To hear President Trump tell it, the reason that the media is reporting that the recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico were fumbling is simply because the media is out to get him. He’s said as much on Twitter, more than once, including Wednesday morning.
“Wow, so many Fake News stories today,” he wrote. “No matter what I do or say, they will not write or speak truth. The Fake News Media is out of control!”
Last week, he suggested that CNN and NBC were “going out of their way to disparage” the first responders to that crisis as “a way to ‘get Trump.’ ” He told the people of Puerto Rico, “Do not believe the #FakeNews!”
What’s never been explained is why the “fake news” would go out of its way to unfairly disparage Trump’s handling of Maria’s effects on Puerto Rico when it didn’t unfairly disparage his handling of how the Harvey and Irma hurricanes affected Texas and Florida. One can either believe that the press treated Trump fairly in its coverage of the first two storms and then suddenly decided to lie about Trump for unclear reasons, or one can believe that the news media is reporting both responses fairly — and that in Puerto Rico is legitimately not going as well.
New polling from the Associated Press and its pollsters at NORC indicates that more Americans have embraced the latter assumption. Only 32 percent think Trump has handled the Puerto Rico crisis well, while 48 percent approve of his handling of the responses to Harvey and Irma. A plurality approve of his handling of the Texas and Florida storms; nearly half disapprove of his handling of Maria.
Interestingly, views of his handling of Maria vs. Harvey and Irma drop about the same amount regardless of political party. Republicans are much less likely to think Trump handled Maria well, as are Democrats.
Recent Post-ABC polling reinforces that views of how Trump handled Harvey and Irma were broadly positive. Even a third of those who generally disapprove of Trump’s performance as president say that he handled the response to those storms well.
It’s clear from Trump’s own public statements that he was more focused on the responses to Harvey and Irma than the response to Maria. He tweeted about the first two storms constantly before and after they made landfall. He didn’t tweet much about Maria until after he started to face criticism for his slow response — at which point his tweets tended to be heavily defensive.
The AP-NORC poll offers another bit of data that seems revealing in this context. The pollsters asked how much of a responsibility the U.S. government had to aid victims of natural disasters depending on where they occurred. For disasters on the U.S. mainland, 88 percent of respondents said that the government had a major responsibility to help victims. For disasters in territories, like on Puerto Rico, only 77 percent thought the government had a major responsibility, with an additional 20 percent saying there was a minor responsibility.
There was a partisan split on that answer. About 9 in 10 Democrats said that the government had a major responsibility to aid victims in territories, while only 70 percent of Republicans held that opinion.
Again, we have a choice: Believe that the media is saying things are going badly in Puerto Rico when it didn’t do so after Harvey and Irma because _________, or believe that, perhaps, Trump, like a number of other members of his party, didn’t prioritize that response to the same extent (as evidenced by his tweets).
The beauty (and intent) of Trump’s attacks on the media, of course, is that this article is presented by a media outlet and therefore, he would like you to think, immediately suspect. Luckily, most Americans aren’t swayed by that argument.