President Donald Trump on Saturday evening issued a call for a reporter with The Washington Post to be fired because of a quickly deleted tweet that presented a misleading impression of Mr. Trump’s rally crowd in Florida.
The Post reporter, David Weigel, had earlier tweeted a photo of the crowd gathered at Pensacola Bay Center for Mr. Trump’s speech there Friday evening, showing numerous empty seats. He removed the tweet after being told by others that the photo was taken before the venue filled up and apologized in a later Twitter exchange with the president.
Mr. Trump’s public response: “.@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.”
On Saturday night, The Washington Post released a statement. “Dave Weigel relied on an inaccurate image in tweeting about President Trump’s rally in Pensacola,” the paper’s vice president of communications, Kristine Coratti Kelly, said. “When others pointed out the mistake to Weigel, he quickly deleted the tweet. And when he was later addressed by the president on Twitter, he promptly apologized for it.”
Mr. Trump has frequently lashed out at media figures in very personal terms. It was not the first time the White House had called for a journalist’s firing: In September, after ESPN commentator Jemele Hill called the president a “white supremacist” in a tweet, his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a White House press briefing that it was a “fireable offense.”
Earlier Saturday, Mr. Trump similarly lashed out at two other media organizations, ABC and CNN, that had issued corrections on stories about Mr. Trump in recent days.
“Fake News CNN made a vicious and purposeful mistake yesterday. They were caught red- handed, just like lonely Brian Ross at ABC News (who should be immediately fired for his ‘mistake’). Watch to see if @CNN fires those responsible, or was it just gross incompetence?” he tweeted.
Early Saturday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted about the “GREAT EVENING last night” at his rally in Pensacola, Florida, where he told the audience, among other things, to “get out and vote for Roy Moore,” Alabama’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. “Arena was packed to the rafters, the crowd was loud, loving and really smart,” Mr. Trump wrote.
A short time later, Weigel quoted Mr. Trump’s tweet and wrote “Packed to the rafters,” attaching a photo that showed hundreds of available seats in the lower and upper levels. He deleted it about 20 minutes later.
Around 5 p.m., Mr. Trump addressed Weigel’s tweet with his own: “.@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!” the president wrote, including pictures of the venue’s seats filled as he was onstage.
Weigel tweeted back almost immediately. “Sure thing: I apologize. I deleted the photo after @dmartosko told me I’d gotten it wrong,” Weigel wrote, referring to David Martosko, U.S. political editor of the Daily Mail’s website. “Was confused by the image of you walking in the bottom right corner.”
In a later tweet, Weigel wrote: “It was a bad tweet on my personal account, not a story for Washington Post. . . . Very fair to call me out.”
Among Mr. Trump’s grievances with the media, he is notably sensitive about crowd size at his events. After images circulated on social media in January that showed fewer people at his inauguration than former president Barack Obama’s, then-press secretary Sean Spicer was dispatched to tell the press, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe.”