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Monday, 17 September 2018 07:08

Trump, Obama and What "57 States" Really Proves About Media Bias

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BO 0917wrpPresident Barack Obama. (Photo: Robbie Wroblewski / Flickr)


On Sept. 14, Donald Trump was watching Laura Ingraham on Fox News Channel and tweeted his support for her theory that Trump is being held to an unfair standard that never applied to Barack Obama:

When President Obama said that he has been to "57 States," very little mention in Fake News Media. Can you imagine if I said that...story of the year! @IngrahamAngle 8:08 PM - 14 Sep 2018

In reality, Obama's "57 States" comment (made before he became president) was perhaps the most widely condemned verbal error of his entire life, and people only knew about it because mainstream media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times first reported it.

But "57 States" shows us the double standards of the conservative media, and their willingness to go to any lengths to serve as apologists for Trump and their desire to smear Obama no matter how trivial the excuse.

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In May 2008, Obama told a crowd at a campaign stop in Beaverton, Oregon, "I've now been in fifty …. seven states? I think one left to go. One left to go. Alaska and Hawaii…" Obama clearly meant to say 47 instead of 57, which is an easy mistake to make. "Fifty" is similar to "forty" and when we speak about all the states, it is ingrained in us to talk about the "50 states."

As mistakes go, this was the tiniest of errors, something all politicians (and all people) do that would normally go unmentioned in the news. After all, Donald Trump's far more numerous mispronunciations and typos on Twitter usually are never mentioned in the mainstream press, except when they're obligated to do it if they directly quote Trump.

But Obama's error became a cause célèbre on the right; one company even produced special flag pins with 57 stars on them. Rush Limbaugh used the "57 States" comment to repeatedly attack Obama, including on Sean Hannity's Fox News Channel show in 2009: "he's been to all 57 states, and he said that we need to hoist values." More than two years after the gaffe, Limbaugh would declare, "Obama thinks there are 57 states!" I documented at least 22 times where Limbaugh discussed Obama's "57 States" error using his vast empire of radio stations.

In 2011, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) pushed a right-far conspiracy theory on the House floor, claiming that the "57 States" error was proof that Obama was a secret Muslim: "And I know the President made the mistake one day of saying he had visited all 57 states, and I'm well aware that there are not 57 states in this country, although there are 57 members of OIC, the Islamic states in the world. Perhaps there was some confusion whether he'd been to all 57 Islamic states as opposed to all 50 U.S. states."()

In my book, President Donald Trump: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire, I devote a chapter to revealing Trump's obsession with conspiracy theories and his infamous history as a leader of the Birther movement that claimed Obama was a covert Muslim born in Kenya. So it's not surprising that Trump would turn to the "57 States" claim celebrated by the Birthers when he wants to attack Obama.

In reality, the "57 States" story reveals the double-standard applied to Obama and Trump by both the conservative media and the mainstream press. Conservatives like Ingraham and Limbaugh defend Trump's lies relentlessly, ignoring all the evidence to create an alternative conservative reality where "truth isn't truth," as Rudy Giuliani put it. And they relentlessly attack Obama and other Democrats over the most trivial of reasons, trying to create an equivalency of outrage even though Obama's errors cannot come close to matching Trump's misstatements, and the whole controversy mixes up Obama's rare incidental mistakes with Trump's constant repetition of intentional lies.

Trump became president in part because of media bias, because a vast portion of the media landscape is controlled by right-wing ideologues like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Ingraham, and the mainstream media is obsessed with notions of objectivity that led them to believe they had to create equal bad news on both sides, and breathlessly report on Hillary's emails to balance the actual revelations about Trump, while never using the word "lie" during the campaign to describe Trump's flagrant dishonesty.

In response to Trump's thousands of lies and his current lie claiming that 3,000 people did not die as a result of Hurricane Maria last year in Puerto Rico, the best comparison Trump and conservative allies can come up with is that Obama once accidentally said 57 instead of 47. This reveals how a liar became president, and how the conservative media became his lapdogs.