The Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple penned an opinion piece Tuesday slamming the newspaper’s “serious lapse” after it admitted to misquoting then-President Donald Trump during a January phone call with an investigator in the office of Georgia’s secretary of state.
The Post reported in January, based on the account of one anonymous source, that Mr. Trump had instructed Georgia’s lead elections investigator, Frances Watson, to “find the fraud” and that she could become a “national hero” if she did. The Wall Street Journal’s Cameron McWhirter published a recording of the Dec. 23 call last week, revealing that Mr. Trump never made the statements as quoted by The Post.
“If you can get to Fulton, you are going to find things that are going to be unbelievable — the dishonesty,” Mr. Trump said in the call. “Hopefully when the right answer comes out you’ll be praised. I mean, I don’t know why, you know they’ve made it so hard. They will be praised. People will say, ‘Great.’ Because that’s what it’s about. That ability to check and to make it right. Because everyone knows it’s wrong.”
Multiple major news outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, ABC News, and the Associated Press, echoed The Post’s incorrect reporting at the time. The Post issued a lengthy correction to its story Monday, prompting others to follow suit.
“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,” the correction reads, in part. “The headline and text of this story have been corrected to remove quotes misattributed to Trump.”
The Post’s Mr. Wemple wrote Tuesday that he asked his employer to respond to calls for the story to be retracted.
The paper responded, “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.”
Mr. Wemple argued in his piece that Mr. Trump’s words were bad enough without the false quotes, which he called a “serious lapse.”
“The call happened; it was an abuse of presidential authority; and it failed to corrupt the investigators working under Raffensperger,” Mr. Wemple wrote. “But Trump wasn’t quite the plain-spoken rogue depicted in The Post’s story.”
“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,” he continued. “When it comes to phone calls, the only good sources are the ones who are dialed in. 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.”