Two months after a bombshell story about a leaked Donald Trump phone call, the newspaper that ran it has made a stunning admission.
The Washington Post has published an astonishing retraction two months after a bombshell story about a phone call between Donald Trump and an elections investigator in Georgia.
The newspaper reported in January that the then President had spoken to Frances Watson in December, asking her to “find the fraud” in the state and that she would be a “national hero” if she did.
Numerous other US media outlets including CNN, ABC News, NBC News and USA Today all subsequently claimed that they had “confirmed” The Washington Post’s reporting.
But a newly surfaced recording – which had been deleted from Ms Watson’s device and was only recovered by officials responding to a freedom-of-information request – has revealed the quotes attributed to Mr Trump, and relayed to media by an anonymous source, were false.
The Washington Post added a lengthy correction to its original story on Monday, admitting that it “misquoted” Mr Trump based on “information provided by a source”.
“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 note read.
“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 scrutinise ballots in Fulton County, Georgia, 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.”
CNN also issued a correction on Monday. Its original story included the same quotes, saying they came from “a source with knowledge of the call”.
“Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story, published January 9, presented paraphrasing of the President’s comments to the Georgia elections investigator as direct quotes,” the note said.
“The story has been updated following the discovery of an audio recording of the call.”
The Wall Street Journal first published the newly surfaced audio recording of the six-minute phone call last week.
In the call, Mr Trump repeatedly tells Ms Watson that he won the state and that “something bad happened”. He tells the investigator that she would be “praised” when the “right answer comes out”.
“I can assure you that our team and the (Georgia Bureau of Investigation), that we are only interested in the truth and finding the information that is based on the facts,” she replies.
President Joe Biden won Georgia by fewer than 12,000 votes as mail-in ballots continued to be counted in the days after the November 3 election, becoming the first Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992 to carry the state.
The story being corrected is separate from another Washington Post article in January about a conversation between Mr Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Mr Trump’s conversation with Ms Watson came more than a week before his January 2 call with Mr Raffensperger.
Authorities in Georgia are conducting criminal investigations into Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, and are probing the multiple calls he made to state officials urging them to uncover alleged voter fraud.
In a report about the newly published audio, The Washington Post revealed that the false quotes came from Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs, who was briefed on the conversation by Ms Watson.
The false quotes were included in House Democrats’ impeachment brief.
Mr Trump was impeached by the House for “incitement of insurrection” over the January 6 Capitol riot, but was acquitted by the Senate.
“President Trump’s campaign to reverse the election results – and to keep himself in the White House – lasted through the days immediately preceding the assault on the Capitol,” the impeachment brief stated.
“On December 23, for instance, President Trump reportedly called one of Georgia’s lead election investigators, urging him (sic) to ‘find the fraud’ and claiming that the official would be a ‘national hero’ if he (sic) did so.”
‘HOAX FROM THE BEGINNING’
In a statement, the former president said while he appreciated the correction, “the original story was a hoax, right from the very beginning”.
He said the correction “immediately makes the Georgia Witch Hunt a non-story”.
“I would further appreciate a strong investigation into Fulton County, Georgia, and the Stacey Abrams political machine which, I believe, would totally change the course of the presidential election in Georgia,” he said.
“Fulton County has not been properly audited for vote or signature verification. They only looked at areas of the State where there most likely would be few problems, and even there they found large numbers of mistakes. We are seeking to find and reveal the large-scale election fraud which took place in Georgia.”
Mr Trump then returned to the subject of the media.
“You will notice that establishment media errors, omissions, mistakes and outright lies always slant one way – against me and against Republicans,” he said.
“Meanwhile, stories that hurt Democrats or undermine their narratives are buried, ignored, or delayed until they can do the least harm – for example, after an election is over. Look no further than the negative coverage of the vaccine that preceded the election and the overdue celebration of the vaccine once the election had concluded.
“A strong democracy requires a fair and honest press. This latest media travesty underscores that legacy media outlets should be regarded as political entities – not journalistic enterprises. In any event, I thank The Washington Post for the correction.”
‘THEY JUST MADE UP QUOTES’
Conservative commentators have seized on The Washington Post’s mistake, which comes after The New York Times was panned last year for the “embarrassing” revelation of the identity of “Anonymous”.
“Our media are so, so, so breathtakingly corrupt,” The Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway tweeted.
“They *always* mischaracterized this call – in a corrupt and fraudulent way. But to actually make up quotes in service of that? We are so screwed. By our disgustingly corrupt and unaccountable media.”
Grabien Media founder Tom Elliott, posting a video montage of the “major hype” the story received on cable news, wrote, “Will any of these ‘reporters’ offer corrections? If not, are they ‘reporters’, or activists?”
Radio host Jesse Kelly said, “Tell me one good reason why Donald Trump shouldn’t be allowed to sue The Washington Post into the Stone Age for this.”
CNN contributor Mary Katharine Ham wrote, “So, they made up quotes. What in the actual F.”
She added that The Washington Post’s follow-up headline “could be a little clearer, like ‘Our Bad, We Made Fake News That Led the National News For Weeks And This Audio Proves It’”.
“This kind of mistake is beyond serious,” said RealClearInvestigations senior writer Mark Hemingway.
“There’s zero accountability in major corporate media anymore, yet they continually insist they’re the ones holding the line on the truth. And always remember what should scare you about the media is what *doesn’t* get exposed.”
But Becket Adams, a writer with the Washington Examiner, said the “real scandal” was “that a bunch of newsrooms claimed at the time they ‘confirmed’ the details of the ‘scoop’ with their own anon sourcing”.
“This is exactly what we warned about during the Trump years when the press dropped all hesitation and standards regarding the usage of anonymous sources,” Adams wrote in an opinion piece.
“Now that we know false reports based on anonymous sourcing can enjoy equally fraudulent corroboration, who is to say there are not more examples of this type of thing?”