If the press corps is trying to engender more trust among the American electorate, some reporters aren’t doing a good job of proving their objectivity.
On Tuesday, American Urban Radio Networks White House correspondent April Ryan, a veteran reporter with decades of experience, erroneously accused President Donald Trump of claiming that “white America” built the United States.
Ryan asked the question during the daily White House briefing following the president’s tour of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture on Tuesday.
“What did the president gain from his tour today? You talked about where he visited, the exhibits that he visited. Did he also visit [the slavery exhibit]?” she asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer. “And the reason why I’m asking this is because, when he was candidate Trump, he said things like, you know, ‘We made this country,’ meaning white America, not necessarily black.”
Spicer immediately pushed back, unsure why the reporter would make such an inflammatory claim. Nevertheless, Ryan sternly interjected, “No, no, no. He said that. I heard him say that.” At the time, she pointed to no evidence to bolster her accusation.
On Wednesday, Ryan offered what she sees as proof to back up her claim. However, it appears viewers have to have a few presuppositions about Trump — namely, that he’s racist — in order to hear what Ryan says she heard.
So here’s what happened: During a March 15 campaign rally in Vandalia, Ohio, Trump told his supporters, “We cannot let our First Amendment rights be taken away from us.”
We have the right to speak. We’re law-abiding people. We’re people that work very hard. We’re people who’ve built this country and made this country great. And we’re all together, and we want to get along with everybody. But when they have organized, professionally staged wise guys, we’ve got to fight back, we’ve got to fight back.
Ryan appears to be making the assumption that by “we,” Trump was referring to “white America.” She backed up that assumption by tweeting, “This rally happened right after the cancellation of the Chicago rally due to violence.” And in a statement to the Washington Post, the reporter argued that “the audience for the event was predominantly white” and that Trump made the comments in response to “that highly charged event.”
A question: So what does "we built this country" mean in front of a predominantly white crowd?
— AprilDRyan (@AprilDRyan) February 22, 2017
Mediaite’s Alex Griswold pushed back Wednesday morning:
This seems like a stretch to me. When a Trump rally is shut down by violent protests and a week later he goes on about how “we” are being denied First Amendment rights and “we” are law-abiding, the clear meaning of “we” is his supporters. And in a country that is “predominantly white,” politicians will give speeches before predominantly white audiences all the time. There were some pretty lily white Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders rallies as I recall. How many of those contained coded racism?
If journalists like Ryan are going to make such bold claims about Trump, or anyone for that matter, Griswold wrote, it is their “responsibility” to back up those assertions.
Accusations like Ryan’s have likely impacted Americans’ diminished trust in the mainstream media. According to 2016 Gallup data, only 32 percent of Americans trust the media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” — the lowest level in the research agency’s history.
And by a slim 45-to-42 percent margin, more voters trust the Trump administration to “tell the public the truth” than they trust journalists to accurately report on the White House, according to a Fox News poll from earlier this month.
The Ryan-Spicer interaction follows Trump’s assertion last week that the media is “an enemy of the American people.” In a tweet, the president claimed that the “failing” New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and CNN all spread “fake news” about his administration.