Washington Post panned for massive correction to Trump-Georgia election story: 'So, they made up quotes'

Post wrongly attributed multiple remarks to Trump from phone call with Georgia election official

The Washington Post made a massive correction Monday to a January report about a phone call between then-President Donald Trump and Georgia elections investigator Frances Watson, admitting it wrongly attributed multiple quotes to Trump based on an anonymous source.

The Post initially reported Trump had told an official working in Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office to "find the fraud" in the state, which he lost narrowly to Joe Biden, and that she would be a "national hero" if she did. 

However, a newly emerged recording of the Dec. 23 call found he didn't use those words. Instead, Trump said she would be "praised" when the "right answer comes out" and encouraged her to closely examine mail-in ballots in Fulton County, the heavily blue and most populated county in the state.

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The Post published a lengthy correction to its story: "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."

CNN also reported on the call citing an unnamed source and waited until Monday afternoon to correct its story, after initially stating Trump said "national hero" and "find the fraud" in its opening paragraph. Many outlets picked up the story, including Vox, ABC News, and NBC News.

While news outlets often cite sources who paraphrase conversations they participated in or overheard, using quotes indicates to the reader a subject said those exact words. Trump himself in a statement Monday slammed the Post in a lengthy statement. 

"While I appreciate the Washington Post’s correction, which immediately makes the Georgia Witch Hunt a non-story, the original story was a Hoax, right from the very beginning," Trump said. There is an ongoing investigation in Georgia into whether comments and actions by Trump and others in his orbit seeking to influence the outcome of the election were criminal and two grand juries will be seated next week. 

The former president also said that the story is further evidence that the press in the United States has a left-leaning bias. 

"You will notice that establishment media errors, omissions, mistakes, and outright lies always slant one way—against me and against Republicans.," Trump 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."

Trump added: " 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."

"Our media are so, so, so breathtakingly corrupt," Fox News contributor 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."

After MSNBC's Hayes Brown defended the Post and praised its correction, Hemingway fired back that it was hardly a "self-policing win."

"So, they made up quotes. What in the actual F," conservative CNN commentator Mary Katharine Ham tweeted.

Conservative writer Mark Hemingway said the Post's correction and new headline did not adequately reflect its wrongdoing, calling the mistake "beyond serious" and indicative of the lack of accountability in corporate media.

In the conversation with Watson, Trump continued to claim he won Georgia by "hundreds of thousands of votes" and "something bad happened" there. Watson told Trump her team and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was focused on finding the truth and looking into any claims of fraud or wrongdoing.

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Trump was the first Republican to lose the state in a presidential election since 1992. He repeatedly attacked Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, R., after he lost the race there, accusing them of being corrupt. Multiple audits and investigations did not uncover evidence of widespread fraud in the state, and recounts confirmed the result.

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In another leaked phone call, he also told Raffensperger he won Georgia by "hundreds of thousands and votes" and encouraged officials to "find" enough votes to offset his margin of defeat. Some Republicans have blamed Trump's rhetoric against the election's integrity as contributing to the January runoff defeats of former Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

Fox News' Tyler Olson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.