President Trump is in the middle of a long, important, 12 day trip to Asia. He has a lot to cover. Addressing the North Korea challenge alone would warrant 12 days of meetings. But he’ll also be discussing economic issues and military cooperation and visiting U.S. facilities. Presumably, part of his attention will be on following the Mueller investigation and the tragic attack in Texas. It’s a major event for Trump on the world stage. It is also important for the media. Unfortunately, the media’s coverage of the trip has been spotty, playing into the hands of conspiracy theorists and Republicans who don’t miss an opportunity to label the media as fake news*.
President Trump apparently does not like to be on the road away from home for long periods of time. During one of his previous international trips as President, the media posted imagery and articles suggesting that fatigue and the time zones seemed to get to him at times. For example, at the end of a photo op with Prime Minister Netanyahu he appeared to wander off, to the confusion of Netanyahu. One sympathizes, but not as much as one would if Trump had not made Hillary Clinton’s stamina a campaign trail attack.
Some reporting has suggested that White House aides have adjusted their tactics for maintaining Trump’s energy and focus on the road. I’m not going to source that because it seems normal and not controversial. That’s what aides are supposed to do. I’ve seen VIPs visit several embassies, and their schedules are grueling.
Throughout, the international media will be on hand to document the trip. It’s one of Trump’s longest international forays, and it will serve up a steady stream of content with a thematic cohesiveness we don’t often see in the rapidly changing 24-hour news cycle. A lot of journalists and photojournalists will be vying for hard-earned bylines and scoops.
But the trip also seems to have whet their appetites for Trump missteps. That’s understandable. Trump’s performance on this trip is fair game. However, CNN (and possibly others) have put out video and commentary that, taken out of context, give the appearance of missteps.
On Monday 6 November 2017, CNN showed a video of President Trump and Prime Minister Abe feeding fish. CNN ran the following headline:
Trump feeds fish, winds up pouring entire box of food into koi pond
Technically, the headline is accurate. However, it suggests that Trump lost patience with the spooning out of the food and decided to hurry things along by unceremoniously dumping the whole box into the pond. Twitter loved the imagery. Other videos surfaced later showing Abe doing the same thing, before Trump. CNN’s website now has a sentence toward the end of the accompanying article for the video that reads, “The move got Trump some laughs, and a smile from Abe, who actually appeared to dump out his box of food ahead of Trump.”
CNN also covered a quote by Trump in which he apparently suggested that the Japanese manufacture vehicles in the United States:
“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,” Trump told executives from local automakers during a trip to Japan.
CNN then fact checked the President and pointed out that the Japanese already manufacture a lot of vehicles in the United States, providing a significant number of jobs.
Again, technically, the quote appears accurate. The problem is that CNN’s quote is very selective. According to the full transcript posted by the Washington Post, Trump appears to be encouraging Japanese car manufacturers who are not making cars in the United States to follow the lead of the Japanese car companies who are. He goes on to explain that the business and regulatory environment would be very welcoming.
Here is a link to the Washington Post article and a relevant quote:
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.
In the title to this post I mentioned the LA Times, too. That issue is not related to Trump’s trip, but it is another example of the media making costly, unforced errors. LA Times columnist David Horsey recently wrote a column about Sarah Huckabee Sanders in which he compared her to a “slightly chunky soccer mom”. Mr. Horsey claims that he was aiming for a “‘light way to ease into’ the broader topic of the commentary, which he said was about Ms. Sanders’s truthfulness.” The comments understandably generated significant backlash. Horsey and the LA Times have issued an apology.
The words and actions of the Trump Administration and the reaction from its base concerning the legitimacy and truthfulness of the media should worry everyone. These self-inflicted, easily avoidable errors do not help.