Media mistakes and the fake president

While journalists would prefer not to make mistakes, like life in general, mistakes have always been made and always will be.

This is really only a problem if the media isn’t policed, isn’t held to account and media doesn’t acknowledge and correct their mistakes.

The best media monitor and hold each other to account, and in the main correct any mistakes they make as well as they can. Good journalists aspire to accuracy.

Inaccurate reporting has been (generally unfairly) been lumped under the generally bogus label of ‘fake news’.

President Donald Trump has used accusations of ‘fake news’ to divert from his own fakery and failings. To an extent this has been a successful strategy, so far. But it is likely to end up dragging him down, sooner or later.

Jack Shafer at Politico: Who’s Winning Trump’s War With the Press?

The guy who said, “Never quarrel with a man who buys his ink by the barrel,” didn’t anticipate Donald Trump. Since becoming president, Trump has argued the news media to a stalemate thanks to the power of his alliance with the Fox News Network and his 44 million-follower Twitter account, which functions as one of the world’s largest printing presses. And the ink is free.

Trump is not winning, but he has certainly had some success. But the Press, or at least most of the press, is going to outlast him and his self tainting legacy. he is at real risk of becoming remembered as the Fake President.

So far he has successfully exploited media mistakes – and the media always have and always will make them.

The making of mistakes cannot be divorced from the making of journalism. As historian David Greenberg notes in Republic of Spin, mistakes littered the coverage of the Watergate scandal. Greenberg writes:

Reporters, swept up in the chase, made mistakes that they failed to correct. In May 1973, Walter Cronkite opened the CBS Evening News with an item erroneously implicating a Bethesda bank run by Pat Buchanan’s brother in Watergate money-laundering. The AP falsely reported that [John] Ehrlichman was present at a key cover-up meeting among Nixon, Haldeman, and Dean. ABC’s Sam Donaldson wrongly asserted that James McCord had implicated departed aide Harry Dent in the White House sabotage efforts; Donaldson was forced to apologize. News outlets also overplayed trivial items, as the New York Times did by placing on the front page a three-column story about the possibility that Nixon’s campaign had received gambling money from the Bahamas. As [WashingtonPost editor Robert Maynard conceded, there was “a lot of fast and loose stuff being printed.”

Additional Watergate screw-ups: The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein “committed two critical mistakes” in their reporting on the scandal, as Craig Silverman showed in a 2011 Columbia Journalism Review piece.

I dredge up Watergate as a point of comparison not because it was especially flawed, but because it wasn’t. I dredge it up because, like the current Trump coverage, it was closely scrutinized and whenever the news is closely scrutinized, more errors will be discovered. That’s why the New York Times publishes more corrections than any other newspaper—because it’s the most heavily analyzed (and, of course, because the Timesbelieves in error correction).

Maybe somebody should explain to our presidential press critic that the news organizations he so disparages do the most aggressive policing of media miscues, especially if the miscues appear in a competing outlet.

So the media tend to correct each other. Trump’s attacks are going to improve media vigilance and accuracy, something that may well end up working against him.

Being the most mistake-prone president in history hasn’t prevented Trump from capitalizing on the press corps’ recent errors.

That also makes him an easy target – and when he makes big mistakes the media is likely to make a big story of it, more accurately than in the past due to Trump’s fakemongering.

Not only does Trump distract his critics with 280-character rampages, he dilutes whatever offense he has committed by committing new offenses. Writing in Axios, Jim VandeHei plotted out the standard Trump Twitter playbook: First he throws a Twitter bomb. Then “the outrage machine kicks in,” as the cable channels collect the outrage from both sides. As the prime-time broadcasts take the torch, VandeHei continues, the he said, she said wrangle dominates. In many cases, the precipitating news item—in this case, Trump’s accusers—sinks beneath under Trump’s histrionics.

In the short term Trump has been getting away with it. At some stage it is likely to trip him up.

Our current media standoff depends on Fox News Channel to transmit and amplify the Trump worldview. The network didn’t plump for Trump until he became his party’s likely nominee. But it was only after he became president that Fox enshrouded him in 24/7 protective cover, remaking itself indistinguishable from state-run media, as the New Republic’s Alex Shephard was early to observe.

Fox sycophancy dominates its prime-time hours, as Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity praise Dear Leader, and the morning shift, when the hosts of Fox & Friends supply him with ample supplication. Trump completes this unvirtuous circle by tweeting back his approval. The ensuing feedback loop serves both the man and the network, making both seem larger than they really are.

I follow Fox on Twitter, and at times there seems to be a constant stream of pro-Trump sycophancy, and anti-critic (and anti-Clinton) attacks in support of Trump’s tactics.

Trump certainly wins some battles with the media, or at least diverts attention from his losses.

But I think it is a war he cannot win, if he continues on the same track – and there is no sign of him changing his attack as defence approach.

Trump is unlikely to out-Fox the people indefinitely – many already see through his fake clothes.

Thanks to his own efforts Trump is establishing himself as a Fake President.


  1. I think it fair to say that Fox’s pro Trumpism hardly makes a dent in the abject and loudly trumpeted hatred for him elsewhere in the liberal media and the pages of twitter and social media commentary. It’s interested get to see just what idiocy they can come up with next. How he holds his water glass and how he descends stairs holding the side rail? These are formerly respected news organisations. What would interest me is whether his voters on the rust belt have been affected either way by the tidal wave of negativity. I guess we will see soon enough.

