Media outlets uncritically quoted President-elect Donald Trump’s claim that he saw a “scene” of “thousands” of the group Bikers for Trump traveling to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration, even though BuzzFeed had reported hours before that the photos being shared online were recycled, having been taken years ago. As is well-established, media run the risk of accidentally enabling lies if they repeat Trump's unsubstantiated or false claims without including context or a rebuttal.
Trump Tells Foreign Diplomats He Saw A “Scene” Of “Thousands” Of Bikers For Trump Traveling To Washington
Trump: “They Had A Scene Today Where They Had Helicopters Flying Over A Highway Someplace In This Country And They Had Thousands Of Those Guys Coming Into Town.” Speaking at the Chairman’s Global Dinner pre-inauguration event, President-elect Donald Trump claimed that he saw a scene of thousands of Bikers for Trump motorcycling into Washington, D.C., for the inauguration. From the January 17 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 (emphasis added):
DONALD TRUMP: I also want to tell you, you know, so many people are talking about what's going on and now they’ve just announced we're going to have record crowds coming. I saw the Bikers for Trump -- boy, they had a scene today. I don't know if I'd want to ride one of those, but they do like me. That's like additional security with those guys. They're rough when they get on that Harley, usually a Harley, made right here in America. And they had a scene today where they had helicopters flying over a highway someplace in this country and they had thousands of those guys coming into town. And let me tell you they are great people. And we are getting -- I think I must have gotten 100 percent of their votes between the military and the police. [CNN, Anderson Cooper 360, 1/17/17]
Hours Before Trump’s Comments, BuzzFeed Debunked Photos Of Bikers As “Fake”
BuzzFeed: “People Are Sharing Fake Pictures Of Bikers For Trump Heading To The Inauguration.” BuzzFeed reported that “several pro-Trump accounts on social media are using pictures and videos that falsely claim to show large groups of bikers” heading to the inauguration. BuzzFeed found that one image “has been circulating since 2013,” another “appeared in a 2013 Spanish blog post about bikers,” and another “appears to be a video of a bike run for the Marine Toys for Tots program in Louisville, Kentucky”:
However, several pro-Trump accounts on social media are using pictures and videos that falsely claim to show large groups of bikers on their way to the inauguration in Washington.
This photo shared by several Trump supporters, including a popular Daily Mail columnist, that claimed to show Bikers for Trump headed to Washington for the inauguration has been circulating since 2013.
The photo appeared in a 2013 Spanish blog post about bikers and also in a 2013 thread on a Czech bike forum. [BuzzFeed, 1/17/17]
Media Outlets Uncritically Quote Trump
NY Times Used First Half Of Trump Quote That He “Saw … A Scene” Of Bikers For Trump Without Noting That The Claim Is Inaccurate. The New York Times quoted Trump saying he “saw the Bikers for Trump -- boy they had a scene today” without noting that the photos circulating around on the internet -- which Trump was undoubtedly referencing -- didn’t actually portray bikers heading to the inauguration. The Times called the comments “stream-of-consciousness style.” [The New York Times, 1/17/17]
NY Times’ Transition Briefing Used The Same Half Of The Quote Without Context. The New York Times’ transition briefing included the same part of Trump’s quote -- that he saw “a scene” of the Bikers for Trump -- without providing context about the photos. [The New York Times, 1/18/17]
Wash. Times Quoted Trump Uncritically, Saying He “Gave A Shoutout To Bikers For Trump.” Conservative news outlet The Washington Times noted Trump’s “shoutout to Bikers for Trump” and uncritically repeated Trump’s full quote, including that he saw a scene with “helicopters flying over a highway … [and] thousands of those guys coming into town.” [The Washington Times, 1/17/17]
Utah Standard News Posts Wash. Times Report. [Utah Standard News, 1/18/17]
The UK’s Daily Mail Uncritically Quoted Trump’s Claim. In an article called “Mr Trump goes to Washington!” that refers to Trump as “the Donald,” the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail described Trump’s “glamorous pre-inauguration dinner” and referenced Trump’s comment that he saw a scene of “thousands” of Bikers for Trump and “helicopters flying over a highway.”
