Trump, Obama seem equally disinterested in portrait unveiling — but journalism takes hits from both sides

On social media recently I saw people mocking Trump for “refusing” to unveil the traditional presidential portrait of Obama, and I saw people attacking “the fake news media” for pushing a narrative designed to make Trump look bad.

The original NBC story that broke this item accurately states that neither Trump nor Obama is interested in the unveiling ceremony.

There’s a whole ecosystem of people across the political spectrum who gain a following by commenting on news stories. Some are trained, working journalists; some are entertainers, and some are just random people trying to attract attention. I seem to remember a political cartoon that shows Trump defacing a portrait of Obama (which is nothing like what actually happened).

This brief news analysis from conservative outlet PJMedia is more useful than most attacks against “the media”, because it calls out individual news sites that exaggerated or mis-stated the story — and the evidence it cites is revealingly slim.

PJMedia makes a fair point by retitling the NBC story “A Petty Barack Obama Refuses to Participate in Unveiling of Official White House Portrait,” but by supplying their own anti-Obama headline the writer suggests the NBC story was anti-Trump. Legitimate news stories often get re-shared on social media under different headlines, but the headline I see on the NBC page looks appropriately neutral: “White House portrait ceremony may be the latest casualty of the political divide.”

I agree that the headline Business Insider chose, “Trump is refusing to unveil Obama’s portrait” is misleading, but like the NBC story, the BI story is perfectly fair.

President Donald Trump won’t be unveiling former President Barack Obama’s portrait at the White House, breaking a 40-year tradition, NBC News reported on Tuesday.

Obama would also not be interested in attending such an event, according to the report, which cited people familiar with the matter.

In its critique of “FAKE NEWS” Media, PJMedia cites a slim 7-paragraph USA Today item (“Trump won’t unveil Obama’s official White House portrait anytime soon”) that summarizes the original NBC story (leaving out the detail about Obama’s lack of interest), and a story from The Sun (which is a conservative British tabloid known for exaggeration) that puts quotation marks around the phrase “will refuse to invite Obama to White House” even though those words don’t appear in the NBC News story it cites.

Although PJMedia cites more examples of news outlets that got the story right than wrong, it claims (without supplying further examples) that “Most mainstream media outlets, however, went with the fake news spin.”

It seems to me that “Trump refuses to unveil Obama portrait” is a narrative spun out of a small number of hyped headlines (which are typically written by social media specialists, not the reporter who wrote the actual story), amplified by liberals interested in cherry-picking any news that makes Trump look bad, and further amplified by Trump loyalists interested in spreading the narrative that most journalists are intentionally unfair to Trump.