The New York Times’ Fact-Check Fail

The NYT’s “fact-checking” article on Trump’s SOTU address deserves special ridicule.

Conservatives already knew reporters at the New York Times were a joke, but their fact-checking article on President Trump’s first State of the Union address deserves to be held up to special ridicule.

The spectacle of a State of the Union address – especially a wildly successful one that seems to be boosting the standing of the one who delivered it – gave the Times the opportunity to conveniently deny Trump credit for his accomplishments all in one place, instead of spreading the niggardly naysaying out over days of articles.

Whether Trump, or any sitting president for that matter, deserves credit for an event happening in the country on his watch is one thing – maybe the practice is valid in some areas but not others – but the tradition in this country has been to give the president credit for good things that happen during his term in office (and conversely, to blame him when things go wrong on his watch). The buck, as President Truman said, stops there.

The leftist worldview is especially susceptible to president-as-heroic-figure thinking, given its exaltation of the power of government, and journalists are overwhelmingly left-wingers, which makes understanding the newspaper’s unintentionally comical “2018 State of the Union fact-check” feature easier.

The piece borders on self-parody as reporters sweep Trump’s statements into the unofficial, “True, but it’s Trump, so we’ll still find a way to trash him,” category.

First off, let’s look at reporters Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt who won’t give Trump his full due as Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s armed forces.

They rule, “True, but needs context,” the president’s statement that, “The coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria.”

Cooper and Schmitt write:

Mr. Trump is correct that the Islamic State has been forced from most of its previously held territory — 98 percent — in Iraq and Syria. But he is reaping the advantage of a strategy begun in the Obama administration.

American-led forces had already wrested more than 13,000 square miles of territory from the group by the time Mr. Trump was elected in November 2016. Things accelerated after he gave American commanders more authority to order airstrikes and make battlefield decisions. But the defeat of the caliphate does not mean the end of the Islamic State, or ISIS, as a movement or ideology.

So which part of, “The coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria,” is untrue?

Cooper and Schmitt even admit Trump’s decision to give “American commanders more authority to order airstrikes and make battlefield decisions” yielded results. Yet Obama, the Islamophile president whose catastrophic foreign policy led to the rise of Islamic State, deserves all the credit, they claim.

Reporter Binyamin Appelbaum attacks Trump for saying, "Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.”

Appelbaum chimes in that “[t]he math is correct, but context matters.”

The economy has added about 169,000 jobs a month since the 2016 election, but that is somewhat less than the 185,000 jobs per month that the economy added over the previous seven years.

Appelbaum’s contextualizing may be interesting to some readers but it is unnecessary. Either Trump spoke the truth, or he didn’t. The only reason to include the superfluous information is to take an unprofessional jab at Trump.

If Appelbaum wants to argue that the economy is under-performing in the Trump era he should write an op-ed instead of injecting his opinion into what is presented as a serious news story.

Then there is Trump’s assertion that “African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.”

Reporter Linda Qiu, who left PolitiFact in February last year, determines that this is “True, but needs context.”

It’s true that the black unemployment rate in December, 6.8 percent, was the lowest recorded, but that is also the culmination of a longer-term trend. Moreover, it’s an open question how much credit a president, especially in his first year, can take for the economy.

Again, Trump speaks the truth, implying that he is responsible for this bit of good news but the writer won’t allow him to take credit. Black unemployment may have already been on a downward trajectory that Trump had nothing to do with, but it is also possible that Trump’s leadership on economic and other issues played a role. For all we know, if Hillary Clinton had won the election, the economy may have gone into a tailspin and black unemployment could have risen.

Trump’s claim that “After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages,” is rejected by dishonest reporter Jim Tankersley who rules it “False.”

“Wages are, in fact, rising — but at a slower rate than they were at the end of President Obama’s second term,” writes Tankersley, whose stint as Vox’s “Policy & Politics Editor” ended last September.

Tankersley is apparently a sly fellow. He acknowledges Trump spoke the truth when he said wages are rising, but that the rising wages are not coming “[a]fter years of wage stagnation” under President Obama.

He helpfully links to a statistics page, the Wage Growth Tracker at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Center for Human Capital Studies. At time of writing, it indicated wage growth in December 2017 (i.e. the latest monthly data point listed) in the Trump era was 2.9 percent, which is indeed lower than the 3.2 percent rate given for the month Obama left office.

But this is too cute.

Remember that Trump said wages were rising after “years of wage stagnation.” Tankersley is interpreting “years of wage stagnation” very narrowly as if Trump had meant “the month of January 2017” taken by itself. This is a kind of rhetorical trick, focusing on the specific – and in effect putting words in Trump’s mouth – instead of the general. One month, obviously, does not a year make. It’s the kind of distortion that the professional liars at Media Matters for America do every day.

The Wage Growth Tracker indicates that during most of Obama’s time in the White House, wage growth was weaker than Trump’s 2.9 percent December 2017 figure.

Wage growth dipped below 2.9 percent in the dark days of August 2009, clocking in at 2.5 percent. It hit a low of 1.6 percent twice during the Obama administration – once in January 2010 and four months later in May. Wage growth then took more than five years to climb back to 2.9 percent in November 2014.

Wage growth so far has peaked for Trump at 3.6 percent in September 2017 and the weakest wage growth report seen under his watch so far is the 2.9 percent figure for December 2017, the most recent figure available.

Even if we accept Tankersley’s arbitrary selection of the 2.9 percent figure as the Trump benchmark, he’s still wrong. Wages grew at a slower rate for a whole 69 months (5 years and 9 months) during Obama’s 96-month presidency. Divide 69 by 96 and you find that monthly wage growth was weaker than 2.9 percent for almost 72 percent of Obama’s time in office.

