Spell Checking Becoming the New Fact Checking
Both ABC and CBS pointed out a typo in one of President Donald Trump’s tweets, but NBC didn’t. Is it newsworthy that the president made a spelling mistake in a tweet?
On March 4, Trump tweeted four times, accusing former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 election.
The president misspelled tap with “tapp” in the tweet above.
On that evening’s news, ABC led its broadcast with the wiretapping story. It showed the tweet and said Trump tweeted “four more presidential outbursts, taking on President Obama and misspelling tap.”
On Monday night’s broadcast, CBS’s Scott Pelley read the president’s tweet and said, “The spelling and punctuation are the president’s.”
CBS didn’t point out the exact word that was misspelled.
Should the networks point out a president’s spelling error? If so, then what is the best way to handle it?
Ken Auletta, author and Annals of Communication writer for The New Yorker, said the spelling error shouldn’t have been ignored, but not cited specifically either.
“I prefer CBS’s way to handle Trump’s spelling mistake, choosing not to neglect it but also not to make more of it than it deserves,” Auletta said. “We have enough other issues of Trump, for instance, making up facts, that deserve our attention. We need not feed the perception that the press is out to get Trump.”
Notably, NBC did not mention the tweet containing the error throughout the weekend and Monday night’s broadcast. Instead it called the accusations “unprecedented and unproven” and referred to one of his other tweets.
Former broadcast news executive producer Mark Nelson said the misspelled word pales in comparison to Trump’s accusations that Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower.
“Broadcast news operates on very limited time and given the severity of his tweet, I have no problem with NBC focusing exclusively on Trump’s serious charge rather than on a misspelled word,” Nelson said. “Two weeks later, the wiretapping story is still at or near the top of the news, while the misspelled word is all but forgotten.”
More from the pros:
- Mark Nelson
- “Given the president’s reliance on Twitter to communicate almost daily, his tweets are rightfully scrutinized by the press, government officials, our nation’s allies and enemies, The misspelled word did not change the meaning of the tweet so I have no problem with ABC mentioning or CBS alluding to the error in their stories.”
- “If a typo or misspelled word changes the meaning of a tweet, press release, document etc., it is most definitely newsworthy and should be reported.”
- “President Trump’s spelling error did not affect the meaning or importance of the tweet that accused Obama of illegally wiretapping his office. NBC ignored the error choosing to focus on serious implications of Trump’s tweet.”
- “A typo or misspelled word can have serious consequences if it changes the meaning of a tweet, press release, document etc., and should be reported,”
- Ken Auletta
- “Since he’s the president and is supposed to be our educator in chief, I think NBC made a mistake by ignoring his spelling error. Our audience needs to know the press was not negligent. But I did not think ABC had to cite it specifically, though that’s a judgment call and I don’t believe it qualifies as a journalistic mistake.”