Several news outlets inaccurately reported a key detail of a story told by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in the book he released last week, “The Chief’s Chief.”
These news outlets got much of the story right: Meadows wrote that then-President Donald Trump had told him one day last year to “bust some heads and make some arrests” of protesters in Lafayette Square park near the White House.
But the outlets got the date of the story wrong – wrongly claiming Meadows wrote that Trump had issued this directive on June 1, 2020, before his controversial photo op outside St. John’s Church.
Facts First: Meadows did not write that Trump had uttered the “bust some heads and make some arrests” remark on the day of the photo op outside St. John’s Church. Rather, Meadows wrote that Trump had made the remark three weeks later, on June 22, 2020, when protesters in Lafayette Square were trying to topple a statue of former President Andrew Jackson.
The date matters – and not only because facts generally matter. There has been particularly intense public and congressional interest in what prompted the use of force against peaceful racial justice protesters in Lafayette Square shortly before Trump held up a Bible for the cameras outside St. John’s Church, where a fire had been set in the basement the night before. If Meadows had actually written that Trump gave a “bust some heads and make some arrests” instruction prior to this use of force, that would have been an important new allegation about the timeline of events on that day.
The liberal website Raw Story, the culture and politics publication Rolling Stone, the media and politics news website Mediaite, the conservative website Independent Journal Review and the British publications The Independent and The Daily Mail all incorrectly reported last week that Meadows had written that Trump gave the directive on June 1, 2020.
All of these outlets except for The Daily Mail published corrections last Friday after CNN and Religion News Service reporter Jack Jenkins pointed out the error on Twitter. Though CNN emailed The Daily Mail about the error last Friday, The Daily Mail fixed its story only after CNN posted the initial version of this article on Monday. Even then, however, The Daily Mail did not publish a correction notice.
Meadows made clear in the book that Trump made the “bust some heads and make some arrests” comment on June 22, 2020, not on June 1, 2020. The book, in fact, included a section break between Meadows’ account of what happened on June 1 and his account of what happened on June 22.
So how did so many outlets get such a simple fact wrong?
The inaccurate reports were linked; some of them relied on material from some of the other news reports rather than independent readings of Meadows’ book. This practice, known as aggregation, can lead to an error in one story being replicated in numerous others.
For example, the erroneous Rolling Stone article quoted the Meadows book but said he “reportedly” wrote those words – and linked to the erroneous Raw Story article as a source. The erroneous Independent Journal Review article, meanwhile, cited the erroneous Mediaite article. And that Mediaite article relied on the erroneous article in The Independent.
What Meadows wrote about Trump’s remark
Meadows wrote that on June 22, Trump was in his White House residence “growing anxious” as people Meadows called “rioters” appeared to attempt to take down the Andrew Jackson statue. Trump “had given an order for the park to be cleared, and it was not being followed,” Meadows wrote, so Meadows called Trump.
When he told Trump he assumed they had the authority to “deploy whatever law enforcement is necessary to fix this,” Meadows wrote, Trump responded, “Not only do you have the authority, I want you to go out there and bust some heads and make some arrests. We need to restore order.”
Meadows wrote that he had soon walked out to the park and personally ordered law enforcement officers on the scene to spring into action and “stop them from taking down that statue.”
Meadows addressed the June 1 photo op at length in the previous section of the book. He did not write that Trump had given him any directive on June 1 about how to handle the protesters outside the White House, though he did write that Trump had, on a conference call that day, urged state governors to “dominate” cities beset by rioting following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Meadows cited a report released earlier this year by the Interior Department inspector general, which concluded that the US Park Police had acted to disperse protesters on June 1 not because of Trump’s photo op but because of a plan to install security fencing “in response to destruction of property and injury to officers.” It’s worth noting that the inspector general’s probe did not interview some of the key players in the events leading up to the photo op, including Trump and then-Attorney General William Barr, and left some important questions unanswered.
This story has been updated to include the news that The Daily Mail fixed its story after CNN published the initial version of this story on Monday.