"Obama indicated that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino."
A story published by the New York Times late Thursday night caused some major media waves. The story, which was written by reporters Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris, included a remarkable admission by Obama about his response to the recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
By Friday morning, however, the entire passage containing Obama’s admission had been erased from the story without any explanation from the New York Times. Here’s the passage that was included in the story when it was published Thursday night, courtesy of CNN’s Brian Stelter:
In his meeting with the columnists, Mr. Obama indicated that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and made clear that he plans to step up his public arguments. Republicans were telling Americans that he is not doing anything when he is doing a lot, he said.
The version of the New York Times story that was published early Thursday evening indicated that Obama knew he was out of touch with the country on terrorism, and he thought that was due to not watching enough television. Obama critics immediately pounced on the stunning admission from the president, expressing shock that he would claim that a lack of TV time was the real reason for him not understanding Americans’ anxiety about terrorism.
As of Friday morning, however, the passage containing Obama’s admission was gone. Newsdiffs.org, a web site which captures changes made to online news stories, indicates that the major revision to the NYT story happened late on Thursday night, several hours after the story was published (text with a red background and strike-through is text that was eliminated from the story; text with a green background is text that was added to the story since its last revision):
The unexplained deletion of that major passage wasn’t the only significant change made to the story since it was first published. New York Times editors also changed the story’s headline four separate times, according to Newsdiffs.org. Each headline revision either put Obama in a better light or put the GOP in a worse one.
The original headline when the story was first published was “Obama Visiting National Counterterrorism Center.” Less than two hours later, the headline was “Obama, at Counterterrorism Center, Offers Assurances On Safety.” Then the headline was changed to “Frustrated by Republican Critics, Obama Defends Muted Response to Attacks.” Two hours later, the headline was once again revised to “Under Fire From G.O.P., Obama Defends Response to Terror Attacks.” The most recent headline revision, which accompanied the deletion of the passage where Obama admitted he didn’t understand the American public’s anxiety about terrorism, now reads, “Assailed by G.O.P., Obama Defends His Response To Terror Attacks.”
Baker and Gardiner, the two reporters who authored the NYT story, have yet to explain why Obama’s admission about being out of touch with the public on terrorism was deleted from their story.
UPDATE #1: The New York Times claimed in a statement late Friday morning that its deletion of the Obama passage was not “unusual” and that it was merely “trimmed for space in the print paper”:
The problem with this explanation is that it doesn’t make any sense when you review the first major online revision, which Newsdiffs.org archived at 10:21 p.m. EST. In that version, only one substantive revision was made: the paragraph about Obama not watching enough cable TV was removed and replaced with two paragraphs about Obama’s plan to combat ISIS.
The section that was removed contained 66 words. The section that was added in its place contained 116 words. If the New York Times was indeed “trimming for space” in that particular revision, it will need to explain why its revision to that section added 50 words.
UPDATE #2: Thanks to this CNN story on Obama’s remarks before an audience of progressive writers, we now know why the NYT deceptively memory-holed Obama’s admission that he was ignorant of Americans’ terrorism anxiety, and why the NYT refused to divulge the real reason behind its stealth edits: Obama didn’t want that remark attributed to him.
Here’s how CNN described the meeting and its ground rules:
The meeting, which took place in the White House Roosevelt Room, included journalists, columnists and editors from the Times, The Washington Post and The Atlantic, as well as digital outlets like Yahoo, Slate, Vox and Mic. Per the ground rules, attendees were not allowed to discuss the meeting or attribute any remarks to the president (emphasis added).
Yet the purpose of these off-the-record meetings, which have been a feature of Obama’s tenure, is to influence the national dialogue. The White House achieved that goal on Wednesday when the Post’s David Ignatius, who was at the meeting, penned a column based almost entirely on Obama’s remarks without any mention of the meeting.
In addition to detailing Obama’s thoughts on his ISIS strategy, Ignatius’ column alluded to the president’s remark about cable news: “Obama seems to have realized that he was slow to respond to public fear after the jihadist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.,” Ignatius wrote. “His low-decibel approach led the public to worry he wasn’t doing enough to keep the country safe. Obama, not a cable television fan, apparently didn’t realize the state of anxiety.”
The NYT excuse that it had to erase the mention of Obama’s remarks due to space constraints–even though its initial revision and deletion of those remarks actually added 50 words to the story–now looks even more absurd. It’s completely obvious what happened. The White House wanted all these reporters and writers to act as stenographers of the president’s spin, just so long as they pretended the spin never came from him.
In his column on the meeting, the Washington Posts‘s David Ignatius did exactly what Obama wanted him to do: regurgitate Obama’s spin and blame cable news for stirring up anxiety about terrorism. Obama’s remark was meant to accomplish two things: 1) to place him above the fray–he has far more important things to do than just sit around and watch silly cable news programs all day, and 2) to subtly place blame on cable news (guess which network he had in mind) for ginning up fears–unfounded in Obama’s mind–of future terrorist attacks.
The Obama team’s spin cycle would’ve continued without a hitch, if not for that messy little New York Times article which not only attributed the remarks to Obama, but reported them in a way that made Obama look obscenely aloof and out of touch with the concerns of most Americans.
The solution? Easy: just demand that the NYT eliminate the remarks entirely. Problem solved, except for one thing. The Internet never forgets.
Sean Davis is the co-founder of The Federalist.