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It’s Time To Banish ‘Trump Says’ Headlines — They Don’t Work

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It’s Time To Banish ‘Trump Says’ Headlines — They Don’t Work

Trump, headline, Carrier

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

The New York Times made the same headline misstep twice in four days.

Typing up reports based on President-elect Donald Trump’s tweets and staged announcements, the Times presented as breaking news — and in a very Trump-friendly manner — the contents of his latest utterances:

  • “Trump Says He Has Hacking Information Others ‘Don’t Know’” (December 31)
  • “Trump Says Intelligence Officials Delayed Briefing on Russian Hacking” (January 3)

Obviously, public pronouncements from incoming presidents can, and should, be treated as news. The problem with the “Trump says” formula (and similar variations) that the Times and other news outlets have adopted since Election Day is that what Trump said was, at best, either baseless or openly disputed.

There’s no indication Trump will ever reveal new information about U.S. government allegations that Russians unleashed cyberattacks against the Democratic Party. (And it certainly didn’t happen on “Tuesday or Wednesday” this week, as Trump originally suggested.) An aide quickly downplayed the notion that Trump would even try.

And while Trump claimed his intelligence briefing on the hacking topic was “delayed” from Tuesday until Friday, as the Times article itself makes clear, “senior administration officials disputed it, saying that no meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday.”

Trump’s claims falling apart shouldn’t be a surprise, though, since the president-elect has shown himself to be a committed liar who will falsify all kinds of information.

And therein lies two ongoing problems. One: How does the press treat a new president who is a habitual liar, the likes of which we’ve never seen in U.S. presidential politics? And two: How does the press treat an incoming president whose primary form of communication is Twitter, which means he refuses to take most press questions or be held publicly accountable for his claims?

Those parallel-track problems then produce a third one: lazy, misleading headlines that play right into Trump’s strategy of routinely lying while also being historically inaccessible to reporters. Within that sphere, I’d suggest there’s a very specific headline problem — the “Trump says” formula. Solution? Ban uncritical, context-free “Trump says” headlines. It’s a good first step.

Yes, most politicians, on occasion, like to bend and twist the truth to their favor. But Trump has been cracking the truth in half, and in full public view, since he entered the presidential race in June 2015. (Here’s a list of 560 documented falsehoods Trump told in the span of only four weeks during the campaign.) People like that don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, and benefit of the doubt is what drives “Trump says” headlines.

The headlines often revolve around what Trump has stated on Twitter. Or misstated on Twitter, to be more accurate. With no real access to him, journalists are reduced to a this-is-what-Trump-said-today style of reporting, as if they’re covering the utterances of a reclusive royal family member.

If Trump’s tweeted claims are almost always disputed and often proven wrong, the dispute should be the headline; that’s what the news of the day is, not the fact that Trump floated some new nonsense; not what “Trump says.” If Trump tweeted that the moon was made of cheese, news organizations shouldn’t produce a “Trump says” headline for him, while also quoting experts in the article itself who confirm the moon is not a dairy-based orbital.

As Times columnist Paul Krugman noted this week:

Another problem is that the timid mentality behind “Trump says” headlines often leads to timid reporting.

Note that last week Trump made news when he claimed responsibility for Sprint bringing back 5,000 jobs to the United States. Trump insisted that the jobs were coming back “because of me.”

That boast immediately produced a rash of Trump-friendly headlines. And yes, it produced plenty of “Trump says” headlines:

WSJ: “Trump Says Sprint Bringing 5,000 Jobs Back to U.S.”

New York Post: “Trump says Sprint is bringing 5,000 jobs back to US”

Reuters: “Trump says Sprint to bring 5,000 jobs back to U.S.”

But those Sprint jobs were part of a previously announced, pre-election jobs initiative by the telecommunications giant. Which means this Bloomberg headline was perhaps the most accurate: “Trump Seeks Credit for 5,000 Sprint Jobs Already Touted.”

By choking off access with the press, Trump has produced a media thirst for presidential pronouncements and tidbits of news; tidbits that now arrive on the form of inaccurate tweets. The press needs to stop rewarding Trump’s strategy with passive and misleading “Trump says” headlines.

IMAGE: U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump speaks at event at Carrier HVAC plant in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Bergin



  1. Lynda Groom January 7, 2017

    Biden was certainly correct. It is time for Trump to grow up. He is the upcoming President of the United States, not some love stuck kid playing with Twitter.

