On Tuesday, NBC News learned that Barack Obama is refusing to participate in the ceremony for the unveiling of his official White House portrait as long as Trump is in office.
Yet, media outlets that covered the story after NBC’s initial report had an entirely different spin on it.
“Trump is refusing to unveil Obama’s portrait at the White House, breaking a 40-year tradition,” reads the headline at Business Insider.
Other outlets, in various ways, attempted to pin the blame on Trump for the ceremony not being held. “Report: Trump won’t unveil Obama’s official White House portrait anytime soon,” claimed USA Today.
The Sun even claimed in their headline that Trump “will refuse to invite Obama” to the White House for the unveiling, but only referenced the fact that “Obama isn’t interested in participating in the post-presidency ritual as long as Trump is in office,” in their story.
What the original story says
According to the original NBC story, “Trump is unconcerned about shunning yet another presidential custom, and he has attacked Obama to an extent no other president has done to a predecessor.” But there is no such claim that Trump is refusing to hold the unveiling.
What it does say, however, is that Obama “has no interest in participating in the post-presidency rite of passage so long as Trump is in office,” and cites “people familiar with the matter” as sources. It’s clear that the reason for the ceremony not taking place is Obama’s refusal. I don’t doubt that Trump is “unconcerned” about not holding the ceremony, but that is by no means a refusal to do so.
The most direct reference to the reason why no unveiling ceremony will occur is related to Obama’s sentiment that he has no interest in participating in the ceremony while Trump is in office. This is very specific, suggesting that this is the reason no ceremony was scheduled.
What other outlets are reporting
According to a CNN report on the situation, “An administration official said there have been some discussions between the White House and Obama’s team to hang the portrait but no date was ever officially scheduled,” debunking the notion that there was any refusal to unveil the portrait.
Some outlets have gotten the story correct. The Week, citing the same NBC report, used the headline, “Obama reportedly ‘has no interest’ in having his White House portrait unveiled while Trump is president.”
People magazine suggested in their headline that “blame” for the ceremony not taking place is shared equally between them. “Neither Trump nor Obama Want Traditional White House Portrait Unveiling Ceremony: Report,” read their headline.
Most mainstream media outlets, however, went with the fake news spin that it was Trump who was refusing to unveil the portrait. Neither the White House nor representatives for Obama have responded to requests for comment.
The bottom line
There’s no doubt that there’s animosity between Trump and Obama. During the 2016 campaign, Obama used the power of the federal government to spy on Trump’s campaign and later attempted to undermine the incoming administration. Obama, breaking with the tradition of presidents not criticizing their predecessors, has been a vocal critic of Trump policies.
It’s understandable if Trump has no interest in hosting an unveiling ceremony, but absent any sort of confirmation from either the White House or Obama’s office about exactly why no ceremony will occur, the best we have to go on is the original NBC News report, which makes no claim that Trump refused to host the ceremony, but very specifically states that Obama doesn’t want to participate in the ceremony so long as Trump is president. Attempts by the media to blame Trump for this situation are completely unfounded.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis