By:
March 17, 2021

We’re now learning more about that Washington Post correction thanks to someone from … The Washington Post.

To catch you up in case you missed it: The Post attached a lengthy correction Monday to a big story it wrote two months ago about a phone conversation former President Donald Trump had with Georgia’s lead elections investigator, Frances Watson, about the presidential election. The original story said Trump told her to “find the fraud” and that she could become a “national hero.”

Recordings of the call, since released, showed that Trump did ask Watson to scrutinize the ballots, adding she would find “dishonesty” and that she had the “most important job in the country.” But he did not tell her to “find the fraud” or that she would be a “national hero.”

The Post has been beaten up pretty good the past two days over the correction and deservedly so. With so much divisiveness across the country over Trump and the election, as well as distrust in the media, this kind of mistake is a bad one. The Post is a respectable news outlet and this was a mistake of sloppiness, not maliciousness. It trusted a source and wasn’t vigilant enough in pinning down the details. But some damage has been done. It certainly adds fuel to those MAGA types who are convinced the so-called “mainstream media” had it in for Trump.

So what happened?

The Post said the information for its story came from a source. Kudos to Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple for talking to that source.

The source wasn’t identified at the time of the original story on Jan. 9, but the source was identified by the Post following a Wall Street Journal article about the call. The Post wrote it was “Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state whom Watson briefed on (Trump’s) comments.”

So let me see if I have this right. Trump talked to Watson who then talked to Fuchs who then talked to the Post about what Watson said Trump said?

Yeesh, no wonder something went wrong.

Now, let me quote from Wemple’s story:

In an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog, Fuchs said, “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.” Fuchs said that The Post disclosed her role in the story with her permission, and that she’d gotten the debriefing from the investigator — a direct report of hers — “shortly” after the call from Trump concluded.

“I think it’s pretty absurd for anybody to suggest that the president wasn’t urging the investigator to ‘find the fraud,’” Fuchs added, “These are quotes that (Watson) told me at the time.”

In other words, Fuchs is saying that maybe Trump didn’t use those words exactly, but that’s what he meant.

And Fuchs might even be right. But if you’re going to put quotes around words, especially if you’re saying those were words said by the president of the United States, there’s no room for error.

Here’s the problem. The quotes wrongly attributed to Trump weren’t even necessary to expose Trump’s inappropriate activity. This wasn’t his lone call to Georgia about the election. In the real blockbuster story of that time, he also took part in a call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, urging him to “find” votes to swing it in his favor. So it’s not as if the quotes attributed to his conversation with Watson were the “aha” moment.

This correction — and what led to it — only distracts, even if it’s slightly, the fact that Trump was calling the state of Georgia in a desperate attempt to overturn a result in which his opponent won fairly and squarely.

As Wemple wrote, “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.”

Don’t let up

Dr. Anthony Fauci, far right, appearing on Tuesday’s “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. (Courtesy: NBC News)

Let’s not declare victory over COVID-19 quite yet. That was the message of Dr. Anthony Fauci during an appearance on Tuesday’s “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.

Yes, there are encouraging signs now that vaccinations are increasing. But this thing is not over. Fauci told “Morning Joe,” “We’ve really got to be careful that we don’t claim victory and pull back on all the public health measures that we know work in keeping the lid on these surging of infections. So although there is good news in the sense of the vaccine continues to get rolled out … if all of a sudden we declare victory, we can risk a surge.”

It’s good that news organizations are talking to experts such as Fauci to get the message across that COVID-19 still needs to be taken extremely seriously. And that people need to get vaccinated.

Fauci said, “If you do not get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, you’re still going to have the virus have the capability of circulating in society because there are so many vulnerable people. So the approach we are taking is to try and reach out and explain to people and ask what are the issues that make them hesitant about getting vaccinated and try to address them with good, solid, scientific facts.”

Michelle Obama speaks

Michelle Obama, appearing on Tuesday’s “Today” show. (Courtesy: NBC News)

Former first lady Michelle Obama joined Jenna Bush Hager on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday to talk about “Waffles + Mochi,” her new children’s series on Netflix. She was asked about the Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“Public service, it’s a bright, sharp, hot spotlight, and most people don’t understand it, and nor should they,” Obama said. “The thing that I always keep in mind is that none of this is about us in public service. It’s about the people that we serve. I always try to push the light back out and focus it on the folks that we are actually here to serve.”

Bush Hager said, “I feel like that was heartbreaking to hear, that she felt like she was in her own family — her own family thought differently of her.”

Obama replied, “As I said before, race isn’t a new construct in this world for people of color, and so it wasn’t a complete surprise to hear her feelings and to have them articulated. … I think the thing that I hope for, and the thing I think about, is that this, first and foremost, is a family. I pray for forgiveness and healing for them so that they can use this as a teachable moment for us all.”

Obama also said she has taken the vaccine for COVID-19 and, “I would encourage everyone to take it when they have the chance to take it.”

Stephanie Grisham stuck up for … who?

Here’s quite the nugget from the paperback version of Jonathan Karl’s “Front Row from the Trump Show.” (The paperback version of the book from the ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent was released Tuesday; credit to Politico Playbook for uncovering the new edits and additions to the book.)

In the book, Karl relays this story: Former Donald Trump White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham was once ordered by Trump to have CNN’s Kaitlan Collins removed from the briefing room while Vice President Mike Pence was giving a coronavirus briefing. Apparently, Trump tracked Grisham down in her office and said, “Go down there and get (Collins) out of there.”

