"MELANIA TRUMP ORDERS REMOVAL OF NEAR-200-YEAR-OLD TREE FROM WHITE HOUSE," the Newsweek headline blared.
Well, that's just horrible, cutting down such a wonderful old tree! And at Christmastime! What A Scrooge!
Except it isn't true. It's what President Trump refers to as "fake news" — completely wrong, printed maliciously with the intent to wrongly malign someone, in this case America's first lady.
Newsweek didn't do any reporting of its own, fobbing the whole story off on CNN.
"The historic Jackson magnolia has been on the south facade of the White House since the 1800s—making it the oldest on the grounds," said the lead of the story. "But Tuesday, Melania Trump reportedly made the decision to have it removed after tree specialists determined 'the overall architecture and structure of the tree is greatly compromised,' the report stated, according to CNN."
Newsweek has since "updated" and edited the story, so we don't know exactly what the original said (although they decided to keep the same inflammatory headline, which makes it sound like Melania Trump just capriciously decided to hack down a historic tree).
"A White House official told CNN that the first lady made the decision after reviewing and assessing professional information and historical documents," Newsweek wrote.
But there's much more to the story.
The Washington Post at least did a little reporting, writing that the decision to remove the tree "comes after decades of attempts to hold the aged tree up with a steel pole and cables. Arboretum experts said that rigging is now compromised and that the wood of the magnolia's trunk is too delicate for further interventions. Any other tree in that condition would have been cut down years ago."
The Post also offers a history of the tree:
According to White House lore, the stately evergreen was brought to Washington as a seedling by Andrew Jackson. The magnolia was a favorite tree of his wife, Rachel, who had died just days after he was elected. Jackson blamed the vicious campaign — during which his political opponents questioned the legitimacy of his marriage — for his wife's untimely death.
The new planting, which came from the couple's Tennessee farm, the Hermitage, would serve as a living monument to her. ...
But the Post says the tree, planted around 1828, has long outlasted its expected lifespan of 150 years and is now flat-out dangerous.
According to a report from the NPS program, workers attempted to repair a gash in the tree in the 1940s. But within a few decades, much of the interior portion of the tree had decayed, leaving behind a “rind” of brittle wood. Those surviving portions were held in place by a 30-foot pole and guy-wires. “It is doubtful that without this external support the specimen would long survive,” the report said.
Ultimately, those measures could not allay safety concerns about the tree, said White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham. Visitors and members of the press are frequently standing right in front of the magnolia when the president departs on Marine One; the high winds from the helicopter could make a limb collapse more likely.
So yeah. The tree's got to come down. And while Melania isn't an arborist, she heeded the advice of specialists from the National Arboretum when she called for a large portion of the tree to be removed this week.
Twitterers, as they do, ripped Newsweek.
We agree. Time to put a fork in Newsweek — done.