WSJ reporter Jonathan Cheng deleted a tweet and apologized after he helped spread an unverified report out of South Korea that NSC Asia director Matthew Pottinger had suggested the U.S. would give North Korea a “bloody nose” in a limited military strike that “might help in the midterm elections.”
Cheng wrote on Twitter, “It was a mistake to tweet the report from Hankyoreh about comments purportedly made by the NSC’s Matt Pottinger without verification, and I’ve deleted it. The NSC has denied the report, calling it an ‘unsourced, unbylined, untrue accusation.'”
It was a mistake to tweet the report from Hankyoreh about comments purportedly made by the NSC’s Matt Pottinger without verification, and I’ve deleted it. The NSC has denied the report, calling it an “unsourced, unbylined, untrue accusation.” pic.twitter.com/AcYliD1zoB
— Jonathan Cheng (@JChengWSJ) February 3, 2018
The deletion came after Sarah Huckabee Sanders slapped down the report and asked why Cheng didn’t reach out to the White House before tweeting:
Never happened. Pottinger is a Marine who served in two wars and doesn’t take military action lightly. Can’t believe @WSJ reporter didn’t reach out for a comment before repeating such a reckless accusation. https://t.co/B270jlqHUs
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) February 3, 2018
Some journalists and experts questioned the veracity of the report immediately:
Matt Pottinger would never say that. Totally ridiculous. https://t.co/3RGpgSYYVj
— Victor Cha (@VictorDCha) February 3, 2018
No link, no name of reporting outlet, and my (admittedly speedy) search turns up nothing in English-language media (other than references to this) https://t.co/jSMTnUL0xo
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) February 3, 2018
I’m very doubtful that Matt Pottinger would say this. It would be out of character. He’s not political. https://t.co/ZXpSB0tGDI
— Sue Mi Terry (@SueMiTerry) February 3, 2018
I know Matt and can’t imagine him saying something so dumb and crass. https://t.co/DgMqYLk0hC
— Andrew Exum (@ExumAM) February 3, 2018
If Pottinger said it and it’s verified then he should be shitcanned immediately. But I just don’t believe this story. https://t.co/x2OrU5mTQn
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) February 3, 2018
But not all. The story is still spreading on liberal Twitter racking up thousands and thousands of retweets:
A lot of news today, but this is the most disturbing. We need to know:
-Did NSC official Mathew Pottinger make the below statement?
-If so, what was the response?
-Who else was in the meeting?
-Does @realDonaldTrump believe war in North Korea would help in midterm elections? https://t.co/Ra5m8vYfO6
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) February 3, 2018
This is horrifying if true. Pottinger is the White House official in charge of East Asia in the NSC. To risk a nuclear war in hopes of gaining advantage in the midterms—disgusting if true. https://t.co/U8bxYuxCTe
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) February 3, 2018
WTF: Trump’s National Security Council’s Senior Director Matthew Pottinger was reported as saying in a recent closed-door meeting with US experts on Korean Peninsula issues that a limited strike on the North “might help in the midterm elections.” #Impeach https://t.co/LM2N7CIPNk
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) February 3, 2018
And this Washington Post reporter still has her tweet up on the discredited story…
NSC Asia director Matthew Pottinger told Korea experts that a limited strike on the North “might help in the midterm elections,” South Korea's (left-wing) Hankyoreh reports https://t.co/EGq2XPK2xD pic.twitter.com/EArBioN7lH
— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) February 2, 2018
…which she later tweeted was “totally untrue”:
Update: a source tells me this report is “totally untrue” https://t.co/hciHLQ9Xpo
— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) February 3, 2018
It looks like a translation error might be to blame:
And what went wrong here has something to do with how Korean editorials are often written and a serious problem with the translation. I'll start with the problem in the translation. For reference here's the original.https://t.co/th9SiMsFt5
— the oranckay (@oranckay) February 3, 2018
Moral of the story #1: Don't trust most translations of a Korean newspaper editorial down to the last word. You can trust the whole essence of it – "Ah, today the Hankyoreh has run an editorial opposing a 'bloody nose' strike" and stop there. Don't fixate on any one little bit.
— the oranckay (@oranckay) February 3, 2018
In short, do better media:
That this Pottinger story got any play at all, let alone that it required a public beatdown from the White House, is pretty good evidence you can make up anything you want, without even a gesture at sourcing, as long as it casts Trump's national security team in a bad light.
— Omri Ceren (@omriceren) February 3, 2018
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