We the media have “fact-checked” President Trump like we have fact-checked no other human being on the planet—and he’s certainly given us plenty to write about. That’s probably why it’s so easy to find lists enumerating and examining his mistakes, missteps and “lies.”
But as self-appointed arbiters of truth, we’ve largely excused our own unprecedented string of fact-challenged reporting. The truth is, formerly well-respected, top news organizations are making repeat, unforced errors in numbers that were unheard of just a couple of years ago.
Our repeat mistakes involve declaring that Trump’s claims are “lies” when they are matters of opinion, or when the truth between conflicting sources is unknowable; taking Trump’s statements and events out of context; reporting secondhand accounts against Trump without attribution as if they’re established fact; relying on untruthful, conflicted sources; and presenting reporter opinions in news stories—without labeling them as opinions.
What’s worse, we defend ourselves by trying to convince the public that our mistakes are actually a virtue because we (sometimes) correct them. Or we blame Trump for why we’re getting so much wrong. It’s a little bit like a police officer taking someone to jail for DUI, then driving home drunk himself: he may be correct to arrest the suspect, but he should certainly know better than to commit the same violation.
So since nobody else has compiled an updated, extensive list of this kind, here are:
50 Notable Mistakes and Missteps in Major Media Reporting on Donald Trump
1. Aug. 2016-Nov. 2016:
The New York Post published modeling photos of Trump’s wife Melania and reported they were taken in 1995. Various news outlets relied on that date to imply that Melania—an immigrant—had violated her visa status. But the media got the date wrong. Politico was among the news agencies that later issued a photo date correction.
2. Oct. 1, 2016:
The New York Times and other media widely suggested or implied that Trump had not paid income taxes for 18 years. Later, tax return pages leaked to MSNBC ultimately showed that Trump actually paid a higher rate than Democrats Bernie Sanders and President Obama.
3. Oct. 18, 2016:
In a Washington Post piece not labelled opinion or analysis, Stuart Rothenberg reported that Trump’s path to an electoral college victory was “nonexistent.”
4. Nov. 4, 2016:
USA Today misstated Melania Trump’s “arrival date from Slovenia” amid a flurry of reporting that questioned her immigration status from the mid-1990s.
5. Nov. 9, 2016:
Early on election night, the Detroit Free Press called the state of Michigan for Hillary Clinton. Trump actually won Michigan.
Nancy Sinatra via Twitter
6. Jan. 20, 2017:
CNN claimed Nancy Sinatra was “not happy” at her father’s song being used at Trump’s inauguration. Sinatra responded, “That’s not true. I never said that. Why do you lie, CNN?…Actually I’m wishing him the best.”
7. Jan. 20, 2017:
Zeke Miller of TIME reported that President Trump had removed the bust statue of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office. The news went viral. It was false.
8. Jan. 26, 2017:
Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reported that the State Department’s “entire senior administrative team” had resigned in protest of Trump. A number of media outlets ranging from politically left to right, including liberal-leaning Vox, stated that claim was misleading or wrong.
9. Jan. 28, 2017
CNBC’s John Harwood reported the Justice Department “had no input” on Trump’s immigration executive order. After a colleague contradicted Harwood’s report, he amended it to reflect that Justice Department lawyers reportedly had reviewed Trump’s order.
10. Jan. 31, 2017:
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported the White House set up Twitter accounts for two judges to try to keep Trump’s selection for Supreme Court secret. Zeleny later corrected his report to state that the Twitter accounts had not been set up by the White House.
11. Feb. 2, 2017:
TMZ reported Trump changed the name of “Black History Month” to “African American History Month,” implying the change was untoward or racist. In fact, Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had all previously called Black History month “African American History” month.
12. Feb. 2, 2017:
AP reported that Trump had threatened the president of Mexico with invasion to get rid of “bad hombres.” Numerous publications followed suit. The White House said it wasn’t true and the Washington Post removed the AP info that “could not be independently confirmed.”
13. Feb. 4, 2017:
Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reported on “Inside the White House-Cabinet Battle Over Trump’s Immigration Order,” only to have the article updated repeatedly to note that one of the reported meetings had not actually occurred, that a conference call had not happened as described, and that actions attributed to Trump were actually taken by his chief of staff.
14. Feb. 14, 2017:
The New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo reported about supposed contacts between Trump campaign staff and “senior Russian intelligence officials.” Comey later testified “In the main, [the article] was not true.”
