“Trump supporters bought bogus Obama conspiracy theory peddled by Fox Business” was the headline over at the Washington Post. The piece is written by Erik Wemple, a media writer who generally does a good job.
But this piece was not his best work. It discussed a segment on yesterday’s CNN’s “New Day” program, where Alisyn Camerota moderated a discussion with Trump supporters. One voter said that President Obama had told illegal immigrants that they could vote.
You really have to watch the clip to get the full condescension and loathing Camerota displays toward these voters. It’s remarkable:
— Eugene Scott (@Eugene_Scott) December 1, 2016
The voter says, accurately, that nobody knows how many illegal immigrants voted. Camerota asks if she heard President Obama say illegal immigrants could vote. Many of the Trump voters respond that they did, and they tell her to Google it. Camerota Googles and finds a piece at Mediaite that says “Fox Business Network used a deceptively edited clip of President Barack Obama Monday to argue that the president encouraged illegal immigrants to vote, when in fact he had done nothing of the sort.” She appears to immediately and uncritically accept this version of events.
Wemple also wholeheartedly agrees with Mediaite’s characterization:
Correct: Fox Business earlier this month committed an astounding hatchet job against the president, who had done an interview with Gina Rodriguez on mitú. Introducing the news, Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed that President Obama, in that interview, ‘appears to encourage illegals to vote, and he promises no repercussions if they do.’
No such thing happened.
At this point I should mention that I completely missed this story when it broke the week before the election. So my first encounter with the entire brouhaha was Wemple’s column. Let’s go to the relevant portion of the transcript of the original interview of President Obama by Gina Rodriguez:
RODRIGUEZ: Many of the millennials, Dreamers, undocumented citizens — and I call them citizens because they contribute to this country — are fearful of voting. So if I vote, will immigration know where I live? Will they come for my family and deport us?
OBAMA: Not true. And the reason is, first of all, when you vote, you are a citizen yourself. And there is not a situation where the voting rolls somehow are transferred over and people start investigating, etc. The sanctity of the vote is strictly confidential in terms of who you voted for. If you have a family member who maybe is undocumented, then you have an even greater reason to vote.
Wemple notes that Fox Business edited out the words between “Not true” and “The sanctity of the vote is strictly confidential.” That is indeed a deceptive edit, even if it’s of the type that each and every cable news outlet participates in by the hour. But here’s where I disagree with Mediaite and Wemple. They say that this edit makes Obama seem to be saying something he’s not.
Here’s Wemple: “‘When you vote, you are a citizen yourself’ is a phrase that should forestall any attempts to twist the president’s words.”
Let’s recap what actually happened. A journalist interviewing the president of the United States redefined citizens to specifically include illegal immigrants. Remember, she said, “undocumented citizens — and I call them citizens because they contribute to this country — are fearful of voting.” She asked if these “citizens” — by which she means illegal immigrants — should be fearful of voting because immigration enforcement can find out where they live and deport them.
The president doesn’t say: “Hey there, Gina, that almost sounds like you’re encouraging voter fraud. Voter fraud is a horrible crime against the people of this country and it should not be committed by anyone under any circumstances. People should be terrified to commit it.” He doesn’t say: “Let me stop you right here. If you come here illegally, you are not a citizen, and you are completely ineligible to vote.” He doesn’t say: “Let me be clear: Non-citizens do not have the right to vote and illegal immigrants are breaking the laws of our land and should fear being held accountable for that.” He doesn’t even say “By redefining illegal immigrants as citizens, you are giving a lot of ammunition to those who want to pass voter ID laws. You’re probably hurting your cause.”
He doesn’t challenge her redefinition of “citizen” at all! So when he uses the language of citizenry in response, it is either an incredibly inarticulate response to a question about breaking the law, or it can be seen as encouragement of such redefinition.
I don’t think that’s what he meant, since he also says “If you have a family member who maybe is undocumented, then you have an even greater reason to vote.” Of course, that statement isn’t exactly a strong call for rule of law in the face of lawbreaking, either.
The bottom line is that the media, from CNN to the Washington Post, think this is a great example of “fake news” being promulgated. A critique of slicing the Obama interview to remove some of its language is fair, if a bit overwrought. That’s because even with that language included, this is a horrible example for pushing the “fake news” narrative that media are clinging to in order to defend themselves from their many failures this year.
The edited language did not include a condemnation of fraudulent voting or of blatantly redefining citizenry to include people who are not citizens and therefore ineligible to vote. I certainly hope the president didn’t mean to encourage voter fraud, but he sure as heck didn’t come out railing against it in the face of a brazen call for it.
In a media environment of unbridled hostility to conservatives, one where everything Donald Trump says is taken with almost autistic hyperliteralism, this is a good example of why the fake news excuse will have little cachet outside of the echo chambers on the Left. It is a great reminder of the over-the-top generosity the media has for President Obama and other progressives. It shows the condescension that elite reporters have for Americans who don’t share their views.
It is not an example of conservatives falling for a “bogus conspiracy theory.” Far from it. This is an interesting media story, but not the one that many reporters seem to think it is. And highlighting Camerota’s condescension and unnecessary bias is not a way to get Americans to regain trust with a media that should be trying desperately to improve its reputation.