President Donald Trump’s administration labeled The Associated Press’s reporting on a leak “100 percent false” on Friday morning, only to acknowledge less than an hour later that the story was based on a real document.
The administration’s response mimicked Trump’s remark a day earlier that even if leaks coming out of the government are “real,” the news is “fake.” And it also fit into what appears to be a pattern of ignoring reporters’ requests for comment, only to push back quickly after stories are published.
At 10:12 a.m., The AP tweeted that the administration was considering using as many as 100,000 National Guard troops “to round up” undocumented immigrants. The news organization soon published a full story, attributing the details of the possible plan to a 11-page draft memo it had obtained.
The White House and Department of Homeland Security failed to respond to the AP’s requests for comment prior to publication, the news organization noted. But immediately after the AP published its explosive story, the White House and DHS denied it.
“Not true,” Michael Short, a senior assistant to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, tweeted at 10:26 a.m. A DHS spokeswoman said it was “not true” 10 minutes later.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters aboard Air Force One that the AP report was “100 percent not true,” according to a pool report distributed to reporters at 10:40 a.m.
“I wish you guys had asked before you tweeted,” Spicer told reporters.
An AP reporter responded that the news organization had sought comment “multiple times before publication,” according to the pool report.
At 10:43 a.m., Spicer himself tweeted that the AP story was “not true” and that “DHS confirms it is 100% false.” He responded similarly to another reporter asking about it two minutes later.
A Cox Media Group producer tweeted at 11:03 a.m. that a DHS official said the memo cited by the AP was “a very early” draft and “was never seriously considered.”
The administration’s failure to respond left people to speculate about its motives.
Arizona State journalism professor Dan Gilmor also questioned the administration’s complete denial of the contents of the document, since the document does exist.
Journalists have complained recently that the Trump administration, which frequently decries “fake news,” often fails to respond to requests for comment that would allow reporters to include the administration’s perspective or denials in the original story.
When Trump claimed at Thursday’s press conference that journalists don’t call before publishing stories, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman responded that she doesn’t get her “emails returned from Spicer or [deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee] Sanders, but I reach out.”
Her Times colleague, Glenn Thrush, echoed that sentiment in response to Trump’s claims.
“We call and email the White House all the time,” he tweeted. “They often don’t answer.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated that Spicer spoke to reporters aboard Marine One. He was aboard Air Force One.