The strange thing about Trump’s Fake News Awards

President Donald Trump announced his Fake News Awards yesterday. Many of them are, indeed, news reports that turned out to be wrong. Strangely, though, that’s not at all what Trump actually means when he says “Fake News” — or when he generates it himself.

Breaking down the 2017 Fake News Awards

Trump’s Fake News Awards don’t include links to the reports they are talking about. But I tracked them down for you. In this breakdown, I show direct quotes from the awards on For each, I provide analysis and categorize it as one of the following: Inaccurate Prediction; Inaccurate Reporting, Retracted; Misleading Reporting; Ambiguous; or Not Actually Fake.

1. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.

Analysis: Krugman’s New York Times column was in the opinion section, not the news section. His prediction was wrong. Category: Inaccurate Prediction

2. ABC News’ Brian Ross CHOKES and sends markets in a downward spiral with false report.

Analysis: ABC’s Brian Ross reported that Flynn was prepared to testify that Donald Trump, as a candidate for president, told him to contact Russians. ABC retracted the story and demoted Ross. Category: Inaccurate Reporting, Retracted

3. CNN FALSELY reported that candidate Donald Trump and his son Donald J. Trump, Jr. had access to hacked documents from WikiLeaks.

Analysis: CNN got the dates wrong — it reported that the candidate and his son had access before the leak, rather than after. CNN admitted the error and corrected the report. Category: Inaccurate Reporting, Retracted

4. TIME FALSELY reported that President Trump removed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office.

Analysis: TIME made a mistake in describing a pool reporter’s statement about the bust. It retracted the error. Category: Inaccurate Reporting, Retracted

5. Washington Post FALSELY reported the President’s massive sold-out rally in Pensacola, Florida was empty. Dishonest reporter showed picture of empty arena HOURS before crowd started pouring in.

Analysis: The report was not in the Washington Post, but it was a picture in a tweet by Washington Post Reporter Dave Weigel. He later apologized for posting the misleading photo and deleted the tweet.Category: Inaccurate Reporting, Retracted

6. CNN FALSELY edited a video to make it appear President Trump defiantly overfed fish during a visit with the Japanese prime minister. Japanese prime minister actually led the way with the feeding.

Analysis: By not showing how Trump was actually following Prime Minister Abe’s lead, CNN’s video was misleading. If CNN ever apologized for this, I can’t find it, but they did eventually publish the full video. Category: Misleading Reporting.

7. CNN FALSELY reported about Anthony Scaramucci’s meeting with a Russian, but retracted it due to a “significant breakdown in process.”

Analysis: After the reporting error, CNN retracted the story and three news employees resigned. Category: Inaccurate Reporting, Retracted

8. Newsweek FALSELY reported that Polish First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda did not shake President Trump’s hand.

Analysis: Newsweek has video showing that Trump ignored Kornhauser-Duda’s first attempt to start a handshake, but he did eventually shake her hand. Category: Ambiguous

9. CNN FALSELY reported that former FBI Director James Comey would dispute President Trump’s claim that he was told he is not under investigation.

Analysis: Comey’s statements were about specific incidents, not a blanket statement that Trump was not under investigation. Category: Ambiguous

10. The New York Times FALSELY claimed on the front page that the Trump administration had hidden a climate report.

Analysis: The New York Times made an error about whether the report was publicly available, and published a retraction. Category: Inaccurate Reporting, Retracted

11. And last, but not least: “RUSSIA COLLUSION!” Russian collusion is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people. THERE IS NO COLLUSION!

Analysis: Not a specific story. There is certainly evidence of campaign officials including Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. meeting with Russians. Regardless of what Trump claims, there is plenty of accurate reporting here. Category: Not Actually Fake

Toting up the score here:

  • Inaccurate Reporting, Retracted: 6
  • Ambiguous: 2
  • Inaccurate Prediction: 1
  • Not Actually Fake: 1
  • Misleading Reporting: 1

So the only actual non-retracted inaccurate news report is about feeding fish.

What does Trump mean when he says Fake News?

The strange thing is that these awards don’t match what Trump means when he tweets about fake news. A typical Trump “Fake News” tweet is about a report that, rather than being false, is just something Trump doesn’t want you to believe — or something he wants to see in the news, but isn’t seeing.

These bits of so-called “fake news” have nothing to do with inaccurate or retracted statements.

The logic, however, is clear. If Trump can show that news media make mistakes — mistakes that damage him — then he can call them fake and put out his own version of the story.

The difference between Trump and media is that Trump never admits he has lied

Collectively, the news media put out millions of reports every day. Some of them make Trump look bad. Most of them are true. Some of them are inaccurate. But any reputable media organization, once it determines that it has made a mistake, publishes a retraction or correction. If the error is significant enough, they demote or fire the reporter. That is why six of Trump’s 11 “fake news” reports are retracted reports.

Trump works for another institution that it supposed to be telling the truth: the executive branch of the United States Government. But he does not hold to the same standard. According to Politifact, of 500 statements by Trump, 343, or 69%, are either Mostly False, False, or “Pants on Fire.” And Trump never admits he has lied or made a mistake, even when he contradicts himself.

When the news media are saying you are wrong, and you are actually wrong, how do you defend yourself? You call them “fake news.” But the only evidence of fake news here comes because the media self-corrects when it has made an error. Trump doesn’t.

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  1. Hi Josh,

    I believe these awards and the thump-thump-thump leading up to their actual announcement (in The White House, of all places) is a combination of Trump’s life long manipulation of media for his own purposes and an example of a learned-lesson from Paul Manafort’s tenure.

    Manafort Influence
    – Mis-direction coming from an “installed” authoritarian leader, where, in this case, installed = surprise winner
    – Keeping the average person buried in noise (so they will not pay attention to major changes in our government and country)
    – Telling the average person what you (the leader) want them to know (versus sharing a shared vision or the facts)

    Trump Lifetime Experience With Media
    – Attempting to disguise his voice, assuming a false identity and planting stories on the phone with NYC media
    – Threatening libel and other forms of legal actions and then (a) not following through, or (b) settling and paying $$$
    – Entertaining and welcoming them into his “inner sanctum” (witness Mika and Joe at Mar-A-Lago, for example) and then thrashing them with details he’s learned about them

    The media make mistakes as we all do, and as you noted, retraction is the norm. I imagine (more like BELIEVE), that Trump has a team of liberal arts majors pouring through all forms of media, daily, identifying mistakes involving his presidency and his programs (as few as they are at this point.) A boiler room of sorts. He might of outsourced, this, but I believe this has been “up” since the election cycle. He’s exceptionally wary of how he’s represented in media.



  2. Fake News Awards persuade us to distrust the media. Scott Adams explains Trump’s strategy in not correcting errors.
    “1. Make a claim that is directionally accurate but has a big exaggeration or factual error in it.

    2. Wait for people to notice the exaggeration or error and spend endless hours talking about how wrong it is.

    3. When you dedicate focus and energy to an idea, you remember it. And the things that have the most mental impact on you will irrationally seem as though they are high in priority, even if they are not. That’s persuasion.”

    People will remember that the media is deceptive. We won’t get context unless we synthesize what the left and right report.