President Donald Trump speaks during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring former senator Robert J. Dole on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (Evan Vucci/AP)
There was no red carpet, no envelopes, and no happy winners. But the first fake-news awards did have one celebrity, who picked all the recipients and announced them himself on Wednesday. Or at least he tried to.
President Trump handed out what he modestly called the “Highly-Anticipated 2017 Fake News Awards” Wednesday night in an unceremonious ceremony held somewhere on the Internet. Befitting the bitter and mocking tone of the occasion, the Republican National Committee website Trump linked to on Twitter to announce the awards, GOP.com, promptly froze and spat back an error message.
“The site is temporarily offline, we are working to bring it back up. Please try again later,” it read.
When the website finally gurgled back to life an hour or so later, Trump’s score-settling and shaming of the media began, echoing the score-settling and shaming of the media that Trump dishes out most mornings on Twitter. The winners included some of the news organizations that he once branded “the enemy of the American People” in one of his more infamous tweets. CNN was cited four times; the New York Times twice.
President Trump announced the “2017 Fake News Awards” on Jan. 17. (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
The rest of the list was filled out with Trump’s accomplishments, giving the whole exercise a self-congratulatory air.
Late-night comics have mocked the cyber-ceremony for several weeks; Stephen Colbert even dubbed the awards “the Fakies” and campaigned for one via a Times Square billboard. Despite the comedy, the more disturbing element was the spectacle of a sitting president orchestrating another attack on the news media, a facet of Trump that delights his base but has unsettled even members of his party, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain.
The big winner — though of what was unclear — was New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, who predicted in 2016 that the stock market would be decimated by Trump’s electoral victory. That column turned out to be very wrong — the stock market has been sizzling for the past year, as Trump has repeatedly noted.
But Krugman’s errant call was both an opinion and a prediction, rather than news reporting, calling into question whether it belonged on a list intended to highlight, as Trump put it on Twitter, “the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media.”
Trump may have been on firmer ground with his second pick, ABC News’s Brian Ross, for reporting in December that during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had directed campaign adviser — and later short-lived White House national security adviser — Michael Flynn to contact Russian officials before the election. After the report caused a brief drop in the stock market, Ross corrected it, saying Trump had actually asked Flynn to initiate the contact after the election, when he was president-elect.
Perhaps in reaction to Trump’s fury over Ross’s mistake, ABC News apologized for it, suspended Ross for four weeks without pay and reassigned him.
But contrition scores few points in Trump’s media criticism playbook. Another of his winners on Wednesday was Washington Post reporter David Weigel, who inaccurately — or “FALSELY,” in the awards’ all-caps characterization — questioned in a tweet whether Trump had drawn a so-so crowd to one of his rallies in December. Weigel deleted the tweet shortly after he learned that the photos he saw were taken some time before the rally began; he also apologized for his inaccuracy.
No matter. Shorting a crowd count is apparently blasphemy in Trump’s mind, and Weigel was taken to the woodshed. “Washington Post FALSELY reported the President’s massive sold-out rally in Pensacola, Florida was empty,” shrieked the awards page. “Dishonest reporter showed picture of empty arena HOURS before crowd started pouring in.”
Trump’s efforts to call out “dishonest” reporting carries its own heavy irony, of course. Trump himself has had a lifelong love affair with exaggeration and hyperbole, and a sometimes hostile relationship with facts.
As a real estate developer, he regularly inflated the number of floors in his buildings to make them seem larger and more impressive, and he occasionally posed as someone he wasn’t to plant flattering stories about himself in the New York media. Before announcing his candidacy for office, Trump waged a long campaign calling into question President Barack Obama’s birthplace, despite evidence that he was wrong.
As president, Trump may have set records for the number of dubious statements. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker — which was somehow passed over for recognition by Trump on Wednesday — has tallied more than 2,000 false or misleading claims by Trump after less than a year in office, or an average of more than five questionable statements per day. This has led to suggestions that the president was surely qualified to recognize false reporting.