chief of Information Security] function, at minimum, in [White House] that saw forced resignations last night. These folks work w/ @SecretService but not of Secret [Service].”
Interestingly enough, the Secret Service’s official Twitter account responded to Clemons’ online clarifications by claiming he was still incorrect. The Secret Service account also claimed Clemons never contacted them for comment.
Feb. 2: Trump Meets Putin
The Claim: Trump’s team switched off recording devices during the president’s call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Source: Raw Story and Ilan Berman, vice president of the Foreign Policy Council.
The Facts: Berman actually just speculated during a panel discussion on the reason there was no readout of Trump’s call with Putin. He offered, by way of speculation, that perhaps White House staffers had switched off the recording devices. Raw Story saw his suggestion after it was tweeted out, and they published a report titled, “Foreign policy insider: ‘No readout of Trump-Putin call because White House turned off recording.”
But contrary to Berman’s suggestion, there is indeed a readout of Trump’s call with Putin, although it’s vague and short on details. Second, White House calls are generally not recorded, and they haven’t been since the time of Richard Nixon, according Yahoo’s Oliver Knox. Third, as Berman stated repeatedly after the Raw Story report was published, he was only speculating about the readout. By his own admission, he has no idea what actually happened.
Raw Story has updated its story to note that no one knows what they’re talking about. On that they are correct, in part.
Feb. 2: Payback For Putin
The Claim: The Trump administration had eased restrictions on Russia so that U.S. companies can go into business with the Federal Security Service, which is the successor of the dreaded KGB.
The Source: NBC News’ Peter Alexander.
The Facts: Alexander ultimately debunked his own claim, tweeting a note of clarification that read, “Source familiar w sanctions says it’s a technical fix, planned under Obama, to avoid unintended consequences of cybersanctions.”
The New York Times’ Peter Baker noted elsewhere that the proposed fix was indeed in the works long before Trump took office.
“Treasury action on Russian sanctions was a technical fix initiated by career officials when Obama was still in office, not a Trump move,” he said.
Feb. 2: Gorsuch In College
The Claim: “As a student, SCOTUS Nominee Gorsuch Supported Gays and Opposed Campus Military recruiters.”
The Source: NBC News.
The Facts: NBC News misunderstood its source material. The college newspaper referenced in the NBC story contained an editing error that confused reporters, and caused them to credit Gorsuch for an article he didn’t write. The error wasn’t that hard to spot. The NBC story has been updated so that it’s now a different report entirely.
Feb. 2: Black History Month
The Claim: Trump changed the name of “Black History Month” to “National African American History Month.”
The Source: TMZ.
The Facts: This did happen, but not under Trump. Past presidents, including Barack Obama, have referred to it as “National African American History Month.”
Feb. 2: Ryan Dodged a Question?
The Claim: Speaker Paul Ryan declined to answer a question at a press conference about Trump’s allegedly contentious phone call with the Australian prime minister.
The Source: CNBC’s John Harwood.
The Facts: Speaker Ryan declined to answer a question about former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his ongoing feud with the president.
Video Here: http://bit.ly/2lxZxoq
Feb. 1: Mexican Invasion
The Claim: Trump threatened to invade Mexico during a phone call with Mexican president Enrique Pena.
The Source: The Associated Press.
The Facts: The AP reported that Trump allegedly told Pena the U.S. military would do something about Mexico’s “bad hombre” problem if Mexican authorities couldn’t. CNN then published a report disputing AP’s characterization of the call.
The Mexican government stated later that no such thing was said during the phone call between Trump and Pena. The White House claimed the same.
The AP reported later that a White House official said Trump was only kidding.
The Washington Post published a story on Trump’s calls that relied heavily on the AP’s initial characterization of his conversations with world leaders. The Post later stripped its article of all references to the AP’s claim that Trump threatened to invade Mexico.
It’s entirely possible that neither government is shooting straight, and that Trump sort of threatened military action. But newsrooms don’t seem to have any idea what actually happened, and the inconclusive and contradictory reporting has only made things more confusing. That’s a failure of journalism that typically results when you claim to know more than you know.
Feb. 1: Aussie You
The Claim: Trump pitched a fit during a phone call with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, which ended with the U.S. president abruptly hanging up on the prime minister.
The Source: The Washington Post.
The Facts: Like Trump’s call to Mexico, no one seems to have any hard knowledge of what actually happened. After the Post reported that the phone call went terribly wrong, journalists went wild on social media. Then the clarifications and walk backs started pouring in from Australian and American officials.
