The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” That distinction may have been lost in the editing of the controversial press conference in Helinski with President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Arguably the most important and most reporting part of the press conference was a question and answer involving Putin, where he admitted that the Russians wanted Trump to win the presidential election. An official transcript of the press conference, however, by the White House omits the key controversial part of the question by Reuters reporter Jeff Mason. Additionally, the White House videotape omits the same information. The discrepancies have been raised with the White House but no change has been made. This is a serious problem given the fact that this is an official record being released to the public. In fairness to the White House, some news organizations also omitted the language and, as noted by the Atlantic, the clarity of the question was muddled due to cross talk and movement. It could indeed be due to “feed issues.” The Atlantic cites two news organizations with the same editing:the Federal News Service and Bloomberg Government. Nevertheless, the question was clearly stated by Mason but edited out of the transcript. If this was (as claimed) a transcription or feed error, then it should have been corrected. It has not.
However, the transcript shows the following exchange with the first part of the question removed:
PRESIDENT PUTIN: That could be a first step, and we can also extend it. Options abound, and they all can be found in an appropriate legal framework.
Q: And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
PRESIDENT PUTIN: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.–Russia relationship back to normal.
Again, in fairness to the White House, it is worth noting that the editing is actually worse than the likely intended meaning. The omission of the first part of the question makes it sound like Putin just admitted to ordering the interference with the election, which he continued to deny in the press conference.
Making matters worse is the editing of the White House videotape. Even if the cross talk is used to justify the omission in the transcript, there is no reason why someone would go in and cut off the first part of the question from Mason. Again there could be a feed issue, but this was one of the most reported exchanges of the conference and should have been noticed as missing in the video and transcripted records.
The editing should have been corrected days ago. The question was clearly stated and answered by Putin, who would never had said that he ordered the election interference. I fail to see how such a ham-handed effort at editing could have passed review at the White House. Many are likely to demand answers and the public has a right to know about how this occurred.
Russia deleted the entire exchange, of course, but we are not Russia. Given the immediate outrage over the press conference statement, the White House should have been particularly careful to preserve the record for the public to read and see. It can then reach its own conclusions. Indeed, the White House could add its own commentary on the clarity of the question and answer in other forums. However, the public record should not be manipulated and even the perception of such manipulation can be as damaging as actual manipulation.