Trump's Dog Meme Has Media Howling

October 31, 2019

President Donald Trump's Wednesday tweet of a photoshopped image depicting him giving a military dog a medal elicited outrage and a slew of credulous reporting about the meme's origins.

While the picture appeared obviously tongue-in-cheek, several media outlets penned earnest articles investigating the photo's release and expressing implicit disapproval for swapping an actual Medal of Honor recipient with a dog. Other journalists and analysts made known their disgust with the White House.

The image was created by the conservative news site the Daily Wire, and it shows Trump awarding a medal with a paw print to "Conan," the dog who was injured last week in the raid that killed Islamic State founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was adapted from a 2017 photo of Trump awarding the Medal of Honor to retired Army medic James McCloughan for his heroism in Vietnam.

The New York Times put two reporters on a story eventually headlined "Trump Tweets Faked Photo of Hero Dog Getting a Medal." It reached out to McCloughan, whom the paper described as "certainly not offended" and even amused at the image.

The Washington Post titled its piece "Trump tweeted a photo of a Medal of Honor recipient — who was edited out and replaced by Conan the dog." The article's writer Alex Horton opened with a dramatic juxtaposition of the real and fake ceremonies:

In a somber White House ceremony in July 2017, President Trump draped the Medal of Honor around the neck of James McCloughan. He was credited with saving the lives of 10 men in a brutal, days-long battle in Vietnam, and Trump told the former Army medic that "we are in awe of your actions and your bravery."

On Wednesday, Trump posted a photo of that moment with McCloughan’s image replaced by that of a dog.

"A watermark for the site appears in Trump’s tweet, but it is a cropped version that removes the attribution of the source photo, which is the Associated Press," Horton also wrote. "That would have indicated that it began as a legitimate news photo, raising the question of whether Trump or a staffer knew McCloughan had been edited out."

Horton tweeted the meme was a "weird flex."

The left-leaning Guardian newspaper headlined its article "Trump tweets fake photo of Isis [sic] raid dog, and appears to declassify its name."

CNN's Jim Acosta reached out to the White House for comment and then alerted his 1.3 million Twitter followers that "the dog is not at the WH."

Voice of America's Steve Herman also investigated the photo, reporting there was "no such canine event" on the president's schedule. Attacked online for his credulity, he later shared a tweet stating that the image could be construed as "bad taste."

HuffPost White House correspondent S.V. Dáte tweeted, "Fine, just the president of the United States disseminating a doctored image created by a right-wing propaganda site." Others viewed it as disrespectful of the military or beneath the White House's dignity.

Trump said the dog will visit the White House next week.