When Ed wrote about the NBC News non-apology for deceptive editing on Meet the Press this weekend, he covered most of the bases. But today I wanted to dig a little further into how this failed sleight of media hand trick wound up making it onto the air and blowing up in their faces.
Just to refresh your memory, Chuck Todd was hosting Meet the Press on Sunday when he played a clip from an interview Attorney General William Barr did with CBS News’ Catherine Herridge a few days earlier. She had asked him about the Justice Department’s decision to drop the Flynn case and gotten what began as a rather tone-deaf response from the AG. Todd was quick to jump on Barr, describing him as being “cynical” and suggesting that he wasn’t upholding the rule of law. But only a small amount of digging revealed that the clip had been very deceptively edited to make Barr look bad. After this had been pointed out by multiple people, NBC News took the rare step of actually issuing an apology. (Associated Press)
NBC has apologized for “inaccurately” cutting a portion of an interview with Attorney General William Barr that left a false impression with viewers of “Meet the Press.”
The apology didn’t satisfy President Donald Trump, who tweeted both Sunday and Monday that “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd should be fired…
“Earlier today, we inadvertently and inaccurately cut short a video clip of an interview with AG Barr before offering commentary and analysis. The remaining clip included important remarks from the attorney general that we missed, and we regret the error.
You’re correct. Earlier today, we inadvertently and inaccurately cut short a video clip of an interview with AG Barr before offering commentary and analysis. The remaining clip included important remarks from the attorney general that we missed, and we regret the error.
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) May 10, 2020
As I mentioned above, Barr did start off his answer in an awkward way at best. He said, “history is written by the winner. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.” And if that had been his entire answer, you could almost excuse Chuck Todd for saying that Barr had admitted that this was a political decision rather than one based on accepted legal practices.
But as we now know, that was far from all Barr said. He’d gone on (without a break) to say “I think a fair history would say that it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law. It upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice.”
So this wasn’t a case of two people having different interpretations of what a statement meant or even implied. Keep in mind that Chuck Todd said, “He didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this is a political job.” But that was exactly what Barr had said during the interview.
So who was at fault here? Is it possible that Chuck Todd didn’t see the original interview in its entirety and was just handed an abbreviated clip by a producer and commented on it without checking? If that’s the case, it’s still Todd’s responsibility as the host to make sure he’s presenting accurate information. If anyone needs to be fired in that scenario it’s the production person who edited the clip and gave it to him. They may have thought they were getting in a good dig at a member of the Trump administration, but all they succeeded in doing was hanging their boss out to dry.
The only other possibility here is that Todd selected the clip himself and knew that the longer version would have painted Barr in a much better light. If that’s the case, then he takes the fall by himself. It’s not plausible to expect us to believe that a news anchor with that many years of experience could have accidentally edited down Barr’s answer in that fashion without realizing it dramatically altered what the Attorney General had said. And if he honestly didn’t realize it, particularly considering that he based his commentary entirely on the edited version, that would suggest a level of incompetence too great for someone holding one of the network’s prime news seats.
It makes you wonder how much of this goes on that we don’t manage to catch. And it’s not all that infrequent, either. I’m sure many of you remember when Katie Couric (who also worked in the NBC stable for well over a decade) deceptively edited part of her “Under the Gun” special to make a group of gun rights advocates look stupid. Couric never offered more than a halfhearted non-apology for that fiasco and she’s still working in the industry to this day.
Also worth noting is the fact that this week’s apology didn’t come from Chuck Todd himself. It was on the Meet the Press Twitter feed. At this point, I’m assuming that it’s all being flushed down the memory hole over at NBC.