There was no red carpet, but President Donald Trump tweeted a link to his “highly anticipated” fake news award winners Wednesday night, as promised.
The link itself — to the official Republican National Committee website — turned out to be a bit of a fake out. “The site is temporarily offline, we are working to bring it back up. Please try back later,” the link read for many for at least an hour after the announcement.
Pres tries to announce his "fake news" award winners but had trouble with the link. https://t.co/iGnl7tit6t— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) January 18, 2018
Did people crash the GOP’s website trying to read this? https://t.co/JLWU7IBScq— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) January 18, 2018
But eventually, the website rebounded, revealing the “winners” (or “losers”).
“2017 was a year of unrelenting bias, unfair news coverage, and even downright fake news,” the introduction read. “Studies have shown that over 90% of the media’s coverage of President Trump is negative.”
The New York Times “won” first place for an op-ed about Trump’s effect on the markets, published right after the election.
CNN, perhaps not surprisingly given Trump’s vitriol, took home four “honors.”
Trump’s list is a collection of some of the biggest journalistic errors of the past year (and a lesson in the perils of aggregating viral videos or sending hasty tweets).
The aftermath of the stories listed also shows news organizations’ commitment to setting the record straight. In almost every case, media outlets issued corrections. When reporters made mistakes, they acknowledged them repeatedly. In one instance, the reporters and editors involved resigned.
Below is an annotated list, to give some context to these “awards.” The full list is (probably) available here.
1. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.
This is a short op-ed, published, it appears, soon after the election — a prediction, not a report.
2. ABC News’ Brian Ross CHOKES and sends markets in a downward spiral with false report.
ABC News was rightly criticized for botching a report that said President Trump had directed Michael Flynn to make contact with the Russians. Ross later issued a clarification on “World News Tonight,” and ABC News followed up with a full apology for the “serious error,” which it said had not met the network’s editorial standards or vetting process. Ross was suspended from ABC News for four weeks as a result of his misreporting.
3. CNN FALSELY reported that candidate Donald Trump and his son Donald J. Trump, Jr. had access to hacked documents from WikiLeaks.
CNN initially falsely reported that Donald Trump Jr. received an email from Wikileaks about hacked DNC documents on September 4 — which would have implied he had advance notice of the trove to be released online. But Trump Jr. actually received that email on September 14, the day after the cache was posted online. The Washington Post revealed the discrepancy and CNN issued a prominently placed correction, though the error undercut the entire report.
4. TIME FALSELY reported that President Trump removed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office.
Time reporter Zeke Miller initially reported that the bust was gone, but followed up quickly with a correction. He sent out numerous tweets and apologies immediately correcting the record.
Tweeting again: wh aide confirms the MLK bust is still there. I looked for it in the oval 2x & didn't see it. My apologies to my colleagues— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) January 21, 2017
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.
Dave Weigel, a reporter at the Washington Post, tweeted a picture that underestimated crowd for Trump’s rally in Pensacola. Weigel deleted the initial tweet from his private account, saying “it was a bad tweet on my personal account, not a story for the Washington Post.”
It was a bad tweet on my personal account, not a story for Washington Post. I deleted it after like 20 minutes. Very fair to call me out.— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) December 9, 2017
Everything I say on Twitter is a joke, except what I say about @swin24. https://t.co/tI7SQnpoN9
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.
The videos and photos of Trump dumping an entire box of food into a koi pond circulated widely on social media, and were picked up by CNN and others before fact-checkers pointed out that the full video disproved the notion that Trump committed a faux pas — although CNN did write in its story that “Abe… actually appeared to dump out his box of food ahead of Trump.”
7. CNN FALSELY reported about Anthony Scaramucci’s meeting with a Russian, but retracted it due to a “significant breakdown in process.”
This retracted story was one of CNN’s biggest black eyes of 2017, but the network’s response was severe — three reporters and editors resigned as a result, including the executive editor in charge of investigations.
8. Newsweek FALSELY reported that Polish First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda did not shake President Trump’s hand.
Like the koi pond incident, this was a case of a publication (Newsweek, but also Vanity Fair, Time, and The Hill, and that’s just from the first page of Google results) reporting on a viral video clip without seeing the whole story — which, in this case, showed that the Polish first lady eventually shook Trump’s hand after shaking Melania’s first. Newsweek updated its story within three hours with a correction: “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.
Here’s what CNN got wrong: “One source said Comey is expected to explain to senators that those were much more nuanced conversations from which Trump concluded that he was not under investigation.” That source was apparently incorrect, and the story was corrected and updated after publication. (One of the reporters involved in this story, Eric Lichtblau, resigned after the Scaramucci report, No. 7 on this list, a few weeks later.)
10. The New York Times FALSELY claimed on the front page that the Trump administration had hidden a climate report.
This isn’t exactly what happened. The Times reported in August that scientists were afraid that the Trump administration would suppress a report on the impact of climate change that was awaiting review, and said it was making the draft publicly available for the first time. This wasn’t true — the report had surfaced on the nonprofit Internet Archive in January 2017, and the Trump administration still had time to approve and publish the report.
As the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote at the time, this was a significant blow to the Times’s premise. But the reporters never claimed the Trump administration had already suppressed the report. (The climate change report was eventually published.)
11. And last, but not least: “RUSSIA COLLUSION!” Russian collusion is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. THERE IS NO COLLUSION!
Well, now that collusion with Russia is proving to be a total hoax and the only collusion is with Hillary Clinton and the FBI/Russia, the Fake News Media (Mainstream) and this phony new book are hitting out at every new front imaginable. They should try winning an election. Sad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2018
Besides Ross’s error, Trump did not call out any specific story about the Russia probe or special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Trump, after posting the link to the awards, wrote, “There are many great reporters I respect and lots of GOOD NEWS for the American people to be proud of!” But so far, no word of any awards for that.
Despite some very corrupt and dishonest media coverage, there are many great reporters I respect and lots of GOOD NEWS for the American people to be proud of!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
Two Republican senators pushed back against the fake news awards
Trump’s media criticism is so frequent that it’s become background noise in his presidency. Some media outlets have even capitalized on it, using the president’s antipathy to the press to burnish their reputations and sell subscriptions.
But it’s worth pausing to consider what Trump is attempting — and in some cases accomplishing. The president of the United States is going after a free press and, in doing so, is sowing distrust in facts. This subtly erodes democratic norms, and likely contributes to Americans’ suspicion of institutions.
The Fake News Awards started as a way for Trump to criticize the media. But they also drew sweeping condemnations from Trump’s critics within his own party, including two Republican senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake.
McCain published an op-ed in the Washington Post that slammed the administration’s use of the term. “The phrase ‘fake news’ — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens,” McCain wrote.
McCain’s colleague from Arizona, Jeff Flake, delivered an impassioned speech against Trump on the Senate floor, in which he likened Trump’s treatment of the free press to that of Joseph Stalin’s:
It was a year in which a daily assault on the constitutionally protected free speech was launched by the same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. The enemy of the people was how the president of the United States called the free press in 2017. Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies.
Flake also mentioned a few of Trump’s own falsehoods:
Some untruths are trivial, such as a bizarre contention regarding the crowd size of last year’s inaugural. But some untruths are not at all trivial, such as the seminal untruth of the President’s political career, the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama.
Also not trivial, are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate. To the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community, and the free press to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all, the supposed hoax at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
None of these false statements have ever been publicly corrected, unlike the news organizations Trump criticized.