Hopefully, the typos don't kill us all
Posted May 1, 2018 10:25 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) — It was letter -- a single character -- that could cause an international incident.
The White House statement was apparently supposed to say "Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program."
Which is a lot different than what was actually sent out: "Iran HAS a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program." (Emphasis mine.)
Big difference! It was explained away as a "clerical error," which is fair enough. We all make mistakes and no journalist, in this era of reduced copy desks, should be sanctimonious about typos.
But in this case, the typo could, theoretically, have very real-world consequences. Especially since the news release was supposed to express support for the alarm bells about Iran being sounded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (despite the determinations of the current US intelligence community and former CIA Director Michael Hayden describing what Netanyahu announced on TV Monday as "old news").
In this case, the typo played into Netanyahu's narrative about Iran. Trump has already expressed skepticism about whether to certify that Iran has lived up to its end of the Iran deal ahead of a May 12 deadline.
Whether Iran "has" or "had" a nuclear weapons program is a very big deal, especially if Trump is under the impression Iran is currently pursuing nuclear weapons despite what his intelligence apparatus says and if he follows through on threats to withdraw from it.
Iran has long maintained its nuclear aims are peaceful. The Obama-era nuclear deal puts restrictions on the country in exchange for the easing of some sanctions. Trump has long said it's a bad deal but has so far not withdrawn from it. Trump has another opportunity May 12 and has, theatrically, kept his intentions as secret.
It would also not be the first time Trump simply didn't believe his intelligence community. He has been skeptical of the idea of Russian election meddling despite the united view of intelligence agencies.
It is not on the same level as his disdain for the intelligence community, but the President's questionable relationship with grammar has been troubling to the pedants out there for some time. Most of the mistakes are found not in official statements, but on Twitter and from his personal account. But in the absence of many Trump interviews, his tweets are official statements. He capitalizes random words, frequently misspells things, serially overuses all-caps and exclamation points.
When he tweeted the string of letters "covfefe," it became a meme. What did he mean? It was probably a mangled attempt at the word "coverage" since the entire tweet, since deleted, was "Despite the constant negative press covfefe (sic)"
Without a period or end to the thought, it was probably just a social media squib.
The New York Daily News has kindly kept a running but non-exhaustive list of every mistake it can find. There are a lot, both on Twitter and a few in formal statements. Some are more embarrassing than others. Accidentally calling the "Humane Society" the "Human society" is kind of funny. Getting the year of Barbara Bush's death wrong is unfortunate and avoidable. Repeatedly misspelling British Prime Minister Theresa May's name is the kind of little thing that can undermine a diplomatic relationship.
CNN's Gregory Krieg wrote a great piece on Trump's typos, "Trump misspells a lot of words. Should you care?"
The short answer was not really. Trump often deletes tweets and re-posts corrected versions. His White House has been known to update official statements, as it did Tuesday when it changed "has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program" to "had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program."
The other complicating factor is that Trump has been known to catch his staff and the rest off the US government off guard. Literally. His decision to dispatch the National Guard to the Mexico border was not expected by the Pentagon or border states.
The point here is that hopefully the people at the White House are paying very close attention to things like nuclear armed powers and official statements; sometimes typos can be a very bad thing.
Note: Apologies for any typos in this post. It is unlikely they will affect national security.