Conservative Twitter was alight with criticism Tuesday over a new and exciting controversy.
We explore said controversy below.
CLAIM: The Washington Post fabricated a news story in the lead-up to the Georgia runoffs in an effort to shift the race in Democrats’ favor and/or to further a narrative that Donald Trump attempted to improperly — perhaps criminally — intervene in the November election.
The Washington Post published a story on January 9 claiming that, in addition to the call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, then-President Donald Trump engaged in a separate call with Georgia’s lead elections investigator in which he encouraged her to “find the fraud” and become a “national hero,” according to “an individual familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the conversation.”
The Washington Post has since published the following correction:
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 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 scrutinize ballots in Fulton County, Ga., 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.
In the wake of the correction, words and phrases like “fabricated” and “false narrative” ricocheted off the halls of conservative Twitter, with some claiming that it was an effort to shift momentum in the impending runoff and still others claiming that it was an ill-intentioned attempt to paint the president as an unrelenting criminal.
We’ll address the former claim first, since it warrants less discussion. As previously stated, the Post published the piece on January 9 … four days after the January 5 runoff election was held in Georgia. It is, thus, hard to conceive how the Post could have intended the piece to sway an election that had already been called and conceded.
As far as the latter claim is concerned, in order to properly adjudicate the assertion, we must first understand the true contents of the call.
So what did Trump actually say?
In the December 23 call with Frances Watson, Trump pressed the lead elections investigator to find “dishonesty” that would overturn the state’s results and told her that she would be praised for doing so.
“If you go back two years, and if you can get to Fulton, you’re going to find things that are going to be unbelievable, the dishonesty that we’ve heard from, just, good sources, really good sources,” Trump said in the recently released recording, “Fulton is the motherlode.”
“You have the most important job in the country right now,” Trump had said, adding, “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.”
So “find the fraud” versus “find things that are going be unbelievable, the dishonesty.”
“National hero” versus “most important job in the country” and “you’ll be praised.”
The discrepancy in the verbiage, according to The Federalist, is a “journalistic travesty.” While they concede that “even accurately reported, the story may have been newsworthy or unflattering to Trump,” they go on to assert that “there’s a huge difference in criminal intent between a frustrated and addled Trump asking an investigator to look into fraud he genuinely believes is real versus pressuring the investigator to invent it.”
Their interpretation, however, runs counter to good faith and logic.
First, note the language involved in Trump’s pleadings. “When the right [emphasis added] answer comes out” does not denote, to me, a genuine search for the truth but rather a desire to find the result most favorable to him — a conclusion that seems further warranted by the surrounding context.
Consider, roughly a week later, Trump would tell Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that he just wanted “to find 11,780 votes,” one vote more than Joe Biden’s margin of victory in the state. And he made this call and request after the state had already conducted a full hand recount and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had conducted a signature audit of 15,118 absentee-by-mail ballots.
Of those 15,118 absentee-by-mail ballots, there was a 99 percent confidence level in the results, with the accuracy of initial determinations confirmed in all but two cases. And even those two cases failed to turn up fraud, as the audit team was ultimately able to confirm that the actual voters cast the ballots in question. In the end, the Cobb County Elections Department had a 99.99% accuracy rate in performing correct signature verification procedures, and not one fraudulent ballot was uncovered.
And yet, Donald Trump pressed the Georgia Secretary of State to find fraud anyway. And not just any amount of fraud, just enough fraud to overturn the results of the state.
That is not a good faith attempt to ferret out corruption. That is a bad faith attempt at subverting the results of an election. And there is no reason to believe that Donald Trump’s motives were markedly different a mere 10 days apart. Especially since he told the investigator in question that she would “be praised” if she found the “right result.”
Therefore, given the fact that there is little functional difference between telling someone that they will be a national hero and that they will be praised for executing the most important job in the country, and little functional difference between telling someone to find the fraud and telling them to find the dishonesty, we do not believe that The Washington Post engaged in unethical journalistic practices, especially since they noted that their reporting was based on the recollection of an outside source rather than a hard recording, meaning that slight deviations in wording were to be expected due to the fallibility of human memory.
But, substantively, the gist was the same, and anyone arguing that it wasn’t is simply parsing the semantics in a dishonest attempt to discredit the sum of the mainstream media’s stories by fomenting doubt about this one.
But the doubt is highly exaggerated if not outright inappropriate. The Post took care to note that the reporting was sourced from a third party, and ultimately, said party’s recollection did not deviate materially from the since-verified contents of the call.
As far as the source herself is concerned, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs released a statement Monday saying, “The Secretary of State’s Office’s first reported about its investigator’s phone conversation with President Trump relied on the investigator’s recollection. Information about the content of the call was never presented as a word-for-word transcript. After hearing the tape, it’s clear that the investigator’s recollection accurately portrayed the president’s assertions that there was fraud to uncover and that she would receive praise for doing so.”
Said statement demonstrates that the source was neither misattributed nor misquoted and that any discrepancies in wording were unintentional and fundamentally inconsequential to the spirit of the story.
For these reasons, we rate this claim Mostly False.