It took NBC News two days to issue a correction after it falsely claimed President Trump called Robert E. Lee “incredible” during an Ohio rally. Trump told a long story, the point of which was to praise one of Ohio’s greatest sons and the man who bested Lee, Ulysses S. Grant. Implicitly Trump drew a parallel between Grant’s fighting, winning nature and his own.
CORRECTION: An earlier tweet misidentified the general President Trump described as "incredible" at a rally in Ohio. It was Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, not Gen. Robert E. Lee. An attached video clip lacked the full context for Trump's remark. Here is the full clip. pic.twitter.com/NZHj3Q2dHL
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 14, 2018
The NBC News tweet that had to be corrected said this: “WATCH: President Trump says ‘Robert E. Lee was a great general’ during Ohio rally, calling the Confederate leader ‘incredible.'” Trump did call Lee a “great general,” but this isn’t a controversial statement. Lee’s battlefield skills were renowned. It was the cause for which Lee fought that was odious. But Trump used the word “incredible” to refer to Grant, not Lee, and anyway the whole tenor of what he was saying was in the service of praising Grant not Lee. The NBC News tweet, and the truncated video that accompanied it, was intended to steer readers to draw the exact opposite conclusion, that Trump was praising Lee in the context of his being a “Confederate,” i.e., a racist.
The NBC News tweet got huge airplay on Twitter even as it was immediately called out for being misleading. It took almost 48 hours for NBC News to correct itself. That outlet was, of course, one of many media organizations that embarrassed itself during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle.
Observing Trump and major media outlets do battle with one another is like watching toddlers scream “She started it!” It’s exhausting. Trump can’t resist baiting the media, and NBC, like virtually every other media outlet, goes into full-on Gotcha Mode every time he opens his mouth. If he gets through a speech without saying anything obviously false or incendiary, they find it hard to retract their claws. The media have done considerable damage to Trump, but they have done irreparable damage to their own reputations.