The Media Keep Failing To Publish Accurate Headlines About Trump: An Updated List

Before and since the election, media outlets have repeatedly failed to write headlines that adequately contextualize President Donald Trump’s lies. Simply echoing his statements normalizes his behavior and can spread disinformation, particularly given the high proportion of people who read only headlines. Below is an ongoing list documenting the media’s failure to contextualize Trump’s actions in headlines and sometimes on social media. Some of the initial versions were subsequently altered (and these are marked with an asterisk), but many of the updates still failed to adequately contextualize Trump’s remarks.


Stephen Bannon As Senior Counselor

Ford Not Moving Plant To Mexico

“Millions Of People” Voting Illegally

Trump's Business Dealings

Trump's Stocks

Japanese Telecom Deal

Intel Briefing Delay

Media Coverage Of Terrorist Attacks

White House Leaks And Protests

Trump’s Baseless Claim Obama Wiretapped Him

GOP Health Care Bill Protects Those With Pre-Existing Conditions

Headlines Are Often All People Read Of An Article

Wash. Post: “Americans Read Headlines. And Not Much Else.” The Washington Post reported on a study by the Media Insight Project revealing that “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.” The paper also noted “that number is almost certainly higher than that, since plenty of people won't want to admit to just being headline-gazers but, in fact, are.” [The Washington Post, 3/19/14]

Online And Print News Headlines About Trump Consistently Fail To Inform Their Readers


Headlines Failed To Contextualize President-Elect Donald Trump’s Years-Long Birther Crusade. After building “suspense” that he was going to definitively address his racist accusations that President Obama was not born in the United States, then-presidential nominee Donald Trump used a “circus” of an event to briefly say in September that “President Obama was born in the United States. Period" and to falsely accuse “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008” of starting “the birther controversy.” Trump also erroneously claimed he had “finished” the controversy by forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate. Online and print headlines published immediately following Trump’s claim largely failed to contextualize the event or note Trump’s lie about Clinton.

NY Times: “Donald Trump Retreats From Obama ‘Birther’ Theory”*

CNN: “Trump Finally Admits It: ‘President Barack Obama Was Born In The United States’”

The Hill: “Trump: Obama Was Born In US”

LA Times: “Donald Trump Finally Concedes That President Obama Was Born In The U.S. After Years Of Promoting Conspiracy Theory”*

AP: “Trump Finally Admits President Obama Was Born In The US”* [Media Matters, 9/16/16]

Stephen Bannon As Senior Counselor

Major Newspaper Headlines Ignored Or Buried Trump Senior Counselor Stephen Bannon’s Ties To White Nationalism And Anti-Semitism. After Trump released a statement in mid-November announcing that Stephen Bannon, who previously ran the white nationalist “alt-right” website Breitbart News, would serve as his chief strategist, major newspapers either downplayed or entirely ignored Bannon’s connections to white nationalism and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Headlines from many of the nation’s leading newspapers failed to include any mention of Bannon’s extremist views or ties, instead referring to him as a “right-wing media provocateur,” a “rabble-rousing conservative media figure,” and a “flame-throwing media mogul.”

Politico: “Bannon, Tormentor Of Establishment GOP, Gains Foothold In West Wing”

WSJ: “Bannon Set To Reshape White House Role”

AP: “Conservative Flame-Thrower To Get Key White House Position”

NY Times: “Donald Trump Picks Reince Priebus As Chief Of Staff And Stephen Bannon As Strategist”

Wash. Post: “Trump Pits Establishment Against Populism At The Top Of His White House Team”

Reuters: “Trump Hires Republican Insider, Conservative Firebrand For White House” [Media Matters, 11/14/16]

Ford Plant Not Moving To Mexico

Media Falsely Gave Trump Credit For A Ford Plant Not Moving To Mexico. When Trump falsely claimed in November that he should be credited for Ford Motor Co.’s decision not to relocate a plant from Kentucky to Mexico, media uncritically echoed his statement, even though the plant was never going to close and no jobs were going to be lost:

ABC News: “Donald Trump Takes Credit For Keeping A Kentucky Ford Plant From Moving To Mexico”

Bloomberg: “Trump Says Ford Called To Say It’s Keeping SUV Plant In Kentucky”*

Daily Caller: “Donald Trump Claims To Have Stopped Ford From Moving A Factory To Mexico”

Wash. Examiner: “Trump Claimed To Have Scored His First Win For American Workers” [Media Matters, 11/18/16]

“Millions Of People” Voting Illegally

Media Headlines Failed To Call Out Trump’s Lie That “Millions Of People” Voted Illegally. Media outlets failed to hold Trump accountable for his false claim that “millions of people” illegally voted in the 2016 presidential election by failing to state in their headlines and tweets that the allegation was a lie. The claim, which Trump used to dismiss his loss in the popular vote and to attack a recount effort in Wisconsin, was originally pushed by far-right websites. Even though fact-checking organizations debunked the claim, numerous mainstream media outlets initially either reported Trump’s lie without noting that it was false or hedged by writing in headlines and on social media only that it lacked evidence.

