Former President Donald Trump was incredibly generous, uncharacteristically so, to The Washington Post in a Tuesday night interview with Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo. When asked about their correction of a very pivotal story about his December 23 telephone call with Frances Watson, the chief investigator for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, he replied:
It probably affected the Senate race. But it was a terrible thing.
I will say this. I was very happy that the Washington Post had the courage or whatever you want to call it to at least admit their mistake. I hope it was a mistake. But I think probably it came from the people in Georgia that run an election process that frankly is just absolutely terrible. … They were told something that didn’t exist and it made me sound bad and when I heard it, I said, ‘That’s ridiculous. I never said that.’
The Washington Post did a correction. A lot of pressure was put on them but they did a correction because they realized what they did was wrong.
Actually, they printed a correction because The Wall Street Journal had published an audio recording of the call which revealed the actual words that had been said. A recording, I might add, that had been deleted by someone who knew what would happen if it were found and later discovered in a “junk folder” .
The Post published the following correction to the story:
Correction: Two months after publication of this story, the Georgia secretary of state released an audio recording of President Donald Trump’s December phone call with the state’s top elections investigator. The recording revealed that The Post misquoted Trump’s comments on the call, based on information provided by a source. Trump did not tell the investigator to ‘find the fraud’ or say she would be ‘a national hero’ if she did so. Instead, Trump urged the investigator to scrutinize ballots in Fulton County, Ga., asserting she would find ‘dishonesty’ there. He also told her that she had ‘the most important job in the country right now.’ A story about the recording can be found here. The headline and text of this story have been corrected to remove quotes misattributed to Trump.
On Tuesday, the Post published an article to explain how this ‘error’ may have occurred. It was written by their media critic, Erik Wemple, He wrote that the “individual familiar with the call … spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the conversation.”
The original story had been “based on an account from Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state, whom Watson had briefed on [Trump’s] comments.”
Wemple spoke to Fuchs before writing his piece. She told him, “I believe the story accurately reflected the investigator’s interpretation of the call. The only mistake here was in the direct quotes, and they should have been more of a summary.”
“I think it’s pretty absurd for anybody to suggest that the president wasn’t urging the investigator to ‘find the fraud. These are quotes that [Watson] told me at the time.”
Is it the job of Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state, to interpret the President’s intent? Especially when she had not directly spoken to him. Certainly not. As a public official, people expect the facts from her office, rather than her interpretation of the facts.
“Misreporting the words of the highest elected official in the land is a serious lapse — and one that, in this case, seems so unnecessary,” Wemple wrote.
“The existence of the call itself is a towering exclusive. When it comes to phone calls, the only good sources are the ones who are dialed in,” Wemple explained. “The former president’s partisans will attempt to memorialize The Post’s story as a fabrication or ‘fake news.’ But a central fact remains: As the Journal’s recording attests, Trump behaved with all the crooked intent and suggestion that he brought to every other crisis of his presidency.”
And with that comment, journalist extraordinaire Erik Wemple interprets the President’s intent as well. Suddenly, we understand why Fox News’ Tucker Carlson used to distribute “Erik Wemple” coffee mugs as a joke during a now-discontinued feature of his program called “Final Exam.”
After Wemple’s article had run, the Post stated, “We corrected the story and published a separate news story last week — at the top of our site and on the front page — after we learned that our source had not been precise in relaying then President Trump’s words. We are not retracting our January story because it conveyed the substance of Trump’s attempt to influence the work of Georgia’s elections investigators.”
And with that, we’ve hit the trifecta. The media outlet whose slogan is “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” became the third party to interpret the President’s intent.
First, Watson injects her bias against Trump into her recap of the call to Fuchs. Fuchs embellishes the call further in her conversation with Washington Post writer Amy Gardner, who adds her own highly partisan views to what she’s been told.
Next, the other major networks jump on the bandwagon. They all run the story claiming that they had independently confirmed it. Oh really? With whom? Did they speak to Fuchs as well? And she felt it was okay to do so because, after all, that’s what the President had intended?
And what about Watson herself? She knew the quotes attributed to the President were false. Yet she didn’t feel the need to correct the record?
This little story perfectly illustrates the anatomy of a smear. Really it’s no more complicated than a game of “Telephone” among like-minded adults.
And it happens every day.