On Monday, Donald Trump posited to a room full of military personnel that the media was failing to report on terrorist attacks around the globe, suggesting that “the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it.”
“They have their reasons, and you understand that,” he said.
In keeping with his penchant for lying, Trump provided no evidence to support his claim that terrorist attacks go unreported, willfully or otherwise. As is becoming custom, it was up to Press Secretary Sean Spicer to clean up the mess left in the wake of his boss’s latest tantrum.
Late Monday night, he shared a typo-riddled list of 78 terrorist attacks the administration claims went uncovered since 2015. A cursory investigation by ThinkProgress into the list found a minimum of 17,467 stories written by U.S.-based publications about the 78 unreported attacks.
To keep the number somewhat manageable, we limited our search in Nexis to just the one week following each attack. Because Nexis limits its search function to 1,000 results per query, several articles related to the biggest attacks on the list were likely missed. In those instances, we counted just the first 1,000 results in our tally.
It is certainly true that some attacks garnered more attention than others. Several of the attacks included on the White House’s list—the nightclub shooting in Orlando, the coordinated attacks in Paris, the airport bombing in Istanbul—were major international stories that dominated the news cycle for days. Others—an attempted bombing in Egypt with no casualties, a shooting of two Bosnian soldiers in Sarajevo, an injured Danish businessman in Riyadh—were relatively minor incidents with no fatalities, and the news coverage reflected as much.
For the overwhelming majority of the attacks listed, there are dozens of stories to be found in newspapers all across the country. Several major news organizations took umbrage at the White House’s characterization of their coverage. CBS News disclosed it had written stories about 74 percent of the attacks mentioned on the list. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News were incensed that a January 2016 attack in their city made the list, and published a story this morning sharing the large front-page stories they wrote about the incident. Even a news organization in Sweden called out Trump’s lie, branding it—correctly—as “domestic propaganda based on a lie.”
Almost as telling as the lie itself is what was not included on the list. Virtually every attack on the list was perpetrated by Muslim extremists against western victims; Trump and Spicer neglected to mention any of the dozens of attacks committed by white supremacists or Islamophobes. When referencing a series of suicide bombings in Kabul in June of last year, the White House seemingly went out of its way to exclude any mention of its Afghani victims, instead focusing solely on the 14 Canadian embassy workers who were killed.
The news industry is far from perfect, but in this particular case, the problem seems to rest not with the media, but with the consumer — or at least one consumer in particular. By his own admission, Donald Trump doesn’t read very much. He refused to attend intelligence briefings because he insists he’s “a smart person.” He couldn’t even bring himself to read the 1800-word executive order he signed last week appointing Steve Bannon to his own National Security Council.
Perhaps the lesson for editors is, if you want Trump to read your stories, best keep them to 140 characters.