CBS News tweet: “Donald Trump: ‘Millions’ Voted Illegally For Hillary Clinton”*

CBS News headline: “Donald Trump, Citing No Evidence, Claims ‘Millions’ Of People Voted Illegally In The 2016 Election”

NBC News tweet: “Trump Claims He Lost Popular Vote Because 'Millions' Voted Illegally”

NBC News headline: “With No Evidence, Trump Claims 'Millions' Voted Illegally”

Wash. Post tweet: “Donald Trump: ‘I Won The Popular Vote If You Deduct The Millions Of People Who Voted Illegally’”

WSJ tweet: “Video: Trump Claims Millions 'Voted Illegally'”

WSJ headline: “Donald Trump Alleges That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally”

CNN tweet: “Trump Alleges He Would Have Won Popular Vote If ‘Millions Of People’ Hadn't Voted Illegally For Hillary Clinton”

NY Times tweet: “Donald Trump, Citing No Evidence, Claimed ‘Millions’ Voted Illegally. He Was Railing Against A Recount Push” [Media Matters, 11/28/16]

Trump’s Business Dealings

Mainstream Outlets Rush To Give Trump Credit For Vague Tweets About His Businesses. In a series of tweets on November 30, Trump announced that he would be “holding a major news conference” on December 15 to discuss his plans for “leaving” his “great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country.” The tweets included no new information on how Trump’s business dealings would be handled after he, allegedly, leaves them behind. But initial headlines failed to provide context for Trump’s tweets and merely credited him for the supposed move.

USA Today: “Trump Says He’ll Step ‘Completely Out Of Business Operations’”

CNN: “Trump Cutting Ties With Businesses”*

AP: “Trump Says He's Leaving Businesses To Focus On Presidency”*

ABC News: “Trump Says He's Leaving Businesses To Focus On Presidency'”*

CBS News: “Trump: I’m Leaving Business To Focus On Presidency”*

NBC News: “Trump: I Will Leave My Business To Focus On Presidency”* [Media Matters, 11/30/16]

Trump’s Stocks

Mainstream Media Outlets Uncritically Echoed A Fact-Free Claim That Trump “Sold All Of His Stocks.” Multiple media outlets published headlines that uncritically echoed a claim from President-elect Donald Trump’s spokesperson that Trump had sold his stocks, even though Trump’s team offered no proof that he had done so. The comment came during a December 6 conference call after Trump tweeted that the aircraft manufacturer Boeing was “building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion,” adding, “Cancel order!” In the call, a reporter asked Trump spokesperson Jason Miller if Trump “had investments in Boeing,” and Miller “said the president-elect had sold all of his stocks in June,” according to The Associated Press (AP). But there is no proof that Miller’s claim is true, given that Trump has not submitted any kind of financial disclosure since May and that, as the AP noted, Trump didn’t announce he was selling his stocks at the time. Transition officials have also refused to provide evidence of the sales.

Reuters: “Trump Sold All His Shares In Companies In June: Spokesman”

NY Times: “Trump’s Team Says He Sold All His Stocks in June”

Wash. Post: “Trump Sold All Shares In Companies In June, Spokesman Says”

WSJ: “Donald Trump Sold All His Stockholdings in June, Transition Spokesman Says”

CNN: “Donald Trump Says He Sold All His Stocks In June” [Media Matters, 12/7/16]

Japanese Telecom Deal

Headlines Credited Trump For Japanese Telecom Investment Despite CEO’s Confirmation That The Deal Predated Trump’s Win. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the CEO of the Japanese telecommunications and technology giant SoftBank confirmed to the paper in an interview that a $50 billion investment he planned to make in the U.S. would come from an existing $100 billion investment consortium set up “earlier this year with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund and other potential partners.” But Trump credited his election victory for spurring the $50 billion investment -- which he claimed would create as many as 50,000 jobs -- and numerous media outlets failed to debunk his unfounded claims in their headlines.

CNN: “Trump Claims Credit For $50 Billion Investment By Japanese Firm”

Politico: “Trump Takes Credit For SoftBank’s $50 Billion Investment”

Wash. Examiner: “Trump Announces $50 Billion Deal With Japanese Telecom Firm”

Daily Caller: “Trump: Japan’s SoftBank To Invest $50 Billion Towards New Jobs In The U.S.” [Media Matters, 12/7/16]

Intel Briefing Delay

Headlines Tout Trump’s Unsubstantiated Claim That Intel Briefing “Was Delayed,” Omitting Intelligence Community’s Pushback. Multiple outlets pushed Trump’s unsubstantiated claim on Tuesday, January 3, that an intelligence briefing had been “delayed until Friday” because officials “needed” extra time “to build a case” regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election. According to The Washington Post, an official said that the intelligence briefing regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election “was never scheduled to occur Tuesday, and that plans for a fuller Friday briefing have been in place for several days.” While some outlets noted in their headlines that intelligence officials have said that there was never a briefing scheduled for January 3, many others simply framed their headlines around Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that the briefing had been “delayed.”

