This weekend, the Wall Street Journal‘s Carole Lee wrote a perfectly accurate story about Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledging to donate $100 million to a World Bank fund for women entrepreneurs. The article noted that the fund was Ivanka Trump’s idea and that she was at the event where the pledge was announced.
When Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Ballhaus tweeted out a link to her colleague’s story, she spun it in such a way as to add inaccuracies. First she reclassified a World Bank fund as a fund belonging to Ivanka Trump.
Then she claimed that the donation from the two countries were therefore akin to what Trump pilloried Hillary Clinton for.
Clinton was criticized by Trump and others for issues surrounding the billions of dollars her charity raised, and the millions of dollars taken in by Clinton family members for speeches. The Clinton Foundation received money from countries at the same time they had business before Secretary of State Clinton. Clinton’s husband Bill received huge sums of cash for speeches given to groups that also had business before the U.S. government. (This 2008 New York Times story shows a bit about how the Clintons greased skids to secure deals in ways that some found questionable.)
Ballhaus’ tweets, which went viral, were followed by others that did the same. Here’s a New York Times investigative reporter:
CNN reporter Jim Sciutto who, even for a former Obama political appointee, stands out for his partisanship, made the false claim that a donation to a World Bank fund was “virtually identical” to the ethical problems raised by the Clintons.
A Wall Street Journal writer noted the false news being promulgated by the tweet:
CNN contributor Ana Navarro’s tweet falsely suggesting an Ivanka charity was receiving Saudi money was shared tens of thousands of times:
CNN’s story on the donation, spun in a harshly critical fashion, began:
Just two days into President Donald Trump’s debut foreign trip, a member of his inner-circle has already reaped benefits to the tune of $100 million.
The bullet-point “highlights” of the story were, and I kid you not:
The fund aims to provide to female entrepreneurs with financial support in the form of capital and access to networking
But the fund could open the President up to charges of hypocrisy
Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on media, politics, and public policy last week reported its research showing that 93 percent of all Trump news from CNN was negative. Ninety-three percent. It is perhaps worth noting that CNN managed to completely botch its report on the Shorenstein study this weekend.
The false information about the donation was also spread by journalists at other media outlets and liberal actor George Takei. As Sohrab Ahmari noted, “It went from a donation to the World Bank (the truth) to ‘Ivanka Fund’ and now ‘Ivanka’s charity’” courtesy of Takei:
There are three reasons that this fake news went viral, in no particular order.
1) The original report on the fund, from a new online site called Axios, was imprecise. That publication reported that Ivanka Trump had begun building a massive fund and referred to it as her fund. As the Washington Post‘s David Fahrenthold explained, though, “the first daughter would have no role in raising money for such a fund or deciding where its money would be spent, a Trump administration official said.” He noted that the idea for a fund for women entrepreneurs was Ivanka Trump’s, but that the World Bank and White House issued a statement that the fund would be managed by the World Bank.
2) The Trump family has a lack of transparency. President Donald Trump chose not to release his tax returns, unlike every major-party presidential candidate in recent decades. Because he has significant business interests around the globe, the American public has reasonable questions that have not been answered regarding any potential conflicts of interest.
3) A cartoonish hostility in the media to Trump. Finally, reporters, pundits, and activists (but I repeat myself!) are so hostile to Trump that they are willing to push out negative stories without checking out the underlying facts. More is expected of journalists, who already have very little credibility with readers.