From Media Matters
Stop Giving A Liar The Benefit Of The Doubt
The New York Times made the same headline misstep twice in four days.
Typing up reports based on President-elect Donald Trump's tweets and staged announcements, the Times presented as breaking news -- and in a very Trump-friendly manner -- the contents of his latest utterances:
- "Trump Says He Has Hacking Information Others 'Don't Know'" (December 31)
- "Trump Says Intelligence Officials Delayed Briefing on Russian Hacking" (January 3)
Obviously, public pronouncements from incoming presidents can, and should, be treated as news. The problem with the "Trump says" formula (and similar variations) that the Times and other news outlets have adopted since Election Day is that what Trump said was, at best, either baseless or openly disputed.
There's no indication Trump will ever reveal new information about U.S. government allegations that Russians unleashed cyberattacks against the Democratic Party. (And it certainly didn't happen on "Tuesday or Wednesday" this week, as Trump originally suggested.) An aide quickly downplayed the notion that Trump would even try.
And while Trump claimed his intelligence briefing on the hacking topic was "delayed" from Tuesday until Friday, as the Times article itself makes clear, "senior administration officials disputed it, saying that no meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday."
Trump's claims falling apart shouldn't be a surprise, though, since the president-elect has shown himself to be a committed liar who will falsify all kinds of information.
And therein lies two ongoing problems. One: How does the press treat a new president who is a habitual liar, the likes of which we've never seen in U.S. presidential politics? And two: How does the press treat an incoming president whose primary form of communication is Twitter, which means he refuses to take most press questions or be held publicly accountable for his claims?
Those parallel-track problems then produce a third one: lazy, misleading headlines that play right into Trump's strategy of routinely lying while also being historically inaccessible to reporters. Within that sphere, I'd suggest there's a very specific headline problem -- the "Trump says" formula. Solution? Ban uncritical, context-free "Trump says" headlines. It's a good first step.