Washington Post Corrects Misquotes

Avery Heinen, Contributor

On November 3, 2020, there were a lot of key races going on across the country. One of these was Georgia’s senate race. Both seats were up for grabs, and both had Republican incumbents. Georgia’s Class 2 seat was held by David Perdue, who was running for his second term after defeating Democratic Candidate Michelle Nunn in 2014 by a solid 7.7 percentage points.

The Class 3 seat was held by Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to finish the term of former Republican senator Johnny Isakson, who had to step down 3 years into his 3rd term due to health concerns in late 2019, until the time of the 2020 election when the permanent replacement would be selected. 

When the votes were tallied, Perdue had beat Ossoff by 1.8 percentage points, but as he only received 49.7% of the vote, a runoff election was scheduled for January 5, 2021. Class 3’s election was a bit more complicated, as multiple people from both major political parties ran against each other. The two top finishers were Leoffler with 25.9% of the vote and Democrat Raphael Warnock with 32.9% of the vote.

However, if the votes for all candidates running for a party were totaled, 48.4% voted for a Democratic candidate, 49.3% voted for a Republican candidate, and 2.3% voted for a third party candidate. This was mainly due to the Republican vote being split between Leoffler and candidate Doug Collins, who received 20% of the overall vote. Again, as no one candidate received more than 50% of the vote, the seat was scheduled to be decided in a runoff election. 

Just days before the runoff election, the Washington Post broke a story that then President Donald Trump had called one of Georgia’s top election officials and told her to “find the fraud” and she’d be a “national hero” in reference to an audit of some of Georgia’s absentee ballots. The audio of this call was not released to the public until mid-March, at which point it was discovered that the quotes published by the Washington Post were not, in fact, quotes at all. The corrections released by the Washington Post on March 11 revised the statement and admitted that, in the actual call, Trump urged the official to scrutinize the ballots and told her that she had “the most important job in the country right now.”

the most important job in the country right now

— Donald Trump

Whether this was a mistake based on an incorrect source and bad paraphrasing or a malicious attempt at defamation, the disinformation was not isolated to a single Washington Post article. A multitude of news sites took up the Washington Post’s story and spread the fake quotes. Many are worried that this may have played a role in Georgia’s runoff elections, as the senate election held on November 3rd slightly favored Republican candidates whilst the election just two days after the quotes were alleged to have been made resulted in that favor shifting to slightly favor Democratic candidates.

News sources today nearly always have a breaking story up online within hours of an event or an article in the paper the very next day. As this phone call took place in December, some find it strange that the story wasn’t broken until days later. Whether or not the article truly had an effect on the run-off election can not be proven, but just the idea of a major media organization attempting to purposely manipulate an election by breaking stories that aren’t entirely true is disturbing. 

What can be proven is that the fraudulent article was cited by Democratic Representative Madeleine Dean on February 10, during former president Trump’s impeachment trial. In Rep. Dean’s opening statement, she said that “Trump urged him, ‘Find the fraud,’ and claimed the official would be a national hero if he did. Let’s call this what it is. He was asking the official to say there was evidence of fraud when there wasn’t any.” The release of the recording now proves that a statement made in a serious impeachment trial was based upon an unreliable source, causing some to question how much of the evidence presented at the impeachment trial was truly legitimate. 

Trump urged him, ‘Find the fraud,’ and claimed the official would be a national hero if he did. Let’s call this what it is. He was asking the official to say there was evidence of fraud when there wasn’t any

— Madeleine Dean

The Washington Post’s error may cause many Americans’ opinions of major news organizations to fall even further. It is yet unknown if the publication will face any consequences for publishing the fake quotes.