What on Earth is the AP Doing With This Bizarre, Wrong Story on Trump’s Children?Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Politics Features Mainstream Media
Yesterday, this viral tweet piggybacked off an AP report, and misinformation about the Trump kids has spread like wildfire.
Ivana Trump wasn’t a US citizen until 1988. She gave birth to Don Jr in 1977, Ivanka in 1981, and Eric in 1984.
Let’s cancel their birthright citizenship first.
— Denizcan Grimes (@MrFilmkritik) October 30, 2018
That’s 100% not true, and it’s really a silly mistake when you think about it: Ivana isn’t the only parent to the Trump children. Trump is too (legally, at least), and he was born here. Per the Associated Press:
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a person can gain citizenship if “at least one parent, including an adoptive parent, is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization.” If Trump were to take away birthright citizenship, the Trump children would still be citizens because their father is a U.S. citizen.
Here’s the problem: the AP‘s headline in that story I linked to above is “President Trump’s first 3 children did not receive birthright citizenship,” and according to the AP, it was “corrected to show that Trump’s first three children did not receive birthright citizenship.” Their first headline upon publishing this story was the literal opposite, as demonstrated by the initial link shared below by a producer at Fox News—plus all the anti-Trump folks sharing this “fact-check” to try to prove a falsehood about Trump’s children.
— Brian Doherty (@BDOH) November 1, 2018
This AP story doesn’t elaborate much on what they specifically corrected, and they added this immediately after the sentence noting the correction to the title:
The Associated Press reviewed this story after it was surfaced to third-party fact checkers as part of an initiative with Facebook to assess the accuracy of news content.
So what’s going on? A Reddit post under this viral story offers a pretty compelling explanation:
I’m pretty sure it isn’t the type of article listed on the AP’s frontpage — it is hidden away in their Fact-Checking section where their pattern is to put the claim as the headline and then assess it.
They’re right. It’s not on the AP‘s front page. In fact, you can’t even find it on the front page of the “AP Fact-check” section. They have another section titled “Fact-checking” that this story is filed under, but the URL for “Fact-checking” directs you to webpage that simply says “Page Not Found.” Unlike what the Trumpists on that Reddit thread charge, this sure looks like the AP is doing the opposite of trying to generate clicks with this story.
The headline theory advanced by the Reddit commenter above would also follow the same pattern as another instance in this birthright citizenship saga—as the AP continued the widespread media practice of quoting public officials without stating whether or not they are lying—which is quite literally a way to operate as a propaganda organ for politicians.
We have deleted a tweet about President Trump’s claim that the U.S. is the only country that grants birthright citizenship because it failed to note that his statement was incorrect.
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) October 30, 2018
So the Associated Press fact-checked a story, but because they abide by a seemingly media-wide policy of uncritically spreading misinformation so long as it’s in quotes, they produced a wrong headline which was the opposite of what they fact-checked. After updating their story, it reads like they were fact-checking Facebook and any mistakes they made in their previous headline were not worthy of going into detail about—when in fact, their headline made the same mistake the claims on Facebook that they were fact-checking made. What a mess.
Facebook’s inclusion in this brings up another issue separate from the mainstream media: liberal echo chambers are just as susceptible to misinformation as conservative ones. Thanks to the bankrupt liberal political religion of “by your logic,” it’s pretty easy to spread fake news that fits neatly into that worldview—like how the president who wants to revoke birthright citizenship supposedly has three children protected by birthright citizenship.
All of us liberals have fallen prey to “by your logic”-ing conservatives—myself included. A decade of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show skewering politicians by showing opposing statements made by them side by side helped perpetuate this “by your logic” ideal amongst liberals (and part of why that show was such a revelation is how lacking TV media was in that basic journalistic practice). However, Trump’s election should have revealed the folly behind this venture for all to see, as it fundamentally misunderstands the opponent we face—as Paste’s Shane Ryan perfectly explained in a prescient piece early last year:
It’s a simple charge of hypocrisy, and it’s very stupid. Why is it very stupid? Because it presupposes that the original complaint was made in good faith, based on some kind of principle, and wasn’t just the ill-informed braying of a jackass mob. Yes, sure, there were problems with Hillary Clinton using a private email server, but let’s not pretend for a second that that the VAST majority of conservatives weren’t just using it as fodder to get their pitchforks out and rage about a hated opponent. They don’t care about private email servers. They never cared about private email servers. They cared about drawing blood, and defeating Hillary. And they certainly aren’t going to care about Trump using a private email server. He could text Putin the nuclear codes tomorrow, accidentally copy Kim Jong-un, and then launch a warhead into Texas, and they’d find a way to rationalize it within 20 minutes. Sean Spicer would stand behind the podium in his giant suit and rave about how sharing the codes actually shows toughness, and Kellyanne Conway would grin her ghoulish grin on CNN while extolling North Korean work ethic, and then Trump would tweet about how cats are wicked and the entire political right would nod along in confused agreement.
Yes, yes, it’s hypocrisy. Of course it’s hypocrisy. No shit it’s hypocrisy. But to scold conservatives in righteous disbelief and wait for them to own up to their contradictions is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of politics in America today. It was always bullshit, and it was obvious bullshit. If we’re still talking about it like we expect them to experience an epiphany, we are wayyyy behind the curve. An enormous part of our country makes its political decisions based on emotion and hatred and prejudice, not cold hard reason, and that won’t change no matter how many times you bludgeon them over the head with their monumental inconsistencies.
In a rational world, this bizarre fact-checking saga by the AP would reveal what a horrendous practice that uncritically quoting claims in headlines is—but in the real world, they and plenty of other news outlets have been doing this forever, and have screwed up countless times by peddling Trump’s misinformation while hiding behind the cowardly “well he’s president!” BS that wouldn’t stand up to any credible standards of journalistic integrity if he weren’t president.
The truth of the matter in America is that we are not a logical people. We like to think so, but history proves that we’re just not. We strictly adhere to systems and norms and tribes which guide our actions far more than logic does. The AP and plenty others amongst the media abide by a longstanding “journalistic” practice which has proven to help spread Trump’s disinformation, as well as disinformation about Trump, and each screw-up provides both conservative and liberal tribes to semi-credibly lob charges of bias at the mainstream media. If we all aim to be the logic-based nation that so many of us picture in our heads and journalistic outlets like the AP say is their mission, it’s time that our behavior finally matched our lofty ideals.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.