Washington Post hand-selects one tweet, determines Trump has 'a total lack of empathy' (Update)

Sunday afternoon the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza offered a political take on the leading candidate’s reactions to the shooting in Orlando. Cillizza’s piece is titled, “Orlando shooting exposes Donald Trump’s biggest weakness: A total lack of empathy.” Not some lack of empathy, not less empathy but, according to Cillizza, “a total lack” of empathy.


That conclusion was based on Cillizza’s selection of just one tweet by Trump. What Cillizza does not tell his readers is that Trump had previously issued two other tweets that expressed compassion for the victims of the attack. Before we get to that, here is how Cillizza framed the issue:

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, tweeted his reaction on Sunday afternoon:


Just by way of comparison, here’s what Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, tweeted in reaction to the shootings:

The difference in tone is striking. Clinton was empathetic and sorrowful. Trump was triumphant and aggressive.

Trump’s tweet speaks to the single largest problem facing his presidential campaign: While he’s mastered the role of tough and unapologetic leader, he simply cannot seem to understand that at times a president needs to be an empathetic consoler in chief, too.

Granted the difference in tone between these tweets is striking. Why is Trump seemingly accepting plaudits rather than saying something about the victims? But it turns out this was not Trump’s only reaction to the shooting. In fact, it wasn’t his first reaction on Twitter which came nearly 5 hours earlier:



Hours later he issued another tweet which has been RTd tens of thousands of times:


Trump calls the incident “horrific” and writes, “Praying for all the victims & their families.” This tweet, which is never mentioned by Cillizza, is almost indistinguishable from the one Hillary sent out, the one Cillizza said demonstrated her empathy. Here it is again:

If Cillizza had put those two tweets together it would be impossible to argue that Trump had “a total lack of empathy.” Instead, Cillizza picked Trump’s 3rd tweet on the topic, one which expands on what he had already said about being “tough, smart & vigilant.” Presumably, it was people responding to that earlier tweet which led to Trump supporters congratulating him.

Already, the headline and thrust of Cillizza’s story is clearly wrong. He omits tweets that completely undercut his central claim. Using this method of reporting it would have been just as easy to make the point in the other direction, i.e. that Clinton lacked empathy. Hillary published a full statement in reaction to the shooting on Facebook. By selecting out just one paragraph of that statement it is possible to make it sound as if Hillary is the person being aggressive and lacking much compassion:


This was an act of terror. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are hard at work, and we will learn more in the hours and days ahead. For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad. That means defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are, countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defenses at home.

If only she were as compassionate as Trump:


Hopefully you see my point here. Both candidates expressed compassion for the victims and both candidates expressed a desire to be tough on terrorists and protect our country. That’s not to say there isn’t some room to be critical of Trump’s later tweet on the subject, but it’s misleading to present that one tweet to readers as if it were all Trump said on the matter. That’s simply false and the Post should correct the story and the headline.

Update: The Post’s Chris Cillizza has updated his story, albeit without any apparent mention that it was altered. He has now added in two more tweets from Trump including the one about praying for all the victims. However, this did not lead to a rewrite of the story or the headline. It still concludes, in the singular, “His tweet — and the mind-set that led to it — won’t reassure anyone on that front.” And the claim Trump displayed a, “total lack of empathy” is still part of the headline, despite adding the tweet which demonstrates some apparent empathy.


The other tweet Cillizza added to the story is a reference to Obama:


Here’s what Hillary Clinton tweeted this morning:

So, once again, Trump made a political point (aimed at Obama) and Clinton made a political point (aimed at Trump). Apparently one of these tweets proves Cillizza’s point and the other one isn’t worth mentioning.

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