Turnbull himself disputed the press’ coverage of the call, and he said Trump “did not hang up.”
Like reports on Trump’s call with Mexico, it’s entirely possible that the White House and the Australian PM are being less-than-honest about the nature of their conversation. But we really have no idea, and the Post’s thinly sourced story doesn’t clear anything up.
Feb. 1: Worlds Apart
The Claim: Melania Trump will continue to live in New York City, even though her husband is taking up residence in the White House.
The Facts: Melania Trump will divide her time between New York City and Washington, D.C., at the end of the school year, her advisor, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, told CNN.
The clarification came only after groups like Us Weekly ran headlines like, “First Lady Melania Trump May Never Move Into the White House.” The Feb. 13 edition of celebrity gossip magazine was published with the headline, “SEPARATE LIVES.”
Also, it’s worth noting that Melania Trump stated during the election that should would split her time as first lady between D.C. and New York City. She explained at the time that it would be for the benefit of their son, Barron.
Feb. 1: Fascist Club
The Claim: Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, founded and presided over a group in high school called the “Fascism Forever Club.”
The Source: The Daily Mail.
The Facts: Gorsuch did no such thing. His claim in his senior yearbook to have created and presided over such a club during his four years at Georgetown Prep was just a gag, a bit of self-deferential humor regarding his conservatism and his frequent back-and-forths with his left-leaning teachers.
The whole thing was “a total joke,” Steve Ochs, who teaches history at the elite high school, told America Magazine.
“There was no club at a Jesuit school about young fascists,” added Ochs, who served as student government advisor when Gorsuch was a junior and senior. “The students would create fictitious clubs; they would have fictitious activities. They were all inside jokes on their senior pages.”
Jan. 31: The Deadly Travel Ban
The Claim: An ailing woman died in Iraq because of Trump’s immigration executive order.
The Source: Fox 2 Detroit.
The Facts: The Detroit man, Mike Hager, claims Trump’s executive order killed his mother. There’s nothing to corroborate this claim. A local imam said later that Hager lied about his mother dying as a result of the travel ban. Hager’s mother allegedly died five days prior to the order going into effect.
As of this writing, there is nothing to prove Hager’s claim. There is also very little corroborate the imam’s assertion. The closest we have to proving the imam’s claim is the fact that Hager has stopped replying to Fox 2’s requests for comment.
Jan. 31: Twitter Trolling
The Claim: In an attempt to keep Trump’s SCOTUS nominee a secret, the White House set up two separate Twitter accounts for Judges Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman.
The Source: CNN’s Jeff Zeleny.
The Facts: Zeleny is responsible both for the claim and the eventual correction.
“White House is setting up Supreme Court announcement as a prime-time contest: @JusticeGorsuch and @JusticeHardiman identical Twitter pages,” the CNN reporter tweeted.
He followed that up with this embarrassing clarification, “The Twitter accounts of @JusticeGorsuch and @JusticeHardiman were not set up by the White House, I’ve been told.”
Jan. 31: What’s a Tank?
The Claim: “A fleet of tanks drove around Kentucky this weekend flying a Trump flag.”
The Source: Vice.
The Facts: A group of approximately eight Humvees was spotted on Jan. 29 near Louisville, with the lead vehicle flying a large Trump campaign flag. The convoy was associated with an East Coast Navy SEALs unit. The U.S. Navy has launched a formal inquiry, a Naval Special Warfare Group spokeswoman told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The convoy vehicles were based at Fort Knox.
Though the incident raises real questions about martial decorum and an apolitical military, it’s hard not to get distracted by just how many things Vice managed to screw up in its headline.
Jan. 31: Secret SCOTUS
The Claim: Trump managed somehow to keep his SCOTUS nominee a secret until he made the announcement at 8:00 pm on Jan. 31.
The Source: The Washington Post.
The Facts: The story is just flat-out wrong. News that Trump had picked Judge Gorsuch was scooped first by the conservative news site Townhall. The Independent Journal Review was close behind, claiming in a post of its own that it had two anonymous sources confirming the pick. National Review followed suit with sources of its own. Each individual report came out hours before Trump formally announced his SCOTUS nominee.
Jan. 31: A Retroactive ‘Gotcha’
The Claim: Trump greatly undersold the number of people who were affected by his immigration executive order.
The Source: The New York Times.
The Facts: Trump claimed in a tweet on Jan. 30 that, “Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage.”
The Times published a story on Jan. 31 titled, “721 People (not 109) Were Denied Entry Under Trump.”