15. Feb. 22, 2017:
ProPublica’s Raymond Bonner reported CIA official Gina Haspel—Trump’s later pick for CIA Director—was in charge of a secret CIA prison where Islamic extremist terrorist Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in one month, and that she mocked the prisoner’s suffering. More than a year later, ProPublica retracted the claim, stating that “Neither of these assertions is correct…Haspel did not take charge of the base until after the interrogation of Zubaydah ended.”
16. April 5, 2017:
An article bylined by the New York Times’ graphic editors Karen Yourish and Troy Griggs referred to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, as Trump’s wife.
17. May 10, 2017:
Multiple outlets including Politico, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, AP, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal reported the same leaked information: that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey shortly after Comey requested additional resources to investigate Russian interference in the election.
The New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Matt Apuzzo, and CNN’s Sara Murray reported the information in sentences and paragraphs that omitted attribution, as if it were an established fact. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Sari Horwitz and Robert Costa wrote news articles in the style of opinion pieces and from an omniscient viewpoint as if they were somehow in the mind of Trump. For example, they reported, “Every time FBI Director James B. Comey appeared in public, an ever-watchful President Trump grew increasingly agitated that the topic was the one that he was most desperate to avoid: Russia.” (Other reporters —Reuters’ Dustin Volz and Susan Cornwell— did properly attribute the claim.)
The Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe said the media reports were untrue and McCabe added that the FBI’s Russia investigation was “adequately resourced.”
18. May 27,2018:
The BBC’s James Landale, The Guardian and others reported that Trump wasn’t bothering to listen to the translation during a speech in Italian by Italy’s Prime Minister. They drew that conclusion without asking the White House and based on a video that showed other political leaders wearing large headphones. The Guardian even claimed Trump was fake listening (smiling and nodding). After the reports circulated, the White House stated that, as always, Trump was indeed wearing an earpiece in his right ear.
19. June 4, 2017:
NBC News reported in a Tweet that Russian President Vladimir Putin told TV host Megan Kelly that he had compromising information about Trump. Actually, Putin said the opposite: that he did not have compromising information on Trump.
20. June 6, 2017:
CNN’s Gloria Borger, Eric Lichtblau, Jake Tapper and Brian Rokus; and ABC’s Justin Fishel and Jonathan Karl reported that Comey was going to refute Donald Trump’s claim that Comey told Trump three times he was not under investigation. Instead, Comey did the opposite and confirmed Trump’s claim.
21. June 7, 2017:
In a fact-check story, AP reported erroneously that Trump misread the potential cost to a family with insurance under the Affordable Care Act who wanted care from their existing doctor.
22. June 8, 2017:
The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman reported that Comey testified Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Comey not to call the Russia probe “an investigation” but “a matter.” Weisman was mistaken about the attorney general and the probe. Actually, it was Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch (not Sessions) who told Comey to refer to the Hillary Clinton classified email probe (not the Russia probe) as “a matter” instead of “an investigation.”
23. June 22, 2017:
CNN’s Thomas Frank reported that Congress was investigating a “Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials.” The report was later retracted. Frank and two other CNN employees resigned in the fallout.
24. December 2, 2017:
ABC News’ Brian Ross reported that former Trump official Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was going to testify that candidate Trump had directed him to contact “the Russians.” Even though such contact would not be in of itself a violation of law, the news was treated as an explosive indictment of Trump in the Russia collusion narrative, and the stock market fell on the news. ABC later corrected the report to reflect that Trump had already been elected when he reportedly asked Flynn to contact the Russians about working together to fight ISIS and other issues. Ross was suspended.
25. July 6, 2017:
Newsweek’s Chris Riotta and others reported that Poland’s First Lady had refused to shake Trump’s hand. Newsweek’s later “update” reflected that the First Lady had shaken Trump’s hand after all, as clearly seen on the full video.
26. July 6, 2017:
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, CNN and numerous outlets had long reported, as if fact, the Hillary Clinton claim that a total of 17 American intelligence agencies concluded that Russia orchestrated election year attacks to help get Trump elected. Only three or four agencies, not 17, had officially done so.
