USA Today on Wednesday published an opinion piece credited to President Donald Trump, less than a month before this year’s contentious midterm elections.
Trump used the opportunity to lambast Democrats, unsurprisingly. Specifically, he went after the party’s proposal to establish a national single-payer health care system. He accused the left of wanting to spread radical socialism by gutting Medicare, even though it is widely considered to be a socialist program. It’s a bizarre argument he has employed before.
Trump also said he had defended protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which isn’t true. No matter what Trump says, his Justice Department has said it will no longer support provisions in the Affordable Care Act that protect people with pre-existing conditions.
Editors for the paper appeared to use hyperlinks to direct readers to facts contradicting some of Trump’s claims.
Where the president said he is “fighting so hard against the Democrats’ plan that would eviscerate Medicare,” readers can click through to a September 2017 New York Times report that explains how the opposite is true. Another hyperlink directs readers to a November 2016 Forbes column by a contributor who said Trump would likely be the one to gut Medicare.
USA Today’s editorial page editor, Bill Sternberg, said in a statement that the piece had been fact-checked but that Trump, like any opinion author, had been given “wide leeway to express [his] opinion.” He said the paper’s opinion section is meant to as a forum for discussion.
“We see ourselves as America’s conversation center, presenting our readers with voices from the right, left and middle,” he said. “President Trump’s op-ed was treated like other column submissions; we check factual assertions while allowing authors wide leeway to express their opinions. Readers are invited to submit opposing viewpoints and provide additional context, some of which will be published in the days ahead.”
Yet allowing the full piece to stand without an editor’s note struck many as blatantly irresponsible.
Journalists and readers were quick to criticize USA Today ― a widely trusted national publication that says it has 3 million daily readers and 7.8 million Facebook followers ― for publishing the 800-word piece. The Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent called the piece “a White House press release disguised as an ‘op-ed by Donald Trump.’”
CNN’s Jim Acosta speculated that the piece may “break the record for the number of falsehoods from a president ever published in an op-ed.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who helped popularize the idea of Medicare for all during his 2016 presidential run, slammed the column in a statement.
“President Trump’s USA Today Op-Ed is just the latest in a long and blatant disinformation campaign designed to mislead the public while his administration engages in a purposeful sabotage of our nation’s healthcare system,” Sanders said.
This article has been updated with a comment from USA Today.