A few minutes into a video about Puerto Rico relief efforts that President Trump tweeted out this week is a short clip about U.S. Forest Service workers clearing fallen trees off a road in the rural interior.
Over the sound of chain saws, the Forest Service’s fire chief explains how this will allow for the easier distribution of food, medical supplies and other aid. But his full comments are cut off by a shift to footage of a ship used as a hospital.
Had the road-clearing clip continued for 15 seconds, the president’s millions of Twitter followers would have heard the fire chief praise the people of Puerto Rico for successfully clearing many roads before the federal government arrived. The sentiment seems contrary to the president’s repeated criticism of local efforts and his claim in the tweet accompanying the video: “Nobody could have done what I’ve done for #PuertoRico with so little appreciation. So much work!”
In the full clip, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency posted on its Twitter account Saturday, Jaime Gamboa says: “So the citizens of Puerto Rico were doing an outstanding job coming out and clearing roads to help get the aid that’s needed. Because that’s occurring, we’re bringing our folks in and they’re just making the roads wider, more usable.”
The 8-minute-48-second video provides the kind of narrow, positive view of relief efforts in Puerto Rico that the president has been trying to convey amid the humanitarian crisis there — a montage of stacks of bottled water, helicopters moving concrete slabs and supplies, boats carrying medical items and trucks hauling diesel. There are many more federal workers and military members featured than Puerto Ricans in need of aid, and there is no mention of the fact that 84 percent of the island is still without power and more than one-third of residents do not have access to clean drinking water. The last 81 seconds are devoted to documenting Trump’s four-hour visit to the island last week.
The selectively edited compilation shows the extent to which Trump and his administration are portraying the federal government’s handling of the disaster in Puerto Rico in the best possible light, despite the enduring power, water and health problems there nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall. The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the video and its formation.
During Trump’s trip on Oct. 3, he visited San Juan and a nearby municipality that were not as heavily hit as other parts of the island. Trump characterized the territory as being in full recovery mode, told locals they no longer needed flashlights, made a disgusted face when told how water purification works, playfully tossed paper-towel rolls to residents as if they were basketballs and noted that Puerto Rico’s death toll was much lower than that of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After his trip, statistics about access to power and drinking water in Puerto Rico disappeared from FEMA’s main information page about Hurricane Maria but were restored following a Washington Post report.
Trump’s tweet of the video landed at 7:37 p.m. Sunday, when those close to Trump say he had grown increasingly frustrated that his administration was being criticized, not praised, for its handling of Hurricane Maria. Earlier in the day, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, attacked by Trump for earlier criticism, tweeted that power had collapsed in a San Juan hospital and the federal government did “NOTHING!”
“Increasingly painful to undestand the american people want to help and US Gov does not want to help. WE NEED WATER!” she repeatedly tweeted early Sunday.
The video tweeted by Trump hours later opened with the message: “What the fake news media will not show you in Puerto Rico . . .”
The production pulls together a hodgepodge of videos from a variety of sources, mostly within the government but also including a charity and a media outlet. All the footage is aimed at an upbeat message.
Some of the footage had previously been highlighted by the White House’s social media operation, such as a short news-style package of the Coast Guard delivering medicine to an island off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast on Oct. 4. The video shows roads that appear easily traveled — along with a woman in shorts and a tank top who hugs a Coast Guard member and profusely thanks him and others for bringing insulin and other medication. Trump’s director of social media, Daniel Scavino Jr., tweeted it Sunday afternoon with the message, “Amazing stories like this, all over Puerto Rico.”
There is a Pentagon video about relief efforts, narrated by white and purple text, that was posted Friday on Twitter. The video, produced by DOD News Now, features troops carrying and delivering aid, more helicopters, relief being distributed in a municipality east of San Juan, heavy equipment clearing brush, and footage of the Puerto Rican governor.
Other parts are not clearly labeled. There is footage of two trucks hauling supplies near an airplane hangar like the one Trump visited last week, although it’s unclear when and where the clip was made, or who made the clip, which is repeated later in the video.
One clip features work by the American Red Cross, which is not a part of the federal government. It shows the charity’s effort to bring wireless Internet to Ponce, a major city along Puerto Rico’s southern coast.
“Thank you to the Red Cross for connecting me with my whole family,” a young woman says in the video, which was posted on the Red Cross’s Twitter account last Wednesday.
Many of the clips are missing context. Unlabeled footage of workers emptying fuel out of a tanker truck, for example, was filmed on Sept. 29 as Puerto Rican National Guard members delivered diesel to hospitals relying on generator power. Another series of clips shows Ohio National Guard members passing bottled water and loading a pallet onto a military cargo plan; the footage, posted Oct. 3 on Twitter, was shot as the troops were headed to Puerto Rico and not yet on the island, as might be assumed from the rest of the video.
There is also footage of the Coast Guard delivering supplies to a residence for the elderly in Ponce and members of the military delivering food and water to Utuado, the same inner-island municipality where forest workers were working to clear the road. And there is a shot of a helicopter heavy-lift operation filmed by the Independent, a British publication, and published on Oct. 4 before being tweeted out by the Pentagon two days later.
The final part of the video is an 81-second documentary that the White House released following Trump’s visit last Tuesday. The quality is higher than the rest of the production, and there is a soaring soundtrack and footage taken from various angles.
The president and first lady step off Air Force One waving. Trump chats with some of those at the airport as a horde of reporters records his every move. There is brief footage of fallen trees in San Juan and Trump meeting with local officials in an Air National Guard hangar. Trump arrives on the USS Kearsarge off the coast of Puerto Rico in a helicopter and salutes members of the military. Then the video jolts back in time to Trump touring a neighborhood just outside San Juan — which was easily reached by motorcade and did not require helicopter travel — and visiting an evangelical church.
Calvary Chapel is the largest English-speaking church on the island, and many of its members are in the military, federal workers or transplants from the mainland. Jason Dennett, the church’s pastor, said a Secret Service agent who used to live in Puerto Rico suggested Trump visit the church about a week before his visit. The day that Trump visited, Dennett said, there were about 150 locals at the church, although many seemed more interested in getting a photo with Trump than obtaining canned food or paper towels.
On the video, the footage goes into slow-motion as Trump hands a can of chicken into the crowd at the church. The camera also zooms in on pro-Trump signs in the church, including one that reads “Let’s Make Puerto Rico Great Again,” a play on the president’s campaign slogan.
At the end, it’s back to the helicopter ride to the Kearsarge, into a briefing with members of the military and on to the deck, where Trump shook hands with those aboard.
The video then fades to black, and a white icon of the White House pops onto the screen.
Joyce Koh, Dan Lamothe and Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.