What fact checkers addressed didn’t make Page 1
By MARTIN SCHRAM | Tribune News Service | Published: February 1, 2018
As part of our ongoing effort to help President Donald Trump “Make America Great Again,” we are focusing in this State of the Union week on how we can make our mainstream news media as great as we need them to be.
We’ll start with America’s most famous news agenda setters. The New York Times and The Washington Post, are indeed great newspapers — but not always very good ones. And their shortcomings have a way of rippling (see also: rushing) throughout our mainstream.
Big Page 1 stories in the morning New York Times or Washington Post become big topics for TV’s cable news talking heads all day long. Which means official newsmakers and their spokespeople must deal with it. Conversely, if our great newspapers bury a story, or miss it entirely, the real news may end up unnoticed, uncovered or just overtaken by the next rush of the new day’s ordinary news.
So it makes a difference just what our media’s news deciders choose as our prominent Page 1 news. And for some time now, the deceptions, distortions and downright lies politicians and public officials tell is no longer considered surefire Page 1, prime-time news. (Unless of course it’s about sex.)
Still, news-deciding editors are proud to say they value fact-check journalism. Even though they apparently think readers think it’s just boring journalism. So even our great newspapers usually bury their fact-check journalism on inside pages. Even though it might be important news that people really need to know — news that the pols who readers like are deliberately lying to them.
And that’s the way it was with the State of the Union coverage. Wednesday’s Post played Glenn Kessler’s “The Fact-Checker” at the bottom of page A9, headlined: “Soaring address rife with disproved, deceptive figures.” The Times played its “Fact Check” at the bottom of A14, with its very similar findings masked by a more cautious, conclusion-lite label-headline: “Assessing Trump’s Claims on Immigration, ISIS, the Economy and Taxes.”
But the findings of those multi-reporter fact-check teams, plus another by the ever-excellent online PolitiFact.com, indicate that Trump made news by deliberately deceiving taxpayers who trust and voted for him. Yes, Trump’s main news was his powerful declaration that the state of America’s economy is strong. But Americans also need to know that fact checkers found that while Trump repeatedly claimed he made the economy strong again, credit really belonged to his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for reversing the devastating recession he inherited from George W. Bush in 2009. Fact checkers faulted Trump for boasting: “Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.” Because, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics says about 1.8 million jobs have been created since January 2017 (the month Trump became president) that actually was the slowest job growth gain since 2010.
Fact checkers also faulted other Trump claims, including:
“After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.” Wages began growing again under Obama, by 2014. Indeed, during Trump’s first year as president wage growth rate slowed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.
“African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.” Fact checkers said Trump repeatedly claimed in his campaign that black unemployment was over 58 percent, ridiculing Bureau of Labor Statistics figures that it was 19.2 percent. Obama reduced that figure to just 7.7 percent. Now that the BLS says it has inched down to 6.8 percent, suddenly Trump has embraced that stat — to con voters into believing he deserves credit.
Fact checkers ridiculed Trump for lying to taxpayers Tuesday night about the size of his tax cut: “Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.” It was the 57th time he’d claimed that — even though Treasury Department statistics show Trump’s tax cut is about 0.9 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) — far less than Ronald Reagan’s tax cut of 2.89 percent of GDP in 1981. By that valid measure, Trump’s tax cut was even smaller than two of Obama’s tax cuts.
Fact checkers also reported that Trump didn’t deserve credit he took for bringing America’s auto industry home: “Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we have not seen for decades. Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan.” Yes, the journalists reported, but the plan began during Obama’s administration last year.
Truth be told, a more accurate State of the Union headline might have been: “Trump boasts of following in Obama’s successes.” Unless you think someone might call that fake news.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.