The only thing more remarkable than a president prone to saying outrageous things is a news media so sloppy and dishonest that it can’t be trusted to paraphrase him accurately.

Trump did not, for example, say it doesn’t matter if Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth when she says she was sexually assaulted by Justice Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. That didn't stop CBS News from sharing a headline this weekend that read, “Pres. Trump on his treatment of Christine Blasey Ford at rally: ‘It doesn't matter. We won.’”

This is not what he said. It’s true the president mocked Ford during a political rally in Mississippi. But he didn’t pull a Harry Reid later and suggest in an interview with 60 Minutes that the ends justified the means.

Here’s what Trump said, according to CBS’ own transcript of the interview:

Lesley Stahl: And you mimicked Professor Blasey Ford. You mimicked her.

President Donald Trump: Had I not made that speech, we would not have won. I was just saying she didn't seem to know anything. … And you're trying to destroy a life of a man who has been extraordinary.

Lesley Stahl: Why did you have to make fun of her?

President Donald Trump: I didn't really make fun of her.

Lesley Stahl: Well, they were laughing.

President Donald Trump: What I said the person that we're talking about didn't know the year, the time, the place.

Lesley Stahl: Professor Blasey Ford got before the Senate and — and was asked what's the worst moment. And she said, "When the two boys laughed at me, at my expense."

President Donald Trump: Ok, fine.

Lesley Stahl: And then I watched you mimic her and thousands of people were laughing at her.

President Donald Trump: They can do what they — I — I will tell you this. The way now Justice Kavanaugh was treated has become a big factor in the midterms. Have you seen what's gone on with the polls?

Lesley Stahl: But did you have to —

President Donald Trump: Well, I think she was treated with great respect, I'll — I'll —

Lesley Stahl: And — but —

President Donald Trump: be honest with you.

Lesley Stahl: but do you think — you treated her with —

President Donald Trump: There are those that think she shouldn't have —

Lesley Stahl: Do you think you treated her with respect?

President Donald Trump: I think so, yeah. I did.

Lesley Stahl: But you seem to be saying that she lied.

President Donald Trump: W — you know what? I'm not gonna get into it because we won. It doesn't matter. We won.


It’s clear from the transcript what transpired: Trump pushed back against the framing of the Ford controversy by his interviewer, saying he would not relitigate the Kavanaugh confirmation fight on "60 Minutes" on the grounds that the controversy was over and "it doesn’t matter" anymore.

Trump did not say “he doesn't care if Kavanaugh's accuser is telling the truth,” as Vox.com claimed following the airing of the interview.

This isn’t even the worst botch of a Trump statement in the last couple of days. Earlier, newsrooms claimed Trump heaped praise on Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee during a political rally in Ohio.

“President Trump says ‘Robert E. Lee was a great general’ during Ohio rally, calling the Confederate leader ‘incredible,'” NBC News "reported" in a since-corrected tweet.

The Washington Post said elsewhere, “Trump calls on blacks to ‘honor’ Republicans with votes, then praises Confederate general Robert E. Lee.”

“Trump praises Robert E. Lee during Ohio rally,” reported Politico.

But the president didn’t “praise” Gen. Lee so much as he acknowledged an objective truth: That Lee was a highly successful general of the American Civil War, and that it took Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (the real object of Trump's praise in his Ohio speech) to succeed where so many had failed.

Trump had begun his Civil War riff by praising Ohio-born President William McKinley. He then moved to praise Gen. Grant, another Ohio native, saying that the state, “also gave you a general who was incredible. He drank a little bit too much. You know who I’m talking about.” But despite even the drinking, Trump continued, President Abraham Lincoln turned to Grant to beat Lee, who was a “true, great fighter.”

“And he went in and he knocked the hell out of everyone. And you know the story,” Trump said. “They said to Lincoln, ‘You can’t use him anymore, he’s an alcoholic.’ And Lincoln said, ‘I don’t care if he’s an alcoholic, frankly, give me six or seven more just like him.’ He started to win. Grant really did — he had a serious problem, a serious drinking problem, but man, was he a good general. And he’s finally being recognized as a great general.”

From this, newsrooms pulled headlines claiming Trump “praised” Lee. NBC News even quoted the words that Trump used to praise Grant as if they had been in praise of Lee. If this sort of thing happened only rarely, we'd write it off as an honest mistake. But these sloppy, misleading headlines are a regular fixture of the Trump era. And the mischaracterizations of what the president says are not random — they all invariably put him an unflattering light, to the point that one must wonder whether they're deliberate.

At the very least, there's no reason anyone should trust a headline about something Trump said until they've read the transcript or even seen exactly what he said. The reporters and editors who are supposed to be conveying such information have by now forfeited the trust of their readers.