Here’s a tweet from a local Denver TV reporter that struck me the wrong way and I thought it was worth discussing. Kyle Clark does some really good reporting and has a terrific way of connecting with the viewer. But I want to take exception with him tonight.
Attention journalists. Let's make this the new AP style. https://t.co/oS6Te6swaL
— Kyle Clark (@KyleClark) October 30, 2018
AP is free to tweet what it wants and delete what it wants. But deciding not to communicate something the President says because you believe it to be incorrect is dangerous. The President said what he said and it should be reported as such. If there are facts in dispute, then we look to the press to point those out so as citizens we have a better view of what’s going on in the world.
In this instance, let’s start with what President Trump actually said:
“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States…with all of those benefits,”
Is he correct? No he’s not. There are 30 some countries that grant birthright citizenship. You can read the list here. You’ll notice that no European countries offer it nor do any larger countries with the exception of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Mexico and Canada definitely have birthright citizenship. There was even a case where a baby was born or an airplane in Canadian airspace who was granted citizenship.
Here’s the rub of it, Kyle. Is the President “lying” — by which we mean is he purposefully saying something that he knows is not true? Or is he giving the “executive summary” that gets our attention and then needs to have additional information added to give the full picture? In my view, people on the left see the former and people on the right the latter.
I used to give a lot of presentations to C-level people and I knew the best you could hope for was an easy to grasp call to action along with at most three simple bullet points. The kiss of death was trying to explain exceptions which didn’t affect the call to action.
The thing I personally like most about President Trump’s style is that he treats the country as if we were all CEOs, gives us the broad stroke, and let’s the press or Congress fill in the exceptions and the details. This is a great example since in order to provide the exceptions, Kyle, you have to note that there are only two countries of significance who have birthright citizenship which are Mexico and Canada. It pretty well makes the point that birthright citizenship is not at all widely accepted. Something interesting to investigate is whether Mexico and Canada simply followed our lead many, many years ago.
Rather than saying a few paragraphs of information that were “factually correct,” he sold the concept with one sentence and fully expects people to fill in the details. At the end of the day, the details don’t matter because they don’t change the basic premise.
Another way of looking at how the President communicates is something I did a lot of as well; I purposefully made a mistake. If you know that someone is going to work very hard to find something wrong with something you’re saying, the best counter strategy is to give them something easy to find that they can point out. Having met their need to show their vastly superior intellect, they stop looking for things to criticize. In this instance, while you’re focusing on the inaccuracy, the rest of us are going “yep, there’s Mexico and Canada but this whole birthright citizenship thing really doesn’t make any sense at all!”
Kyle, President Trump should be the biggest gift the press has ever received. He brings forth an issue and a direction he wants to go and is virtually begging the press to show the country both sides. He also knows darn good and well that his “executive summary” is inaccurate and is counting on you to demonstrate why that’s so and to explore the details.
Rather than deleting tweets because you think they are inaccurate, let me suggest another process:
- Accurately and dispassionately state what the President has said.
- Point out why the statement is incomplete or wrong. We’re good with that because the President is an expert at knowing that the things that are wrong, missing, or incomplete, don’t really affect direction he wants to go. They may even make it stronger!
- Fill in the details that are important to know so we understand things at a deeper level.
- Provide a summary of the pros and cons of both sides of the issue.
By the way, “Twitter” is not a good venue for trying to analyze and elaborate on a complex issue. You’re much better equipped to provide this kind of journalism.
You and other journalists are missing the greatest opportunity of your lifetime. It makes me sad and more than a little disappointed.