News and Commentary

KHAN: 7 Debunked Claims The Media Has Pushed About Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a Spirit of America Showcase in the Entrance Hall of the White House July 02, 2020 in Washington, DC. The president visited with representatives from invited companies like Weber-Stephen Products, the Texas Timber Wood Bat Company, Scars & Stripes Coffee, Carolina Pie, Fruit of the Earth, Nautilus Fishing Company and others. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A litany of falsehoods and misleading headlines from the media has hounded President Trump from even before his inauguration. Many of these false claims range from the trivial to the dire. Here are some of the more egregious assertions put forth by the media.

1. Trump called white nationalists in Charlottesville “very fine people”

In 2017, the media insisted that Trump supported white nationalism after the violence in Charlottesville. A piece by The Atlantic opened with the following line:

“President Trump defended the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville on Tuesday, saying they included ‘some very fine people,’ while expressing sympathy for their demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.”

Of course, missing from The Atlantic’s piece was full context of the four-word phrase as well as Trump’s tweet that morning condemning hatred and violence and calling for unity:

“We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”

As the transcript of the exchange reveals, Trump was arguing that the demonstration involved far greater complexities than what was being reported. The rally was not inherently “white nationalist,” containing many people there to protest the removal of tributes to America’s complex history. Fringe elements on the Right were indeed present, as were violent radicals on the Left, but Trump made a point of distinguishing between those there to promote patriotist and those there to spread hatred.

Below are excerpts from the contentious August 2017 exchange in which Trump made his “some very fine people” comment:

Trump:I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you had, you had a group on one side that was bad. And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group – you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.

Reporter: Do you think what you call the “alt-left” is the same as neo-Nazis?

Trump: Those people – all of those people, excuse me – I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.

Reporter:Well, white nationalists –

Trump: Those people were also there, because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue Robert E. Lee. So – excuse me – and you take a look at some of the groups and you see, and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not. Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after. You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop? […]

Reporter: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?

Trump: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs — and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side. You can call them the left — you just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is. …

Reporter: The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest —

Trump: Excuse me, excuse me. They didn’t put themselves — and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group. Excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.

2. Trump touted improved employment numbers as a “great day” for George Floyd

A favorite ploy by many in the media is to take Trump’s statements out of context then mock and deride him for it. The way CNN misconstrued his statements on George Floyd is just another example:

President Donald Trump showed his breathtaking disconnect from the pain and tumult that has unfolded in this country after George Floyd’s death, declaring Friday that new economic numbers and nationwide protests against racism and police brutality had made it “a great day” for Floyd.

In fact, what Trump said was far more dignified, as a fact-check by The Dispatch revealed. Here’s what Trump actually said:

Trump: Equal justice under the law must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement, regardless of race, color, gender, or creed. They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement. They have to receive it. We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen. Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying, “This is a great thing that’s happening for our country.” This is a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality. It’s really what our Constitution requires and it’s what our country is all about.

Context counts. What Trump said about Floyd was both generous and honorable and not at all some dismissive, self-serving remark.

3. Trump claimed all Mexicans are drug dealers, rapists, and criminals

In 2016, The BBC ran a headline claiming that Trump considered all Mexicans criminals in some form or another. The content of the piece featured a heavily edited video featuring curated sound bytes from Trump during his campaign seemingly supporting the headline’s claim. Other media outlets ran with it as well.

As documented by Politifact, Trump actually stated the following:

Trump: When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Too broad a generalization on his part? Inaccurate even? Perhaps, but in no way was Trump declaring that all Mexicans were rapists and criminals. That was just yet another specious attempt at spin by the media. He made a point of saying that he assumes some are “good people.”

Trump’s condemnation of “rapists” followed multiple reports, like this tragic PBS report from 2014, on the horrific treatment of women and girls at the hands of “coyote” guides as they immigrate to America.

