Press coverage of Trump’s grotesque tweet fails miserably to explain what’s wrong with it


Donald Trump’s morning tweet doubting Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser’s allegation of sexual assault was grotesque: pernicious and ignorant in the presumption that all sexual assaults are reported; misogynistic in its implication that the sexual assault wasn’t “as bad as she says”; dishonest in that he said he had “no doubt” about something he knew wasn’t true; and combative in that it dared her to bring forth nonexistent documents.

But to the New York Times, at least in its “breaking news” alert and initial report by Eileen Sullivan, it was only newsworthy because it “ended his dayslong restraint from commenting on the accusations.”

That was the only context provided.

Otherwise, the Times reprinted the tweet and then quoted from it.

At the Washington Post, John Wagner and Seung Min Kim added some context, but only after the first several paragraphs, noting:

Ford said she told no one at the time what had happened to her. She was terrified, she said, that she would be in trouble if her parents realized she had been at a party where teenagers were drinking, and she worried they might figure it out even if she did not tell them.

She said she recalled thinking: “I’m not ever telling anyone this. This is nothing, it didn’t happen, and he didn’t rape me.”

The Associated Press story by Alam Fram and Lisa Mascaro is, as of this writing, primarily about “Trump’s apparent shift in strategy.”

The National Institute of Justice, citing the Bureau of Justice Statistics, findd that “only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported.”

The fact is that after sexual assault, it’s hard to know how to react — especially if you’re a minor.

Stories about Trump’s tweets shouldn’t be simply about the fact that he tweeted them. And they shouldn’t just assume that readers can understand what’s so wrong about them. Journalism requires context, here more than ever.

Previous presidents earned the presumption that most of what they said was worth reporting simply as news, with the context coming later. Not this president.


Highly relevant video from last night:

A good dissection:

And a father weighs in:

A New York Times columnist heard from:

Inae Oh at Mother Jones also points out that “Trump’s parallel made no mention of the string of sexual assault allegations—many of which include the very details of “date, time, and place” he claims is lacking in Ford’s story—that have been made against him.”

Appropriate speculation about motive:

Here is some research documenting the reasons why sexual assaults victims do not report immediately. (Hat tip: @bmyeung.)

It’s often fascinating to see breaking New York Times stories develop over the course of the day, using Newsdiffs. Here are the first set of changes made to the original version of the Trump tweet story, including the addition of a new fourth paragraph that says: “Many women are reluctant to come forward and report sexual assaults to authorities, in part because they fear they will not be believed.”

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