We don’t fact-check every meme and retweet shared by President Trump. But this one’s a corker: In a Monday morning Twitter post, Trump shared a real photograph with a fake quotation from President Ronald Reagan.
Trump, dressed in black tie, is shaking hands with Reagan in the Blue Room of the White House. The photo was taken at a reception for arts patrons in 1987, according to the Reagan Library.
“For the life of me, and I’ll never know how to explain it, when I met that young man, I felt like I was the one shaking hands with a president,” Reagan is falsely quoted as saying about Trump, who was 41 years old at the time.
Where did Trump find this extravagantly phony quote? The president linked to a fake Twitter account that had been posing as another, more famous account. Within hours of Trump’s tweet, the fake account and the fake quote were gone from the real Twitter. (Trump’s tweet, however, remains online. It now shows the word “Cute!” sitting atop a dead link.)
Let’s recap how this zany turn of events wound up spreading misinformation.
In his first tweet Monday morning, at 7:15 a.m., Trump wrote “Cute!” on top of the Reagan photo and fake quote. Thousands of Twitter users retweeted the president.
At first glance, Trump appeared to be sharing a Twitter post from the popular conservative account @ReaganBattalion. The tweet at issue had some pro-Trump commentary in addition to the fake Reagan quote: “Dear weak Conservatives, never forget that you are no match for ‘we the people,’ and our president.”
We note that this was a February 2017 tweet that somehow wound up on the president’s Twitter feed more than two years later. Upon close inspection, it wasn’t from the real Reagan Battalion account, but from an impostor deftly trying to trick Twitter users by spelling the word battalion with a capital I instead of a lowercase L. (Can you spot the difference between “@ReaganBattalion” and “@ReaganBattaIion”?)
Months before the fake account shared the fake quote, it was debunked by Snopes in 2016. And months before Trump’s tweet, PolitiFact debunked the Reagan quote again in February, awarding a “Pants on Fire” rating.
“He did not ever say that about Donald Trump,” Joanne Drake, chief administrative officer of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, told PolitiFact.
“In fact, this quote wasn’t attached to the photograph at all until 30 July 2016, long after Reagan’s death, when it was posted to the ‘Trump Train’ Facebook page,” which frequently shared hoaxes and fake quotes, Snopes found.
As The Washington Post’s James Hohmann reported in 2016, “Trump has routinely compared himself to Reagan and embellished his ties to the GOP icon.”
“A review of every Trump mention in the Reagan files shows that White House aides spent much of the 1980s trying to gently reject the mogul’s self-aggrandizing overtures without bruising that ‘large ego’ of his,” Hohmann reported. One example: “Back in 1983, Trump snagged a picture with the president during a photo line at a White House event. The president, not paying close attention, signed it ‘Reagan Reagan.’ Five years later, Trump included the image in his book ‘The Art of the Deal.’ An aide in the social secretary’s office noticed the mistake. She sent an apologetic note and a corrected picture — signed with an autopen.”
(That was a different picture from the one in Monday’s tweet.)
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
The president or someone managing his Twitter account later Monday morning began to retweet Trump-cheering posts from the real @ReaganBattalion. Those tweets also had photos . . . of the crowd size and festivities at the Fourth of July event Trump held at the Lincoln Memorial. The real @ReaganBattalion account tweeted Monday, “we are right here, the account that was suspended was impersonating us.”
Within hours of Trump’s tweet, the account that had been posing as @ReaganBattalion was taken offline and appeared to have been suspended by Twitter. Its tweets now show up as dead links.
The Bottom Line
What a mess! Trump shared a real photo of himself with Reagan, but Reagan’s quote was fabricated (and way over the top). Fact-checkers had debunked this meme in the months and years before Trump’s tweet.
Trump retweeted this quote, and we usually don’t fact-check politicians based on what they retweet. However this phony quote wound up on the president’s Twitter feed, the bottom line is that Reagan never lavished Trump with this type of praise.
Perhaps Trump believed otherwise. Perhaps he couldn’t tell that he was retweeting an impostor. That raises a separate concern. The president should vet more carefully what he shares on Twitter, especially when his administration is raising the alarm about the spread of misinformation online. Compounding the problem, Trump failed to provide a clarification or correction once the Reagan quote he tweeted was debunked again as a total fabrication.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form
Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter
The Fact Checker is a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network code of principles