USA Today: “Trump Says Intelligence Hearing On Russia Delayed Until Friday”

Politico: “Trump Calls Supposed Delay In Hacking Intel Briefing ‘Very Strange’”

CBS News: “Trump Claims Intel Briefing On Russian Hacking Delayed”

NY Times: “Trump Says Intelligence Officials Delayed Briefing on Russian Hacking”

WSJ: “Trump Knocks U.S. Intelligence Agencies Over Russia Hacking Review”

Wash. Examiner: “Trump: Intel Brief On 'So-Called' Russia Hacking Delayed” [Media Matters, 1/4/17]

Media Coverage Of Terrorist Attacks

Headlines Parroted Trump’s False Claim That Media Intentionally Underreport Terrorist Attacks. Multiple outlets parroted Trump’s false February 6 claim that media have underreported terrorist attacks and that they “have their reasons” for doing so. As PolitiFact noted, “terrorist attacks in the United States or Europe do get covered, though the extent of the coverage can vary based on the severity of the attack and whether there are casualties.” The administration put out a list of 78 allegedly undercovered attacks to back up Trump’s claim that “included high-profile incidents in Paris, Nice, Orlando, Fla. and San Bernardino, Calif. that received widespread media coverage.” Many outlets framed their headlines around Trump and his administration’s claim without noting anywhere that the claim was false.

AP: “Trump Says Media 'Doesn't Want To Report' Extremist Attacks”

Reuters: “Trump: Militant Attacks 'All Over Europe,' Some Not Reported”

NY Times: “Trump Says Journalists ‘Have Their Reasons’ to Play Down Terror Threat”

Politico: “White House Offers List Of Terrorist Attacks The Press Took Lightly”

USA Today: “White House Says Media Failed In Its Coverage Of These 78 Terror Attacks”

White House Leaks And Protests

Headlines Privilege Trump’s Baseless Claim That President Obama Is Behind Torrent Of Leaks And Protests Against His Policies. Multiple outlets published headlines that repeated Trump’s baseless claims that Obama “is behind” numerous leaks detailing the Trump administration’s problems running the executive branch and crafting policy, as well as widespread protests against Trump’s executive orders and Republican health care proposals. Only two of the following news organizations explained in their stories that there is no evidence to back up Trump’s claims. As The Washington Post reported, “there is no evidence that Obama has been personally involved in mobilizing opposition to Trump.”

CNN: “Trump Says Obama Behind Leaks”

Politico: “Trump Accuses Obama Of Being Behind Town Hall Protests”

CNBC: “Trump Blames Obama For Anti-White House Protests And Leaks”

The Hill: “Trump Blames Obama For Protests, Leaks”

Wash. Post: “Trump Says Obama Is Helping To Organize Protests Against His Presidency”

USA Today: “Trump Says Obama Is Behind Protests Against Him”

Trump’s Baseless Claim Obama Wiretapped Him

Headlines On Trump’s Conspiracy Theory That Obama Wiretapped Trump Tower During Campaign Failed To Explain It Was Unfounded. In their headlines, multiple outlets failed to note that Trump’s March 4 tweets accusing Obama of wiretapping phones in Trump Tower were without evidence. The president cannot order wiretaps; only an independent court can do so. Nonetheless, many headlines -- some of which were later updated -- privileged Trump’s claim by referring to it only as an accusation, unlike The Washington Post’s headline, which noted that Trump had cited “no evidence.” The Post’s report added, “Trump offered no citations nor did he point to any credible news report to back up his accusation, but he may have been referring to commentary on Breitbart and conservative talk radio.” On March 5, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on NBC’s Meet the Press that there was no FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign conducted under a FISA warrant.

USA Today: “Trump Accuses Obama Of Wiretapping Him Before Election”*

The Hill: “Trump Accuses Obama Of Wiretapping Trump Tower” “Trump Accuses Obama Of Wiretapping Him”*

NBC News: “Trump Accuses Obama Of Wiretapping Trump Tower During Campaign”*

ABC News: “Trump Accuses Obama Of Wiretapping Phones In Trump Tower”*

BBC: “Trump Accuses Obama Of Tapping His Phone”

Trump’s False Claim That GOP Health Care Bill Protects Those With Pre-Existing Conditions

Headlines Parrot Trump’s False Claim That GOP Health Care Bill Covers Those With Pre-Existing Conditions. Multiple headlines parroted Trump’s false claim from a CBS interview that the House Republican health care bill, the American Health Care Act, would provide protections for those with pre-existing conditions. As noted by Vox, the proposed bill would issue “waivers that states can use to let health insurers charge sick patients higher premiums, a practice outlawed under current law.”

Politico: “Trump on health care: Pre-existing conditions will be covered”

CNN: “Trump: GOP health care bill 'guarantees' coverage for pre-existing conditions”

CBS News: “Trump guarantees coverage for people with pre-existing conditions in health care bill”

The Hill: “Trump says coverage of pre-existing conditions will be in healthcare plan”

Fox News: “Trump guarantees new ObamaCare plan covers pre-existing conditions, in bid to pass overhaul plan”