WH: ‘Big Difference Between Making Honest Mistakes and Purposefully Misleading’ Americans

By Melanie Arter | December 12, 2017 | 1:03am EST
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (CNSNews.com/Melanie Arter)

(CNSNews.com) - The White House on Monday defended President Donald Trump’s recent criticism of a Washington Post reporter and other examples of “fake news,” saying there’s a difference between a reporter making a mistake and intentionally misleading the public.

“There's a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people -- something that happens regularly,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the White House press briefing.


Trump lashed out at a reporter for tweeting a picture of an empty arena where he was speaking in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday, calling it “fake news” and demanding an apology and retraction. According to Trump, the photo was taken before he arrived and while people were still entering the venue.

The president tweeted Saturday, “@DaveWeigel @WashingtonPost put out a phony photo of an empty arena hours before I arrived @ the venue, w/ thousands of people outside, on their way in. Real photos now shown as I spoke. Packed house, many people unable to get in. Demand apology & retraction from FAKE NEWS WaPo!”

He followed with another tweet, saying Weigel admitted the photo was fake and called for Weigel to be fired: “.@daveweigel of the Washington Post just admitted that his picture was a FAKE (fraud?) showing an almost empty arena last night for my speech in Pensacola when, in fact, he knew the arena was packed (as shown also on T.V.). FAKE NEWS, he should be fired.”

When asked about it Monday, the White House said the president was “calling out a very direct and false accusation lodged against him.”

“The president reacted quite angrily over the weekend to a Washington Post reporter's tweet about crowd size that was quickly deleted. I'm wondering if you could help explain the discrepancy between the president's reaction to incidents like this, which he calls ‘fake news’ and talks quite a bit about, and his silence on actual disinformation campaigns like Russia ran during the 2016 election to deliberately spread false information. So both his silence on that, and does he recognize the difference between these two?” a reporter asked.

“Look, the president is simply calling out a very direct and false accusation lodged against him. There was nothing more than an individual trying to put their bias into their reporting, and something that, frankly, has gotten a little bit out of control. We've seen it time and time again over the last couple of weeks,” the press secretary said.

“A number of outlets have had to retract and change, and rewrite, and make editor's notes to a number of different stories -- some of them with major impacts, including moving markets. This is a big problem and we think it's something that should be taken seriously,” she said.

The president tweeted Monday about what else he considers “bad reporting.”

“Another false story, this time in the Failing @nytimes, that I watch 4-8 hours of television a day - Wrong! Also, I seldom, if ever, watch CNN or MSNBC, both of which I consider Fake News. I never watch Don Lemon, who I once called the ‘dumbest man on television!’ Bad Reporting,” he tweeted.

“Very little discussion of all the purposely false and defamatory stories put out this week by the Fake News Media. They are out of control - correct reporting means nothing to them. Major lies written, then forced to be withdrawn after they are exposed...a stain on America!” he added.

When asked if the president sees “a difference between reporters' mistakes and a disinformation campaign by a foreign government,” Sanders said, “I haven't spoken with him about that, but certainly we would take any misinformation like that very seriously, but it's not something we're comparing the two on.”

“And I would just say, Sarah, that journalists make honest mistakes and that doesn't make them fake news,” CNN’s Jim Acosta said.

“But when journalists make honest mistakes, they should own up to them,” Sanders said.

“We do,” a reporter interjected.

“Sometimes -- and a lot of times you don't, but there's a difference -- there's a very big difference --  I'm sorry, I'm not finished,” Sanders said. “There's a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people -- something that happens regularly. You can't say --”

“You mean like tweeting stuff on the Middle East --” a reporter shouted.

“I'm not done. You cannot say --” Sanders continued.

“He retweeted something that was completely fake, Sarah. Can he admit it?” a reporter shouted.

“You cannot say that it's an honest mistake when you're purposefully putting out information that you know to be false, or when you're taking information that hasn't been validated, that hasn't been offered any credibility, and that has been continually denied by a number of people, including people with direct knowledge of an instance,” Sanders said. ”This is something that --”

“Are you speaking about the president?” a reporter asked.

“I'm speaking about the number of reports that have taken place over the last couple of weeks.  I'm simply stating that there should be a certain level of responsibility in that process,” Sanders said.

When asked to cite a specific story that is intentionally false and was intentionally put out to mislead the American people, Sanders cited the inaccurate reporting of ABC’s Brian Ross, who was suspended after he claimed that as a candidate, Trump asked National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to contact the Russians. Ross later issued a correction, saying his source later clarified that Trump asked Flynn as president-elect, not as a candidate.

“Sure, the ABC report by Brian Ross. I think that was pretty misleading to the American people. And I think that it's very telling that that individual had to be suspended because of that reporting. I think that shows that the network took it seriously and recognized that it was a problem,” the press secretary said.


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