27. Aug. 31, 2017:
NBC News’ Ken Dilinian and Carol Lee reported that a Trump official’s notes about a meeting with a Russian lawyer included the word “donation,” as if there were discussions about suspicious campaign contributions. NBC later corrected the report to reflect that the word “donation” didn’t appear, but still claimed the word “donor” did. Later, Politico reported that the word “donor” wasn’t in the notes, either.
28. Sept. 5, 2017:
CNN’s Chris Cillizza and other news outlets declared Trump “lied” when he stated that Trump Tower had been wiretapped, although there’s no way any reporter independently knew the truth of the matter—only what intel officials claimed. It later turned out there were numerous wiretaps involving Trump Tower, including a meeting of Trump officials with a foreign dignitary. At least two Trump associates who had offices in or frequented Trump Tower were also wiretapped.
28. Sept. 7, 2017:
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported Democrat leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi called President Trump about an immigration issue. Trump actually made the call to Pelosi.
30. Nov. 6, 2017:
CNN’s Daniel Shane edited excerpts from a Trump event to make it seem as though Trump didn’t realize Japan builds cars in the U.S. However, Trump’s entire statement made clear that he does.
31. Nov. 6, 2017:
CNN edited a video that made it appear as though Trump impatiently dumped a box of fish food into the water while feeding fish at Japan’s palace. The New York Daily News, the Guardian and others wrote stories implying Trump was gauche and impetuous. The full video showed that Trump had simply followed the lead of Japan’s Prime Minister.
32. Nov. 29, 2017:
Newsweek’s Chris Riotta claimed Ivanka Trump “plagiarized” one of her own speeches. In fact, plagiarizing one’s own work is impossible since plagiarism is when a writer steals someone else’s work and passes it off as his own.
33. Dec. 4, 2017:
The New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt and Sharon LaFraniere and other outlets reported that Trump Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland supposedly contradicted herself or lied about another official’s contacts with Russians. The story was heavily, repeatedly amended. CNN, MSNBC, CBS News, New York Daily News and Daily Beast picked up the story about McFarland’s “lies.”
34. Dec. 4, 2017:
ABC News’ Trish Turner and Jack Date reported that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had recently worked with a Russia intelligence-connected “official.” But the Russian wasn’t an “official.”
35. Dec. 5, 2017:
Bloomberg’s Steven Arons and the Wall Street Journal’s Jenny Strasburg reported the blockbuster that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed Trump’s bank records. It wasn’t true.
36. Dec. 8, 2017:
CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb reported that Donald Trump Jr. conspired with WikiLeaks in advance of the publication of damaging Democrat party and Clinton campaign emails. Many other publications followed suit. They had the date wrong: WikiLeaks and Trump Junior were in contact after the emails were published.
37. Jan. 3, 2018:
Talking Point Memo’s Sam Thielman reported that a Russian social media company provided documents to the Senate about communications with a Trump official. The story was later corrected to say the reporter actually had no idea how the Senate received the documents and had no evidence to suggest the Russian company was cooperating with the probe.
38. Jan. 12, 2018:
Mediaite’s Lawrence Bonk, CNN’s Sophie Tatum, the Guardian, BBC, US News and World Report, Reuters and Buzzfeed’s Adolfo Flores reported a “bombshell”— that President Trump had backed down from his famous demand for a wall along the entire Southern border. However, Trump said the very same thing in February 2016 on MSNBC, on Dec. 2, 2015, in the National Journal, in October 2015 during the CNBC Republican Primary debate, and on Aug. 20, 2015, on FOX Business’ Mornings with Maria.
38. Jan. 15, 2018:
AP’s Laurie Kellman and Jonathan Drew reported that a new report showed trust in the media had fallen during the Trump presidency. But the report that AP cited was actually over a year old and was conducted while Obama was president.
40. Feb. 2, 2018:
AP’s Eric Tucker, Mary Clare Jalonick and Chad Day reported that ex-British spy Christopher Steele’s opposition research against Trump was initially funded by a conservative publication: the Washington Free Beacon. AP corrected its story because Steele only came on the project after Democrats began funding it.
41. March 8, 2018:
The New York Times’ Jan Rosen reported on a hypothetical family whose tax bill would rise nearly $4,000 under Trump’s tax plan. It turns out the calculations were off: the couple’s taxes would go actually go down $43; not up $4,000.