    1. dpaano January 9, 2017

      Not so sure about that…..he’s still a kid playing with this Tweeter! He’s the spitting image of a 10-year old bully in the play yard! Anyone that disagrees with anything he says is suddenly on his list and he cannot or will NOT accept any disagreement about himself without a “last word.” This is going to get this nation in very serious trouble…..watch and see!

  2. Darsan54 January 7, 2017

    The more helpful article would have shown how to write more accurate headlines.

    1. Thoughtopsy January 7, 2017

      I think they’re assuming that the media outlets know enough to write better headlines. This is more addressing their obvious lack of motivation to do so. (Sadly)

  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 7, 2017

    “Trump Says…” headline are helpful only for those who are too lazy to explore and investigate on their own. Trump, the GOP, and their cronies understand this and so they use this to gain the confidence of the hapless—Thus, the origin of the term “Con Man”.

    Rather than “Trump says…”, the media should consider using the opening “Trump alleges…”, “Trump tweets…”, “Trump whines…”, or “Trump complains…”.

    After all, Trump’s major form of expression is via whining, bombast, and citing what he overheard Breitbart or Alex Jones say, and regurgitating other dubious sources.

    1. dpaano January 9, 2017

      After all, most of the Trump followers never bother to actually read the articles UNDER the headlines, right?

      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 9, 2017

        Reading beyond headlines is a real challenge for people nowadays who’ve become conditioned to rely on slogans, tweets, and Ticker-tape text flowing hypnotically from right to left at the bottom of CNN and FOX broadcasts.

  4. Sand_Cat January 7, 2017

    It’s obvious that Trump never had anything to start with other than his own lies, much less “further information” about the hacking of DNC computers, yet his sycophants and the news media continue to act as if something is really there to report. He knows the public attention span is increasingly minuscule, especially among his followers, and hopes they will have forgotten and the promised “further information” while recalling the original lie as credible.

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  6. Dominick Vila January 8, 2017

    The issue is no longer the fact that what Trump says is usually a lie, a distraction, or an obnoxious statement. Anyone that still does not know that what Trump says is the exact opposite to reality must have just arrived from a very remote galaxy.
    The real question is why does he do it? I think there are many answers to that question, ranging from pathological problems, to a desire to control the media and attract public attention, to the need to deflect attention from his frequent faux pas, to the need to rally his cultists, to supine ignorance.
    The other question is how much longer is the media – and us – going to continue to pay attention to what he says, and dance to the tune he is playing?

    1. dpaano January 9, 2017

      As I mentioned in another article, I just finished reading a book about Trump that explains all that and why he is the way he is. Very enlightening. I don’t have the book with me, so I can’t remember the exact name. Will try to bring it tomorrow and let you know. I believe it was “Explosing Trump” or something like that….I got it at Amazon (not advertising Amazon, just saying where I got it). I highly recommend it as it would answer quite a few of your questions, and the answers are NOT pretty!
      It even goes into how he did business and the lies that he told to both the courts and to developers, etc. that seemed to get him in and out of trouble. It’s scary to see how bad a businessman he actually was/is and how he was bailed out many times by banks, friends, etc. to keep him from going even more bankrupt that he was many times in his past!

      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 9, 2017

        Trump’s bail-outs do deserve more scrutiny. How much Russia has helped with that remains to be seen—if the opportunity ever presents itself.

        1. Dominick Vila January 10, 2017

          I remember reading somewhere that he was bailed out by Russian oligarchs and the Deutsche Bank at least once, when he was on the verge of bankruptcy. There may be something else influencing his fascination with the Russians. I get the impression that he can be easily manipulated and taken advantage of. I would not be surprised if his first wife, born in communist Czechoslovakia; and Melania, born in communist Slovenia, have something to do with it.

    2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 9, 2017

      The question why Trump lies so much is an important line of thought deserving attention. There must be some deep-seated physical trauma he suffered, or some obscure biochemical dysfunction that would lead someone to lie, denigrate, and boast in such a serial manner, with continuity, and non-stop, coupled with just having no proper upbringing.

      1. Dominick Vila January 10, 2017

        It may be all of the above. The same goes for his immaturity, the way he reacts to the most trivial form of criticism, and his vindictiveness.

