Early Friday morning, President Trump urged Americans not to spread rumors or false information about the impending Hurricane Florence — exactly one day after the president himself did just that about Hurricane Maria.
Trump retweeted the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s announcement that it had set up a “rumor control page” to help keep the storm facts straight.
“During disasters, it’s critical to avoid spreading false information. Always check with official sources before sharing,” read the FEMA tweet, which Trump shared shortly before 8 a.m.
He also retweeted two other messages from FEMA, one in Spanish and one in English, advising residents that “Today is the last day to evacuate” and that “your window of time to leave is closing rapidly."
Except, by the time Trump shared the post, the information was stale. If residents in the storm’s path were to heed this call Friday, they’d be leaving their homes as a life-threatening storm raged outside.
Later Friday morning, Trump retweeted a call from North Carolina’s emergency management agency that asked all residents to “STAY INDOORS. Do not venture out during the storm."
Trump’s retweets came almost 24 hours after Trump posted false claims about Hurricane Maria, drawing swift and fierce condemnation from advocates and his fellow politicians.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” he wrote on Twitter, in defiance of a sweeping study that found there were 2,975 deaths on the island in the months after Maria made landfall. He did not provide any evidence to support his claim.
He followed up 12 minutes later by falsely claiming that Democrats had inflated the number of deaths “in order to make me look as bad as possible.” He then mischaracterized how researchers at George Washington University, who conducted the study, came to estimate the number of excess deaths at nearly 3,000.
Trump’s false claim about Maria’s death toll flies in the face of best practices, according to George Haddow, a former senior FEMA official who was a liaison to the Clinton White House.
Haddow, who wrote a book on communicating during disaster, says that the two most important qualities a president can have are the ability to communicate accurate information and empathy.
They’re also traits Trump lacks, he said.
“He can’t talk without lying, and he’s the least empathetic person I’ve ever seen in public life," Haddow said of the president. “His whole approach to Hurricane Maria has been in fantasy land.”
Puerto Rico’s governor, in a rebuke to the president’s remarks, said that “the people in Puerto Rico don’t deserve to have their pain questioned.”
It’s just one example of the president’s poor communication skills in times of disaster, said Haddow, who is also a senior fellow at Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy.
Indeed, it wasn’t the first time the Trump White House spread rumors or misinformation about a hurricane.
Last year, as Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida, a Trump aide tweeted a photograph of a person wading through rising waters on a runway, plane in the background. “Here is Miami International Airport. STAY SAFE!!” wrote Dan Scavino, the White House social media director.
Except that it wasn’t Miami’s airport (as noted by, among others, the airport itself). It wasn’t even Hurricane Irma.
It was instead a hoax — the kind that FEMA hopes to dispel with its rumor control Web page.
Scavino deleted the tweet, and he dodged questions about why he thought it was real and how he verified information he shared with President Trump, except to say (in response to the airport) that “It was among 100s of videos/pix I am receiving.”
As Trump endorsed the importance of accurate information this week, the list of false or misleading claims he has personally made shot past 5,000.