On Saturday, President Trump demanded an apology from Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel over a tweet that Weigel sent earlier in the day incorrectly calling into question Trump’s boast about the crowd size at his Friday night rally in Florida. After receiving the apology, the president then called for Weigel to be fired, but not without contributing his own fake news to the story.
The tweet in question featured an image showing Trump’s Pensacola rally venue mostly empty, with a message quoting Trump’s later assertion that the arena was “packed to the rafters.” The photo Weigel shared, however, was taken before all the rallygoers or the president had arrived, and the venue eventually filled up to what looked like capacity by the time Trump’s speech began.
Weigel quickly deleted the tweet after another journalist pointed out his error, but a screenshot of the original tweet made it to Trump (or a member of his staff) regardless. So, later on Saturday, Trump sent a tweet accusing Weigel and the Post of willingly using a “phony photo” and spreading fake news.
Weigel, immediately responding to Trump’s criticism, admitted he was confused about the photo when he wrote his tweet and apologized to the president. In a subsequent tweet, Weigel further explained that the message was a “bad tweet from my personal account, not a story for Washington Post,” but that it was “very fair” for Trump to call him out over it.
Unsatisfied or, more likely, encouraged by Weigel’s response, Trump then called for the journalist to be fired since he had admitted “his picture was a FAKE (fraud?)”
Weigel’s tweet also follows the recent retractions of a few major news stories about Trump, including a CNN story on Friday which incorrectly reported that Trump and his son Donald Jr. had received access to WikiLeaks’ trove of Russia-hacked DNC emails before the organization made them public. Trump launched a predictable attack on CNN over that story on Saturday morning, and had called out another big retracted story from ABC News at his rally on Friday night. In that context, Weigel’s tweet fit perfectly into Trumpworld’s perpetual, newly invigorated narrative that the media is out to get the president and pushing out false stories to do so.
But while Trump, or anyone, is justified in complaining about unmerited criticism from a member of the media, Trump significantly exaggerated Weigel’s transgression. Though Weigel has gotten into (overblown) trouble for private comments criticizing conservatives in the past, he is still a widely respected journalist, and there is no reason to presume, as Trump did, that he was knowingly trying to misrepresent Trump’s crowd size or was manufacturing fake photos to do so. That’s an important distinction because the president, in bad faith, has singled out an individual journalist over a minor mistake and made him a target for — at best — an enormous wave of harassment from Trump’s allies and supporters. That’s not justice; it’s bullying from a position of disproportionate power.
Weigel screwed up, deleted his tweet when he realized it, and later apologized when asked. That was the appropriate course of action after making such a mistake, and he doesn’t deserve to be put in the crosshairs of legions of angry Trump supporters and Russian Twitter bots as a result.
Furthermore, Trump may have been right about his crowd size on Saturday, but he essentially kicked off his presidency with an outrageous, easily exposed lie about the size of his inauguration crowd — and that was just the beginning:
Indeed, Trump is arguably the most truth-challenged president in American history, and nowhere has that played out as often or as prominently as it has in his Twitter feed. Weigel may have been unfairly cynical, but Donald Trump criticizing anyone else for misrepresenting the truth on Twitter — let alone about crowd sizes — sets the new world record for hypocrisy.