The mainstream media is failing to effectively fact check President Turmp’s baseless claim that the Puerto Rico government’s count of people who died after Hurricane Maria is a conspiracy orchestrated by his political opponents.
In tweets posted Thursday morning, President Trump claimed the latest death toll figures of 2,975 is a lie rigged by Democratic lawmakers.
Trump offered no evidence for his claim, which is at odds with a series of studies that have concluded the federal government dramatically underestimated the number of people who died as a result of the storm. The official toll was revised upward late last month after the PR government accepted the findings of a George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health study.
But instead of effectively fact checking Trump’s tweets, a number of major media outlets uncritically spread his lies in their headlines about the tweets.
The New York Times, for instance, made no attempt to evaluate the merits of Trump’s claim. (UPDATE: The Times later updated its story to include “falsely” in the headline.)
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 13, 2018
Politico made the same mistake.
So did the BBC.
And The Hill.
And the New York Post.
Reuters uncritically spread Trump’s lies not only in its headline, but also on Twitter.
It’s possible to frame the news in a way that more effectively fact checks Trump’s claims, as the AP and NBC News demonstrated in their tweets about his comments.
BREAKING: Trump states without evidence that Puerto Rico hurricane death count is plot by Democrats to make him look bad.
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 13, 2018
BREAKING: Pres. Trump rejects independent study that reports an estimated 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico in 5 months after Hurricane Maria; provides no evidence to discount the study; declares, without evidence, that the higher death toll is political ploy to make him look bad.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 13, 2018
Notably, however, NBC’s headline about Trump’s Puerto Rico tweets itswebsite fell into the same trap as the ones above.
CNN demonstrated a better way to write a headline that doesn’t simply repeat Trump’s lies — noting that Trump’s claim is false at the very top of a story.
CNN’s approach ensures that if someone didn’t make it past the headline of their story, they would still know that Trump is spreading falsehoods. On the other hand, NYT and Politico readers might believe, falsely, that there is some merit to Trump’s wild conspiracy theory about a major national tragedy.