My social media feed was full of people mocking the White House yesterday for publishing a photo titled “First snow of the year!” on a day when Washington had clear skies and freakishly warm weather. What was the Trump administration trying to pull? Why would they publish such a blatant lie?
It wasn’t a lie. The photo was real photo of Washington’s first snowfall of the winter, but the picture was taken Jan 7. Once critics of the Trump administration established the narrative that the White House was lying, that message went viral.
Newsweek at first simply reported on the backlash, but posted an addendum with the explanation after the White House followed up by publishing the source of the photo (something they should have done in the first place).
Immediately after the tweet was shared, hundreds of Americans took to social media to accuse the White House of lying about the snow. “It was 70 degrees today. There is no snow out there,” national security lawyer Bradley Moss tweeted. “Narrator: it’s 53 degrees in Washington DC right now,” Daily Beast editor Molly Jong-Fast added.
Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. Hours later, at 11:33 pm ET on Sunday evening, the White House shared a flickr.com page that explained the photo was actually taken on Tuesday January 7, 2020.
Newsweek places this story in context with the controversy from September, when Trump presenting an official Weather Service map that had been altered with a black marker in order to conform with a prediction Trump had made about the path of Hurricane Dorian. (Trump is well-known for annotating documents with a black Sharpie.)
I don’t see that The White House had any nefarious intent when it published this image. But this is why I tell my own students to cite their sources. (If the tweet had credited Snowfall at the Whitehouse, taken Jan 7 by official WH photographer Tia Dufour, fewer social media folks would have juxtaposed the undated snow picture with a screenshot showing the weather in Washington at the time the tweet was published, and fewer people would have used the juxtaposition as evidence that the White House was lying.
As it is, the uproar over a tiny matter plays into the WH strategy of baffling and distracting its critics. It’s a nice picture, though it was unprofessional to omit the credit.