Barack Obama ought to be known as The Wage Stagnation President; Tankersley, a gifted propagandist.

It is also worth noting that the low 2.9 percent figure is likely to be unrepresentative of Trump’s presidency, at least in the short term, if reporting by Lucia Mutikani of Reuters is to be believed. In her Jan. 31 article, “U.S. private payrolls rise strongly, wage growth picking up,” she reports that “U.S. private sector payrolls rose at a brisk pace in January as hiring increased across the board despite unseasonably cold weather, pointing to sustained labor market strength at the start of the year.”

“The ADP national employment report showed private sector employment rose by 234,000 jobs in January, beating economists’ expectations for an increase of only 185,000,” she writes.

The robust jobs market is gradually putting upward pressure on compensation, with other data on Wednesday showing a solid increase in labor costs in the fourth quarter. Tightening labor market conditions and signs of a pickup in wage growth are likely to be welcomed by Federal Reserve officials who have long expressed concern about benign inflation.

“It’s a myth that wages are not going up so the Fed doves can stop thinking there is slack in the labor market,” Mutikani quotes Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York, as saying.

The U.S. Department of Labor will publish January’s employment report today, she notes.

Tankersley took another shot at Trump.

He quotes the president saying in the address that “Apple has just announced its plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.”

Again, good news for Trump is not real news, according to Tankersley who snipes that the quotation “needs context.”

The technology giant Apple did, indeed, say after the tax cut passed that it would “invest” $350 billion domestically over the next five years. But at least $275 billion of that was simply continuing the company’s past spending trends. The actual amount of new investment appears to be roughly $37 billion.

Tankersley admits Apple made the statement about investing $350 billion in the U.S. over the next five years. Trump was merely accurately quoting Apple, a company whose chief executive officer is on the record as praising Trump’s tax reform package.

The headline of a Jan. 17 article by Mikey Campbell at Apple Insider says it all: “Apple CEO Tim Cook cites GOP tax reform as driver in $350B US investment[.]”

Reporter Coral Davenport dimwittedly takes Trump to task on energy policy.

The following statement by the president is “misleading,” she claims: “We have ended the war on American energy — and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal. We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”

Davenport whines that “Over all, the United States is a net energy importer, although it is projected to be a net energy exporter sometime in the 2020s.”

Note to Davenport: Trump didn’t say the U.S. was a net energy exporter at the moment. Those are your words, not his. He said the U.S. in “an exporter of energy to the world.” To export is to send a product such as a commodity outside of one’s country to another country for sale. U.S. companies do in fact export energy to the world, and no further clarification is needed.

Reporter Ron Nixon brazenly lies about Trump’s statements related to immigration. It ought to disturb fair-minded Americans that Nixon spent five years as an adjunct professor at Howard University poisoning the minds of the young by teaching a course called “Advanced Reporting and Writing.”

He quotes the president saying, “The second pillar fully secures the border. That means building a wall on the Southern border, and it means hiring more heroes like C.J. to keep our communities safe.”

Nixon claims “[t]he wall’s impact is unclear,” a statement that suggests he doesn’t know what a wall is or what purpose it serves.

He writes:

Homeland Security officials say a border wall would slow the influx of illegal immigrants and drug smugglers and help Border Patrol agents stop them. But it, alone, would not fully stop immigration or the flow of drugs; nor would it make the border fully secure. A majority of border crossings occurred in places where fencing or walls already exist. Just 30 percent of known illegal entries took place in areas without border fencing.

Here Nixon uses the open-borders lobby’s standard arguments as he makes the perfect the enemy of the good. A wall on the border with Mexico by itself “would not fully stop immigration or the flow of drugs[,]” he writes. Of course it wouldn’t, but so what? No wall, even with aggressive border patrols, would thwart 100 percent of all attempts at entering the country illegally. Nothing could accomplish that. But that doesn’t mean building the wall is a waste of resources. Walls work. Just ask Israel.

Nixon pillories Trump for saying, “The third pillar ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people.” The ruling is “False.”

“The visa lottery program provides 50,000 immigrant visas to people from countries with low immigration rates to the United States,” Nixon writes. Applicants must have a high school education or two years of work experience in the previous five years that requires “two years of training or experience.”

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, as it is formally called, was established by the Immigration Act of 1990. It is explicitly anti-merit, having been created specifically to bring in pre-established annual quotas of immigrants from low-immigration countries for the sake of “diversity.” The program clearly does “randomly” hand out green cards in the eligible countries, as Trump says, and does so without regard to “skill” or “merit.” Requiring two years of work experience or training is a pretty low bar that doesn’t necessarily mean the person would be considered a skilled worker. Presumably the requirement was included to make sure that lottery winners are at least barely employable and unlikely to become public charges.

Even though visa lottery applicants are not allowed to have criminal records and must pass a background check and an in-person interview, one could argue the program distributes green cards without regard for “the safety of our people,” as Trump says. Perhaps the program could do more to protect Americans, a point that is probably too subjective to adjudicate in a brief fact-checking article. Trump’s oft-stated desire for “extreme vetting” of visitors to the U.S. makes it crystal clear he believes current visa-vetting processes are inadequate.

As you can see, facts and fairness don’t matter all that much to these New York Times reporters.

President Trump can’t win with these people no matter what he does because being fair isn’t what the Left is about.

But rarely do left-wing reporters make their prejudices as painfully obvious as these reporters did in their embarrassingly unprofessional “2018 State of the Union fact-check.”

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