Trump then joked about how safe the room was, referencing the gang of bikers traveling to Washington to provide a 'wall of meat' around the inauguration.
'I saw the Bikers for Trump — boy they had a scene today. I don't know if I would want to ride one of those but they do like me,' he said.
'That's like additional security with those guys, and they're rough. And they get on that Harley, usually Harley, made right here in America.
'And they had a scene today where they had helicopters flying over a highway some place in this country. And they had thousands of those guys coming into town.' [Daily Mail, 1/17/17]
The UK’s Evening Standard Quoted Trump’s Claim Without Context. The United Kingdom’s Evening Standard uncritically quoted Trump’s entire claim about Bikers for Trump without noting that the scene Trump claimed he saw wasn’t actually of bikers heading to D.C. From the January 18 article:
Mr Trump joked about security for his inauguration on Friday, when up to an extra million people are expected in the city.
“I saw the Bikers for Trump - boy they had a scene today. I don’t know if I would want to ride one of those but they do like me,” he said.
“That’s like additional security with those guys, and they’re rough. And they get on that Harley, usually Harley, made right here in America.
“And they had a scene today where they had helicopters flying over a highway some place in this country. And they had thousands of those guys coming into town. [Evening Standard, 1/18/17]
Voice Of America Uncritically Reported Trump’s Claim That He “Saw The Bikers For Trump” Who “Had A Scene Today.” Voice of America reported on Trump’s claim that there would be record crowds at the inauguration by uncritically quoting Trump’s claim that he “saw the Bikers for Trump -- boy, they had a scene today.” [VOANews.com, 1/18/17]
Media Outlets Have Consistently Been Burned By Uncritically Repeating Comments From Trump
This isn’t the first time media outlets uncritically repeated claims from Trump that turned out to be not based in fact. When Trump claimed in November that he was leaving his businesses to avoid conflicts of interest, outlets were quick to give him credit despite the lack of proof (Trump later canceled his first scheduled press conference on the issue, and ethics officers still have concerns about Trump’s business conflicts). When Trump tweeted a series of false and misleading claims about saving jobs at the Indiana-based Carrier facility, keeping a Ford plant from moving to Mexico, threatening Boeing for its contract to update Air Force One, and taking credit for a $2 billion investment from SoftBank, media outlets mindlessly amplified his claims, which often times fell apart in the face of modest scrutiny. [Media Matters, 11/30/16, 12/09/16, 12/29/16]
Fake News-Purveying Websites Previously Spread A Dubious Story About 2 Million Bikers Attending Inauguration
Wash. Post: Founder Of Bikers For Trump Estimated “Upward Of 5,000 Bikers In Attendance.” According to The Washington Post, Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox estimated that there would be “upward of 5,000 bikers in attendance. [The Washington Post, 1/13/17]
Websites That Push Fake News Launched A Dubious, Unsubstantiated Claim That “Approximately Two Million Bikers Are Planning” To Attend Inauguration. A series of fake news-purveying websites posted stories in December stating that “approximately two million bikers” would be attending the inauguration to “enhance safety.” This number is wildly out of proportion to the figure estimated by the group’s founder. [Conservative Fighters, accessed 1/18/17; Ending The Fed, 12/31/16; Angry Patriots, 12/22/16; Right Alerts Polls, accessed 1/18/17; Angry Patriot, 2016]
Fake News-Purveying Website Posted Story Referring To The Facebook Page, “2 Million Bikers 2 DC.” In November, fake news-purveying website Prntly wrote that the host of the Bikers for Trump event was hosted by “2 Million Bikers 2 DC,” a Facebook page with 6,585 followers. [Prntly, 11/15/16]