One of the things that has irritated me about the news coverage of the Trump administration is the lack of journalistic fact checking. I don’t mean the type of fact checking that asks “Can we confirm that so-and-so said x?”, but the fact checking that asks “Was what so-and-so said true?”. It’s the kind of journalistic research that I used to see when Tim Russert hosted Meet the Press:
Russert: “Senator do you believe that military action is warranted against Freedonia in light of its aggression—in the form of cheesy puns and cringey one-liners—towards Wakanda?
Senator: “No, Tim, I’ve never advocated military action for cheesy puns and cringey one-liners.
Russert: “But, Senator in 2009, you criticized President Obama for not calling for military action for just these reasons.”
[Cut away to screen with quote from Senator]
Quote: “…it is reprehensible that this president would not immediately call for military action for Zamunda’s use of cheesy puns and cringey one-liner against Equatorial Kundu”.
For the last week or so, Trump has claimed that Canada has been engaging in unfair trade practices with the U.S. The claim that has been made over and over again is that Canada has been imposing a 270% tariff on U.S. dairy imports. Yet, nowhere have I seen a critical examination of this number by major news outlets. Is Canada imposing what—on the face of it—is a crazy high tariff? If they are engaging in protectionist practices, then maybe Trump is right to claim that the U.S. is not being treated fairly by its neighbour to the north.
Not surprisingly, the claims coming from the White House are at best distortions, and at worst outright lies. Unfortunately, it was not the media that examined Trump’s claims, but the non-partisan1 Brookings Institute report that investigated the claims. As they concluded:
In the end, either the President isn’t aware of all the facts about Canadian dairy tariffs and how they could have been ended had his administration stuck with the TPP, or like his misuse of trade deficit statistics to justify import restrictions, he is using another poor justification for offending one of our closest allies.
I highly recommend reading the entire report, but in the absence of a full reading here is a summary of the findings:
- In 2017, Americans sold $792 million in dairy products to Canada, while Canadians sold $149 million in dairy products to the U.S., creating a tidy trade surplus for the U.S. of nearly $650 million.
- Canada only imposes high tariffs on imports above the quota, not on all the dairy products U.S. producers sell to them.
- Canada’s tariffs on U.S. dairy products are based in part on the value of U.S. quotas and tariffs. This practice is the kind of reciprocity that the President claims he wants in all U.S. trade deals—but on dairy trade between the U.S. and Canada, it’s already happening.
- Until Canada announced its retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. after the Administration imposed tariffs on their aluminum and steel exports to us, Canada’s average trade-weighted tariffs were 0.8 percent, half the 1.6 percent trade weighted average for the U.S.
- Canada had already agreed to give up both dairy import quotas and almost all dairy tariffs as part of its commitments under the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Thus, the only reason import restrictions on dairy products are even an issue is because the U.S. withdrew from the TPP.(A Trumped-up charge against Canadian dairy tariffs)
While there seems to be a reticence on the part of the media to call Trump a liar, there is more than ample justification to do so. He has alienated one of our largest trading partners and strongest allies for cheap political points. This kind of behaviour can’t continue to go unchecked. Hopefully, mainstream journalists will do more than just report what is said, and do a little fact checking as well.2
“A Measure of Media Bias” (PDF). The Quarterly Journal of Economics (4). November 2005. This study which looked at the Brookings Institute noted that both Democrats and Republicans were equally likely to reference the studies and reports coming out of this organization. ↩︎