Nearly two days after its initial error, NBC News tweeted a retraction to its claim that President Donald Trump praised Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee during a rally.
Here's what happened
At a rally Friday in Ohio, Trump briefly recounted the story of how President Abraham Lincoln chose Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to lead the Union forces. Trump noted that Grant was criticized for his alcoholism, but Lincoln realized he still had the skill set necessary to counteract the effectiveness of Lee, who was a formidable opponent and had proven himself to be an excellent military strategist.
Grant, who had earlier won the first major Union victory during the Civil War, would take over as commander of the Union forces in 1864. The war would end in 1865. Following the unsuccessful primary campaign of Lincoln's Democratic vice president and successor Andrew Johnson in 1868, Grant would be elected president and would serve for eight years.
Throughout his life, Grant did battle with alcoholism. Lincoln was aware of the rumors about Grant's alcohol abuse and once said that he had faced opposition to Grant "from several of our best republicans."
According to Ron Chernow's biography of Grant, Lincoln also reportedly told chaplain John Eaton that he had faced opposition to Grant from a congressional delegation because of his drinking, and that he had quipped in return that they should find out what Grant was drinking "for if it made fighting generals like Grant, I should get some of it for distribution." (Lincoln would later say that he loved that quote but that he hadn't said it himself.)
What did NBC News say?
NBC News clipped a video from Trump's speech to contain only the part where he talked about Lee's military prowess. NBC then tweeted that out on Friday with the inflammatory caption:
WATCH: President Trump says "Robert E. Lee was a great general" during Ohio rally, calling the Confederate leader "incredible."
WATCH: President Trump says "Robert E. Lee was a great general" during Ohio rally, calling the Confederate leader "… https://t.co/MxlQzlD4ES— NBC News (@NBC News)1539389317.0
However, even based on the short clip from the first tweet, it's clear that Trump is not praising Lee as a person, but simply noting how hard it was for the Union Army to beat him.
On Sunday at 10:56 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted about the error, saying "NBC News has totally and purposely changed the point and meaning of my story about General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses Grant. Was actually a shoutout to warrior Grant and the great state in which he was born. As usual, dishonest reporting. Even mainstream media embarrassed!"
NBC News has totally and purposely changed the point and meaning of my story about General Robert E Lee and Genera… https://t.co/SG1khGsORo— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1539525372.0
It wasn't until Sunday that NBC News tweeted a correction with a longer clip of the speech, claiming that its earlier tweet had "misidentified the general President Trump described as 'incredible' at a rally in Ohio. It was Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, not Gen. Robert E. Lee."
CORRECTION: An earlier tweet misidentified the general President Trump described as "incredible" at a rally in Ohio… https://t.co/u06mdg2tEM— NBC News (@NBC News)1539537790.0
The original tweet was posted on Friday at 9:08 p.m. ET. The correction was tweeted on Sunday at 2:23 p.m. ET — more than 40 hours later and hours after Trump had tweeted about the error.
Even though Trump's meaning was clear from the context, other news outlets also pounced on NBC's angle. MSNBC, Politico, and the Washington Post also reported on this campaign speech as if Trump had been promoting Lee.