San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee vowed Friday evening to “resist” a registry of Muslim Americans allegedly proposed by President-elect Donald Trump, likening it to the policy of President (and Democrat) Franklin Delano Roosevelt of interning Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.
There is one problem, however: Trump never made that proposal. Mayor Lee evidently fell for a prominent example of “fake news.”
The idea of a “registry” was invented by journalists, as explained by Breitbart News in 2015:
Step 1: Seed. The lie begins with a Yahoo! profile in which Trump is asked, supposedly (the reporter does not provide his exact question), if he would “require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion.”
Trump does not say yes or no. Instead, he dodges the question, and comes back to the question of monitoring mosques (which the U.S. has done in the past): “We’re going to have to–we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”
Step 2: Amplify. The story is picked up by CNN. Sara Murray asks whether Trump would “rule out” a database for Muslims–borrowing from Walker’s article. Trump is surprised, and tells her, truthfully, that he never responded to Walker’s question.
Here is their exchange, as reported by CNN:
When Murray asked whether Trump would rule out a database for Muslims, he said he didn’t “know where you heard that.”
“Yahoo News asked you about it, you didn’t rule it out,” Murray said as Trump worked a ropeline after the event.
“No, I never — I never responded to that question,” Trump said.
“So would you not support it?” Murray asked.
“I never responded to that question, Sara,” Trump said.
He added that he didn’t “know who wrote it,” referring to the Yahoo News article, and declined to answer a follow-up question from Murray about whether he would “support something like that,” referring to a Muslim database.
Step 3: Distort. NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard confronts Trump: “Should there be a database system that tracks the Muslims here in this country?” Trump replies: “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems. And today you can do it. But right now, we have to have a border, we have to have strength, we have to have a wall, and we cannot let what’s happening to this country happen any longer.” Hillyard asks: “But that’s something your White House would like to implement?” Trump: “Oh I would certainly implement that. Absolutely.” Hillyard follows up: What do you think the effect of that would be? How would that work? It would stop people from coming in illegally. We have to stop people from coming into our country illegally.” Hillyard asks if Trump would go to mosques to register people. “Different places,” Trump says.
It is clear from the exchange that Trump thinks Hillyard is talking about new entrants to the United States, presumably Syrian refugees. But Hillyard reports Trump’s answer as if he is talking unambiguously about Muslims already in the United States.
Step 4: Smear. Hillyard comes back later, asking Trump: “Mr. Trump, why would Muslim databases not be the same thing as requiring Jews to register in Nazi Germany?” Trump realizes Hillyard is out for blood. “You tell me,” he says, and walks away.
The story goes viral: “Donald Trump Is In Favor Of Legally Requiring American Muslims to Register on a Database,” writes Zeke Miller of Time, linking to Hillyard’s story at NBC. A proposal Trump never made is now an established mainstream media fact.
On Friday night, Lee told journalists at the Islamic Society of San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Chronicle: “I am totally, 100 percent opposed to any registry that identifies anyone because of their religion or race.”
The Chronicle did not question the premise of his statement — nor did the Los Angeles Times or the Sacramento Bee, who made similar recent mistakes.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.