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A story from International Business Times went viral last night: Donald Trump White House Dress Code Policy? Female Staffers Must ‘Dress Like Women,’ President Says. It's terrible, and confirms everything we believe about Trump. It spawned a hashtag, #DresslikeaWoman. It's also not true.

It hurts the fight against Trump to share false stories about Trump. It makes us weaker.

Information literacy -- the ability to recognize when you need to acquire information, and the skill set to locate and assess the quality of that information -- is one of the most important skills we can have in this #AlternativeFacts, #FakeNews era. While the Trump administration has used the fake news label as a pejorative against any story with which he disagrees, or which has any facts which are contradicted by other sources, we know better. Fake news is the reporting of false stories, or true stories reported with hyperbolic, overblown, or outright false context. In the social media snippet era, in which all of us are guilty of sharing stories we haven't read or investigated based on headline, a tweet, or a brief Facebook post, we are all responsible for being more careful.

There are a lot of ways librarians teach information literacy. One of them ("trust sites that end with .gov") is getting seriously rethought in the Donald Trump era. One of the other important ones is both assessing whether or not something that appears to be a news site actually is a reputable news site. Advanced information literacy techniques include understanding the different kind of sources of information even reputable news sites use, and understanding how to assess their likely truth value. Note this is not a way of addressing the question of whether sources lie or disagree with one another. That's going to happen, and that much harder to address. But we should be able to understand when a story is flat out, on its face, total garbage.

So what's wrong with the "Dress Like a Woman" story? Everything.

The International Business Times headline flat out says--without, I suppose, technically lying--that they are discussing White House policy: "Donald Trump White House Dress Code Policy? Female Staffers Must ‘Dress Like Women,’ President Says." The article then goes on to attribute all such orders about a dress code directly to Trump: "In a new report released Thursday, Trump said male staffers are to wear ties and women must “dress like women,” unnamed sources told Axios." The article never says in so many words that a White House policy has been leaked that says female staffers must dress like women, but it certainly leads any casual reader, especially a reader who doesn't read beyond headline and lede, to believe that is what being reported.

The linked Axios story, ”Trump 101: The producer of his own epic film”, is far more clear about what it is actually reporting.

His obsession with optics, style and TV glam are central to his being. Here are some gems we picked up reporting this:

  • Trump judges men's appearances as much as women's. A source who's worked with Trump explains: "If you're going to be a public person for him, whether it's a lawyer or representing him in meetings, then you need to have a certain look. That look —at least for any male — you have to be sharply dressed. Preferably, I would say, solid colors. … You should have a good physical demeanor, good stature, hair well groomed."
  • Trump pays close attention to ties. Says a source who has worked with Trump: "You're always supposed to wear a tie. If it's not a Trump tie, you can get away with Brooks Brothers. But I'd suggest Armani." Trump prefers wider, traditional ties, this source says. Regarding Trump's rakish policy adviser Stephen Miller, the source adds: "I've always been surprised about how Stephen Miller survives with those thin ties."
  • Trump likes the women who work for him "to dress like women," says a source who worked on Trump's campaign. "Even if you're in jeans, you need to look neat and orderly." We hear that women who worked in Trump's campaign field offices — folks who spend more time knocking on doors than attending glitzy events — felt pressure to wear dresses to impress Trump.
  • Staff knew Trump would be hacked off at press secretary Sean Spicer for not dressing fancy enough for his first briefing-room appearance. "It'd be one thing to wear a pinstripe that fit him perfectly," said one person who has spent a lot of time with Trump. "But, it was like, he had a gap in his collar. I was like, 'Oh God, he's going to get reamed.'"
  • "I was getting text messages: Can you believe what he's wearing?" the person continued. "Four people texted me, because we know the boss. … Trump is very much about: Present yourself in the best light. If you're going to represent him, even more so." Spicer seems to have learnt his lesson. Since then, he's only appeared in well-tailored dark suits, coupled with perfectly knotted ties.
  • One exception: Steve Bannon, who wouldn't be caught dead in Armani and has been photographed in the Oval Office without a tie, gets a pass. A source explains: "Steve is Steve ... He's cavalier almost about what he wears."

None of this, absolutely none, says that there is a newly-instituted White House dress code. In fact, none of this says that Trump has ever used a phrase even remotely like women should "dress like women." It absolutely says that he is obsessed with image, and it absolutely says that he wants his staff to be equally obsessed with image, and in fact, yes, there is an assertion that the women working around him feel obliged to wear dresses. But there's not even a report here that people in the Trump Organization, let alone people in the White House, have been given a newly instituted dress code.

So how did this happen in the International Business Times? I honestly assumed, looking at it, that it was a normal business press. That's how iffy news sites succeed, of course. By looking genuine and reputable. It wasn't until I wondered why they crafted this totally false story that I looked them up. Per Wikipedia, I learn that Mother Jones wrote about IBT's pressure for its journalists to create clickbait, and The Guardian quoted journalists about how they felt like a content farm that copied & pasted other outlets' stories with outrageous headlines. So in fact, this is exactly a source of fake news.

One of Trump's methods for success in 2016 was that he accomplishes six outrageous, inhumane, and occasionally illegal actions before breakfast. How can you cover a man whose every pronouncement is ridiculous? It leaves us unable to focus on any one of them to the extent that we should. So much as happened in the last 48 hours that people have already forgotten that he casually threatened to invade Mexico. He's a fire hose of hate and incompetence.

(ETA: An anon in the comments points out that I got not played myself in this piece about being careful about not being played. Although the original allegations about Trump's threat to send troops to Mexico was reported by the Associated Press, both the White House and the Mexican government deny those allegations.)

This means two things:
  1. Getting outraged about things that didn't happen is a distraction from being outraged about that far worse things that actually did happen.
  2. There is literally no purpose in making up fake stories about crappy things he is doing, because there is a mountain of crap that is actually happening.

In this era, a responsible citizen must read beyond the headline, read beyond the lede, read beyond the tweet or the Facebook repost.

Date: 2017-02-04 11:01 pm (UTC)
steepholm: (Default)
From: [personal profile] steepholm
Thanks for this. I'd see the story on FB, though not followed it up.
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