The AP Tweeted an Extremely Biased Take on Trump’s Wall Last Night

Here’s why that should concern all of us.

Evolution of the Associated Press’s logo, via ap.org

In a media landscape plagued by infotainment masquerading as news, the Associated Press has long enjoyed an unusually prestigious reputation. Founded in 1846 as a way for news organizations to share the cost of telegraph transmissions, the AP is, according to people who quantify media bias, one of the most factual, least biased sources of reporting. (The bar is not very high.) Among other things, the AP has been responsible for collecting and verifying the results of elections held in every US state since 1848—and declaring the winners.

Thats why this tweet, issued after the Democratic response to last night’s prime time Oval Office address, is one of the most ominous things I’ve seen in a while.

“AP FACT CHECK:” tweeted the verified account @AP_Politics. “Democrats put the blame for the shutdown on Trump. But it takes two to tango. Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for his border wall is one reason for the budget impasse. The Democrats refusal to approve the money is another.”

The comment was accompanied by a link to AP’s full coverage of Trump and the dispute over the wall he wants to build along the US’s border with Mexico, which contains information that adds some nuance to the “both sides are responsible” narrative of this hot take:

TRUMP: “Democrats will not fund border security.”

THE FACTS: That’s not true. They just won’t fund it the way he wants. They have refused his demand for $5.7 billion to build part of a steel wall across the U.S.-Mexico border

Democrats passed legislation the day they took control of the House that offered $1.3 billion for border security, including physical barriers and technology along the U.S. southern border.

Senate Democrats have approved similar funding year after year.

The article goes on to enumerate several times since 2006 that the Democrats have voted on funding for border security. They just won’t give him money for a wall that analysts from across the political spectrum, from UC Berkeley to the Cato Institute believe is a bad idea.

What the AP article doesn’t mention is that in December, in a conversation with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, Trump himself takes full responsibility for the government shutdown, which has left thousands of federal employees in all 50 states working without pay:

THE PRESIDENT: You know what I’ll say: Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other — whether it’s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call — I will shut down the government. Absolutely.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER SCHUMER: Okay. Fair enough. We disagree.

THE PRESIDENT: And I am proud — and I’ll tell you what —

SENATE MINORITY LEADER SCHUMER: We disagree.

THE PRESIDENT: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.

HOUSE SPEAKER-DESIGNATE PELOSI: That is (inaudible).

THE PRESIDENT: And I’m going to shut it down for border security.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER SCHUMER: But we believe you shouldn’t shut it down.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Thank you very much everybody. Thank you.

A full transcript is available on the White House’s website, but interestingly, the conversation is truncated in a video of the same exchange uploaded to YouTube by Associated Press, cutting off the part where Trump assumes full responsibility.

In the hours after last night’s tweet was posted, followers watched the ratio of comments to likes mushroom as many opted for comic relief to illustrate just how off-base the tweet was.

Others simply reiterated the facts, which apparently the organization responsible for collecting and verifying the results of elections could not be counted on to provide last night.

What conclusions can we draw from this tweet? I’ll be honest—between all the research on state-controlled media I’ve been doing for a talk I’m giving this weekend on the history of propaganda, and Elizabeth Goitein’s recent article in The Atlantic about the kinds of extraconstitutional powers Trump could seize if he decided to declare a state of emergency, my mind drifted to the possibility of a worst case scenario—deliberate misinformation from a venerable media outlet signaling the end of of its long, non-partisan history. But I’m holding out hope it’s just a rogue social media manager who will be disciplined for this shameful display of journalistic incompetency (and that the truncated YouTube video is simply a coincidence).

Back in December, the AP deleted a tweet about the death of President H.W. Bush because critics deemed it disrespectful and “filled with liberal bias.” It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes from the criticism this time around.

Artist and historian. PhD student researching religion, material culture, media, and politics. Bylines at The Wire Magazine, Art in America + more.

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