NEW YORK ― On Sunday afternoon, Politico editorial director for digital Blake Hounshell rightly pointed out that President-elect Donald Trump’s claim that he actually won the popular vote, because “millions” of Americans had voted illegally, isn’t true.
“Trump claims, falsely, that millions voted illegally,” Hounshell tweeted, along with a Politico story on the matter.
The headline for the Politico story, however, lacked a key word: “falsely.”
This isn’t to pick on Politico, which was one of several news organizations to quickly publish stories Sunday based on Trump’s Twitter claim without clarifying in the headline that it was false. And Politico, unlike some others, later updated its headline.
But the rush of stories on the president-elect’s “millions” claims highlights the media’s tendency ― now on show for nearly 18 months ― to immediately churn out articles based on Trump’s latest unsubstantiated claims or unwarranted attacks on Twitter.
Too often, news organizations amplify Trump’s assertions in headlines with some variation of “Trump tweets” or Trump claims” or “Trump says” ― whether or not those assertions are true. This seems to be the default in many newsrooms heading into Trump’s presidency, even after he proved to be a historically dishonest candidate known for frequently spouting falsehoods and pushing conspiracy theories.
The president-elect’s questioning of the election process is inherently newsworthy. But such a clearly false claim needs to be immediately put into context before being circulated online and on social media. News stories that don’t adequately address Trump’s assertion as being without merit run the risk of creating a “he said, she said” situation ― when the president-elect’s claim is conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.
CBS News, too, uncritically repeated Trump’s claim.