Several news organizations took remarks President Donald Trump made Wednesday out of context to suggest he was referring to undocumented immigrants at large as “animals,” when in context it appears the President was likely referring to members of a violent gang.
The comment in question happened at a White House roundtable discussion on the subject of immigration and so-called “sanctuary cities.” Complaining at the roundtable about confusion between different levels of law enforcement, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims brought up the violent gang Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13.
“There could be an MS-13 member I know about — if they don’t have a certain threshold, I cannot tell [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] about it,” Mims said.
Speaking immediately after Mims, Trump said, “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”
But several major media outlets stripped the context from Trump’s comments, publishing stories and posting tweets that strongly suggested he had said undocumented immigrants at large “aren’t people,” but “animals.” In some cases, outlets that placed the comments in context in stories removed the context in tweets.
“Trump referred to those crossing US border illegally as ‘animals’ and slammed California sanctuary state laws as ‘deadly,'” a now-deleted tweet from the Associated Press read.
The New York Times tweeted, “Trump lashed out at undocumented immigrants during a White House meeting, calling those trying to breach the country’s borders ‘animals.'”
In its story, headlined “Trump Calls Some Unauthorized Immigrants ‘Animals’ in Rant,” The Times said that Trump had “lashed out at undocumented immigrants” and warned “in front of news cameras that dangerous people are clamoring to breach the country’s borders and branding such people ‘animals.'” It wasn’t until the third and fourth paragraph of the story that The Times added context to Trump’s remarks.
A headline on the homepage of The Washington Post on Thursday morning read, “Trump refers to some undocumented immigrants as ‘animals.'” The story’s lede said Trump had “referred to some undocumented immigrants as ‘animals.'” It wasn’t until the newspaper’s sixth paragraph that Trump’s comments were put in the full context.
And ABC News, in part, tweeted, “Pres. Trump refers to some who cross the border illegally as ‘animals,’ not people.”
Other outlets did not directly accuse the President of calling immigrants “animals,” but failed to include in tweets the entire context for Trump’s remark. Those outlets included CNN, CBS News, and NBC News.
Spokespeople for The New York Times, ABC News, NBC News, and CBS News did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the Associated Press noted the outlet had deleted its tweet. A follow up tweet explained the outlet had done so “because it wasn’t made clear that he was speaking after a comment about gang members.”
AP has deleted a tweet from late Wednesday on Trump’s “animals” comment about immigrants because it wasn’t made clear that he was speaking after a comment about gang members.
— The Associated Press (@AP) May 17, 2018
A spokesperson for CNN said that the network had clarified its tweet in a follow up tweet and that the comment’s full context was properly presented in the linked story.
As reported in the article above, Trump’s remarks late Wednesday were in response to comments about members of MS-13 and other undocumented immigrants who are deported for committing crimes.
— CNN (@CNN) May 17, 2018
But a spokesperson for The Washington Post stood by the newspaper’s reporting. In an email, the spokesperson said, “Both the headline and the story are accurate.”
Trump said on Thursday he was referring to violent gang members when he made his remark, and that he’d continue using similar rhetoric when describing such individuals. Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, also said during Thursday’s press briefing that Trump was indeed referring to the MS-13 gang when he made his comments. She added that thought “the term animal doesn’t go far enough.”
While Trump’s comments were taken out of context, and media outlets do have a responsibility to accurately portray what the President says, Trump does have a long history of railing against immigrants, and using inflammatory, racially-charged language to rile up his base.
During the campaign, he infamously called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. And in his speech announcing his candidacy in June 2015, Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
And, as president, Trump has been criticized by some for hardline immigration policies, which includes a sharp increase in undocumented immigrants without criminal backgrounds. In his first year, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 46,000 people without criminal records — a 171% increase in the number of non-criminal individuals arrested over 2016.