National News

Trump Falsely Says Times Made Up Source in Report on Korea Summit Meeting

Posted May 26, 2018 4:36 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump falsely accused The New York Times on Saturday of making up a source in an article about North Korea, even though the source was in fact a senior White House official speaking to a large group of reporters in the White House briefing room.

The president was referring to an article about the on-again, off-again summit meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, which Trump had canceled Thursday.

The article, headlined, “Trump Says North Korea Summit May Be Rescheduled,” said the United States was “back in touch with North Korea” and that the meeting might yet happen.

Trump posted on Twitter to denounce part of the article, which reported in the 10th paragraph that “a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.”

In a tweet, the president took issue with that sentence, saying, “WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.”

It is not clear whether the president was simply unaware of the actions of his own senior staff or if he knowingly ignored the truth. The source of that sentence was a White House official who held a briefing Thursday afternoon in the White House briefing room that was attended by about 50 reporters, with about 200 or so more on a conference call.

Reporters often request such briefings to be on the record, which would allow the official to be named. But, in this case, the rules of the briefing imposed by the White House required that the official be referred to only as a “senior White House official.” The Times is continuing to abide by that agreement.

In the course of the briefing, the official was asked about the possibility that the summit meeting could be held on June 12, despite the president’s decision to cancel it a day earlier. The discussion was prompted by earlier statements from the president suggesting that the meeting might still happen.

The official noted that “there’s really not a lot of time — we’ve lost quite a bit of time that we would need” to prepare for the summit meeting.

“June 12 is in 10 minutes,” the official said.

On Friday, White House officials took pains to demonstrate that it was still possible to hold the meeting. Trump himself said Friday morning that he was hopeful again that there might still be a meeting on June 12 with the North Koreans.

“They very much want to do it,” the president told reporters. “We’d like to do it. We’ll see what happens.”

A recording of the key part of the Thursday briefing, discussing the timing issues of the summit meeting, appeared on Twitter after Trump’s tweet Saturday. At the end of the briefing, reporters asked the official to put comments on the record, but the official said that both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had spoken publicly, and that their comments could stand by themselves.

Trump’s attack on The Times was only the latest of many efforts by the president to discredit reporting by news organizations by questioning the validity of their sources.

On May 4, he attacked NBC News, saying in a tweet, “They cite ‘sources’ which are constantly wrong. Problem is, like so many others, the sources probably don’t exist, they are fabricated, fiction!” On April 21, he attacked The Times for an article on Michael Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, saying that the newspaper used “non-existent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael.”

Last July, he attacked the entire news media, saying, “With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!”

News organizations have repeatedly rebutted Trump’s accusations, noting that their reporting often requires the use of sources who want to remain anonymous.