4. Trump declared COVID-19 a hoax

Earlier this year, many news sites ran headlines stating that Trump had declared COVID-19 a hoax. CNBC ran with it and even stated the following:

President Trump says that Democrats are using the virulent coronavirus as a “hoax” to damage him and his administration.

A media avalanche ensued, insisting that Trump considered the pandemic a hoax.

Amid the onslaught, Snopes offered surprising clarity on the matter given the site’s general bias toward the left. Trump had only insisted that the Democrats’ criticism of his response was, in fact, a hoax.

“In context, Trump did not say … that the virus itself was a hoax,” Snopes concluded. “He instead said that Democrats’ criticism of his administration’s response to it was a hoax.”

5. Trump referred to undocumented immigrants as “animals”

Trump supposedly referring to undocumented immigrants as “animals” is easily one of the more egregious examples of the media misleading the American public. It’s a lie that continues to hound the president as well. USA Today even went so far as to not only mislead its readers about the alleged claim, but used it to compare Trump to Adolf Hitler, slave owners, and the Hutus during the Rwandan genocide:

“These aren’t people. These are animals.” That’s how President Trump described undocumented immigrants during a White House meeting…Trump’s not the first to use such rhetoric: Adolf Hitler justified the Holocaust by saying Jews weren’t people but rats, as NPR notes. In the Rwandan genocide, Tutsis were called not people, but cockroaches [by the Hutus], and slaveowners justified slavery by calling their slaves not people, but animals.

In fact, Trump was specifically referring to MS-13, one of the most brutal, murderous criminal gangs in the entire world, in an exchange with Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims as detailed by Snopes:

According to a White House transcript, Mims referred to “bad guys” and specifically named the violent criminal gang MS-13 immediately before President Trump’s “animals” remarks…

Trump even clarified his statement a day later, though it seemingly fell on deaf ears. “I’m referring to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in,” said Trump.

6. The infamous photo of kids in cages

One of the more glaring problems with headlines or stories that end up being false is that the redactions later offered rarely achieve the same level of attention as the initial claim. In effect, the misleading claims hold true for many, especially when confirmation bias is so pernicious in today’s climate and fact-checking is at a premium.

An infamous photo of kids amassed in a border detention center circulated by House Democrats in 2018 is a glaring case in point. In fact, the photo was taken in 2014 during Obama’s administration.

7. Trump is to blame for the looting and violence during the BLM protests

In another case, of fantastically spurious reasoning, CNN’s David Gergen insisted that Trump’s supposedly constant “race-baiting” inspired the looting and violence during the recent BLM protests. Writing for the Washington Post, Dana Milbank offered a similar wild assessment, as reported by the New York Post:

CNN political analyst David Gergen said Tuesday that Trump’s referrals to himself as ‘the president of law and order’ functioned as “race-baiting” and, in turn, “would deliberately incite violence.”…Liberal Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote Monday that the riots and destruction we’re seeing “are the wages of Trump’s hate-filled incumbency.”

These were nothing more than caustic, inflammatory remarks devoid of any real substance or logic on the part of Gergen and Milbank. At best, the comments were built upon previous lies made against Trump. Much of the reason why Trump is painted as some race-baiting hate monger is due, in no small part, to the incessant falsehoods the media promulgates about him as the examples above demonstrate.

Trump has made his fair share of comments that deserve criticism from the media. But the reality is the establishment media has largely thrown off all pretense of objectivity in its coverage of him, and at times even knowingly promoted false narratives. And it’s not just Trump. Many mainstream outlets have allowed themselves to devolve into petty, dogmatic activism with little regard for the truth or the division and destructive consequences that result from their actions.

Given all the bogus claims and misleading reports targeting one side of the aisle, it should come as no surprise that trust in the media has eroded. A Gallup’s survey found that by 2019, confidence in newspapers had plummeted from 51% in 1979 to just 23%, while confidence in televised news was even worse: down from 46% in 1993 to just 18% in 2019.

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