President Donald Trump's headline-grabbing "animals" comment in a White House meeting Wednesday appeared to be in reference to the murderous MS-13 gang — which his administration has been working to drive out of the country — yet major media outlets still saw the "animals" reference as a repudiation of all illegal immigrants.
What was said in the meeting?
Trump was listening to Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims call California’s sanctuary city laws a "disgrace" by putting her office in a bad position and severely limiting law enforcement's ability to "find the bad guys" among illegal immigrants. She used the notorious MS-13 gang as an example.
“There could be an MS-13 gang member I know about, if they don’t meet a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them," Mims told Trump.
“We have people coming into the country, trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are," Trump replied.
“These aren’t people,” Trump continued, “these are animals.”
“And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before,” he added. “And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get 'em, we release 'em, we get 'em again, we bring 'em out, it’s crazy.”
“The dumbest laws on immigration in the world," Trump noted. "So we’re gonna take care of it, Margaret. We'll get it done."
How has the media reacted?
New York Times
The New York Times ran a story with the headline, "Trump Calls Some Unauthorized Immigrants ‘Animals’ in Rant." Its lead paragraph read, "President Trump lashed out at undocumented immigrants during a White House meeting on Wednesday, warning in front of news cameras that dangerous people were clamoring to breach the country’s borders and branding such people 'animals.'"
Image source: New York Times
The Times noted the MS-13 reference in the third paragraph, saying Trump "exhorted his administration to 'do much better' in keeping out undesirable people, including members of transnational gangs like MS-13." The paper then noted the president's "animals" statement.
However, the Times posted a tweet about its story that completely ignored the MS-13 context and charged Trump with calling "those trying to breach the country's borders 'animals'":
Image source: Twitter
The Washington Post ran an analysis with the headline, "In reference to 'animals,' Trump evokes an ugly history of dehumanization."
Image source: Washington Post
The Post's lead paragraph noted that Trump "pointedly referred to undocumented immigrants as 'animals' in a statement his critics say betrays a gross misunderstanding of the plight of people who came to the United States illegally, and beyond that, little sympathy for them."
Interestingly, the Post's analysis included the full context of the MS-13 reference connected to "animals" and yet said Trump's remark shows "how lowly Trump views those who commit crimes after arriving in the United States illegally."
USA Today ran a story with the headline, "Trump ramps up rhetoric on undocumented immigrants: 'These aren't people. These are animals.'"
Image source: USA Today
It's lead paragraph read, "President Trump used extraordinarily harsh rhetoric to renew his call for stronger immigration laws Wednesday, calling undocumented immigrants 'animals' and venting frustration at Mexican officials who he said 'do nothing' to help the United States."
And USA Today — like the Times and Post — included the context of the MS-13 reference in relation to Trump's "animals" comment, yet the paper's lead paragraph and headline completely ignored the context and instead greatly broadened Trump's intent by implying he meant all illegal immigrants.
The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post didn't even bother to add "illegal" or "undocumented" as adjectives for "immigrants," simply noting in its headline and lead paragraph that Trump called immigrants "animals." Yup, just "immigrants."
Image source: The Huffington Post
NBC News' Andrea Mitchell — in a tweet piggybacking on far-left California Gov. Jerry Brown's "take down" of Trump — wrote that the president called "people trying to get into the country 'animals' not people."
Image source: Twitter
Like the Times, National Public Radio's headline on the dust-up included the all-important word "some": "During Roundtable, Trump Calls Some Unauthorized Immigrants 'Animals.'"
Image source: NPR
NPR's more balanced story noted the context of the MS-13 reference in relation to Trump's "animals" remark — and mentioned the "debate over which people Trump meant to include within the scope of his remarks" as well as counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway's statement that many had "rushed to judgment."
The Associated Press
The AP ran a kind-of, sort-of correction, noting that it "deleted a tweet from late Wednesday on Trump’s 'animals' comment about immigrants because it wasn’t made clear that he was speaking after a comment about gang members."
AP has deleted a tweet from late Wednesday on Trump’s “animals” comment about immigrants because it wasn’t made cle… https://t.co/nv30tAzWKE— The Associated Press (@The Associated Press)1526571329.0
What did the White House have to say?
As usual, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took no prisoners Thursday when the topic came up, as a reporter asked what Trump meant by "some immigrants are not people, they're animals."
Sanders replied that Trump was "very clearly" referring to the MS-13 gang and said the term "animals" doesn't go far enough in describing the murderous outfit.
"It took an animal to stab a man 100 times and decapitate him and rip his heart out," she said. "It took an animal to beat a woman they were sex trafficking with a bat 28 times, indenting part of her body. And it took an animal to kidnap, drug and rape a 14-year-old Houston girl."
This writer's perspective
The behavior of the some major media outlets in this latest can-you-believe-what-Trump-said episode would seem to underscore its collective, salivating hunt for the biggest hit, no matter how out-of-context or misrepresented.
One could call such practices sloppy if one is being generous, but journalists are supposed to be exacting and accurate no matter how they personally feel about the figures they're covering — and that's clearly not what transpired with the vast majority of the outlets mentioned above.
But then again, it's not nearly as sexy to accurately state that Trump called MS-13 gang members "animals" — given they've, you know, chopped off people's heads and committed all sorts of other vile acts. That's not a headline that sells or goes viral because a whole lot of readers agree with the sentiment.
However, when you can write a headline saying Trump called all illegal immigrants "animals" — or worse, all immigrants — then you have a shot at winning the internet for the day. And that's what seems to matter most these days.
TheBlaze's Deputy Managing Editor Chris Field contributed to this story.