The epithet “fake news” gets tossed around indiscriminately these days, but it’s tough to see two reports from Donald Trump’s trip to Japan as anything else. CNN decided to zoom in on Trump at a ceremonial fish-feeding ceremony in order to make it look as though the president got too impatient and rudely dumped his portion into the koi pond. Plenty of snark followed, but was it warranted? (Spoiler: no.)
— CNN (@CNN) November 6, 2017
The Guardian, however, captured the whole moment — and without zooming the shot in on Trump. Justin McCurry also took a shot at his American-media colleagues for their hyperventilating over the incident:
The palace’s large collection of koi carp have been viewed by a succession of world leaders, including Margaret Thatcher. It is not known whether the former British prime minister was as aggressive as Trump when it came to feeding the pond’s inhabitants.
White House reporters, keen perhaps to pick up on a Trump gaffe, captured the moment when he upended his box on their smartphones and tweeted evidence of his questionable grasp of fish keeping. However, other footage made clear that Trump was merely following his host’s lead.
Yes, and had CNN shown the wide-angle footage from the beginning, it wouldn’t have been an issue at all. Like any president on a state visit, Trump took his cues from his counterpart. (McCurry actually does note the only story here: overfeeding fish is a real problem.)
A second fake-news eruption came out of a meeting with auto manufacturers, a particularly thorny trade issue in the US. News media reported that Trump asked Japanese carmakers to build in the US. “Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over,” Trump said. “Is that possible to ask? That’s not rude. Is that rude? I don’t think so.”
CNN and Slate immediately went to the fact-checkers. “Trump asks Japan to build cars in the U.S. It already does,” CNN headlined its report. Slate’s Jordan Weissman advised, “Perhaps someone should ask Trump where he thinks Toyota builds all those Camrys it sells in California. He might be pleasantly surprised to learn the answer.”
He wouldn’t be surprised at all, Aaron Blake reports at the Washington Post, because Trump’s full remarks showed he already knows that. Trump wanted them to consider building more of their imports in the US rather than in Japan, arguing it was good business for both countries. This is what Trump said, in full:
When you want to build your auto plants, you will have your approvals almost immediately. When you want to expand your plants, you will have your approvals almost immediately. And in the room, we have a couple of the great folks from two of the biggest auto companies in the world that are building new plants and doing expansions of other plants. And you know who you are, and I want to just thank you very much. I want to thank you.
I also want to recognize the business leaders in the room whose confidence in the United States — they’ve been creating jobs — you have such confidence in the United States, and you’ve been creating jobs for our country for a long, long time. Several Japanese automobile industry firms have been really doing a job. And we love it when you build cars — if you’re a Japanese firm, we love it — try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over. Is that possible to ask? That’s not rude. Is that rude? I don’t think so. (Laughter.) If you could build them. But I must say, Toyota and Mazda — where are you? Are you here, anybody? Toyota? Mazda? I thought so. Oh, I thought that was you. That’s big stuff. Congratulations. Come on, let me shake your hand. (Applause.) They’re going to invest $1.6 billion in building a new manufacturing plant, which will create as many as 4,000 new jobs in the United States. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Blake calls the CNN and Slate readings “extremely uncharitable”:
But this is completely unfair to Trump. A look at this fuller remarks makes clear he did know that Japanese cars are built in the United States. He even talked about it at-length and praised the manufacturers for the amount of jobs they’ve created here. …
Even if you isolate that one quote, it could be read simply as a plea for Japan to build more cars in the United States, which it seems is exactly what Trump meant.
Trump says plenty of things that are false or that belie a lack of familiarity with the subject at-hand. But spotlighting this quote as evidence of the latter is extremely uncharitable.
It’s both extremely uncharitable and highly dishonest. Look, we get it — Trump can be a bull in a china shop at times, and foreign trips present unique opportunities for embarrassment. However, news organizations are supposed to report the news in its fullest context, not serve on Gaffe Watch and slice it up to justify their own biases. Rather than work responsibly to cover events, American media now seem to be entirely focused on creating memes. We can get plenty of those on social media from other sources, thank you very much.
Amusingly, Margaret Sullivan laments in today’s Washington Post that Trump’s “message of mistrust” of the media is “sinking in,” even in a supposed “golden age” of journalism:
When there’s no agreed-upon reality — no Walter Cronkite as the most trusted man in America — we’re all in trouble.
This feeling of mistrust and disagreement on facts is backed up by public opinion polls: One reported last month that 46 percent of Americans believe the news media simply makes things up about Trump.
The president has been sowing those seeds of mistrust for many months, and cultivates them daily with extra-strength fertilizer.
Well, if the first day of Trump’s Asia trip is an example of Sullivan’s “golden age” of journalism, then there’s plenty of fertilizer getting spread around without Trump to add even more.
To paraphrase an old axiom — Journalist, cover thyself.