“The press came out with headlines: ‘Trump throws baby out of arena.’ So dishonest. I mean these are dishonest people. I could give you 20 stories like that. Everyone’s having fun, we’re smiling, I’m waving. Everyone’s having fun, but they say Trump throws baby [out]. You know how terrible that is? It’s such a lie. And they know it’s a lie.”
—Donald Trump, speaking at a rally in Green Bay, Wis., Aug. 5, 2016
Donald Trump is complaining that the media has spun a fable that he kicked a baby out of his rally in Ashburn, Va.
The New York Post, for instance, headlined its article: “Trump loves crying baby, then kicks the tot out of his rally.”
The New York Daily News, in its article on the incident, began: “What a baby. Donald Trump booted a fussy baby from a rally Tuesday because the tot was wailing over the businessman’s speech.”
The Guardian newspaper even used the incident to declare that this is a core problem with Trump — that he has “a total lack of empathy.”
Within days, the Clinton campaign highlighted the baby affair in a video trashing Trump’s week:
Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. https://t.co/QU6Rhvvu4Z— The Briefing (@TheBriefing2016) August 5, 2016
In reality, this is a situation when the video can lie — and Trump’s odd sense of humor can backfire. Let’s roll the tape.
There are two parts to the video. During his speech a baby starts to cry, and Trump says: “Don’t worry about that baby, I love babies. … I hear that baby crying. I like it. What a baby. What a beautiful baby. Don’t worry, don’t worry. The mom’s running around like — don’t worry about it, you know. It’s young and beautiful and healthy, and that’s what we want.”
But then about a minute later he says: “Actually, I was only kidding. You can get the baby out of here. … I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking.”
So, just from watching the video, Trump sounds rather cruel. But what’s missing is what the mother was doing. As it happens, Daniel Dale, a reporter from the Toronto Star, was sitting right behind her and wrote that the entire incident was mischaracterized.
The baby was one row in front of me, three or four rows from the stage, at Trump’s event at a high school in Ashburn, Va. When it began to cry, Trump said, “Don’t worry about that baby, I love babies. I love babies. I hear that baby crying, I like it. I like it. What a baby, what a beautiful baby. Don’t worry, don’t worry. The mom’s running around — don’t worry about it.”
People applauded. One minute later, though, the baby began to cry again. This time, the mother quickly decided to take the baby out of the room. Trump, looking in our direction, appeared to notice that she was on her way to the exit.
And then he said, “Actually, I was only kidding. You can get the baby out of here. That’s all right. Don’t worry. I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking?” He cupped his hand over his eyes to watch her leave. “That’s okay, people don’t understand. That’s okay.”
A joke? Possibly. An insensitive, heartless, ordinary-person-embarrassing remark? Possibly. Trump’s tone is eternally hard to read. But, to my eyes, it certainly was not an ejection — it was an unusually barbed endorsement of the mother’s own decision to depart.
One other salient fact is missing from all the pieces on babygate. Mom and baby, very much not kicked out, came back to their seat a bit later.
The baby was sucking a pacifier, silent.
Dale had this perspective because he was not sitting in the news media corral. “I almost never request press credentials from the Trump campaign anymore — partly because I like being in the crowd rather than the pen,” he told The Fact Checker. “I was lucky, this time, that the usher people seated me very close to the stage, and one row behind the baby. There was one empty seat up there.”
Virtually no one in the media noticed Dale’s version of events. He said he did not seek to interview the mother himself, as he did not realize until later how much attention had been paid to this incident. (Dale, incidentally, is one of the reporters who exposed the misdeeds of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford.)
Dale’s account is confirmed by the mother herself — Virginia resident Devan Ebert. (She spoke on the condition that we not report her town.)
“The media did in fact blow this entire situation out of proportion,” she wrote in an email to The Fact Checker. “I’m not looking to make it into anything bigger. All I’m hoping is that Trump personally is aware that I am in agreement with him and stand by the fact that I was never kicked out of the rally.”
She said that she decided to leave the auditorium on her own because “it’s the considerate thing to do for others around, trying to listen or for those presenting,” adding that “it was blatantly obvious he was joking.” She said she stood with the police officers outside the auditorium, who were very kind to her, and then returned to her seat once her child had calmed down.
“I had a wonderful time and I appreciate Trump’s graciousness during a time that is usually considered stressful,” she said. “His comic relief was a breath of fresh air.”
The Pinocchio Test
Trump has been unfairly maligned here. We can see why some reporters ran with this tale, based only on the videotape, but it’s good example of why everything must be checked out.
We’ve given Trump many Pinocchios over the course of the campaign but he earns a Geppetto Checkmark for getting at least this story right.
The Geppetto Checkmark
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