Jim Geraghty posted this more than two hours ago. How on earth is it not already all over the right-wing blogosphere?

As luck would have it, I myself blockquoted that story at length and can confirm that Jim’s right. The original paragraph:

At one of the meals, she recalled, Thompson re-enacted a cowboy death scene from one of his movies. She also remembered him telling her that Sununu had just given him tickets for a VIP tour of the White House for one of Thompson’s sons and his wife.

And how it reads now, at the same URL that I linked to Friday night when the story first broke:

Thompson kept her updated on his progress in telephone conversations and over meals at Washington restaurants, including dinner at Galileo and lunch at the Monocle, she said. At one of the meals, she recalled, Thompson told her that Sununu had just given him tickets for a VIP tour of the White House for a Thompson son and his wife.

The detail about the cowboy scene is up in smoke, perhaps with good reason: as Geraghty notes, Fred doesn’t seem to have acted in any westerns before 1991. There’s no explanation for its disappearance on the LAT page and nothing on the paper’s Corrections page. And that’s not the only change. Here’s how the opening paragraph originally read:

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred D. Thompson, who is campaigning for president as a “pro-life” Republican, accepted a lobbying assignment from a family-planning group to persuade the first Bush White House to ease a controversial abortion restriction, according to a 1991 document and five people familiar with the matter.

And now:

Fred D. Thompson, who is campaigning for president as an antiabortion Republican, accepted an assignment from a family-planning group to lobby the first Bush White House to ease a controversial abortion restriction, according to a 1991 document and several people familiar with the matter.

I’m not sure what accounts for the pro-life/antiabortion change (an LAT style quirk, maybe) but here’s a possible explanation for the switch from “five people” to several. The five sources quoted in the piece in support of the claim that Fred “accepted a lobbying assignment” for the group are Judith DeSarno, Michael Barnes, and then the following three. I’m assuming nothing’s changed from the original version but at this point who can tell?

In addition to Barnes and DeSarno, three other people said they recalled Thompson lobbying against the rule on behalf of the family planning association.

Susan Cohen, a member of the association’s board of directors in 1991, said in reference to DeSarno and Thompson: “We were looking, of course, for a Republican who might have some inroads to the White House at that time, and so that’s how she came upon contacting him.”

Said Bill Hamilton, who then directed the Washington office of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a group that was DeSarno’s main ally in lobbying on the abortion counseling rule: “I definitely recall her reaching out to [Thompson] and engaging him in some way, and trying to squeeze the White House through him.”

Sarah L. Szanton, who worked for DeSarno as director of government relations for the family planning association, agreed that Thompson “consulted on our behalf against the gag rule.”

None of the three are as explicit as DeSarno and Barnes that Fred was retained for lobbying and did in fact lobby the White House (although the first sentence of the blockquote asserts that they did). Maybe the LAT was uncomfortable asserting in the lede that all five were unambiguously claiming that Fred had “accepted a lobbying assignment” and so it was changed to a weaselly “several” to make the actual number more ambiguous.

But in that case, why reiterate per the blockquote that “three other people said they recalled Thompson lobbying against the rule”?

The changes in the first paragraph are obviously much less important than the one about the cowboy movie, which speaks to DeSarno’s credibility. I don’t know what the story is here but for a major paper to be dropping facts and rewording passages without noting it, in a bombshell story no less, is suspicious — but not surprising. As we learned during Jamilgate, the AP pulls this crap as a matter of official policy (“For corrections on live, online stories, we overwrite the previous version. We send separate corrective stories online as warranted.”) and there’s at least one notorious instance of it happening within the very bowels of the bible of the journalism industry. Exit question: What gives?

Update: We may have an answer on the pro-life/antiabortion switch. And if so, it’s exactly what you’d expect.

Update: Sununu on the brink!

Asked if it was possible whether Thompson met with someone on his staff to lobby the first Bush White House to relax a controversial abortion restriction, the famously prickly Sununu flew off the handle.

“You know, with all due respect, may I comment on that? That’s the kind of dumb question that makes you wonder what’s wrong with the press. How do you get a job working for ABC asking a question like that? Did he meet with someone on my staff? Did he meet with someone in the street?” asked an incredulous Sununu.

Asked if he was suggesting that the abortion-rights group which claims to have used Thompson’s services had fabricated minutes from a Sept. 14, 1991 board meeting in order to undermine Thompson’s standing among conservatives, Sununu said, “I wouldn’t put anything past that group.”

Update: Patterico says the print edition of the paper didn’t contain the line about the cowboy movie, although the web version certainly did.

Update: Omri Ceren e-mails to say that the original version of the LAT story is still online — at the Baltimore Sun.