Media errors give Trump fresh ammunition

A string of high-profile corrections and retractions by major news organizations on stories about President Trump or his allies have fueled more allegations of bias in the mainstream press.

The relationship between Trump and the news media regularly hits new lows, with insults flying between the two camps and reporters warning that the president is inciting violence against journalists.

But Trump’s allies on the right believe the president’s claims that the mainstream media is “fake news” have been bolstered by recent missteps. They point to recent admissions from top news outlets — including CNN, The New York Times and The Associated Press — that bombshell stories were either overcooked or included incorrect details.

Adding insult to injury: Breitbart News, the pro-Trump media outlet that is scorned by many in the mainstream press, has been fact-checking their mainstream counterparts with some success.

Breitbart’s Washington political editor, Matthew Boyle, was first to call into question a CNN story on alleged ties between a Trump associate and a Russian investment fund that was later retracted. Boyle was also reporting on an error in an Associated Press report when the newswire corrected and later rewrote the story.

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Together, the corrections and retractions amount to only a few stories out of the thousands published every day. But the high-profile nature of the errors hurts the media's credibility at a time when the press is under more scrutiny than ever before, giving new political ammunition to critics of the mainstream press.

“There’s a dramatic difference in the degree of hostility the press has shown Presidents Trump and Obama,” said Tim Graham, a director at the conservative Media Research Center. “I guess it’s easier to make errors writing stories where Trump is twirling his villain’s mustache than when you’re writing about how tone Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaMichelle Obama opens up about racism she faced as first lady Video surfaces of Michelle Obama at Beyonce’s birthday party Budowsky: Dems need council of war MORE’s arms are.”

Last week, The New York Times and The Associated Press ran similar corrections acknowledging that reports on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election had overstated, by more than a dozen, the number of U.S. intelligence agencies that had signed off on the assessment.

Both outlets had reported that all 17 organizations that fall under the umbrella of the U.S. intelligence community had made the assessment. In fact, only four — the CIA, FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency — had contributed to that conclusion.

The Associated Press correction was applied to four stories that had run from early April to late June.

The corrections were gleefully aggregated by conservative media outlets and bounced around social media on the right.

The AP ran into more trouble over the weekend after it ran a story about how Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt met privately with the CEO of a top chemical company, then decided to drop a ban on a widely used pesticide that has been shown to harm children’s brains.

The story insinuated that Pruitt had made the decision under pressure from a corporate lobbying campaign. 

But while the meeting between Pruitt and Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris was on Pruitt’s schedule, it never happened — an admission the AP made after Pruitt’s office and Breitbart pressed them for a correction.

The EPA and Dow Chemical both said the scheduled meeting at a hotel in Houston had been canceled, with the two men instead having only “a brief introduction in passing.”

The AP followed with a Saturday story — published without a byline — titled “EPA says Pruitt meeting with Dow Chemical head was canceled.”

Breitbart took a victory lap.

“A Breitbart News investigation has led to the correction by the Associated Press–which originally resisted–of the fake news it printed as deeper questions of responsibility, accountability, and journalistic ethics consume the AP heading into Fourth of July weekend,” Boyle wrote.

It’s the second time Breitbart, which was once led by White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, has been at the center of a media correction controversy.

Boyle was the first to call into question a CNN report alleging that Trump associate Anthony Scaramucci was under investigation for improper dealings with a Russian state bank. Meanwhile, Sputnik News, a Russian state-funded news outlet, disputed CNN’s claim that the bank in question was also backed by Moscow.

Later that same day, CNN retracted the article. Several days later, three of its top journalists resigned.

“An organization of nearly 4,000 news professionals; an organization that has spent huge sums recruiting ever-greater reportorial muscle; an organization that promises both sides a fair shake; an organization that values right-on-the-money exclusives — it just cannot abide getting shamed by Sputnik and Breitbart,” Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote at the time.

It has been a tough stretch for CNN. A few weeks earlier, the network had to retract a story authored by some of its most recognizable on-air talent after it was directly contradicted by public testimony from former FBI Director James Comey.

In that same testimony, Comey described a bombshell New York Times story alleging contacts between Trump campaign officials and Moscow as “almost entirely wrong.” 

Most reports sourced to anonymous officials about the Russia investigation should not be trusted, Comey said, because those who are willing to talk don’t know about the investigations and those who do know about the investigations aren’t talking. 

Last week, Vice News retracted two stories about how Disney would not give a robotic Trump figure a speaking role in its “Hall of Presidents” attraction.

Those errors come as Trump’s conservative media allies are increasingly on the hunt for media errors and alleged bias.

Conservative activist James O’Keefe has targeted CNN employees in a string of undercover sting videos. One video revealed a CNN producer criticizing Kellyanne Conway’s appearance. 

A second video found CNN commentator Van Jones calling the Russia controversy a “nothing burger.” A third video showed a producer alleging the network was burying important stories as part of its obsession with Russia. 

The media’s errors come as Trump and his allies launch a barrage of attacks aimed at undermining and calling into question the veracity of the news media.

Trump’s personal attack against the hosts of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" and his weekend tweet showing him tackling a wrestler with the CNN logo emblazoned over his face have unified the press.

GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill have condemned Trump’s attacks, as have a broad cross-section of newsmakers on the political talk show circuit, who called the "Morning Joe" attack sexist and the CNN tweet an incitement of violence against reporters.

“The basic premise is most of the elite media is center left and most of the country is center right,” conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Combativeness towards the media plays well. Cruelty does not. And when the president crosses the line between combativeness into cruelty, he loses some of his base.”


But the White House has shown no sign it plans to let up in the war against the media, and his allies are seizing on the missteps to chip away at press credibility.

“These people claim to be defenders of fact and truth but are only out to smear Trump and his supporters,” said Graham, of the Media Research Center. “They’re stenographers for the resistance.”