[…] When asked during Monday’s daily White House press briefing for examples of attacks the media allegedly failed to cover, Sean Spicer walked back Trump’s comment, proffering that President Trump merely meant press coverage of Islamic terrorism was lacking—not nonexistent. “He felt members of the media don’t always cover some of those events to the extent that other events might get covered,” Spicer said. “Protests will get blown out of the water, and yet an attack or a foiled attack doesn’t necessarily get the same coverage.” A reporter demanded that Spicer release a list of the supposedly under-reported attacks the president had in mind, and Spicer agreed. Hours later, the White House delivered, releasing a list of 78 terrorist attacks.
The media pounced on the hastily compiled list, which was rife with misspellings and typos, and began picking apart the selection. Critics highlighted that many of the attacks the White House claimed were under-covered, such as the San Bernardino and Orlando nightclub shootings, actually fueled weeks of coverage. Others, which didn’t receive much coverage, were smaller incidents, far from the U.S. and Europe, which resulted in few or no casualties. Terrorist attacks perpetrated by non-Islamic extremists—such as white supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina church—were also missing from the list.
But in playing Trump’s game, the media may already have lost. For one, Spicer effectively moved the goalposts, turning a controversy over an obviously false Trump claim—“it is not even being reported”—into a broader conversation about what kinds of attacks journalists cover. TV news producers and assignment editors may think twice, in the future, about whether to cover smaller terrorist incidents or failed plots, of which the White House wants to increase public awareness. List-gate also forced the press to spend half a day debating the total number of attacks occurring across the world, drumming up fear and helping to buttress the president’s defense of his embattled immigration order.