Accuracy in Media

Fact-checkers were standing by for President Trump’s speech on immigration Tuesday, but the president’s brief appeal for border funding left them little to work with.

“Trump paints a misleading, bleak picture of the border,” the front page of the Washington Post website read. “The president pumped up numbers, exaggerated the public safety risks of immigration and repeated false claims regarding how to fund a border wall,” read the subhead.

The New York Times played it straight with the headline on its website’s front page – “Fact-Checking Trump’s Address on Border Security.” But above it was a feature in which five quotes from the speech alternately appeared on the screen. Only one of them – about Mexico paying for the wall indirectly – was assessed as “false.” The rest either read, “This needs context” or “This is misleading.”

HuffPost was more aggressive in its headline: “Fact-Checking Trump’s Misleading and Outright False Claims From His Border Address” – subhead: “Again, Mexico is not paying for the wall.” But even its lead admitted this involved interpretation on the part of its writers, charging the speech was “rife with double-speak, cherry-picked statistics and outright falsehoods.”

As for the New York Times, it labeled as “false” Trump’s claim that the federal government is “shut down for one reason and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security,” although the government clearly would reopen today if Democrats agreed to the president’s wall funding request. Its reasoning is they offered $1.3 billion for other border security measures, not including a wall.

It characterized as “misleading” Trump’s claim that “Every day, Customs and Border Patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country.” It is misleading, the Times wrote, because they actually detain only about 1,700 per day.

As to the suggestion Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, his opponent on this issue, “has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past,” the Times wrote: “This needs context,” then states that indeed Schumer has voted for 700 miles of fencing in the past.

It said Trump’s comment that 300 people die each week from heroin overdoses, 90 percent of which floods across our southern border” needs context. Yes, 90 percent of heroin crosses the border, as does low-grade fentanyl. But the fentanyl with higher purity comes through the mail or from Canada, it wrote. Trump’s sentence did not mention fentanyl.

The Washington Post wrote that the lies started in Trump’s first sentence when he “warned of a ‘security crisis at the southern border’ – even though the number of people caught trying to cross illegally is near 20-year lows.” It also said it was “a stretch” to say thousands of immigrants try to enter our country every day, even though 1,700 per day are arrested for it.

As to Trump’s claim immigration hurts black and Hispanic Americans the most, it said this is basically true, but a report from 2010 by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said securing the border “is not a panacea” for depressed wages for low-paid jobs, which Trump did not claim.

The Times, the Post and HuffPost all made the point most of the heroin seized at the U.S. border was at legal points of entry. This has nothing to do with Trump’s claim, and neither the Drug Enforcement Agency nor any member of the media knows how much drugs are coming through other points of entry.

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