You Don't Need to Just Quote Trump 


Do you notice anything peculiar about this batch of tweets recently shared by the Associated Press with its 12.8 million followers?

Anything yet?

How about now?

There’s the “BREAKING: Trump says…” formula, which suggests that the information being sent out to 12.8 million followers is newsworthy because Trump said it. That alone is notable. The Associated Press is a famed wire service that gets information to people at breakneck speeds. Its reporting, news alerts, and election calls are typically given extra weight in terms of trustworthiness. They also act as a signal that other journalists feel comfortable following.

But in the tweets above, the newsworthy statements by Trump are either unproven, unprovable, or provably false. Take the top example, in which the AP alerts that Trump claims the “Justice watchdog report on Clinton email probe shows FBI was biased against him `at the top level.’” Now, contrast that with the headline of the AP’s full story on this very same document:

This discrepancy is basically akin to that of cable news carrying Trump’s remarks live vs. an analysis of those remarks in the following day’s newspaper. Cable news has gotten plenty of criticism for giving Trump uncut and seemingly unlimited airtime; tweeting out his statements—or giving them headline treatment—is essentially the same thing. Here’s how the New York Times framed its recap of Trump’s impromptu press conference on the White House lawn on Friday:

But the story was more nuanced! defenders often claim. OK then: Twelve of the piece’s first 13 paragraphs quote or reference Trump’s statements about Comey’s actions being “vicious,” “horrible,” and even “criminal.” It may as well be a series of Trump tweets. The one paragraph that doesn’t rely on his words includes this seemingly crucial bit about the report: “But it found no evidence that Mr. Comey showed political bias in his oversight of the investigation. The report made no accusations of criminal wrongdoing.”

Will anyone ever learn anything? I think not. Much has been written about how Trump outfoxes the press, which is both true and false. What he does know was aptly summed up in the recent Netflix docuseries, Trump: An American Dream, as it retold how he framed his 1991 casino bankruptcy as a positive development.

“Donald understands that most reporters accurately quote what they’re told, but they really don’t know what they’re writing about,” longtime Trump chronicler David Cay Johnston said. “And once his story is out there, then everything else is just a counter-story.”

I’ve reached out to an Associated Press spokesperson to see if they’ve tweaked their social media policies at all since Trump took office, and I’ll update this post if I hear back.

Update, 2:43 p.m.: The AP deleted the top tweet referenced in this story, which conveyed Trump’s claim that the “Justice watchdog report on Clinton email probe shows FBI was biased against him `at the top level.’”

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