      2. dpaano January 10, 2017

        Again, if you read the book I mentioned, it explains why he lies so much and why he is the way he is. By the time I finished it, I was so mad at the people in this nation who elected this jerk! He’s been a con man in his business dealings; and he’ll be a con man in running our nation.

    3. dpaano January 10, 2017

      Dom: I brought the book with me to work today so I could give you the title….it’s “Trump Unveiled: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire” written by John K. Wilson. Very definitive and can probably answer quite a few of your questions about why Trump is the way he is. I recommend it to anyone….it’s not an expensive book; it’s a paperback basically, but I got it from Amazon if that helps (not advertising Amazon by any means). Great reading and easy to understand!

  7. bojimbo26 January 8, 2017

    No , do not banish the headlines , but quote Trumpy verbatim . In other words report what he ACTUALLY said , not what you THINK he said .

  8. Dan S January 8, 2017

    I don’t believe anything that comes from this fool. I won’t accept him as my President and I consider our country without any leadership. I’ll look towards more sane elected officials like my Senators, House Rep and Governor. It’s such a shame that people couldn’t see the con man and charlatan he truly is. I never thought there would be enough gullible Americans to elect someone so unworthy of the Presidency. We’ve had some doozies like Nixon but we’ve just lowered the bar to a whole new level

  9. ralphkr January 8, 2017

    A very simple solution to the problem of reporting falsehoods is for EVERY publication to add a new section headed “News from the Fantasy Alternate Universe” where all the irrational outpourings of Trump, Pence, Ryan, etc. shall be published. This shall greatly please the RWNJs that they have a section dedicated to their very own errors and shall please those with intelligence that the idiotic blathering of the right wing is segregated from the real news.

    1. dpaano January 9, 2017

      I like that idea!!! However, it would take an entire news section for all the BS that comes out from the “Fantasy Alternate Universe!”

  10. Theodora30 January 9, 2017

    Even the wording “Trump Claims” would be better and if his claim is demonstrably false, “Trump Mistakenly Claims”. The word claim implies proof is needed.
    Even worse than the “Trump Says” headlines were the two in the WaPo saying that Republicans had backed down on gutting the ethics committee after Trump’s tweet criticizing them instead of headlines saying they had backed down after being inundated by calls from angry constituents, giving credit to Trump for stopping this outrage. According to AM Joy, Trump’s tweet came after the phone calls had started flooding in.
    Even worse than that, a lot of the headlines and coverage did not make it clear that Trump’s tweet did not criticize what Republicans did, just their timing. Here is a better headline: “Trump wants Congress to wait awhile before they gut ethics office”.

  11. domenica2 January 9, 2017

    actually ALL headlines with Trump in them should be banned for a while. imagine the impact simply IGNORING Trump for a while would have! for every mentioning of his name is water on his mill, no matter the content or context…

    1. dpaano January 9, 2017

      Wow, he’d blow a gasket if he didn’t see his name in the headlines at least once or twice a day in all newspapers! It gets a little nauseating to say the least! Besides, everything that he says makes most of us cringe! This is going to be a very stressful 4 years for most of us as we watch Trump and his cronies in the Congress totally dismantle all the good that has been done over the past 8 years by President Obama!

      1. domenica2 January 9, 2017

        agree, except unfortunately Obama didn’t get THAT much good done, not even closed Guantanamo – probably his hands were tied… plus I didn’t like his drones one bit. let’s hope Trumps hand are even more tied…

        1. dpaano January 10, 2017

          President Obama couldn’t get Guantanamo closed because the Republican Congress refused to allow the prisoners to be housed in military prisons in the U.S….this is the ONLY reason why this was not accomplished even when he tried.
          As for Trump, they need to tie his hands more and take away his tweeter!

          1. domenica2 January 11, 2017

            I know… but what about Obamas drones? I have not been able to accept that…

  12. dpaano January 9, 2017

    NOTHING that “Trump says” can even be close to the truth, so why do the journalists and the media keep touting his so-called blathering!? And they wonder why many Americans no longer have any trust in the media! Maybe if they’d get off their duffs, strap on their balls, and do their jobs by HONESTLY reporting the news rather than continually regurgitating Trump’s BS, we’d be able to find our journalists and media as being back on track with honesty!


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