Photo: Tom Brenner/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Though he’s proven himself incapable of working eight-hour days or maintaining a consistent story about why he fired his FBI director, President Trump has shown remarkable focus and dedication when it comes to proving certain minor and irrelevant points. The most famous example is his insistence that he drew the biggest inauguration crowd ever, but his latest fixation is arguably even more pathetic. Though most Americans probably missed Trump’s false claim on Sunday that Alabama was likely to be hit by Hurricane Dorian, he spent the rest of the week highlighting his own embarrassing mistake, touting a map that had clearly been altered with a Sharpie, then repeatedly complaining that the media owes him an apology. By Saturday, following a shameless unsigned statement on Friday from the NOAA supporting Trump’s lie, Trump and his administration had drawn official rebukes from numerous high-profile meteorologists and former government officials.
Here’s a recap of this week’s dumbest saga, which now seems poised to outlast the hurricane itself.
On Sunday morning, Trump included Alabama in a list of states that should be preparing for Hurricane Dorian. Note that he said Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated”; days later, he says he merely warned that “one model” showed Alabama “would have been hit or grazed” — though the original tweet is still up.
The National Hurricane Center never issued such a forecast. Meteorologists called Trump out on the error immediately, and the Birmingham branch of the National Weather Service confirmed that the president had his facts mixed up. Still, he continued to repeat the error.
“It may get a little piece of a great place — it’s called Alabama, and Alabama could even be in for at least some very strong winds,” Trump said during a FEMA briefing on Sunday. “This just came up, unfortunately. It’s the size of the storm that we’re talking about. So for Alabama, please be careful also.”
Rather than admitting he made a mistake and moving on, Trump insulted ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl for reporting in a Monday evening broadcast that the National Weather Service had issued a correction, and there was no threat to Alabama.
In an Oval Office briefing on Wednesday, Trump took the next step in his casual dismissal of fact. He unveiled “the original chart” — an older projection model from the National Hurricane Center — in which Alabama appeared to have been tacked onto the forecast in Sharpie. “It was going toward the Gulf, that was what was originally projected,” Trump said. Naturally, he didn’t mention that the weird black bubble was shaped as if to perfectly encompass the Alabama coast, and did not adhere to the form of normal projections.
A White House official told the Washington Post that Trump altered the map himself. “No one else writes like that on a map with a black Sharpie,” the official said.
Shortly after the press conference with the doctored image, Trump tweeted out some evidence to back up his claim: a map from the South Florida Water Management District that was four days old by the time he issued his Sunday warning to Alabama.
Apparently Trump did not see the fine print on the map itself, which reads:
NHC Advisories and County Emergency Management Statements supersede this product. This graphic should complement, not replace, NHC discussions. If anything on this graphic causes confusion, ignore the entire product.
No NHC maps ever projected Dorian to cross into Alabama.
By this point Trump’s Sharpie-doctored map was being widely mocked, and many noted that it’s illegal to present a doctored National Weather Service forecast as the real thing. (The punishment can include a prison sentence of up to 90 days, though Trump certainly won’t face legal consequences.)
Nevertheless, Trump insisted in a pair of Thursday morning tweets that Dorian was originally projected to hit Alabama, displaying his bizarre penchant for drawing out embarrassing controversies way longer than necessary.
About two hours later — after he had retweeted some accurate information from the National Weather Service and attacked actress Debra Messing (you know, the normal presidential routine during a hurricane) — Trump returned to his Alabama obsession.
He revisited the matter on Thursday afternoon, posting a map from last week that showed, at best, a 10 percent chance of tropical-storm-force winds hitting Alabama:
Finally, Trump had an adviser issue a statement saying Trump’s statement on Sunday was based on forecasts that “included the possibility of tropical storm force winds in southeastern Alabama” — a possibility that lasted through Monday morning.
As ABC News notes:
A National Hurricane Center map from Monday morning shows a tiny part of southeastern Alabama having a small, 5 to 10% chance of seeing tropical storm-force winds, or winds of 39 mph or greater. Every state up the East Coast had at least the same slight chance — including New York, Maine and other northeastern states, although Trump never mentioned the slight threat to those.
On Friday morning, Trump complained that the Fake News Media still hasn’t said sorry for its accurate reporting. He also noted that “this nonsense has never happened to another President” — though presumably, that has something to do with Trump being the first president to forge a hurricane forecast map.
Also on Friday morning, the ever-opportunistic Trump campaign confirmed that they see the fight as a base-booster by promoting sales of “official Donald Trump fine-point markers” to capitalize on the controversy and further troll the media. In the afternoon, Trump’s twitter account shared a video which excerpts a very early CNN forecast about the possible path of the Hurricane, in which Alabama is mentioned as in the hurricane’s possible path.
Then on Friday evening, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, released an unsigned statement rebuking the Birmingham branch of the National Weather Service, which had posted a tweet on Sunday refuting the president’s claim and assuring Alabamians that they were not in danger. The Birmingham office, according to the anonymous NOAA statement, “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available.”
This extremely misleading statement and stunning apparent capitulation prompted outrage from well-respected meteorologists and numerous former leaders at the NOAA, NWS, and National Hurricane Center. All praised the NWS staff at the Birmingham office and most had choice words for whoever was behind the NOAA statement. Some expressed fears that the Trump administration, in service of the president’s vanity, was discrediting government forecasters whose work consistently saves countless American lives.
President Trump made it through most of the day without mentioning Sharpiegate, but then at 4:44 p.m., he claimed on Twitter that he just couldn’t abide the way a single sentence in the New York Times report on the NOAA’s Friday statement had framed his original tweet about Alabama. Indeed, he presented the line — which was part of section reporting that people in Alabama didn’t seem to much care about the controversy — as a smoking gun:
So, when will Trump finally drop this? One senior administration official suggested the media will have to blink first, telling the Post, “as long as it’s in the news, he is not going to drop it.”
And as long as he keeps talking about it, it is likely to remain in the news.
This post has been updated throughout.
Trump Won’t Rest Until We Accept His Sharpie-Doctored Map
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