President Trump boasted during the campaign that he has the “best words.” If the past 14 months in the White House are an indication, he and his team also have the worst spelling.
Among the many casualties of Washington’s protocols in the Trump era has been rigorous attention to the accuracy of the printed word — whether it’s the president’s typo-filled tweets or the White House’s error-prone news releases.
“Special Council is told to find crimes, wether crimes exist or not,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning to start off a posting in which he misspelled “counsel” three times and had five errors in the span of 280 characters.
As journalists and others poked fun at the mistakes, the president quickly deleted the tweet and posted an edited version. He successfully changed “wether” to “whether” and eliminated an inadvertent repeat of the word “the” — but he failed to correct the three inaccurate references to the title of his nemesis, Robert S. Mueller III.
“If Trump directs Rosenstein to fire the special ‘council,’ I think we might be ok folks,” cracked former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara of New York, whom Trump fired last summer, referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
Amid all the chaos in the White House — including West Wing personnel drama, the Stormy Daniels scandal and Mueller’s Russia investigation — some wayward spellings and inaccurate honorifics might seem minor. But the constant small mistakes — which have dogged the Trump White House since the president’s official Inauguration Day poster boasted that “no challenge is to great” — have become, critics say, symbolic of the larger problems with Trump’s management style, in particular his lack of attention to detail and the carelessness with which he makes policy decisions.
On Monday, for example, the White House rolled out an executive order from Trump aimed at cutting off U.S. investment in Venezuela’s digital currency as a way to pinch strongman Nicolás Maduro’s regime. But in the headline on the public news release, the White House wrote that Trump was taking action to “address the situation in America.”
“Freudian slip????” wondered Rosiland Jordan, a reporter for Al Jazeera.
“It echoes a political quote I tell people a lot from [Ralph Waldo] Emerson: The institution is lengthened by the shadow of one man,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican political consultant who has been highly critical of Trump. “The sloppiness and the looseness and the chaos and lack of rigor across all areas of Trump world reflect Trump. They do not care. They don’t give a damn. But everybody needs an editor.”
In Trump’s world, Air Force One became “Air Force Once” on the president’s public schedule. The White House sought “lasting peach” in a news release touting efforts to broker a deal between Israel and Palestinian territories. And another release announced the departure of an East Wing aide to work for Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), who was reincarnated as Rep. Hill in the next sentence.
Last week, in a tweet, the commander in chief lauded his visit to the “Marine Core Air Station Miramar” in San Diego, prompting “veterans everywhere to facepalm,” according to a headline in the Marine Times.
Jason Silverstein, a political reporter, had been posting a “running list of typos” at the New York Daily News, noting in his introduction that Trump was “elected to lead, not to proofread.” He reached 32 entries before departing the paper last October.
Asked Wednesday whether he had a favorite, Silverstein pointed to Trump’s tweet in December 2016 in which the president-elect denounced the seizure of a U.S. Navy underwater glider by a Chinese warship as “unpresidented. ”
“I always told our [editor] that that should be our front-page headline if Trump gets impeached,” Silverstein said in an email.
Inside the West Wing, however, it was another mistake in January 2017, by a junior White House aide, that caused the most consternation — just a week after Trump took office. Announcing the visit to the White House of British Prime Minister Theresa May, the official schedule misspelled her name three times as “Teresa May,” which the London-based Independent newspaper drolly noted is the stage name of a British pornographic movie actress whose oeuvre includes “Whitehouse: The Sex Video” and “Leather Lust.”
The mistake reverberated throughout the West Wing and prompted then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to implement new procedures, building in extra layers of sign-offs before news releases were made public, according to a former White House official familiar with the fallout who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private matters. The main change was that official announcements would have to be cleared by the Office of the Staff Secretary, led by Rob Porter, who resigned last month amid accusations of abuse from two former wives.
“There was a lot of head-desk,” said the former official, when asked how the White House press office reacted to errors that became public. Snarky reaction on Twitter “was usually the first indication that something got missed. Even having the staff secretary look at it was not foolproof. We’re humans.”
The mistakes hardly abated. The White House mangled the titles of foreign leaders and their countries. It called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the “president” of Japan. After Trump held a high-stakes bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in July, the White House readout referred to the “Republic of China,” which is the official name of Taiwan. Xi is the leader of the People’s Republic of China.
In a sign that the sloppiness might be infecting other parts of Washington, tickets to Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress in January, distributed by the Office of the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper, touted the “State of the Uniom.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not respond to a request for comment.
Liz Allen, who served as White House deputy communications director under President Barack Obama, said in an interview that the press office under the 44th president sought to be as rigorous as possible. Releases typically were proofread for accuracy and content by at least four or five people. Announcements that dealt with domestic policy issues and foreign affairs were vetted by experts at federal agencies and the National Security Council, she said.
“We felt a burden and responsibility to get it right,” Allen said. “We were acutely aware of the integrity of our platform. We took it seriously. No one should meet a higher bar than the White House. They are the ultimate voice.”
That voice was a bit garbled last month when, according to the White House daily guidance, Trump was planning to address the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in “Oxen Hill.”
The proper spelling of the suburban Maryland jurisdiction is Oxon Hill, a mistake made more pronounced by the fact that the Gaylord resort is the home of the National Spelling Bee.