UPDATE 6:16 p.m.: The Associated Press has issued a second statement on the tweet: “The tweet was intended to make clear that both Trump and Democrats have failed to find common ground in their disagreements, but it could have done a better job of explaining the dynamics that have led to the shutdown. The complete AP Fact Check was robust and focused almost exclusively on Trump’s comments.”
Political editors, beware: If ever you wish to blame both sides of this country’s political divide, please come equipped with strong evidence, documents, dates, emails, Freedom of Information Act records and even more. News consumers these days despise nothing so much as the assertion of false equivalence.
That sensibility descended late Tuesday night on the Associated Press, which tweeted out this pitch for a fact-checking story on Trump’s Tuesday night speech on the “crisis” at the southwestern border. The piece faults Trump for the same false and misleading statements — about the trade deal with Mexico paying for the border wall; violence by immigrants; and others — that other fact-checking operations have cited. Pretty good stuff.
Yet the tweet stirred a life of its own on Twitter:
As of Wednesday afternoon, the tweet had racked up about 20,000 replies, against a much smaller number of retweets and likes. Among Twitter cognoscenti, that’s known as a “ratio," and it’s not a good sign. It means that readers are on the attack. For example:
The factual basis for the tweet’s unfavorable ratio goes something like this: (1) Even before the shutdown occurred, President Trump declared in a December Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) that he’d be “proud” to shut down the government over border security. (2) Trump had two years with both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans to secure funding for his border wall. (3) The Senate last month passed a funding bill with no wall funding that appeared headed toward approval, until Trump, apparently moved by Rush Limbaugh and others, decided that he didn’t like it. So, not exactly a “two to tango” scenario.
In light of the protests, the Erik Wemple Blog asked the AP for any reflections it could share with us. This response came back from a spokeswoman: “The tweet was intended to point out that Democrats have refused to accede to President Trump’s demands, which preceded the president’s decision to refuse to fund the government without wall funding included." The statement also guided reader to the “full AP Fact Check in its entirety, which highlighted several false premises and dubious statements by the president.”
We tweeted out that statement but have no idea how to interpret it.
The AP’s stubbornness over errant tweets isn’t without precedent. Back in August 2016, the wire service issued a tweet promoting an investigation on the apparent overlaps between Hillary Clinton’s work as secretary of state and donors to the Clinton Foundation. Though the tweet was misleading, the AP spent a while deliberating on the matter before correcting the record. “The Associated Press today is deleting a 2-week-old tweet about Hillary Clinton’s meetings as Cabinet secretary after concluding the tweet fell short of AP standards by omitting essential context,” noted a walk-back post from September 2016.
We’ve asked the AP to clarify its statement about the tweet and will update if we receive a response.