The Washington Post no longer stands by its account of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon personally confronting Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly last week ― an incident the White House says never took place.
“It’s a patently false, made up story,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told The Huffington Post.
Post columnist Josh Rogin reported Saturday morning that Bannon “paid a personal and unscheduled visit” to Kelly’s office on Jan. 28 and urged him not to issue a waiver for lawful permanent residents, or green card holders, to President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration. Kelly “refused to comply,” Rogin wrote, attributing the information to “two administration officials familiar with the confrontation.”
Many prominent journalists tweeted Rogin’s column. The dramatic showdown, as reported, would suggest Bannon was ignoring the presidential chain of command and trying to strong-arm a Cabinet member. The Post hours later walked back the column’s claims of a personal “confrontation,” but the story had already circulated widely on social media and was picked up by other news outlets.
Spicer reached out to the Post Saturday morning and said there was no Bannon-Kelly faceoff, as had been reported, and disputed other details of the story.
In an interview with HuffPost, Spicer said Bannon was not on a 2 a.m. Sunday conference call with senior staffers, as Rogin reported, and took issue with the columnist’s framing of a DHS press conference held on Tuesday. Spicer said he personally urged DHS to hold the press conference, though believed the columnist suggested the agency did so on its own.
Spicer said the Post’s handling of the story, including Rogin’s failure to seek comment from the White House prior to publication, was “unbelievably unprofessional.” He said the Post owes its readers and the White House an apology.
The Post appended an editor’s note to the column Saturday morning acknowledging that Rogin only approached DHS and not the White House. “We should have done both,” wrote editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, who oversees the Post’s columnists.
On Saturday evening, the Post significantly updated Rogin’s column, which noted that “two sources” had said Bannon visited Kelly that day. The credibility of those sources has now been called into question, since the Post can’t verify that the meeting occurred and the White House has categorically denied it. Spicer insisted there was no confrontation between Bannon and Kelly over the green card issue, in person or otherwise.
In an interview with HuffPost, Hiatt said the Post “still stand[s] by that they had a disagreement over whether green card holders should be included.”
Hiatt acknowledged mistakes in the column. He said the Post responded to Spicer’s call by trying to “correct where it needed correcting and hold ourselves accountable.” Rogin, he said, will continue to follow up and “keep writing as he finds more stuff out.”
“I think we got things wrong in this column,” Hiatt said. “That’s why we published an editor’s note and a correction. I regret getting things wrong. We try really hard not to, but we do make mistakes. And when we make mistakes, we try to correct them and be transparent to the readers what we got wrong.”
Spicer, however, isn’t satisfied. He argued there’s double standard in how the news media aggressively fact-checks the administration, while the Post didn’t verify key details or approach the the White House in advance of publication.
“The behavior of both Fred Hiatt and Josh Rogin is highly disturbing for people who look to The Washington Post for ‘news,’” Spicer said.