Donald Trump tweeted this morning:
The failing @nytimes does major FAKE NEWS China story saying "Mr.Xi has not spoken to Mr. Trump since Nov.14." We spoke at length yesterday!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2017
He is referencing this article in the New York Times, the lede of which stated, at the time Trump made his tweet:
President Trump told President Xi Jinping of China on Thursday evening that the United States would honor the “One China” policy, reversing his earlier expressions of doubt about the longtime diplomatic understanding and removing a major source of tension between the United States and China since shortly after he was elected.
Two paragraphs later, the article later states:
The concession was clearly designed to put an end to an extended chill in the relationship between China and the United States. Mr. Xi, stung by Mr. Trump’s unorthodox telephone call with the president of Taiwan in December and his subsequent assertion that the United States might no longer abide by the One China policy, had not spoken to Mr. Trump since Nov. 14, the week after he was elected.
So what happened here? Did Trump really miss the first line of the article? Did he really misread “had” as has? No; what he did is cite a version of the article that was true when it was published. Mediaite explains:
But Trump is citing a version of the article that was written before he spoke with Xi Thursday night. At the time the article was written, Trump actually hadn’t spoken to Xi since November and The Times story was completely factual.
The article was updated late Thursday night once the White House released its readout of their newest call. The article now reads that Xi “had not spoken to Mr. Trump since Nov. 14, the week after he was elected,” and the headline was updated from “China’s President, Stung by Taiwan Call, Is Said to Shun Trump,” to “After Silence From Xi, Trump Endorses the ‘One China’ Policy.”
As best as I can tell, Mediaite’s account is accurate. According to a useful site that does comparisons of revisions in news articles (a site linked by Mediaite), the language Trump quoted was contained in a version of the article published at 9:38 p.m. Eastern last night. I can’t find a definite time that the news of Trump’s phone call was released, but Fox News had a tweet calling it “breaking” news as of 11:21 p.m. Eastern.
BREAKING: Trump tells China President Xi Jinping that U.S. will honor “one-China” policy
— Fox News (@FoxNews) February 10, 2017
By this morning, when Trump tweeted out his “fake news” complaint, the story had been updated to reflect the new phone call.
It looks like what happened was: the New York Times published its story, Trump released the news of the phone call, and the New York Times updated its story. “Fake news”? Not so much.
More important than the quibbles over Trump’s unfair attack on the Times is the change in policy. The thrust of the original version of the Times article was that Xi was snubbing Trump over his refusal to sign on to the “One China” policy. Then Trump made a great deal and acknowledged it. Now they’re the best of friends! Yay!
Now, I’m not saying that Trump’s team got wind that the New York Times was going to do a news article about Xi snubbing Trump, and made a change in policy so they could call the New York Times fake news. That would be crazy. What I am saying is that the timing of all this is interesting. There’s a story there somewhere.
But it doesn’t mean that Trump’s “fake news” complaint is fair.