    It is a very strange world we live in. I believe that most people hate Trump’s persona because theyre mourning the fact the office of President does not have the gravitas or command their respect any more. The twitterati ” bring back Obama” ( impossible). , “we miss Michelle” presents like entrenched mass hysteria and I wonder whether it will be replaced by either acceptance or simply wait until 2020. Still only showing the tiniest glimpses of the former.

    In the meantime Mueller plugs away seeking spurious Russia connections based mainly on information of a Democratic Party recruit who collated data on piddling prostitutes. US politics is a wasteland as far as stately behaviour and the deportment of it’s leaders and NZ is not far behind.

    • “the office of President does not have the gravitas or command their respect any more”

      Bill Clinton
      George W Bush
      Barack Obama
      Donald Trump

      I don’t hate any of them but I haven’t been a fan of any either – why can’t the US come up with better candidates for their presidency? Their democracy is broken and losing credibility president by president.

      • Gezza

         /  December 28, 2017

      • David

         /  December 28, 2017

        “I don’t hate any of them but I haven’t been a fan of any either – why can’t the US come up with better candidates for their presidency?”

        The US system is designed to operate with shitty people as president. That’s the genius of the system the founding fathers created. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

  2. If Trump is the most mistake prone president in US history it is because he is (as the Chinese describe him) “straight forward ” the others statements are loaded with double meaning.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  December 28, 2017

      I suspect that very Chinese say that. They are no more stupid than any other race.

  3. David

     /  December 28, 2017

    The press is losing and the only ones arguing against that is the press. There have been an enormous amount of fake news stories attributed to annonymous sources with literally no basic checking, news organisations have been firing the worst offenders lately which is probably a reflection of their ever dropping credibility numbers in the polls.
    I put it the other way round in that Trump will eventually go and the press will be left with a democrat president and their business model totally collapses because all they have is Trump hating and no credibility. On the flip side Fox will thrive whoever occupies the white house.

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  December 28, 2017

    Idiotic focus on the trivia by the media and Trump’s opponents.
    Meanwhile his accomplishments accumulate:

    • As we approach the end of President Trump’s first year in office, the list of extraordinary things he has done — for both good and ill — is nothing short of remarkable.

      Trump inspires such deep emotions in his critics and supporters that many have struggled to objectively assess his presidency.

      Some are so blinded by their hatred of Trump that they refuse to acknowledge the good he has done, while others are so blinded by devotion that they overlook almost any transgression.

      In my columns, I’ve tried to give Trump the credit he deserves when he does the right thing, while calling him out when he does the wrong thing.

      So, here is my list of the 10 best things Trump has done in his first 11 months. (Later this week, I will give you my list of the 10 worst.)

    • David

       /  December 28, 2017

      If you ignore his twitter feed, what he has actually achieved to date is actually very significant. His twitter feed really seems to exist as a matadors red cape for the media.

      • George

         /  December 28, 2017

        His main accomplishment is in not being a politician or attempting to be ‘one of the boys’

  5. Te fake news is buried in the liberals idea of being nice to everybody and “who can be nicest”?. Because the reality is that they *other* their own people and will throw them under the bus of higher realestate and lower real wage rates + lower quality of life.

    • David

       /  December 28, 2017

      There is nothing noble in being nice. Niceness is a disease, not a cure.

  6. Zedd

     /  December 28, 2017

    I heard on the radio (Democracy now) that since Mr T has been POTUS, he has ‘nominated/appointed’ more judges than any previous; they are permanent appointments & all are on the extreme Right.. allegedly anti-abortion/’white supremacist’/religious zealots etc.??

    This is becoming more a concern than Mr Ts other ‘foibles’ reportedly !? :/

    • David

       /  December 28, 2017

      There are currently 144 vacancies on the judicial benches.

      Trump has appointed 14 judges.
      Obama appointed 329 judges, incl 2 on the supreme court.

      Fake news much?

      • Zedd

         /  December 28, 2017

        I think they may have meant, for first year in office ?

        OR yes maybe it was more ‘Fake news’ as you claim ??
        I think the main concern is the obvious move to the ‘Extremist Right’ that many are reportedly: NOT liking 😦

        • David

           /  December 28, 2017

          They lied to you about everything else, what makes you think they tell you the truth about ‘extreme right’?

  7. David

     /  December 28, 2017

    “So far he has successfully exploited media mistakes – and the media always have and always will make them.”

    Mistakes? There have been dozens and dozens of examples of the media deliberately taking a misleading line on Trump, and then Trump can simply dance around them.

    The Koi pond is a good example. A clear example of fake news and Trump can simply point at it and say the media lies, so you can’t believe anything they say. Trump is the creation of a generation of unethical and shitty reporters. Without them, Trump could never have been President. Because of them, he will get reelected in 2020.

  8. Trevors_Elbow

     /  December 28, 2017

    Pete. If the media hadn’t campaigned for Hillary this mighthold up.

    But WaPo, NYT, CNN, the next TV networks, MSNBC…. the list goes on ALL were heavily biased and warped narratives heavily against Trump. And since his election they have overwhelmingly double down on their riffs.

    Im no Trump fan but seriously the hysteria hasnt really ebbed since November 2016… the media including our own run stupid hit jobs almost daily on Trump… their credibility is shot

    • Gezza

       /  December 28, 2017

      I pretty much agree with this. I don’t think Trump’s a complete idiot, although possibly he’s an incomplete one.

      But the over the top anti-Trump hysteria is obvious, often contrived, & tiring. There’s not enough balance in the reporting over there. Or here.