On 16 March 2019, an image of President Donald Trump bestowing a Purple Heart decoration on a wounded veteran named Clint Trial went viral after a Facebook user shared it along with the claim that the event “didn’t make the news”:
The text of the meme reads: “The President Awarding a Purple Heart to Marine MSGT Clint Trial. This Didn’t Make the News, Share, Because It Should Have.”
This is a genuine photograph of President Trump awarding a Purple Heart to a wounded veteran reportedly named Clint Trial. While the majority of “news media blackout” claims that we’ve encountered — an allegation often levied in an attempt to either spread fake news or to push narratives of biased reporting — have proved false, in this case, it’s true that mainstream news outlets provided little (if any) coverage of this event.
So why didn’t this photograph make the news?
While many social media users shared this image as “evidence” of the news media’s alleged bias against President Trump, that claim wasn’t supported by what we found. If this were simply a case of “liberally biased” mainstream media outlets ignoring a positive story about President Trump, we would still expect coverage of this event to turn up in conservative-leaning news outlets. However, we found almost no information about this veteran’s receiving a Purple Heart from President Trump in any news outlets, regardless of their perceived political leanings.
The only article we could turn up was published in a Pennsylvania newspaper, the Titusville Herald, on 16 February 2019. That paper reported on the event not because of its national importance, but because of the pictured veteran’s family ties to Saegertown, Penn.
The report also contained an editor’s note explaining that the veteran’s surname was omitted due to a request for privacy: “*Editor’s note: There are two Clints referenced in this story. One, simply referred to as Clint, is Luke McGill’s uncle, while the second is his father. The last names of Clint and his wife, Casey, have been omitted by request of the family for privacy.”
The event began with President Trump’s visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland in February 2019 for his annual physical. While there, the president met with a few of the wounded veterans who were being treated at that facility:
The Titusville Herald also reported that President Trump’s visit with Trial was unexpected, and that no members of the press were present at the meeting. In other words, President Trump didn’t meet with this wounded veteran for a photo op or with the expectation of garnering positive news coverage.
The newspaper also reported that the photographs were taken by a White House photographer (not a press photographer) and were privately provided to the family as keepsakes:
A Saegertown boy and his family got an unexpected visit from the President of the United States while meeting with an uncle who was injured in the military.
Luke McGill, 11, travelled with his mother, Stacey Gotchy, of Saegertown, and his cousin to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Feb. 6 to visit his uncle Clint, a marine who lost both of his legs to a land mine in Afghanistan …
While they were there, Clint was asked if he would be up for seeing a special VIP visitor, according to Gotchy.
Little did they know, the special VIP visitor would turn out to be the president of the United States …
According to Gotchy, the meet and greet was not political in any way. There was no press at the meeting, and the only pictures taken were by a White House photographer who provided images as keepsakes for the family.
“President Trump was very kind and compassionate,” Gotchy said. “There was nothing political about it. He was very kind, concerned and very respectful and you could tell his sole purpose was to make sure [Luke’s uncle] Clint was okay and his family was supported throughout the process.”
The visit became even more special when the president learned that Clint had not yet received his Purple Heart. Casey reached out to the staff at the office with the request that the president be the one who pinned the medal awarded to soldiers wounded in the line of duty on Clint’s shirt. President Trump saved Clint’s visit for last and held an award ceremony with the family present.
We haven’t been able to track down the initial internet origins of this image, but it seems likely that the photograph was lifted from one of the personal social media pages of Trial (whose Twitter account is now set to private) or those of one of his relatives, and then turned into a meme and shared (against his wishes for privacy) with his full name.
This meme does not appear to demonstrate any news media “bias” against President Trump but rather a private interaction that was never meant to receive press attention. President Trump didn’t meet with this veteran for a photo opportunity, nor did the news media refuse to cover the event out of a desire to provide nothing but negative stories about the president. If anything, this meme seems to demonstrate that some social media users will exploit even wounded veterans in order to advance their own political viewpoints.
A GoFundMe campaign to help Sgt. Trial with his injuries was established in March 2019:
In mid-January 2019, Clint Trial was working overseas when an explosion caused serious injuries to his body, resulting in a bilateral leg amputation, traumatic brain injury, and numerous internal injuries.
We want to make sure this warrior and his family never have to worry about future costs as he adapts his life to a new normal and learns to get back on his “new feet.”
When you make a contribution to this fund, you will help ease this transition. Money raised with this fundraiser will be used to cover gaps in coverage for care outside of hospital bills, to include vehicle modifications, traveling costs for family members, moving expenses, and construction costs to ensure their house is properly adapted to ADA standards.