The Washington Post wrote on Friday that President-elect Donald J. Trump “fired” the commanding General of the D.C. National Guard who is heading up the military presence during the coming inaugural event — in the middle of the oath of office ceremony. Yet a second story on Saturday did not contain the claim.The Post’s original report set off a wave of stories across the world, causing raised eyebrows over Trump’s “extremely unusual” decision to fire a general in the middle of the presidential oath of office ceremony, especially during these dangerous times.
The paper reported that Major General Errol R. Schwartz, who has commanded the D.C. National Guard since his appointment to the position by George W. Bush, was told to vacate his office the moment Trump says his “I dos” to the oath of office. The decision was presented to readers as unfathomable, if not dangerous, by a president who doesn’t know what he is doing.
In an interview, General Schwartz told the paper that his firing was strange. “The timing is extremely unusual,” the general said.
“My troops will be on the street,” Schwartz continued. “I’ll see them off, but I won’t be able to welcome them back to the armory.” The general added he would “never plan to leave a mission in the middle of a battle.”
The paper went on to quote Democrat D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson as saying, “It doesn’t make sense to can the general in the middle of an active deployment.”
The paper concluded its speculation, saying, “Schwartz said that he has not been told why he was asked to step down. ‘I’m a soldier,’ he said, noting that he was following orders and has no regrets. ‘I’m a presidential appointee, therefore the president has the power to remove me.'”
An earlier version of the story can still be seen at Stars And Stripes.
The fact is, of course, that the commander of the D.C. National Guard serves at the pleasure of the president and is not put in place by the Pentagon or any of the federal branches of the military.
But the Post’s early reporting on the “firing” of General Schwartz contains no statements from the Trump transition office and also leaves out key points such as the fact that the general of the D.C. National Guard traditionally supplies his letter of resignation to every new president who is about to take office.
Subsequent to the publishing of the paper’s story making Trump appear incompetent, news emerged that the incoming Trump administration offered to let General Schwartz keep his position through inauguration day, but it was the general himself who refused the offer, preferring instead to quit at 12 noon on January 20, the hour Trump takes his oath of office.
The general then ran straight to the media to “argue his case in the press,” as a recent Fox News report noted.
In essence, while the incoming Trump White House did accept General Schwartz’ resignation, it did not “fire him” in “the midst of the presidential ceremony,” as the Washington Post reported on Friday.
Meanwhile, on the day after its initial publication, the Post made material edits to its story. And as of press time, the paper had not added any notice that it had made the alterations.
The current version of the story now on the paper’s website added two important paragraphs that change the flavor of its earlier story.
Among other changes, one of the paragraphs added makes it clear that it is customary for such generals to submit their resignation, and in this case Trump accepted it. The paragraph also tries to cover for the paper’s poor reporting by insisting that the Trump team “provided contradictory versions” of the general’s situation — another fact not in the original story.
Despite its changes, the Washington Post story did not contain the statement — aired by Fox News on Saturday — that the transition had asked the general to stay until inauguration day was over, but it was the general who decided to quit. According to the Fox News report, “It appears the general would rather argue his case in the press.”
Schwartz, who started his Army career in 1976 but has never seen a deployment to a theater of war, was appointed to head the D.C. Guard by George W. Bush in 2008. According to his bio page, he was first commissioned in 1979 and has served his entire career in the D.C. Guard. Schwartz has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science in Business Management.
This is far from the first time the paper made a big splash with a story only to quietly rewrite it the next day when it found its assertions in question. The Washington Post recently courted charges of “fake news” when it published the shocking story that the Russians hacked and infiltrated the computer systems of a Vermont power plant. By the next day, the paper completely rewrote its story, disavowing that any hack took place.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.