61 Media Mistakes in the Trump Era: The Definitive List
Updated Dec., 2018
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.
So since nobody else has compiled an updated, extensive list of this kind, here are:
61 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:
5. Nov. 9, 2016:
Early on election night, the Detroit Free Press called the state of Michigan for Hillary Clinton. Trump actually won Michigan.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
36. Dec. 8, 2017:
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:
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:
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.
44. April 1, 2018:
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:
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
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
54. June 28, 2018
55. July 10, 2018
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. Oct. 14, 2018
NBC News falsely reports that President Trump praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Actually, Trump had praised the Union General Ulysses S. Grant.
61. 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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