The problem with the Times report is that it attempts to fact-check Trump with DHS data that became available only after the president’s Jan. 30 tweet. Further, the Times report didn’t even paraphrase Trump accurately.
The report’s original opening paragraph stated incorrectly that Trump referenced the number of individuals who “were denied entry into the United States.” That is incorrect because Trump used specific DHS figures to say 109 people had been detained, not denied entry.
The Times has attached a correction to its story, but it still fails to mention the timing and context of the president’s Jan. 30 remarks.
Jan. 28: Never Mind
The Claim: The Justice Department “had no input” on Trump’s immigration executive order, and the federal agency was reportedly left in the dark when the law was drafted.
The Source: CNBC’s John Harwood.
The Facts: Harwood said on social media, “senior justice official tells [NBC News] that Dept. had no input. Not sure who in WH is writing/reviewing. Standard [National Security Council] process not functioning.”
But then Harwood tweeted a clarification about an hour later, stating, “new info from [NBC’s Pete Williams]: another DOJ official says proposed immigration order was reviewed by department lawyers before it was issued.” Acting Atty. Gen. Sally Yates later stated that attorneys at DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel did approve the order as lawful on its face and properly drafted.
Jan. 27: Big Hands
The Claim: Trump’s team digitally altered a White House photo to make the president’s hands appear larger than they really are.
The Source: The New York Observer’s Dana Schwartz, who admitted later she had only been kidding.
The Facts: The White House did no such thing, as the Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted almost immediately after Schwartz’ claim went viral on social media. Schwartz eventually deleted all her tweets about the supposedly doctored photos. She argued that her joking remarks on Twitter aren’t the same thing as reporting facts.
Jan. 26: A Chilling Phone Call
The Claim: Trump “pressured” and “ordered” the National Park Service director into digging up photos of the president’s inauguration crowds.
The Source: The Washington Post.
The Facts: Once you make it past the tendentious headline, the story is about how the president requested photos of his inauguration from the one federal agency that would have them. That’s the entire story.
Jan. 26: The State Department Debacle That Wasn’t
The Claim: The U.S. State Department’s “entire senior administrative team” has resigned en masse in protest of Trump
The Source: The Washington Post.
The Facts: Four mid-level State Department officials were told their services were no longer needed, which is common during White House transition periods. As is customary, the four officials tendered their resignations. They were accepted. That’s a long way off from what the Post initially reported.
Jan. 24: Gag Order
The Claim: The Trump administration has taken unprecedented steps to silence scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Facts: The federal agencies, which were instructed in memos to halt all “public-facing” documents temporarily, said the press oversold the story.
“I’ve lived through many transitions, and I don’t think this is a story,” one senior EPA official told the New York Times. “I don’t think it’s fair to call it a gag order. This is standard practice. And the move with regard to the grants, when a new administration comes in, you run things by them before you update the website.”
The agency’s communications director, Doug Ericksen, added, “We’re just trying to get a handle on everything and make sure what goes out reflects the priorities of the new administration.”
A USDA spokesman said separately, “This is what has happened at the transition of every administration … it’s just a pause.”
Jan. 20: Melania And a Conflict of Interest?
The Claim: Melania Trump is using the White House website to “promote” her business interests.
The Source: The Washington Post.
The Facts: The White House website includes a brief biography of first lady and former model Melania Trump. That bio lists some of her professional accomplishments, which includes launching a line of jewelry and posing for several major magazines.
This is hardly the scandal promised in the Post’s headline. The word “promotes” suggests some sort of abuse of the White House website for personal gain and/or profit. If not, then who the hell cares?
Jan. 20: MLK Is Still There
The Claim: The Trump transition team removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office.
The Source: Time magazine’s Zeke Miller.
The Facts: The MLK bust was never moved. It was merely obstructed from Miller’s line of vision. The Time magazine reporter, who claimed in his pool report that the bust had been removed, quickly corrected his mistake. Unfortunately, the initial claim had already been repeated by several of his colleagues on social media and took on a life of its own.
Jan. 20: Website Down?
The Claim: The Trump administration has removed several important issues pages from the White House website, including pages for climate change and LGBT rights, signaling they may ignore these topics in the future.
The Facts: The White House website is normally wiped clean with each new administration. The older pages are archived elsewhere. This is how it was done during the transition periods between presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and between Bush and Barack Obama. There is nothing at all unusual about pages disappearing, despite reports suggesting otherwise.