The New York Times faced criticism after implying in a tweet that far fewer members of the New England Patriots football team attended a White House visit with President Donald Trump than just two years ago with President Barack Obama.
The newspaper’s sports account sent out a tweet that linked to a story about how fewer Patriots players were at the 2017 ceremony than in prior years. The tweet included the following images, and was sent out at 4:25 p.m. Eastern on April 19, 2017:
The top image is the team’s trip to the White House on April 23, 2015, to celebrate the Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl XLIX. The bottom image is their April 19 visit for their come-from-behind win in Super Bowl LI. The post was retweeted almost 49,000 times.
The photos appear to show that a mere fraction of the team showed up to visit Trump, compared to the sprawling entourage that visited Obama. The comparison recalled the January 2017 dispute over images showing smaller crowds for Trump’s inauguration than for Obama’s 2009 swearing-in.
But while several players were absent from the 2017 visit, it’s difficult to fairly compare the two photographs. The 2015 photo showed the team and its administrative staff, while the 2017 photo did not.
The Patriots pointed this out at 8:45 p.m. the same day, noting that more than 40 staff members were seated instead of lining the staircases, forcing the New York Times to backpeddle a bit.
Why no photo with the entire staff this year? "That’s just what the White House chose to do," team spokesman Stacey James told the Boston Globe. The Patriots provided the Globe with a photo the team had tweeted of the ceremony’s rehearsal that did include more than 100 players and staffers.
Another tweet from the team included images that the Patriots said were a fair comparison by showing only the players and not the full staff. That example included a photo of the team visiting President George W. Bush on May 10, 2004.
The New York Times updated its tweet by noting that the Patriots said 34 players visited in 2017 and 50 attended in 2015, but the total number of team and staff was "roughly the same."
The newspaper’s story noted that several key Patriots players like LeGarrette Blount, Chris Long, Alan Branch, Dont’a Hightower, Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty had stayed away specifically because they did not support Trump.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick have described themselves as Trump’s friends. So has quarterback Tom Brady, who had announced in a statement before the gathering that he would be absent because of "personal family matters." Brady also skipped the 2015 ceremony.
NESN Patriots reporter Doug Kyed tweeted out a list of players who did not attend the ceremony before the New York Times story published.
We attempted to contact both the New York Times and the Patriots via phone and email, but neither responded with any comment beyond prior public statements.
Another element to the attendance appears to be that, well, it’s just not all that special for a team that’s won five Super Bowls since 2002 to visit the White House.
The New York Times story provided figures from James, who said 45 players went to the White House in 2002, when Bush was president, closer to 2015’s 50 players. But in 2004 and 2005, the players numbered closer to this week’s 34 player attendees. (WBZ-TV sports anchor Dan Roche tweeted 36 players went in 2004, and just 27 in 2005.)
"Bad tweet by me. Terrible tweet. I wish I could say it’s complicated, but no, this one is pretty straightforward: I’m an idiot. It was my idea, it was my execution, it was my blunder. I made a decision in about four minutes that clearly warranted much more time.
"Once we learned more, we tried to fix everything as much as possible as swiftly as possible and as transparently as possible. Of course, at that point the damage was done. I just needed to own it."
Even so, Trump took to his Twitter account the next morning to accuse the Times of lying:
The White House had no further comment when we contacted a spokesman.
The New York Times’ comparison made it appear the turnout for President Donald Trump's 2017 ceremony with the New England Patriots was smaller than the team’s turnout with President Barack Obama in 2015.
While many Patriots players did skip the April 19 ceremony, some to avoid Trump, the use of the images together made a false equivalency. The 2015 photo shows not just players, but also Patriots staff members, while the 2017 photo does not.
The New York Times updated their tweet and story, and the sports editor has apologized.
While fewer players showed up at this year’s White House ceremony, it wasn’t drastically different than similar situations in prior years. If we’re talking just players, the team has said 34 players visited in 2017, compared to 50 in 2015.
This claim rates Mostly False.
Twitter, New York Times tweets, April 19, 2017
New England Patriots, "Obama welcomes Patriots to White House," April 23, 2015
Fox Sports, "Bill Belichick is all smiles with ‘good friend’ Donald Trump," March 6, 2016
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump had biggest inaugural crowd ever? Metrics don't show it," Jan. 21, 2017
CBS Sports, "Patriots owner Robert Kraft explains why he's good friends with Donald Trump," Jan. 31, 2017
New York Times, "Tom Brady Skips Patriots’ White House Visit Along With Numerous Teammates," April 19, 2017
Boston Globe, "That Patriots White House photo comparison? It’s complicated.," April 19, 2017
CNN, "Tom Brady skips WH visit, cites 'family matters'," April 19, 2017
USA Today, "Donald Trump snubbed 'good friend' Tom Brady during the Pats' White House visit," April 19, 2017
Twitter, New England Patriots tweets, April 19, 2017
Twitter, Dan Roche tweet, April 19, 2017
Twitter, Doug Kyed tweet, April 19, 2017
Twitter, Donald Trump tweet, April 20, 2017
Washington Post, "President Trump, Patriots fire back at New York Times over comparison of White House trips," April 20, 2017
New England Patriots, "Throwback Thursday: White House Visits," accessed April 20, 2017
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