A year into Trump's presidency, the media is still ignorant of his plan for a wall

A year into Trump's presidency, the media is still ignorant of his plan for a wall
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From coast to coast, reporters broke big news this week: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTom Arnold claims to have unreleased 'tapes' of Trump Cohen distances himself from Tom Arnold, says they did not discuss Trump US military indefinitely suspends two training exercises with South Korea MORE has backed down from his famous demand for a wall along the entire southern border! Mediaite called it a “bombshell.”

“Trump Waffles on Border: ‘We Don’t Need a 2,000 Mile Wall’,” read the headline. The article went on to describe the president’s supposed “shift,” that a wall isn’t needed along portions of the border where there are natural barriers. “We don’t need a wall where you have rivers and mountains and everything else protecting it,” said President Trump.

“Trump’s border wall may be shorter than first advertised,” concurred a CNN headline in reporting this week’s breaking news. The article quoted members of Congress including Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate panel advances three spending bills GOP senators call for probe of federal grants on climate change Hillicon Valley: Verizon, AT&T call off data partnerships after pressure | Tech speaks out against Trump family separation policy | T-Mobile, Sprint make case for B merger MORE (R-Okla.), who agreed that Trump "backed off any kind of description that he's looking for any sea-to-shining-sea fence or wall.”

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I don’t mean to pick on particular media outlets. Many have made the same mistake over the past two and a half years. That’s how long ago then-candidate Trump began saying pretty much the same thing that’s being called a bombshell today.

 

Each time Trump has said that a wall may not be needed where there are natural barriers, some in the media reported it as a turnabout. A surprise. A waffle. A switcheroo. A big scoop.

The first acknowledgment that it’s not any of those things can be found within the recent CNN article. After the headline claiming Trump waffled, it noted that the president said much the same thing at a rally last September.

“Trump has mentioned the natural barriers in the past,” acknowledged CNN. “In September … the president said, ‘We are going to have as much wall as we need … You have a lot of natural barriers, et cetera. Somebody said, ‘Well, what are you going to do? You going to build that wall in the middle of the river? ... That nobody can go in? Are you going to build that wall on the mountain?’ I said, ‘You don't need the wall on the mountain. You have a mountain which is a wall.’”

Even then, it was neither news nor a turnabout on Trump’s part.

Two months before the September rally reference, on July 13, 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported the surprise that Trump had “scaled back the pledge” to build a wall along the entire border: “You don't need 2,000 miles of wall because you have a lot of natural barriers," Trump told reporters then. "You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious. You have some areas that are so far away that you don't really have people crossing. So you don't need that …You’ll need anywhere from 700 to 900 miles."

It was the first Buzzfeed seemed to hear of it, too. “Trump Just Said There's Actually No Need For A Full Border Wall,” reported the media outlet, as if in shock.

The Guardian, The BBC, U.S. News and World Report and Reuters followed suit. “Trump Says Wall May Not Need to Cover Entire U.S.-Mexico Border,” wrote Reuters. “President Donald Trump said the wall he wants to build on the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) U.S.-Mexico frontier may not need to cover the entire border because of existing natural barriers.”

Guess none of them was paying attention almost a year and a half earlier, in February 2016, when then-candidate Trump said the very same thing to MSNBC host Tamron Hall: “Of the 2,000, we don’t need 2,000, we need 1,000 because we have natural barriers.”

Likewise, certain reporters must not have been paying attention when Trump said it on Dec. 3, 2015, as reported in the National Journal; in October 2015 to an international audience during the CNBC Republican Primary debate; and on Aug. 20, 2015, in an interview with FOX Business' Mornings with Maria.

In fact, Trump began talking about natural barriers at least as far back as July 23, 2015, during his visit to the border town of Laredo, Texas.

“[Trump] asked me how I felt about the wall,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told me in an interview last summer, when recounting Trump’s 2015 visit there. “I told [Trump], with all due respect, it was offensive to Mexico … He — you know, he listened,” Saenz continued. “He did give an interview at the end basically saying that possibly maybe areas with natural barriers like the river … may not … take a wall or … (be) conducive to having a wall.”

If nothing else, this demonstrates that some reporters who are reporting on Trump are ignorant of what he’s actually saying — and apparently aren’t even bothering to do a simple Google search of news archives to check their facts. In this instance, it has resulted in many in the media presenting the very same story as a “scoop” — over and over again.

President Trump is hardly precise or consistent in his wording on many topics. But on this point, he’s been relatively steady. It’s we in the media who have proven to be embarrassingly lacking in precision and accuracy.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program “Full Measure.”