This is a Hanlon’s Razor classic. In this post, I covered the mass smear of President Trump engineered by mainstream media sources led by the Washington Post. They all claimed that while still in office, “Trump pressured a Georgia elections investigator in a separate call legal experts say could amount to obstruction.” Direct quotes were cited in which the President supposdly told the investigator to “find the fraud,” and several of the major news organizations falsely implied that their reporters had heard those words on the tape. They had not, and the President never said them. The recording, which was supposedly destroyed, turned up, and proved that the sole “anonymous source” who characterized the conversation mislead reporters, who then misled the public.
In the Ethics Alarms essay, I stated that the Post now had an obligation to reveal its “anonymous” source, because it had no justification for protecting the identity of someone who provided false information. Yesterday, the Post did reveal her identity: Jordan Fuchs, the Georgia deputy secretary of state, who had spoken with the investigator regarding the President’s call.
So this was not just hearsay, it was double hearsay. That was the basis of a Post story that made it seem as if the President was asking an investigator to manufacture evidence of election fraud. That was the basis on which the nation was l led to believe that a Republican President was trying to undo the Georgia presidential election.
[Note of Correction: I had incorrectly suggested that the Post account was published before the Georgia Senate run-offs. That was incorrect. I apologize for the error.]
The Post now is trying to claim that its false account was no big deal. “This call between the President of the United States and a state-level investigator was the real irregularity,” writes veteran Post hack and serial Ethics Dunce Erik Wemple. “‘That was an ongoing investigation,’ [Secretary of State] Raffensperger told The Post at the time. “I don’t believe that an elected official should be involved in that process.”
Nice one, Erik: Raffensperger’s quote was based on the false account of what Trump said, and here you are using it in the context of the actual conversation. How was the President “involved”? The recording shows he told an investigator that she should investigate.
Wemple keeps spinning: “The call happened; it was an abuse of presidential authority; and it failed to corrupt the investigators working under Raffensperger.” It was not an abuse of authority, because the President didn’t order or require the investigator to do anything. How would the President, in the Post’s correction’s terms, urging “the investigator to scrutinize ballots in Fulton County, Ga., asserting that she would find ‘dishonesty’ there,” and telling her that she had ‘the most important job in the country right now,’” corrupt her? Everyone knew that Fulton County would be the center of any vote-counting issues, if there were any. The President telling an official that her job is important is potential corruption? Only when President Trump does it, apparently.
The fact is that without the false characterizations of the call relayed by Fuchs, there would have been no story. Nonetheless, the Post is adamant that it didn’t retract the story, it just corrected it. This is despicable. The headline about “pressure” would not have been written without the false quotes. The actual conversation did not show the President pressuring the investigator to do anything she wasn’t already doing. It showed him using questionable judgment in making the call, but that was hardly a shock.
Then Wemple relies on Fuchs to argue that what the Post reported (and Fuchs told them) was close enough. “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 told Wemple. “I think it’s pretty absurd for anybody to suggest that the president wasn’t urging the investigator to ‘find the fraud.’ These are quotes that [the investigator] told me at the time.”
So is Fuchs an idiot, or is she a deliberate liar? For the President to say “Find the fraud” is materially distinct from “look at the ballots in Fulton County.” If the head of a murder investigation says, “search this suspect’s home,” that is not the same as saying, “find evidence that proves the suspect did it.” It’s not absurd to conclude that Trump wasn’t urging the investigator to “find the fraud,” it is illogical and unfair to say he was. If the investigator concluded that she was being told to “find the fraud,” that’s her unwarranted assumption. But that’s just what Fuchs said she assumed: who can believe Fuchs, at this point?
Meanwhile, whose “mistake ” were the direct quotes that happened to be published in multiple news sources? This is a cover-up. Fuchs deliberately misrepresented an interpretation of a conversation she didn’t hear to make it seem like the President was saying something he didn’t. The Post, eager to smear him and using the “it sounds like something he would do” reasoning—that’s confirmation bias—published her false and uncorroborated account as fact. That false story was then repeated as fact by other sources. The Post’s correction is really a retraction, because the information that spawned the story was proven to be fabricated, and the real quotes would not have justified a front page “bombshell” at all.
And I think Fuchs is malicious, whether she is stupid as well or not.