When Donald Trump’s campaign announced last week that he would go to Michigan to speak to former and current union members instead of attending the second Republican presidential primary debate, reasonable people knew there would be a catch—probably a big one. Indeed: Trump spoke at a nonunion auto parts facility at the invitation of management, with few union members verifiably in the audience. But he got what he wanted, because speaking to union members was never the point. Getting media coverage claiming he would do so was the goal all along, and the credulous media played along.
“It wasn't clear how many auto workers were in the crowd for the speech,” The Detroit News reported, adding that one person with a “union members for Trump” sign admitted she wasn’t a union member, and that another person with an “auto workers for Trump” sign wasn’t an autoworker. The relatively low number of actual union members in the crowd was despite heavy recruitment, Alex Press reported at Jacobin. Chris Marchione, political director of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 1M in Michigan, told Press, “My cousins are all UAW members. Every one of them got a text message asking if they wanted to go. The organizers are picking who they want. They wanted prospective attendees to pass along their social media profiles. Trump is curating a crowd, and it pisses me off.”
Yet here’s how New York Times photographer Doug Mills described the scene:
It took Mills 15 hours to delete the tweet and post a correction.
A Times article featuring Mills’ photos said Trump and Biden “tried to woo voters affected by the United Automobile Workers strike”—Trump with his speech and Biden by becoming the first sitting U.S. president to join striking workers on the picket line. But the article didn’t mention that Trump’s speech was at a nonunion facility until the sixth paragraph. Apparently, that Trump “prefers a boisterous event that lets him take center stage” is information that needed to come earlier than the fact that Trump’s attempt to “woo voters affected by the United Automobile Workers strike” took place at a nonunion facility.
Similarly, The Washington Post headlined an article “Trump demands union support for nationalist vision, warns of doom otherwise,” and mentioned that Trump was on “a factory floor” on Wednesday evening. It isn’t until its 14th paragraph that the article notes: “The union did not sanction or participate in Trump’s speech, though several individual attendees said they were members.” And it isn’t until the 19th paragraph that it mentions that said factory was nonunion.
Politico, likewise, had Trump “trying to woo auto workers in a critical battleground state” in the second paragraph of an article on his speech, but waited until the eighth paragraph to mention the nonunion plant.
This is a fact that matters when we discuss a candidate’s outreach to workers in the context of a major strike. Trump may claim he’s on the side of autoworkers, but his choice of venue is a statement about his allies and his priorities. Those priorities are well established: Trump and his policies have never been on the side of workers. He has broken promise after promise to working people, because his promises are made only to gain votes or get crowds to cheer. When his campaign claims he’s going to speak to union workers, Trump and Co. are trying to get the media to report it as fact and never fully correct the record. Will the media ever catch on?
Add your name in solidarity with auto workers.