Trump didn’t kill House ethics changes but the media gave him credit anyway

Major publications got played.

Melania Trump, right, looks on as her husband President-elect Donald Trump talks to reporters during a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Melania Trump, right, looks on as her husband President-elect Donald Trump talks to reporters during a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

While calls flooded in to members of Congress expressing outrage about House Republicans’ move to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to criticize the timing, not the substance, of the move.

Trump appeared to agree that there’s too much oversight of Congress — note how he characterized such oversight as “unfair.” Even Sean Spicer, Trump’s soon-to-be press secretary, acknowledged that Trump’s tweets weren’t meant to address the underlying question of whether it’s a good idea to gut the House’s ethics oversight office.

But none of that stopped media outlets from pushing the narrative that Trump rebuked his own party to “drain the swamp.”

This, for example, was the New York Times headline:

The Hill might’ve been the worst offender:

And a Politico senior writer inaccurately interpreted Trump’s tweets the same way:

A couple hours after Trump’s tweets were posted, news broke that House Republicans were scrapping the proposed changes to the ethics office. Though there’s no indication that Trump’s tweets played any role in the reversal — Republican members of Congress reported their offices were swamped with calls urging them not to support the move to gut the ethics office — media outlets and journalists rushed to give Trump credit.

The Washington Post credited Trump’s tweets for the reversal:

And so did the New York Times:

Other offenders included a congressional correspondent from Bloomberg and Fox News host Howard Kurtz. The Bloomberg report went as far as to concoct a narrative surrounding Trump’s tweets and the aftermath.

The episode embodied Trump’s tried-and-true Twitter strategy: tweet something that sounds good but is inaccurate, lap up the positive coverage, and by the time the media figures out it has been fooled, news consumers have moved on to the next thing.

As the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman put it, Trump’s tweets regarding the ethics office and the reaction to them are a “textbook example of how he succeeded in the campaign.”