A number of establishment media outlets were forced to issue corrections or editor’s notes on Wednesday after they misquoted President Donald Trump, who was speaking at the White House on the situation in Syria.
Making matters worse, Trump’s remarks were open to reporters and TV cameras alike, meaning the outlets in question could have avoided spreading fake news by fact-checking the misquote against the video.
The president’s comments came as he was seated next to Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the Oval Office.
Trump was asked about his recent decision to pull some U.S. troops out of northern Syria — a move that many have said left America’s Kurdish allies hanging out to dry. Following that decision, Turkey launched a military offensive in the area.
If you follow a number of establishment media outlets, including ABC News, NBC News, CBS News and NPR, you might have gotten the idea that Trump, in defending his Syria decision, said something along the lines of: “If Turkey goes into Syria, it is between Turkey and Syria. It’s not our problem.”
You’d get that idea because — well, that’s what all of those outlets claimed Trump said.
“It’s not our problem,” Trump says in Oval Office of Turkey’s invasion into Syria. He adds that the Kurds are “not angels.” Also, he says this: “They’ve got a lot of sand over there…. There’s a lot of sand they can play with.”
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) October 16, 2019
In fact, the president’s actual remarks, as video footage and a White House transcript reveal, were actually quite different.
“So, if Russia wants to get involved with the — with Syria, that’s really up to them,” Trump said. “They have a problem with Turkey, they have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”
Here’s the thing: Claiming that Trump said the situation in Syria is “not our problem” makes him seem callous.
Saying that is quite a bit less measured than making the objectively true statement that Syria does not, in fact, share a border with the United States.
So why did all of those outlets run with the fake quote?
According to the correction at the bottom of NBC News’ story: “An earlier version of this article, based on a White House pool report, misquoted Trump in reference to the conflict in Syria.”
In other words, one of the journalists assigned to the White House media pool got the quote wrong, but various media outlets, trusting that it was correct, ran with it anyway.
Of course, it would have taken them roughly five minutes (if not less) to find video of Trump speaking to confirm that he said what they claimed he did.
This basic act of journalism would have saved all of these outlets — but particularly ABC News, which was among the outlets that helped the fake quote spread like wildfire across the internet — a lot of embarrassment.
CORRECTION: A readout of Pres. Trump’s Oval Office remarks originally indicated he said Turkish invasion of Syria was “not our problem.” The president said, “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border.” https://t.co/MSq3OAH2hZ
— ABC News (@ABC) October 16, 2019
Why, one might ask, am I singling out ABC News?
To put it mildly, the network does not have a great track record when it comes to covering the Syria situation honestly.
On Sunday, a segment on the network’s “World News Tonight” program showed footage of a years-old military weapons demonstration in Kentucky, but described it as footage from a Turkish attack on Kurds in Syria.
ABC issued a correction soon thereafter.
But the outlet apparently didn’t learn its lesson, as evidenced by its latest mistake.
I’d say I’m surprised, but when it comes to the establishment media, I’m not really shocked by this sort of thing anymore.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.