Mailbag: Our Headline on U.S. Postal Service Story

Numerous readers in recent days sent us emails questioning why we have not changed the headline on our June story [“Biden Floats Baseless Election Conspiracy,” June 26] regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s claim that President Donald Trump “wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots.”

That story, of course, has been overtaken by subsequent events. The president acknowledged in an Aug. 13 interview that he opposes a coronavirus pandemic relief bill crafted by the House Democrats because it includes funding for the U.S. Postal Service and state election officials — funding that Trump said is needed to allow the Postal Service to handle an expected surge in mail-in voting.

They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent, that’s election money basically. They want $3.5 trillion — billion dollars for the mail-in votes, OK, universal mail-in ballots, $3.5 trillion,” Trump said. “They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, in the meantime, they aren’t getting there. By the way, those are just two items. But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”

We wrote about Trump’s latest remarks [“Trump Proves Biden Right on USPS Funding, Mail-In Ballots,” Aug. 14], and provided an update at the top of the June 26 story with a link to our new story. But we didn’t change the headline.

Robert Skaggs, a reader from Coral Springs, Florida, wrote: “We live in a fast-paced world. Many people only look at headlines which is why you should change the headline to your story about Biden having a quote-unquote baseless claim against Trump defunding the United States postal service. The editor’s note is good but the headline needs to be adjusted as well since Trump came out and admitted it.”

After further internal discussions, we agree — to a point.

We won’t change the headline, because the first story was accurate at the time we wrote it in late June. But we did add an update to the original headline to give the new information more prominence.

In late June, Biden said that Trump “wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots,” but the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that Trump signed in late March gave USPS access to a $10 billion Treasury loan that the USPS said at the time would alleviate its cash flow problem and keep it operating through at least May 2021.

Also, as we wrote in June, USPS monthly financial reports showed an improvement in its finances at the time we wrote that first story. The Postal Service reported a net loss of $1.2 billion in April, but a more modest $225 million in May, according to its monthly financial reports.

“The recent trends indicate that our 2020 financial performance will be better than our early scenarios predicted,” David Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, told us at the time. “Regarding our role in elections, our current financial condition is not going to impact our ability to deliver election and political mail this year.”

But the facts have changed since we wrote that story.

In addition to Trump’s stark statements about the Postal Service, the new postmaster general — Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor and ally — instituted changes that could cause delays in election mail delivery service. There was no evidence of that in late June, but there is now:

  • In a July 10 memo to all employees, the Postal Service directed mail carriers to begin and end their routes on time — even if it means leaving behind some unsorted mail at processing and distribution centers — because “late trips” and “[e]xtra trips are no longer authorized or accepted.”
  • On Aug. 13, Oregon Live reported that mailboxes were being removed from Eugene and Portland, and the Washington Post reported the next day that mailboxes were also being removed in parts of New York, Pennsylvania and Montana. The Postal Service said it typically takes mailboxes in low-use areas and moves them to growth areas, but will stop reallocating mailboxes until after the election, the Post reported.
  • Also on Aug. 14, there were reports of USPS removing mail sorting machines. NBC News reported on Aug. 14 that DeJoy initiated a plan to decommission 671 of its letter-sorting machines, citing an internal document. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said no additional machines would be removed “between now and the election.”

Whether any of these changes will have an effect on mail-in ballot delivery remains to be seen. DeJoy, who took over in June, described the changes as having “unintended consequences” on service.

But Biden’s claim about Trump is no longer “baseless” and “unsupported.” His speculation about Trump’s motives has been proved right by the president himself.

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