The Washington Post
this week printed a correction to a story that had misquoted President Donald Trump by relying on a source whose motives deserved greater scrutiny. The correction
highlights a failure to prevent the publication of a purported direct quote without confirming it.
The newspaper on Jan. 9 broke the story that Trump had instructed Frances Watson, the
chief investigator of the Georgia Secretary of State, to "find the fraud" and said would she be "a national
hero." As it turned out, Trump never spoke those words on the Dec. 23 call.
We only know this because a recording of the six-minute call was obtained by The Wall Street Journal
, which cited it
in a March 11 story about how Trump had pressed for an investigation into a suburban Atlanta county that Joe Biden had won.
"Something bad happened” and “when the
right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” Trump had said to Watson during the call.
“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,” Watson responded.
So, how did the direct quotes "find
the fraud" and "a national hero" end up in print?
They came from Jordan Fuchs, Georgia's deputy secretary of state, who wasn't on the call with Trump. Watson had briefed her
on it, as WaPo reported in a follow-up story that identified Fuchs as its original source.
In an interview with Erik Wemple, media columnist for WaPo,
Fuchs said the paper's 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
Fuchs also said she had granted the paper permission to identify her as the source for the false information about the call between Trump and Watson.
While Wemple criticized his employer for its handling of the report, he also said fabricating the quotes was "unnecessary" in reporting on Trump's actions. I don't agree that it's
ever necessary to report an unconfirmed, secondhand account as a direct quote, though Wemple's point is understood.
Trump practically begged for an investigation of his effort
to overturn the election results in Georgia in a Jan. 2 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that was released to the media
. Appallingly, the former president urged Raffensperger to "find 11,780 votes" -- or just
enough to flip the state his way. Last month, prosecutors in the state formally started a criminal probe
into Trump's attempt to overturn those results.