The Washington Post‘s media critic wrote a piece on Tuesday looking into what led to the paper’s major correction on its bombshell report from January about a phone call between then-President Trump and Georgia elections investigator Frances Watson.
The Post initially reported Trump had told an official working in Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office to “find the fraud” in the state, which he lost narrowly to Joe Biden, and that she would be a “national hero” if she did.
However, a newly emerged recording of the Dec. 23 call found he didn’t use those words. Instead, Trump said she would be “praised” when the “right answer comes out” and encouraged her to closely examine mail-in ballots in Fulton County, the heavily blue and most populated county in the state.
The Post published a lengthy correction to its 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’s media expert Erik Wemple did a deep dive into what went wrong with his paper’s reporting.
The “individual familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity” in the Post’s initial report was “based on an account from Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state, whom Watson briefed on [Trump’s] comments.”
Fuchs told Wemple, “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,’” Fuchs also added. “These are quotes that [Watson] told me at the time.”
In response to Wemple, 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.”
Wemple went on to ding his own paper, writing, “Misreporting the words of the highest elected official in the land is a serious lapse — and one that, in this case, seems so unnecessary.”
“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.”
Fox News’ David Rutz contributed to this report.
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