In this photo illustration, the logo for the Twitter social media network is projected onto a man on August 09, 2017 in London, England.

Source:  Frank Camp

During Thursday’s White House coronavirus press briefing, Aaron Rupar, associate editor for politics and policy at Vox, sent out the following tweet:

As of publication, Rupar’s tweet has 4,700 “likes” and has been retweeted approximately 1,500 times.

At first glance, this may seem like a simple partisan reading of President Trump’s remarks, but something much more insidious is happening here.

First, Rupar is leaving out a significant portion of the president’s quote about “leading the way,” and inserting his own words. Second, he is juxtaposing that decontextualized quote against data seemingly suggesting that the coronavirus response in the United States is lacking because the U.S. has the “most cases and the most deaths.”

Here’s President Trump’s actual quote in full:

You see states are starting to open up now, and it’s very exciting to see. I think it’s very awe inspiring. We’re coming out of it, and we’re coming out of it well, and we’re really – I’m very happy, the governors really have been doing a really good job working with us, and it’s really pretty impressive to see. I’ve spoken to numerous leaders of countries over the last 48 hours, and they are saying we’re leading the way, we’re really leading the way in so many different ways.

Trump first speaks about the states that are beginning to loosen their lockdown restrictions, and he commends various governors for their cooperation with the administration. This leads to the president mentioning that in his talks with foreign leaders, it has been expressed to him that the United States is “leading the way in so many different ways.”

The president doesn’t elaborate on the phrase “leading the way in so many different ways,” but it stands to reason that the plural nature of the remark indicates that these leaders are not simply speaking about case totals and death tolls. It’s possible that they are praising the cooperation between state and federal governments during the reopening process. That is indeed what the president was making note of just prior to mentioning the world leaders. It’s also possible that the conversations pertained to another aspect of the pandemic entirely.

Additionally, the data set used by Rupar is misleading.

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) Global Cases map, the United States does indeed have the most cases and the most deaths overall (though it must be noted that China’s numbers are under a great deal of suspicion). However, the United States is also one of the largest single countries afflicted with COVID-19 on a population bases.

When broken down by cases-per-million, the United States actually ranks 8th, according to the RealClearPolitics COVID-19 case tracker. Luxembourg, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, and Qatar all come before the U.S. in cases-per-million.

The United States ranks even lower when looking at COVID-19 deaths-per-million, ranking 10th, below Belgium, Spain, Italy, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ireland.

As for case fatality, the United States ranks 35th as of publication, below other first-world nations such as France, the U.K., Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, and Spain. It should be noted that the case fatality rate is an ever-evolving number that won’t be fully understood until long after the pandemic is over.

When a journalist removes vital context from a quote and uses a data set designed to complement the narrative they have created with that decontextualized quote, they are either unintentionally allowing their biases to guide them, or they are deliberately misleading their followers.

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