Trump wants Washington Post reporter fired over misleading tweet

US President Donald Trump at a rally in Pensacola, Florida, on Dec 8, 2017.
US President Donald Trump at a rally in Pensacola, Florida, on Dec 8, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - President Donald Trump on Saturday (Dec 9) called for a Washington Post reporter to be fired over a misleading tweet about the size of the crowd at a rally for the president on Friday in Pensacola, Florida.

The reporter, Dave Weigel, posted a picture of an arena with many empty seats. He deleted the tweet after learning that the venue had not yet filled up.

On Saturday night, the president posted a screenshot of Weigel's tweet and photos that showed a crowded arena. "Demand apology & retraction from FAKE NEWS WaPo!" he wrote.

In response, Weigel apologised on Twitter, noting that the tweet was not for a Post article. "Very fair to call me out," he wrote.

About an hour later, the president wrote that Weigel "just admitted that his picture was a FAKE (fraud?)," adding, "He should be fired." Contacted Sunday, Weigel referred questions to a Washington Post spokeswoman, Kristine Coratti Kelly.

She said in a statement: "Dave Weigel relied on an inaccurate image in tweeting about President Trump's rally in Pensacola. 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 apologised for it." Trump's broadside was his latest attempt to discredit the news media as biased against him, an effort that has accelerated after several recent mistakes by organisations and journalists.

Brian Ross, chief investigative correspondent for ABC News, was suspended this month for four weeks after incorrectly reporting that Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, would testify that Trump had directed him to make contact with Russian officials while Trump was still a candidate.

At the rally on Friday, Trump called Ross a "fraudster" and noted that the stock market had fallen after the report. "You know what he cost people?" the president said. "And I said to everybody, 'Get yourself a lawyer and sue ABC News.'" Also Friday, CNN corrected an erroneous report that Donald Trump Jr had received advance notice from the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks about a trove of hacked documents that it planned to release during last year's presidential campaign.

In fact, the email to the younger Trump was sent a day after the documents, stolen from the Democratic National Committee, were made available to the general public. The correction undercut the main thrust of CNN's report, which had been seized on by critics of the president.

On Saturday, before the posts about Weigel and the photo, Trump pounced on the CNN correction, tweeting, "Fake News CNN made a vicious and purposeful mistake yesterday." He continued: "CNN'S slogan is CNN, THE MOST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS. Everyone knows this is not true, that this could, in fact, be a fraud on the American Public." Trump's outburst Saturday was not the first time he had expressed anger at the news media for its coverage of attendance at his rallies and other events.

After taking office in January, he accused journalists of deliberately understating the size of the crowd at his inauguration and said that up to 1.5 million people were in attendance, a claim that photographs disproved. Analyses of news footage showed that fewer people attended Trump's inauguration than President Barack Obama's in 2009.