Empires Diaries Desk
May 24, 2020, New Delhi: On May 20, a certain remark from Donald Trump triggered extreme reactions all over the world, from shock to exasperation to disbelief to laughter.
The US president, who is well known for making mindless, tactless and derogatory comments, was reportedly at it again.
Websites of countless influential media outlets were awash with a certain newsbreak: that Trump told journalists it’s a “badge of honour” that America has the most number of coronavirus cases.
WHAT TRUMP REPORTEDLY SAID
Here are a few of those headlines from popular foreign as well as Indian media outlets, as published on their websites:
Trump says US topping world virus cases is ‘badge of honour’ (BBC)
Donald Trump says having most coronavirus cases in world is ‘badge of honour’ as all US states begin to reopen (Telegraph)
Global report: Brazil’s deadliest day as Trump calls US cases a ‘badge of honour’ (Guardian)
Donald Trump says US topping world coronavirus cases is a ‘badge of honour’ (NDTV)
America’s 1.5 million coronavirus cases is a ‘badge of honour’, says President Trump (Print)
People who read those headlines instantly wondered: how can the leader of a country – being in such a responsible position – say such an absurd thing? That’s the first and natural reaction from anybody seeing any of those headlines. And given that it’s Trump who’s reportedly said it, it’s perfectly possible to blindly believe them. Foul-mouthed that he anyway is, Trump is perfectly capable of making that incredible remark.
But those people who went beyond reading the headlines and went through the accompanying news reports in full – and Trump’s exact words – would have discovered something very interesting. That he didn’t actually say what the headlines suggest.
WHAT TRUMP ACTUALLY SAID
Here’s a quick recap of the circumstances of what Trump said that day (as reported in those same news websites that flashed the ‘badge of honour’ headlines cited above).
Trump was basically hosting his first cabinet meeting since the Covid-19 outbreak began in the country. On the sidelines of that meeting, he told reporters, “By the way, you know when you say that we (the US) lead in cases, that’s because we have more testing than anybody else. So when we have a lot of cases, I don’t look at that as a bad thing, I look at that, in a certain respect, as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better. So I view it as a badge of honour. Really, it’s a badge of honour. It’s a great tribute to the testing and all of the work that a lot of professionals have done.”
That’s what Trump actually told reporters. He never really said that the high number of cases itself is a ‘badge of honour’. Instead, he said it’s a ‘badge of honour’ because a high number of cases mean America’s coronavirus testing rate is high.
So, the headlines in the news reports cited above, and countless others, are basically misleading, if they are seen in isolation. On their own, the headlines indicate that Trump is hailing the misery of high cases as a ‘badge of honour’. But the full reports accompanying those same headlines narrate the story differently (and correctly) – that Trump hailed the high testing rate in the US as a ‘badge of honour’.
Here’s a video clip of the full version of what Trump said, as shared by Washington Post on its YouTube channel.
According to the latest numbers published by trusted global coronavirus tracker Worldometer, US health authorities indeed have recorded the world’s highest testing numbers. At least 14.35 million Americans have been tested for the coronavirus so far, ahead of second-placed Russia (at least 8.68 million tests).
NOT EVERYONE MISLED US
Not all of the popular media reported the news with misleading headlines. Many of them clearly said in their headlines that Trump hailed high testing as a ‘badge of honour’, like this Time magazine online edition report:
President Trump says America’s 1.5 million coronavirus cases are ‘badge of honour’ for testing (Time)
Donald Trump is often deservedly criticised the world over for his obnoxious, motor-mouth comments. For his brazen disregard for everything under the sun. For his shameless lack of respect for all matters that he speaks on.
But in this particular instance, it’s evident that he didn’t say anything that’s absurd (for a change!), but the headlines belted out by the popular press were highly misleading, if seen in isolation.
Even CGTN America, the US arm of the popular Chinese state-backed media organisation, has not put out anything misleading while reporting on this news on its YouTube channel. In its YouTube post, CGTN America wrote: “US President Donald Trump said that testing revealing the high number of cases of Covid-19 is a, Badge of Honour.” It’s important to note that CGTN’s balanced reportage comes even as Washington recently decided to clip the wings of Chinese media presence in the US.
BEWARE, IF YOU’RE ONLY READING HEADLINES
Of course, one can always argue that readers shouldn’t draw conclusions merely from the headlines they see. That they should read news reports in full to get a clear picture of what’s going on.
But in an era in which we are constantly bombarded with a huge quantity of news in a very short of span of time, it’s practically impossible for a lot of news-hungry people to invest time beyond the headlines. Such people are always vulnerable to be misguided when news headlines say something misleading – like the case study discussed in this article.