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Anatomy of a Smear: How the Media Created a Malicious Lie About Trump's 'Animals' Comment

On Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump hosted a "California sanctuary state roundtable" discussion at the White House. Infamously, he referred to violent MS-13 gang members as "animals." Americans wouldn't get that impression from reading Thursday's headlines, however.

"Trump Calls Some Unauthorized Immigrants ‘Animals’ in Rant," screamed The New York Times's Julie Hirschfeld Davis. Her article referenced MS-13 only once, buried as an aside in the third paragraph: "He exhorted his administration to 'do much better' in keeping out undesirable people, including members of transnational gangs like MS-13."

USA TODAY ran with the headline "Trump ramps up rhetoric on undocumented immigrants: 'These aren't people. These are animals.'" To their credit, Gregory Corte and Alan Gomez included a bit more context than The New York Times did. Even so, MS-13 did not come up until the fourth paragraph, and the opening sentence suggested that the president was "calling undocumented immigrants 'animals.'"

NPR's Scott Neuman ran with the same kind of twisted headline: "During Roundtable, Trump Calls Some Unauthorized Immigrants 'Animals.'" Unlike USA TODAY and The New York Times, Neuman updated the story, including remarks from counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Perhaps worse than these selective headlines, various media outlets shared a selectively edited clip of Trump's comments on Twitter. The clip removed the vital context of his comments — along with any mention of MS-13 — suggesting that the president was referring to all illegal immigrants as "animals."

CNN shared the context-less video, complete with a quote from Trump. "We're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people — these are animals," CNN quoted. The outlet provided a context without any mention of MS-13: "During a meeting with public officials who oppose California’s sanctuary policies, Pres. Trump criticized US immigration laws."

While Trump did make the remarks at a meeting about California's sanctuary policies, that disclaimer does not count as context to explain the "animals" comment. Even so, each outlet seemed to think it did. Here's ABC News:

CBS News did the same, identifying the target of Trump's "animals" remark as "some undocumented immigrants."