IT'S A SIT DOWN...THATS ALL IT IS!!! Tell everyone to get their shorts out of a bunch!— Dr.Darrell Scott (@PastorDScott) November 27, 2015
Trump and a gaggle of clerics ultimately did speak with reporters around 3:30 p.m. on Monday, after meeting for more than two hours. Darrell Scott, pastor of the New Spirit Revival Center in Ohio and an organizer of the gathering, said some attendees did commit to endorsing Trump but said he did not know how many.
In any case, initial press reports that described what the event would entail, including a New York Times story posted last Wednesday, proved inaccurate because the full, 100-pastor endorsement didn’t happen. NYU journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen called the Times’ piece an “embarrassment” and got into a Twitter debate with Times reporter Nick Confessore, who did not write the story but covers politics for the paper.
The premise of Rosen’s last point is spot-on. Here’s the first sentence of the Times’ story, posted online at 4:45 p.m. last Wednesday, a few hours after the Trump campaign issued a press release:
Donald J. Trump will take the next step in his religious outreach effort next week when he announces the endorsement of a group of 100 African-American pastors and religious leaders at his Manhattan headquarters.
As presented by the Times, the endorsement sounds like a certainty — like a fact that has been independently verified. However, a qualifier arrives in the very next sentence, which states that “the Republican presidential candidate has a private meeting with the group scheduled on Monday before they make their offer of support official, according to his campaign.”
Attributing the endorsement news to the campaign right away, instead of stating it so matter-of-factly at the top, would have given the Times a bit more cover. It would have allowed the paper to effectively say, "Hey, we never actually said 100 black pastors were going to endorse Trump. We said his campaign said 100 black pastors were going to endorse Trump."
But here’s the bigger question: Are we now at a point where the information coming from Trump and his campaign is so unreliable that the media need to be skeptical of even the most basic claims? Can journalists really not trust the Trump campaign to accurately tell them what’s going to happen at its own events?
There’s an old saying in journalism: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. (Translation: You should investigate everything.)
But, realistically, it would have been pretty tough for the Times to call up 100 pastors on Thanksgiving Eve (when many were holding services, no doubt) to make sure every single one did indeed plan to endorse Trump.
And while the thought that black clerics would back Trump might seem surprising on its face, considering what some view as his inflammatory, racially charged rhetoric, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine that he could find 100 in the entire country who would endorse him. GOP outreach to black pastors isn't exactly a new phenomenon.
The point is that the media generally reserve their deep fact-checking endeavors for more substantive issues. When a campaign — even one as prone to specious claims as Trump’s — says something as simple as “X event is going to happen at Y time, and Z is going to happen,” the press ought to be able to believe that X, Y and Z are legit.
If that can’t happen, we’re entering a new stage where trust levels between politicians and journalists are sinking even lower.