The news media today face an epistemic crisis: how to publish the president’s commentary without amplifying his fabrications and conspiracy theories.
One flashpoint came several weeks ago, when President Donald Trump told Axios reporters that he planned to use an executive order to end birthright citizenship because, as he put it, “we’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen.” On Twitter, Axios CEO and co-founder Jim VandeHei wrote, “Exclusive: Trump to terminate birthright citizenship.”
As many journalists quickly pointed out, this was multilayered malarkey. The president was proposing an unconstitutional means of obliterating the Fourteenth Amendment on the basis of a falsehood; more than two dozen countries in the Western Hemisphere have unrestricted jus soli laws, like the U.S. Axios was treating as fact a haphazard plan, in search of an impossible outcome, justified by a false assertion.
Axios took about as much grief as it deserved. But as others have shown, it’s far from the only media outlet whose headlines and tweets are guilty of passing along Trump’s falsehoods as straightforward and noteworthy quotes.
- When Trump incorrectly described the GOP health bill as covering preexisting conditions, Politico simply declared: “Trump guarantees coverage for people with pre-existing conditions in health care bill.”
- When Trump falsely took credit for Ford moving a plant from Kentucky to Mexico, ABC News reported: “Donald Trump Takes Credit for Keeping a Kentucky Ford Plant From Moving to Mexico.”
- When Trump claimed, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, CBS News tweeted: “Donald Trump: ‘Millions’ voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.”
- When Trump claimed dubiously that he would sever ties with his businesses, it was reported as straightforward fact by CNN (“Trump Cutting Ties With Businesses”) and the AP (“Trump Says He’s Leaving Businesses to Focus on Presidency”).