The seemingly random group of eight women were, in fact, members of an organized group dedicated to promoting Trump. The group calls itself the Trumpettes of America 2019 Palm Beach Team, although CNN and correspondent Randi Kaye didn’t mention anything about such a group. Nor did the anchors, including Anderson Cooper, who introduced Kaye’s report.
The network simply identified the panelists individually, with their names appearing onscreen next to the word “Republican.” Kaye gave no hint that the women knew one another and had a common cause.
As a result, the segment left the impression that CNN had assembled a panel reflecting a cross-section of opinion from Republican women about the crossfire between Trump and four freshman Democratic congresswomen of color, whom Trump told to “go back” to their own countries in Sunday tweets, despite all four being American citizens.
Rather than a cross-section, however, the Trumpettes were plainly of one mind.
“He was saying that if they hate America so much — because what we’re seeing out of them and hearing out of them, they hate America,” panelist Dena Miller said, echoing Trump’s defense, “if it’s so bad, there’s a lot of places they can go.” She asserted that the four congresswomen “don’t like white people. Come on! They’re racist.”
Fellow panelist Cami Dean added, “We know the president is not racist. He loves people, from Hispanics, black people, all across the board.”
And a third panelist, Gina O’Briant, also picked up Trump’s defense of himself, saying that the congresswomen are the ones “inciting hatred and division.”
The Trumpettes describe themselves as a grass-roots organization that promotes Trump’s agenda but is not affiliated with the official Trump reelection campaign. The group and its members do periodic media interviews and use social media to respond to his critics. The booster group’s main promotional and organizing vehicle is a Facebook page, which had nearly 44,000 followers as of Thursday. The organization is separate from a like-named group called Trumpettes USA.
Miller is listed on the Facebook page as the group’s president.
The network also didn’t mention that the Trumpettes have been interviewed on CNN twice before and that they came up reliably in support of Trump on those occasions, too.
O’Briant and fellow Trumpette Peaches McGuire Coates appeared on CNN in September when they commented favorably on Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s reelection campaign.
In that segment, CNN identified them as members of a group called Texas Women for Trump Coalition.
In January of last year, Kaye interviewed O’Briant, Miller and Coates for a piece that preceded Trump’s State of the Union speech.
The interviews were pegged to headlines about his alleged affair with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and revelations that he paid her to keep quiet about it. Their affiliation wasn’t mentioned then, either.
O’Briant told Kaye that she stood by Trump then, too. “You know, what bothers me are these stories that detract from all the good things he’s doing for the American people,” she said. “Instead of hearing that, we’re hearing all news from someone that’s not really that credible, from a stripper porn star.”
Neither Kaye nor CNN’s representatives responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.
CNN’s lack of disclosure about the Trumpette group is “a fraud on the viewer,” Edward Wasserman, dean of the University of California at Berkeley journalism school, said in an interview. He suggested that the network concealed the identity of the group to cover up the lack of news value in the interview and to provide “something that looks like balance” in the face of Trump’s criticism that CNN is anti-Trump.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics advises journalists to provide proper context for news stories and to “take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.”
It also says: “Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.”
In an interview, Fred Brown, a member of the SPJ Ethics Committee, said, “I don’t see any good reason for CNN not to identify the affiliation of these women. It’s a useful bit of information to help viewers evaluate the women’s motivation and mind-set.”
But he said, “It doesn’t seem to me to be a conscious attempt to conceal anything. [It’s] just incomplete reporting.”
For their part, the Trumpettes seemed happy with the way the CNN segment turned out, posting it on their Facebook page. But they didn’t seem all that happy with CNN, which Trump has repeatedly trashed as “fake news.” On Facebook, the group entreated viewers to watch its members defend Trump on the “Fake News CNN Show.”