by Christopher Paslay
Inaccurate and misleading information on Trump abound. Positive stories on the president and his policies are nearly nonexistent.
Students doing research papers on President Trump and his policies may be hard pressed for objective information that shows both sides of important issues. Since he won the presidency in 2016, media coverage of Donald Trump has been overwhelmingly negative, leaving teenagers with an unbalanced view of the president and limited access to his achievements and the merits of his policies. A according to a study from Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project:
Two-thirds of news stories about Trump from his first 60 days in office were negative — more than twice the negativity seen in stories from the first 60 days of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama’s presidencies. Meanwhile, only 5 percent of stories about Trump were positive, compared to 42 percent for Obama.
Amazingly, network news (ABC, NBC, and CBS) was 91 percent negative from January of 2016 to March of 2018. “Out of a total of 712 evaluative comments made on the air, only 65 were positive, or 9 percent,” the Washington Times reported. “The rest — 647 comments — were negative.”
If this wasn’t bad enough, big tech companies continue to set their search engine algorithms to bury the positives about Trump even further. Paula Bolyard, the managing editor at PJ Media, performed a Google search for “Trump” using the search engine’s “News” tab and analyzed the results using Sharyl Attkisson’s media bias chart to test this premise:
I expected to see some skewing of the results based on my extensive experience with Google, but I was not prepared for the blatant prioritization of left-leaning and anti-Trump media outlets. Looking at the first page of search results, I discovered that CNN was the big winner, scoring two of the first ten results. Other left-leaning sites that appeared on the first page were CBS, The Atlantic, CNBC, The New Yorker, Politico, Reuters, and USA Today (the last two outlets on this list could arguably be considered more centrist than the others). Not a single right-leaning site appeared on the first page of search results.
Incredibly, 96 of the first 100 sites were from liberal media outlets; PJ Media did not appear in the first 100 results, nor did National Review, the Weekly Standard, Breitbart, the Blaze, the Daily Wire, Hot Air, Townhall, Red State, or any other conservative-leaning sites except the Wall Street Journal and Fox News.
In January of this year, I required my 10th grade English students to write a research paper on a current event related to a policy of Donald Trump. To my astonishment, my students were met with the same pattern of search engine results as Paula Bolyard. In particular, students were having trouble finding relevant information on the pros of Trump policy, and were inundated with results highlighting only the cons. This, of course, hindered them from presenting both sides of their chosen issue, which was one of the requirements of the research paper.
Information on Trump’s enforcement of illegal immigration at the border, for example, was completely one-sided and misrepresented. Articles talking about Trump’s heartlessness kept coming up, like Time magazine’s article, “Here Are the Facts About President Trump’s Family Separation Policy.”
The inaccuracy of this article was mind-numbing. Trump’s approach to illegal immigration on the border was simple: unlike Obama, he chose to fully enforce immigration laws. Specifically, his policy was called “Zero Tolerance,” which meant people who broke the law and crossed the American border illegally would be prosecuted and detained. Unfortunately, because the law stated that minors couldn’t be held in adult detention centers (or be released into the custody of anyone except a parent or relative), children had been getting separated from their families. Trump didn’t write this law, of course. It wasn’t his “policy” to remove kids from their parents. In fact, he issued an executive order to try to mitigate these separations, although in some cases it couldn’t be helped.
In June of 2018, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explicitly tweeted that there was no family separation policy. “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period,” she wrote. She also stated, “This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive. As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry.”
(See the Heritage Foundation’s article,“Who’s Responsible for Separating Alien Kids From Their Parents? Many People, but Not Trump” for a clear analysis of the issue.)
So Time’s headline, “Here Are the Facts About President Trump’s Family Separation Policy,” was totally misleading and irresponsible. Again, Trump never had a policy to separate children from their families; it was simply a law that was already on the books concerning minors and detention centers. But Time, through advocacy journalism, was not only fighting for relaxed/open borders, but was also trying to malign Trump, so the news organization felt it could misrepresent the truth; currently, Wikipedia has an entire entry titled The Trump Administration Family Separation Policy, which insists it is an official aspect of Trump’s immigration policy.
But the challenges with the research paper didn’t stop with Time or Wikipedia. Several of my students writing about Trump’s border policy wanted to know about Obama’s policy to serve as a comparison. But when they Googled “Obama immigration policy at border,” an interesting thing happened: they were given more links to anti-Trump articles. It’s true (Google “Obama immigration policy at border” and see for yourself). The first four results linked to articles which stated “Trump falsely blames Obama for family separation policy,” or something similar (nine out of the 12 links on the first page did the same). What did Obama’s border policies have to do with Trump being a liar?
Needless to say, when my students wrote their papers, some lambasted Trump for being a heartless creep intent on separating little children from their parents, which was exactly the goal of magazines like Time. It’s not that I wanted my students to agree with Trump’s policy on illegal immigration and border crossings – not at all. I just wanted them to have accurate information. If they advocated for open borders, or argued Trump should use catch and release, or even called for decriminalizing border crossings, that would be fine. It would be factual, which is what true education is all about.
But unfortunately, their research included a healthy dose of anti-Trump propaganda. To use a cliché, I try to teach my students how to think, not what to think. It’s a shame the mainstream media and big tech can’t do the same.