Credulous journalists misreport Trump’s abortion comments, refuse to correct themselves

Every day, it seems, we see another example of how not to cover Donald Trump.

Monday’s example was a doozy: almost everybody in the mainstream media completely fell for Trump’s abortion fake-out. They gave him credit for saying something he didn’t actually say – and they treated him like a truth-teller rather than a prodigious liar.

What was even more depressing than usual about Monday’s performance was that it was fixable in real time, after a handful of journalists quickly pointed out the errors of their colleagues. But our elite political media is way too proud to course correct.

Instead, credulous reporters who’d been spoon-fed a narrative by the Trump campaign –- that he was moderating his view on abortion —  regurgitated a story that wasn’t credible. And then they stuck to it.

No, Trump did not say that abortion rights should be “left up to the states,” as the New York Times and the Washington Post reported.

No, there was no shift to some sort of more moderate position.

If you actually listened to the video, rather than to the spin, all Trump said was that states are currently deciding abortion policies for themselves – a statement of fact, not intent.

(It’s also hardly a moderate position! As Kylie Cheung wrote for Jezebel, “Leaving abortion rights ‘to the states’ is the current state of affairs and it’s destroying the health care system and subjecting pregnant women to unthinkable cruelty.” See, e.g., Arizona.)

The one newsworthy element of Trump’s announcement was what he didn’t say: He didn’t actively endorse a national abortion ban at 15 or 16 weeks, as he had been rumored to be considering. But neither did he rule it out.

That’s the (small) headline: That under pressure from the Christian right to endorse a national ban, he appeared to be punting for now.

Some journalists understood what happened, and warned their colleagues.

Most notably, perhaps, Semafor Washington editor Jordan Weissmann tweeted – very early in the day! – that “If you actually listen to Trump’s statement on abortion, he doesn’t say ‘should’ be left to the states. He says ‘will’ be left to the statez. It’s just a statement of what the law is. He leaves unsaid what would happen if a ban crosses his desk.”

Weissmann even cited the initial New York Times headline, “Trump Says Abortion Law Should Be Left to the States” – the headline that remains on that story even as I write! – and concluded: “this headline is incorrect. An accurate version would be: ‘Trump acknowledges abortion law up to states, does not explicitly say whether or not he’d sign a ban.’”

But get this. In a profound example of how once the Washington narrative sets, there’s no moving it, Weissmann’s own publication was saying — and continues to say — exactly what he said wasn’t true:

Here’s the Semafor story:

Donald Trump on Monday declined to back a nationwide limit on abortion, saying the issue should be decided on a state-by-state basis. The former president has long been cagey about his view on abortion, sowing months of speculation over what policy position he would take. Monday’s comments mark his clearest stance on the issue so far.

The truth, as Parker Molloy wrote in her newsletter at mid-day, was that Trump’s announcement “sidesteps the question of whether or not he’d sign or veto legislation to limit abortion at a federal level or appoint judges who would further restrict existing abortion rights.” But, she wrote:

What do NBC NewsThe New York TimesCNNAxiosCBS NewsNPRABC NewsThe Washington PostThe HillForbesPoliticoFinancial Times, the Associated Press, and The Wall Street Journal have in common?

On Monday, they all botched their reporting of Trump’s statement on abortion policy by inaccurately stating in headlines that he believes abortion rights should be left up to individual states to figure out.

Similarly, at Media Matters, Matt Gertz wrote:

Former President Donald Trump’s strategy of ducking questions on abortion requires mainstream reporters to let him off the hook and leave pro-choice swing voters with the false impression that he is more moderate than he actually is. So far, it’s working.…

Many news outlets, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostCNN.comCBS, and, gave Trump the headlines he likely wanted by reporting that the former president had said abortion law “should be left to the states.”

Thank goodness for HuffPost.

By Monday night, New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg was out with a highly clarifying column that should have served as an editor’s note for a corrected version of the lead news story:

Trump’s address was, naturally, full of lies, including the absurd claim that “all legal scholars, both sides,” wanted Roe v. Wade overturned, and the obscene calumny that Democrats support “execution after birth.” But the most misleading part of his spiel was the way he implied that in a second Trump administration, abortion law will be left entirely up to the states.

As she explained:

Should Trump return to power, he plans to surround himself with die-hard MAGA activists, not the establishment types he blames for undermining him during his first term. And many of these activists have plans to restrict abortion nationally without passing any new laws at all.

And on Tuesday morning, fellow Times columnist Jamelle Bouie effectively mocked his news-side colleagues, writing that “It does not require any particular powers of political analysis to see that Monday’s statement is a ploy — and an obvious one at that.”

He also provided some essential background about Trump’s credibility that reporters conveniently forget every time he opens his mouth:

Donald Trump does not speak from conviction….. It does not matter to him whether a statement is true or false. It does not matter if one statement contradicts another, in the same speech or in the same paragraph or in the same sentence. What matters to Trump is whether the words serve the purpose at hand. He will say anything if it’s what he feels an audience wants to hear or if it moves him one step closer to a personal or political goal.

The second-day stories are out now, of course, and the false narrative is baked in.

In the Washington Post, Josh Dawsey and Hannah Knowles now tell us “How Trump decided to go with ‘states’ rights’ on abortion“. “Trump’s thought is that antiabortion voters will continue to give him wide latitude on the issue because of his record in office, and that supporting such a national ban would be politically harmful with the voters he needs to win,” they report, “according to people familiar with the calculation.”

When will political journalists stop buying what Trump’s team is selling them? When will they recall that time and again they’ve been lied to and played for fools? I’m not holding my breath.


  1. “Donald Trump does not speak from conviction….. It does not matter to him whether a statement is true or false.”

    Also water is wet. It’s absurd that anyone has to point that out, and that all those other reporters (not just the talkers at Fox news and the mini-Foxes) need the obvious to be pointed out after years of them pretending that anything Donald says is anything else. This also means you, NPR.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.