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Fact-checking President Trump’s ‘Fake News Awards’

Most of the "Fake News" awards are about reports that were wrong -- and quickly corrected. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

The “Fake News Awards” announced on the Republican National Committee website and touted by President Trump pose a conundrum: Does it really count if the news organization admits error?

Regular readers of The Fact Checker know that we do not award Pinocchios if a politician admits error. Everyone makes mistakes — and the point is not to play gotcha. News organizations operate in a competitive arena and mistakes are bound to be made. The key test is whether an error is acknowledged and corrected.

President Trump almost never admits error, even as he has made more than 2,000 false or misleading statements. So with that context, here’s an assessment of the “awards”:

“1. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.”

Krugman, of course, is a columnist. So it’s a bit odd to feature an opinion as fake news when it’s not really news, just opinion. (We don’t fact-check opinions at The Fact Checker.) Krugman wrote: “We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened.”

Clearly that prediction has not happened. So Krugman looks like he has egg on his face. But it turns out he retracted the prediction just three days later. “It’s at least possible that bigger budget deficits will, if anything, strengthen the economy briefly,” he wrote.

“2. ABC News’ Brian Ross CHOKES and sends markets in a downward spiral with false report.”

Ross got his timeline wrong, claiming that former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had just pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, was expected to testify that Trump was a candidate when he instructed Flynn to contact Russian officials. Big mistake — but ABC News corrected the error, and Ross was suspended for the “serious mistake.”

“3. CNN FALSELY reported that candidate Donald Trump and his son Donald J. Trump, Jr. had access to hacked documents from WikiLeaks.”

Here’s a case where other news organizations — The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and NBC News — quickly reported that CNN had gotten it wrong. It turned out that the sender of the email in question was notifying the Trumps of already public documents.

“The new details appear to show that the sender was relying on publicly available information,” CNN admitted. “The new information indicates that the communication is less significant than CNN initially reported.”

“4. TIME FALSELY reported that President Trump removed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office.”

This is is reference to a tweet by a reporter — which was quickly corrected. Do tweets really count as “news”? This did not appear as a news article — and the correction came less than an hour after the original tweet. And the correction was quickly followed by an apology.

(Mea culpa: A reader points out that Miller did put the wrong information about the MLK in an online article, which then was corrected. Time magazine wrote at length about its efforts to correct the record.)

“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.”

Again, another tweet. Again, quickly corrected, within minutes. This also did not result in a news article, except to say that the reporter apologized for the mistake.

“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.”

Again, this started as a tweet — of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump tossing spoonfuls of fish food into a koi pond. What went viral was a clip of Trump appearing to quickly pour his entire box of food into the pond. But then it turned out that Abe went first. It could have just been a matter of how the video feeds were released to reporters. The CNN report noted: “The move got Trump some laughs, and a smile from Abe, who 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.’”

Another case when a reporting mistake led to consequences: CNN issued a correction and three employees, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, were forced out. (The RNC includes a headline about the reporters resigning.)

“8. Newsweek FALSELY reported that Polish First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda did not shake President Trump’s hand.”

Newsweek based its report on a brief clip of the meeting, in which Kornhauser-Duda appears to walk past Trump’s outstretched hand to shake Melania Trump’s hand. When the extended clip was released, showing she then shook Trump’s hand, Newsweek corrected the story. (Vanity Fair, by the way, made the same error.)

“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.”

Yep, CNN got this story wrong. It was also corrected once CNN realized its mistake: “The article and headline have been corrected to reflect that Comey does not directly dispute that Trump was told multiple times he was not under investigation in his prepared testimony released after this story was published.”

“10. The New York Times FALSELY claimed on the front page that the Trump administration had hidden a climate report.”

This was certainly a screw-up, as the report had been publicly available for seven months. The error was only half-heartedly acknowledged by the Times, which added a correction and this line:  The report “was uploaded to a nonprofit internet digital library in January but received little attention until it was published by The New York Times.” But that was not entirely correct either, as The Washington Post had written about it months earlier — just not on the front page.

“11. And last, but not least: “RUSSIA COLLUSION!” Russian collusion is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. THERE IS NO COLLUSION!”

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, appointed by the Trump administration, continues his investigation, as do congressional committees led by Republicans.

The Bottom Line

To sum up, at least seven of the “Fake News” winners resulted in corrections, with two reports prompting suspensions or resignations. One of the winners were simply a tweet that were quickly corrected and never resulted in a news article. One was an opinion article in which the author later retracted his prediction.

Let’s put it this way: If the president admitted error as frequently, he would earn far fewer Pinocchios.

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Not the Whole Story
"And the FAKE NEWS winners are…"
in a tweet
Wednesday, January 17, 2018