Accuracy in Media

Several mainstream media outlets last week reported that President Trump had referred to all immigrants as animals when he said, at an event on the problems caused by California’s sanctuary cities law, that members of the gang MS-13 “aren’t people. These are animals.”

Chuck Todd, among others, admitted the comments were mischaracterized. A few outlets have doubled down on claims he was referring to all immigrants.

Vox wrote that Trump indeed meant to insult all immigrants on three claims – that “Trump was not asked a question about MS-13,” that “the context in which MS-13 was mentioned was itself very specific: someone identified by the sheriff’s department as a ‘known’ gang member but who doesn’t meet the ‘threshold’ of being charged with or convicted of a serious crime” and that Trump’s response to the sheriff of Fresno County “wasn’t actually a response to the point she was making.

“It wasn’t about people in local jails in the U.S. It was about people ‘trying to come in,’ then ‘being taken out of the country.’”

The White House offered clarity Monday with a press release headlined, “What You Need To Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13.”

The release began with mentions of the families Trump invited to the State of the Union speech last year after their daughters were “chased down and brutally murdered by MS-13 gang members on Long Island, New York, in 2016.”

It mentioned a case in Maryland where “MS-13’s animals are accused of stabbing a man more than 100 times and then decapitating him, dismembering him and ripping his heart out of his body.”

It retold a few of MS-13’s most heinous crimes, saying that 40 percent of the murders in one New York county were attributable to the gang. It accused the gang of committing “shocking acts of violence to instill fear, including machete attacks, executions, gang rape, human trafficking, and more.”

“Four days after President Trump called undocumented immigrants ‘animals,’ the White House released a statement indicating administration officials have no regrets about it – in fact, quite the opposite,” an article from Think Progress reads, noting the release uses the word “animals” 10 times.

“Trump often cherry-picks brutal crimes that MS-13 members have committed,” the story reads. “But in reality, undocumented immigrants are no more likely to commit crimes than American citizens and are actually less likely to be criminals in some cases.”

“Beyond crime stats, the White House’s effort to dehumanize particular groups of immigrants bears a disturbing similarly [sic] to the language used throughout history to justify violence against groups of people,” the piece states.

As Nour Kteily, a Northwestern University professor who studies the psychology of dehumanization and its consequences, told Vox that dehumanizing language like Trump’s “animals” characterization of MS-13 “justifies or even mandates violence.”

Vox wrote that the battle rages on over Trump’s comments because both sides think they’ve won – the administration, which it says has been “messaging the idea that MS-13 is a bunch of animals in the aggressive manner they use when they think they’ve found a winning culture-war argument (see also ‘Merry Christmas’)” and the “Democrats and advocates” who think this can be leveraged against Trump – along with his S—thole countries remark – to reveal “the president’s true animosity toward people of color.

“Both sides believe that the other is missing, or deliberately blocking out, the context of Trump’s remark. It’s an intractable disagreement not because the immediate context is unknowable – the whole event was broadcast live – but because Donald Trump has spent his entire three years in national politics saying things that sound racist to a lot of people, and America has spent three years arguing about whether that’s the fault of the person speaking those words or the people hearing them.”

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