When using social media to report on President Donald Trump's comments, many major corporate media outlets often succeed only in amplifying his misinformation and lies instead of setting the record straight, according to a new study.
After examining about 2,000 tweets from more than 30 Twitter accounts controlled by major news sources over three weeks earlier this year, Media Matters for America (MMFA) reported Friday that the accounts simply spread Trump's lies 65 percent of the time, without providing context or disputing his remarks.
— Media Matters (@mmfa) May 3, 2019
You aren't imagining it. Major news outlets amplify false or misleading Trump claims without debunking them an average of 19 times per day. https://t.co/8OV2FFVBMN
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) May 3, 2019
The group found Trump's lies about subjects including the Mueller report, North Korea, and his claim that former President Barack Obama was spying on him were amplified by NBC, ABC, and other sources more than 400 times over the course of the study, or an average of 19 times per day.
The findings left MMFA convinced that the news media is failing during Trump's presidency in many of the same ways it did during his 2016 presidential campaign.
"News outlets are still failing to grapple with a major problem that media critics highlighted during the Trump transition: When journalists apply their traditional method of crafting headlines, tweets, and other social media posts to Trump, they end up passively spreading misinformation by uncritically repeating his falsehoods," said Rob Savillo, a senior fellow and data analyst at MMFA, who co-authored the report.
This is a pretty damning article and one that suggests that #Trump's nonstop propaganda (a nice word for lies) can is being aided the news media. #journalism #journalists #emjrn https://t.co/W47NPkhVVh
— Jerry Lanson (@jerrylanson) May 3, 2019
About 30 percent of the tweets MMFA examined contained quotes from the president, with the quotations often making up the entire tweet.
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The findings have major implications for how the press is helping Trump to spread misinformation, MMFA said, pointing to an earlier study by the American Press Institute which showed that many social media users only read a tweeted article's headline or the text within a post instead of reading whatever context exists in an article, which outlets often link to in their tweets.
"Media outlets have a serious, ongoing problem dealing with passive misinformation." —Rob Savillo and Matt Gertz, MMFA"The way people consume information in the digital age makes the accuracy of a news outlet's headlines and social media posts more important than ever," wrote Savillo and co-author Matt Gertz. "But journalists are trained to treat a politician's statements as intrinsically newsworthy, often quoting them without context in tweets and headlines and addressing whether the statement was accurate only in the body of the piece, if at all."
Most of the lies were spread after Trump hosted informal news briefings known as press gaggles and after his interviews with the press. News outlets passed along his false statement without debunking them 92 percent of the time during the former and 73 percent of the time during the latter.
The online news source The Hill amplified the most lies and misinformation, according to MMFA. The website's Twitter account sent 40 percent of the misleading or false tweets containing Trump's quotes or ideas, and passed along incorrect information from the president 88 percent of the time it tweeted about him.
"The Hill also frequently resends the same tweet at regular intervals, not only amplifying his falsehoods, but also making it more likely that the misinformation will stick with its audience through the power of repetition," wrote Savillo and Gertz.
ABC News amplified Trump's lies about 74 percent of the time, and even major cable networks that spread misinformation less frequently did so more than half the time. NBC News amplified bad information 52 percent of the time it tweeted about Trump and MSNBC did so 55 percent of the time.
NPR and the Washington Post were among the best performers. The Post disputed the president's claims 33 out of the 37 times it tweeted about them, and NPR tweeted Trump's quotations only 20 times. The outlet corrected Trump's false statements all four times it shared them with the public.
"The results were striking," the researchers wrote, "demonstrating that media outlets have a serious, ongoing problem dealing with passive misinformation."