Trump episode shows why the news industry is suffering a 'bloodbath'

If Donald Trump manages to recapture the White House or overcome his multiple lawsuits, it will be because of his opponents’ overwhelming incompetence, dishonesty and short-sightedness. And featuring prominently among those “opponents” are many members of the news media.

On March 16, Trump told a crowd in Dayton, Ohio that President Biden’s re-election would result in a “bloodbath” for the U.S. auto industry. It wasn’t hard to understand what he was talking about. However, the Biden campaign, working fist-in-glove with the press, responded at once, accusing the presumptive Republican nominee of threatening a literal massacre should he be denied the White House a second time.

Trump said nothing of the sort. But members of the press and Democratic operatives appear to have learned nothing from the 2016 election. They should know by now, but do not, that flooding the airwaves with made-up scandals only advertises the Trump campaign, emboldens him and his followers, and radicalizes many potential swing voters.

“Tonight,” the Biden-Harris campaign said in a hastily issued statement, “Donald Trump said there would be a ‘bloodbath’ if he wasn’t elected and that if he lost, there would be no more election.”

The statement added, “This is who Donald Trump is: a loser who gets beat by over 7 million votes and then, instead of appealing to a wider mainstream audience, doubles down on his threats of political violence.”  

In actuality, Trump had been discussing China’s efforts to circumvent tariffs and trade barriers by building its cars in Mexico.

“We’re going to put a 100 percent tariff on every single car that comes across the line, and you’re not going to be able to sell those cars if I get elected,” he said. “Now, if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath, for the whole — that’s going to be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country. That’ll be the least of it. But they’re not going to sell those cars.”

Trump is difficult to quote because he often changes direction mid-sentence. But for anyone with a brain, that last bit about a “bloodbath” clearly refers to automotive jobs. Anyone watching this campaign or this issue would probably also assume that it was a reference to the Biden administration’s destructive embrace of electric vehicle mandates, which have U.S. automakers losing massive and unsustainable amounts of money building cars consumers aren’t buying.

Yet even though the full quote was readily available for all to see, and even though members of the press were present when Trump made his remarks, major news media dutifully lined up behind the Biden-Harris press release and parroted the claim that Trump was threatening to murder people like some insane Roman emperor.

“Trump says there will be a ‘bloodbath’ if he loses the election,” warned NBC News.

“Trump says country faces ‘bloodbath’ if Biden wins in November,” said Politico.  

“Trump Says Some Migrants Are ‘Not People’ and Predicts a ‘Blood Bath’ if He Loses,” the New York Times reported.

For the record, Trump’s “not people” remark was quite clearly made in reference to members of the notoriously brutal and murderous gang MS-13, not about “some migrants.” Right or wrong, it’s still a mischaracterization. 

“If I had prisons that were teeming with MS-13 and all sorts of people…if you call them people,” Trump said while alleging certain counties are dumping their criminal elements at the U.S. southern border. “I don’t know if you call them people.” 

“In some cases,” he continued, “they’re not people, in my opinion, but I’m not allowed to say that because the radical left says that’s a terrible thing to say.” 

Even before reviewing Trump’s migrant remarks in full, I was confident that he had probably been referring to criminals, and most likely members of MS-13. As with so many stories about Trump, I didn’t even have to look in order to know that his comments had been deceptively mischaracterized. Why? Because journalists pulled this exact stunt six years ago when Trump used the word “animals” to describe members of MS-13. It was deceitful and sloppy the first time, in 2018, and it’s deceitful and sloppy now.

For all the ink recently spilled lamenting the mass layoffs and shuttering of multiple journalistic outlets, perhaps an equal amount of ink should be spilled answering the tough question of why trust in traditional media is at an all-time low. Journalists and media pundits complain bitterly about misinformation and disinformation. But so often, especially when it comes to reporting on Trump, they are themselves the source of a great amount of disinformation.

And it’s not just bad journalism. It’s bad politics as well. 

By intentionally mischaracterizing his words, and by doing so where the facts and evidence are readily available for everyone to see, journalists are publicly proving Trump right that the media are giving him a raw deal. They are making him the martyr who fights to drain the swamp in which they live.

Meanwhile, the dust kicked up in the air by these pseudo-scandals is a smokescreen for Trump. Since 2015, he and his lieutenants have been using one bogus news report to dissipate the next, waving away legitimately scandalous things he has said and done.

You can safely ignore or even doubt what the media say about Trump because — well, why not? They lied to you about “bloodbath,” didn’t they? They lied about him saying migrants aren’t people, didn’t they? They lied about him praising and refusing to condemn white supremacists. They even awarded themselves Pulitzers for their coverage of a fake story alleging that Trump conspired with the Kremlin to steal the 2016 election. What’s stopping them from lying about whatever comes next? 

The great irony is that you never really need to lie about Trump. You don’t need to invent outrages. He’ll give you one himself, if you only let him talk long enough.

And this is to say nothing of the fact that all this negative publicity for Trump is earned media. CNN gave him billions worth of it in 2016. He will likely enjoy that and more in 2024. What a gift for a presumptive presidential nominee struggling to pay his legal fees.

Speaking of CNN, here is how it reported Trump’s remarks on Dayton: “Trump warns of ‘bloodbath’ for the auto industry and country if he loses the election.”


See that? They almost got it. It is, in fact, possible to report on Trump accurately. Yet many publications made a conscious decision not to because getting it right is apparently not as important to some people as “getting” the bad man running for president.

And they wonder why more people don’t sympathize when he calls them “enemies of the people.”

Becket Adams is a writer in Washington and program director for the National Journalism Center.

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