Grisham told Trump, “Mr. President, I really cannot do that.”

Trump then responded with, “That’s because you are weak! You are worthless!”

Karl also wrote that a year ago, the Navy hospital ship that was supposed to be deployed to Seattle to help with hospitals overrun with COVID-19 patients was instead redirected to Los Angeles. Why? Apparently because California Gov. Gavin Newsom had recently complimented Trump, while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was critical. Trump had called Inslee a “showboater” and a “real jerk.”

Trump reportedly said, “Don’t you think we should send (the Navy ship) to California? Gavin has been saying such nice things about me.”

Stay home until September

In an email to staff on Tuesday, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch told staffers — including from Fox News — that they won’t be returning to the offices until after Labor Day.

In an email obtained by Mediaite, Murdoch said, in part, “While we spent the last year working in new, and often remote, ways, you have continued to prioritize caring for each other. Similarly, the health and safety of our workforce has remained my priority. With that as the guiding principle, we are deferring our next possible phase one reopening date to no earlier than September 7, immediately after Labor Day.”

One can’t help but notice the hypocrisy. While Murdoch preaches safety, many on-air Fox personalities and guests question COVID-related restrictions and precautions.

Speaking of which, primetime host Tucker Carlson somehow incredibly got more irresponsible on the air. On Monday’s show, Carlson questioned vaccinations.

He said, “Don’t dismiss those questions from ‘anti-vaxxers.’ Don’t kick people off social media for asking them. Answer the questions. … It turns out there are things we don’t know about the effects of this vaccine — and all vaccines by the way. It’s always a trade-off.”

In a column for The Washington Post, Aaron Blake wrote, “While broadcasting an increasing onslaught of coronavirus vaccine skepticism, Carlson repeatedly says he’s just asking questions — and that we should ask questions. That much is true. But Carlson often serves up those questions with a heaping side of innuendo and little due diligence.”

Blake added, “The problem with Carlson’s coverage isn’t that he’s raising questions; it’s that he’s raising them in a haphazard way and relying upon dubious sources. This has been a feature of Carlson’s show dating back to the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, when he suggested the death toll was being inflated.”

And this got the heart of it when Blake wrote, “Carlson has every right to raise questions, but he knows how much influence he has and how his words can be interpreted. His conservative viewers, polls show, are already among the most unlikely to get the vaccine. One question he should ask is whether he’s okay with that.”

The Times, too

Like Fox, The New York Times also is planning a return to offices on Sept. 7. In a note to staff, according to a tweet by CNN’s Oliver Darcy, the Times said, “Given the improving conditions, we will also begin to welcome more people back on a voluntary basis in July, when public health officials say that most Americans will be fully vaccinated. We’ll share more details on our plans and process for reopening in the next few months.”

An apology and a settlement

British writer and newspaper columnist Julie Burchill issued a lengthy apology and agreed to pay damages after making defamatory statements against journalist Ash Sarkar. Burchill admitted she said Sarkar “worshipped a paedophile,” and was an Islamist and a hypocrite. In her apology, Burchill said, “I should not have sent these tweets, some of which included racist and misogynist comments regarding Ms Sarkar’s appearance and her sex life. I was also wrong to have ‘liked’ other posts on Facebook and Twitter about her which were offensive, including one which called for her to kill herself, and another which speculated whether she had been a victim of FGM (female genital mutilation).”

Sarkar told the BBC’s David Sillito, “The comments were shocking and incredibly upsetting, and they also kicked off a lot of abuse from other people on social media. People speculated (on) whether I’m really a woman, really a Muslim, and I was subjected to rape threats and threats of physical violence.”

This wild story started back in December. The Guardian’s Archie Bland has more details.

Media tidbits

President Joe Biden boarding Air Force One on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • The White House announced Tuesday that Joe Biden will hold his first full press conference as president on March 25.
  • Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump called into “Fox News Primetime” on Tuesday night and spoke with Maria Bartiromo. You can find clips of the interview if you’re so inclined. He did recommend that Americans get the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it “great” and “safe” and “something that works.”
  • COVID-19 has taken a major toll on everyone, including news outlets. Some news organizations, however, have led the way. CNN’s Kerry Flynn looks at two in particular in The Atlantic and Stat with “America wasn’t ready for Covid-19. These newsrooms helped guide the way.”
  • For her latest “The Cohort” newsletter, Poynter’s Mel Grau talks to “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan, executive producer Mary Hager and digital producer Emily Tillett about a new “Face the Nation” podcast, burnout from the past year and what they are looking forward to next.
  • According to this CBS News report, Twitter banned 70,000 from its platform after the insurrection on Jan. 6. Now a Twitter spokesperson tells CBS News that Twitter has suspended more than 150,000 accounts for engaging in “sharing harmful QAnon-associated content at scale.”
  • There was plenty of buzz online Tuesday, especially among media types, about a Guardian article that suggested The Daily Telegraph was connecting journalists’ pay to article popularity. But there’s a little more to the story, as Adam Tinworth explores in his blog.
  • The Fortune Union launched a 24-hour work stoppage beginning on Tuesday morning over allegations that management has been “subverting the bargaining process” and violating labor laws. My Poynter colleague, Angela Fu, has the story.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

Correction: This story has been updated. The original version had the wrong timeframe for Donald Trump’s phone call to Georgia’s lead elections investigator. It was Dec. 23, 2020.

More resources for journalists

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Donate
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
More by Tom Jones

More News

Back to News