When the White House released the erroneous fact that president Obama would be the first President since John F. Kennedy to visit Puerto Rico, CNN, NPR and others accepted it as fact and began reporting it. Without checking the White House's spin, many media organizations highlighted Obama's visit and failed to find that the White House was wrong -- President Gerald Ford had visited Puerto Rico in 1976 and was the last president to do so. While many outlets reported the error, CNN and NPR repeated it and failed to correct the mistake while highlighting the trip.
National Public Radio used the erroneous statistic to develop a stand-alone story, highlight its significance for Puerto Rican Americans and give President Obama accolades for his commitment to the island. NPR host Melissa Block introduced the piece titled, "Why is Obama Going to Puerto Rico", by stressing "what Obama's visit means to a growing Puerto Rican population -- and his re-election efforts." Block interviewed Frances Robles, correspondent with the Miami Herald, from Puerto Rico who also emphasized the historic visit. When Robles confronted the White House and NPR's error at the top of her interview, Block failed to acknowledge it. Block never corrected NPR's error even when challenged. In subsequent news updates, NPR repeated the White House's factual blunder despite online fact checkers highlighting it.
CNN also failed to investigate the White House's claim and even ignored a plethora of online corrections from various reporters and fact-checkers who caught the White House spin early on. Shortly after the White House press release highlighting the president's trip, bloggers found that not only had President Ford visited Puerto Rico in 1976, but President Lyndon B. Johnson visited the island in 1968. The White House had failed to notice.
And so did CNN. For 24 hours after the White House's false claim, CNN failed to question it. CNN took Obama's arrival in Puerto Rico live with the headline "Obama in Puerto Rico. First presidential visit since JFK 50 years ago". Host Suzanne Malveaux hyped the trip with pronouncements like, "(Obama) fulfilled his promise to come back" and "There's a lot of excitement about the trip" and "more than 4 million Puerto Ricans live on the mainland" and "This is an historic trip for Obama". All pitches built around an error that CNN failed to check or correct. The mistake could have been chalked up to one big error if "the best political team on television" wasn't so Johnny on the spot with fact-checking Palin, Boehner, Bush, Romney, Ryan, Gingrich, etc. For example, shortly after her Puerto Rico error, Malveaux interviewed Angie Holan from The St. Petersburg Times in a segment titled "Checking The Truth-O-Meter" where the two questioned the accuracy of claims made by Republicans at the presidential debate in New Hampshire last night.
While it's reasonable to conclude that a simple mistake was made by the White House in its initial announcement of Obama's trip, it's disturbing to see staffers not correct their error. It's more troubling to see media outlets like NPR and CNN not only fail to fact-check, but ignore the truth when confronted with it. Both NPR and CNN should correct their mistake and come clean as to how it happened.
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