How real are Donald Trump's fake news awards?

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 18 January 2018 14:54

Donald Trump has finally given out his fake news awards, but you'd be forgiven for not trusting them.

After weeks of anticipation, the final list has been revealed.

Some had expected a big ceremony. But in fact the awards were just given out in a tweet that linked out to a Republican website, in which all of the awards were listed.

Some 11 stories were picked as part of the list. None of them were prioritised or picked for different things, and the website gave little context on each of the stories that were chosen.

Many of them were taken from tweets and even opinion pieces, rather than news organisations as had been expected. Mr Trump's original tweet had suggested he would give a trophy to the most dishonest news station – but in fact, the awards focused as much on newspapers as broadcasters, and picked out a range of different stories. (It also used stories from the "winning" organisations to debunk those posted elsewhere – regularly referring to the Washington Post, for instance, despite also suggesting it was a fake news site.)

Here is that context, and a rundown of how much reality there is in the fake news awards.

1. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.

But Mr Krugman wasn't as definitive as the quote used by Mr Trump's team suggests. Even the conclusion of the article wasn't definitive, making clear that the prediction was only "very probably" going to be the case and that "we could get lucky somehow".

"So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight," he wrote. "I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened."3

That gets at the nature of the piece: it was not only a piece of opinion, and therefore hard to fact check or prove false, it was also openly and explicitly speculative. Mr Krugman was wrong, but he didn't actually say he wouldn't be.

A few days later he ended up contradicting himself, anyway, in a piece that admitted that bigger budget deficits like those being run by the Trump administration could provide brief strength to the economy.

And his article was part of a run of pieces written for inauguration day that predicted wildly different things for Mr Trump: optimistic ones that suggested he could calm down and become more statesmanlike while in office, set alongside more pessimistic ones like MR Krugman's.

2. "ABC News’ Brian Ross CHOKES and sends markets in a downward spiral with false report.”

Brian Ross's report was in error. The Republicans are right about this: the report was false in its claims about the investigation into Russian meddling in the election, and it was linked with a drop in the stock markets.

But ABC News fixed the error quickly, and Mr Ross was suspended and apologised for his mistake.

“3. CNN FALSELY reported that candidate Donald Trump and his son Donald J. Trump, Jr. had access to hacked documents from WikiLeaks.”

Likewise, this was wrong. The documents weren't the result of a hack, but were already publicly available.

A number of news organisations – including many of the fake news awards winners – pointed that out instantly. And CNN would go on to make clear that its report was false.

“4. TIME FALSELY reported that President Trump removed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office.”

It's true this didn't happen: the bust was never removed. But to describe it this way perhaps makes a little too much of what did happen.

Time didn't report this – Zeke Miller, who then worked for the organisation but has now moved to the Associated Press, did. He posted on Twitter that the bust had been removed – and then posted very soon after that it was actually still there, and had been "obscured by an agent and door".

“5. Washington Post FALSELY reported the President’s massive sold-out rally in Pensacola, Florida was empty. Dishonest reporter showed picture of empty arena HOURS before crowd started pouring in.”

This is another tweet, by another reporter, noting a relatively minor fact that has been picked up by the president. This time it was Washington Post journalist Dave Weigel, who did what the awards say he did: mocked Trump for the fact that nobody had turned up, using a picture that didn't reflect the full turnout.

But there was no news story, apart from the various ones that made clear Weigel had been incorrect. That included a story from his employer, the Washington Post, which made the same point.

“6. CNN FALSELY edited a video to make it appear President Trump defiantly overfed fish during a visit with the Japanese prime minister. Japanese prime minister actually led the way with the feeding.”

This was a little strange as a story. But the GOP's summary is mostly correct: reports (and tweets) showed Mr Trump throwing his whole box of fish food into a pond, and many people laughed at the way he had unceremoniously dropped it all in.

CNN does note now that Mr Trump actually threw the food in after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. So there wasn't really a false claim so much as an embarrassingly edited video.

“7. CNN FALSELY reported about Anthony Scaramucci’s meeting with a Russian, but retracted it due to a ‘significant breakdown in process.’”

Trump is keen on this example – he gleefully tweeted about it at the time, suggesting that it was a permanent indictment of the press. And it was a very significant, very substantial error – one that led to three of CNN's most high-ranking journalists leaving the company.

“8. Newsweek FALSELY reported that Polish First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda did not shake President Trump’s hand.”

This is another case in which the initial report was incorrect, though it was fixed fairly quickly after. Newsweek did explicitly claim that Mr Trump had been snubbed, a story that arose mostly because video of the apparent sleight went viral on Twitter.

It emerged later that the video didn't tell the entire story, and that the first lady of Poland did shake Mr Trump's hand. Newsweek's story has been updated at the beginning to reflect that fact: "The mildly awkward and humorously relatable exchange was just that, and no apparent swipe at the U.S. president".

“9. CNN FALSELY reported that former FBI Director James Comey would dispute President Trump’s claim that he was told he is not under investigation.”

This was false. And CNN made that clear: even the GOP's write-up of the awards uses two screengrabs from CNN, including one where the station is making clear that its claim was false.

“10. The New York Times FALSELY claimed on the front page that the Trump administration had hidden a climate report.”

This is perhaps one of the most glaring of the errors that were given fake news awards. The New York Times claimed the report had been buried, but it was in fact widely available, and had been for months before the paper splashed it on its front page.

The NYT initially pushed back on that, claiming the report was not "widely publicised" but admitting that the claims it had been hidden were wrong. The story has now been updated, removing that claim and making clear at the bottom of the story that it was false, though not in as strident language as some might like. The story now primarily discusses the findings of the report, which despite the dismissal does offer terrifying conclusions on the state of global warming.

11. And last, but not least: “RUSSIA COLLUSION!” Russian collusion is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. THERE IS NO COLLUSION!”

This is the only award that didn't go to any person, story or news organisation in particular, but to a whole narrative. As such, it's hard to dismiss this entirely or even know to whom or what the fake news award is being given.

But investigations into the collusion still continue. Nobody has conclusively reported what their conclusion might be, and couldn't do convincingly since they've not actually finished.

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