Trump Keeps Claiming ‘Fake News,’ and These Media Mistakes Make His Case

The way President Donald Trump tells it, the media makes up news on the regular. His accusations of “fake news” started during his campaign, and have served as a rallying cry throughout. Trump’s radical base takes up the mantle more often than not, but as his trustworthiness continues to erode, the tables begin to turn. Tools like Politifact check the accuracy of Trump’s statements, as well as the news reports themselves. Some browser plugins can also help.

We took a look at some of the stories Trump rolls out as evidence of “fake news,” and how the media has responded.

Who’s the real ‘enemy of the American people’?

Trump speaking to a group of the media in the White House press room
Trump giving a statement to the media in the White House press room. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Trump and the media have been locked in battle since his campaign. He famously called the press, “the enemy of the American people,” and routinely attacks news reports he doesn’t like. Trump recently tweeted, “Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!” That came the day after he attacked NBC for reporting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”

Trump also tweeted about the “fake news” after criticism of his Puerto Rico trip. On the heels of his trip to Puerto Rico, he took to Twitter to slam the “Fake News Media” for not reporting the “truth,” Fox News reported. “Wow, so many Fake News stories today. No matter what I do or say, they will not write or speak truth. The Fake News Media is out of control!” Trump tweeted.

Unlike the commander-in-chief, most news media owns up to its mistakes. The first scandal saw three media execs resign.

When CNN offended Anthony Scaramucci

Anthony Scaramucci in sunglasses and a suit addresses members of the media
Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci talks with reporters during “Regional Media Day” at the White House. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On June 22, 2017, CNN published a story connecting Anthony Scaramucci with investigations into the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The network removed it the next day, posting an editor’s note explaining why.

The article cited a single, anonymous source — claiming the Senate Intelligence committee was interested in a “$10-billion Russian investment fund whose chief executive met with a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team four days before Trump’s inauguration.”

Scaramucci denied everything. After CNN removed the article and apologized, Scaramucci backed down.

When The New York Times and James Comey duked it out

James Comey testifying in a dark suit and a red tie
Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. | Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI director James B. Comey called a New York Times story about contacts between Trump intimates and Russian officials bogus. The story alleged the intercepted communications “alarmed” U.S. officials. It overlapped with Trump’s complimenting Russian President Vladimir Putin, but did not outright accuse anyone of collusion.

The New York Times later published an examination of Comey’s statements. It “found no evidence that any prior reporting was inaccurate. In fact, subsequent reporting by The Times and other media outlets has verified our reporting as the story makes clear.”

The shooting of Gabby Giffords and Sarah Palin were wrongly linked

Gabby Giffords in glasses, a tan jacket, and colorful scarf
Gun violence victim and former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords speaks out. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The New York Times issued a correction to an editorial after it received criticism for incorrectly linking the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords to a map circulated by Sarah Palin’s political action committee. The editorial, titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” implied that an accompanying map inspired the man who shot Giffords, Jared Lee Loughner. It also alluded to that incitement in the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise.

In a tweet, the Times added, “We’re sorry about this and we appreciate that our readers called us on the mistake.”

Editorials are often held to looser standards than news pages, but sometimes the news also falls down.

Fox News wrongfully connected Seth Rich with WikiLeaks

Sean Hannity in a blue jacket and striped blue tie grins
Network  host Sean Hannity said “I am not Fox News.” | Michael Kamm/Getty Images

Fox News commentators dedicated extensive airtime to a conspiracy theory centered on the murder of DCCC staffer Seth Rich. While Washington D.C. police say evidence points to a robbery as the motive for Rich’s fatal shooting, Fox News published a report, based on a statement by private investigator and Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler, in which he claimed to have evidence that Rich was in contact with Wikileaks. Within hours though, Wheeler told a reporter for CNN that actually, he had no such evidence. 

The Rich family lawyer told CNN that they were reviewing possible legal action against Wheeler for talking to the media.

“Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,” Rich’s parents wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. Commentator Sean Hannity remained unapologetic. “I am not I retracted nothing,” Hannity said on his radio show.

Washington Post and the alleged Russian hack of Vermont’s power grid

The Washington Post building sign
The headquarters for The Washington Post newspaper. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The Washington Post sparked fear when it ran the headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.”

The utility company issued a formal statement just an hour and a half after the Post’s publication, refuting those claims. “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”

An hour later, the Post updated its article. Later, the Post added an editorial note. “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.”

The Associated Press, New York Times, and Russia

Donald Trump and Mike Pence whispering near an American flag
Several members of Trump’s cabinet stand accused of collusion. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The New York Times ran a report that claimed all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed Russia attempted to interfere in the election. The Associated Press made similar claims in stories on April 6, June 2, June 26 and June 29.

As it turns out, only four agencies confirmed interference: CIA, FBI, NSA and the office of the director of national intelligence. That fact forced the Times and the AP to issue retractions and corrections. “The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community,” The Times corrected itself.

VICE and Animatronic Trump

Donald Trump squinting and pinching his fingers together
Disney said its animatronic Trump will have a speak role. No word yet on which face he’ll make. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

Vice Media’s Motherboard tech site retracted two articles in June about Trump’s presence in the Hall of Presidents attraction. The editorial board later cited factual errors and questions about sourcing for the pieces.

The Motherboard story alleged internal debate at Disney about whether Trump’s animatronic figure should speak in the exhibit. The story also claimed, citing an anonymous source, that Trump’s team insisted on writing the entire speech for his robotic avatar.

“After a thorough investigation into the sourcing of two stories, ‘Here’s the Secret Backstage Trump Drama at Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents’ and ‘Behind the Scenes of Disney’s Donald Trump “Hall of Presidents” Installation,’ and the identification of several factual errors, we have decided to retract both pieces,” Motherboard said in an editorial note .

The Washington Post called out Russian propaganda

The Washington Post building looking up
This newspaper could have done better due diligence. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Washington Post printed a story in November 2016 titled, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say.” The article centered on a report from a group called PropOrNot. “PropOrNot’s monitoring report … identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans,” it wrote.

The article drew a ton of criticism. Rolling Stone wrote, “The ‘Washington Post’ ‘Blacklist’ Story Is Shameful and Disgusting.” The New Yorker criticized the write-up, as did The Intercept, calling the list “McCarthyite.”

Later, a Washington Post editor added a clarifying note. “The Post does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so.”

The heartwarming moment that almost everyone fell for

A tight shot of Santa Claus
The story sounded too adorable to be true — and it was. | Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Some of the world’s most reputable news outlets got into the Christmas spirit with a heartwarming story of a Santa Claus actor who held a boy in his arms at the hospital before he died. Outlets covering the story included the Today, CNN, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, and many more.

However, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the originator of the story, later published a note from its editor warning that it could not independently verify it. The paper didn’t say it didn’t happen, but noted each of the major hospitals in the area said the events did not occur in their facility.

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