42. March 13, 2018:
The New York Times’ Adam Goldman, NBC’s Noreen O’Donnell and AP’s Deb Riechmann reported that Trump’s pick for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, had waterboarded a particular Islamic extremist terrorist dozens of time at a secret prison; and that she had mocked his suffering. In fact, Haspel wasn’t assigned to the prison until after the detainee left. ProPublica originally reported the incorrect details in Feb. 2017.
43. March 15, 2018:
AP’s Michael Biesecker, Jake Pearson and Jeff Horwitz reported that a Trump advisory board official had been a Miss America contestant and had killed a black rhino. She actually was a Mrs. America contestant and had shot a nonlethal tranquilizer dart at a white rhino.
AP’s Nicholas Riccardi reported that the Trump administration had ended a program to admit foreign entrepreneurs. It wasn’t true.
45. April 30, 2018:
AP reported that the NRA had banned guns during Trump and Pence speeches at the NRA’s annual meeting. AP later corrected the information because the ban had been put in place by Secret Service.
46. May 3, 2018:
NBC’s Tom Winter reported that the government had wiretapped Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen. NBC latercorrected the story after three senior U.S. officials said there was no wiretap.
47. May 7, 2018:
CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger reported that Trump’s personal lawyer, Cohen, paid $1 million in fines related to unauthorized cars in his taxi business, had been barred from managing taxi medallions, had transferred $60 million offshore to avoid paying debts, and is awaiting trial on charges of failing to pay millions in taxes. A later correction stated that none of that was true.
48. May 16, 2018:
The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis, AP, CNN’s Oliver Darcy and others excerpted a Trump comment as if he had referred to immigrants or illegal immigrants generally as “animals.” Most outlets corrected their reports later to note that Trump had specifically referred to members of the murderous criminal gang MS-13.
48. May 28, 2018
The New York Times’ Magazine editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein and CNN’s Hadas Gold shared a story with photos of immigrant children in cages as if they were new photos taken under the Trump administration. The article and photos were actually taken in 2014 under the Obama administration.
50. May 29, 2018
The New York Times’ Julie Davis reported the estimated size of a Trump rally to be 1,000 people. There were actually 5,500 people or more in attendance.
51. June 1, 2018
In a story about Trump tariffs, AP reported the dollar value of Virginia’s farm and forestry exports to Canada and Mexico was $800. It’s $800 million.
52. June 21, 2018
Time magazine and others used a photo of a crying Honduran child to illustrate a supposed Trump administration policy separating illegal immigrant parents and children. The child’s father later reported that agents had never separated her from her mother; the mother had taken her to the US without his knowledge and separated herself from her other children, whom she left behind.
53. June 22, 2018
MSNBC personality mistakenly stated that Trump had “banned” the Red Cross from visiting children separated from illegal immigrant parents.
54. June 28, 2018
After a newsroom shooting, a newspaper reporter falsely tweeted that the shooter “dropped his [Trump Make America Great Again] hat on newsroom floor before opening fire.”
55. July 10, 2018
NBC reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell reported that outgoing Supreme Court Justice Kennedy only retired after months of negotiations with Trump that concluded with Trump agreeing to replace Kennedy with Judge Kavanaugh.
56. July 16, 2018
Washington Post reporter implies Trump doesn’t understand NATO countries. In fact, Trump met with the Finnish President at the NATO summit. Further, Finland is a NATO partner, just not a member.
57. Sept. 14, 2018
The New York Times issues a major correction (below) to an original “unfair” article about U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
58. Tues. Sept. 18, 2018
The New York Times falsely reports that a man, Mark Judge, testified he remembered an incident more than 30 year ago in which Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is accused of assault. Judge actually said the opposite: he does not remember such an incident, and that the allegations are “absolutely nuts.” The Times corrected its article in an editors’ note.
59. Sept. 23, 2018
Multiple news outlets report that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein has resigned or been fired. Neither is true. Axios and others eventually “update” and “clarify” their erroneous reports.
60. Nov. 14, 2018
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reports that President Trump has decided to fire a deputy national security adviser upon the First Lady’s demand. The Wall Street Journal reports the adviser has been “escorted out” of the White House. Later, it’s reported that neither case was true. “This did not happen. She is still here at the WH,” a senior official told the press. The adviser was reassigned to another job.
Politicians are often fact-challenged. But for us in the media— our whole business is in facts. And we’ve played too fast and loose with our own.
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