It is common for political ads to pull quotes from news coverage to bolster their candidate’s record or attacks against an opponent. There will be a voice-over saying something like “Senator McComb voted 19 times to ban children,” and then the screen will have a giant “19 TIMES” that flashes insistently with “Decaturville News, 5/1/78” underneath it in small type.

The point isn’t really that people are supposed to go and look up what the Decaturville News said about child banning. Instead, it’s to demonstrate to viewers that they could look up the news report and see just what that nefarious Sen. McComb was up to. That little marker sourcing a claim to the news acts as a sort of “you can trust us on this” shorthand.

Which is one reason that it was odd to see, in a new ad from former president Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign, that a number of quotes were sourced to the news media. Isn’t this the guy who tells his audience that the news media is a bunch of liars all the time? But then, of course, you dig into the citations a little further and you see that they’re often not what the ad makes them out to be.

The spot is titled “Wolves” and, in a fortuitous (though not unpredictable) coincidence, it focuses on the idea that the left and its assorted allies are super scared of Trump — which is why they keep wanting to indict him for crimes.

Over the course of this minute-long spot, there are six citations of the news media. One is an actual news article. Two are quotes from former Trump administration officials. Three are opinions or analyses.

This is the first one.

That quote comes from the headline of a June 2022 CNN column written by Chris Cillizza. It focuses on Trump’s efforts to appeal to the conservative part of the Republican Party by pledging to appoint antiabortion judges — and on Trump’s own flip-flopping on the issue.

Sourcing this to CNN functionally attributes the sentiment captured in the headline to the news outlet, as though this was an objective assessment of Trump’s relationship to abortion. That’s not what the column actually represents.

The next example is more accurate in that regard, citing the headline of a Wall Street Journal article. The author is named David Bernhardt.

That name might sound familiar. Bernhardt served as interior secretary under Trump. And he had a good reason to write that the “deep state” was real at that moment. The article was published the same day Bernhardt was releasing a book excoriating the federal government.

The next citation is from Forbes. This was an actual news report, looking at a spate of attacks Trump was making on President Biden. The context for those attacks, Forbes’s Sara Dorn wrote, was a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showing Trump with a national lead over the incumbent.

The ad used this citation to prove that “they” — the elites, etc. — “already know he’ll crush Biden” in a 2024 contest between the two. Most polls consistently show that Trump and Biden run fairly evenly at this point.

Next, the ad highlights a headline from the right-wing Washington Examiner. It is what it is.

We move on to one of the most interesting citations: another headline, this time from Fox News.

There are two things worth noting here. The first is that William P. Barr actually appointed U.S. attorney-turned-special-counsel John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia probe specifically because Barr believed the probe to be an injustice in the first place. The Durham probe existed because Barr thought the Russia probe was a grave injustice.

This citation also suggests that either the Trump campaign didn’t read past the headline (as may be the case with all of these articles, really) or that it’s hoping viewers won’t dig any deeper. After all, the story also has Barr expressing skepticism about Trump’s chances.

“Barr said his former boss has the ‘best chance’ of defeat against President Biden,” it reads. “A Trump nomination, he added, would risk down-ballot losses because of his name at the top of the ticket, characterizing the dynamic as one of voters turning out not to vote for Democrats but instead against Trump.”

Guess he didn’t get the memo about Trump crushing Biden.

The last citation comes from the pages of the esteemed Washington Post.

That, too, is an excerpt of a headline … of an opinion piece by a conservative writer. The writer isn’t named. The allegation that millions flowed to the Biden family — and not, as the full headline states, “Biden family members” — is treated as though it’s The Post affirming that as fact.

But again, this is odd. Since when do prospective Trump voters care what The Post has to say about anything? It has not been my experience that what we present is viewed as particularly compelling to Trump’s base in the face of his constant insistences that our reporting is false.

In using media validators, the Trump campaign ad resembles so many other such ads. Scratch the surface a little, though, and you see that the purported validation is actually very fitting for Trump: not quite what he and his campaign present.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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