WaPo to Maddow: No, the White House didn't memory-hole a Helsinki question

Here we go again, indeed. Last night, Rachel Maddow reported that the White House cut out a key exchange from the official record of the post-summit presser in Helsinki last week. Comparing reports, Maddow notes that Vladimir Putin’s response to a question from Reuters’ Jeff Mason about whether Putin wanted Donald Trump to win.

Aha! “We can report tonight,” the MSNBC host declared, “that the White House video of that exchange has also skillfully cut out that question from the Reuters reporter as if it didn’t happen!”

Or can they?

Actually, that’s not at all what happened, Philip Bump reported this morning at the Washington Post. The Post’s version of the presser has the same omission, because it occurred long before the White House got hold of it. The problem originated with the pooler for the event, Bloomberg Government, not the White House:

That’s also how The Post’s transcript of the news conference initially read, too. Ours came from Bloomberg Government and ours, too, excluded the first part of the reporters question in which he begins, “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election”.

What happened? If you watch the videos, it’s pretty clear. At some point in the middle of that question, there’s a switch between the feed from the reporters and the feed from the translator. In the White House version of the video, you can hear the question being asked very faintly under the woman who is translating saying “president.” …

We did not edit the question out. This is the feed we were provided. … This is not a conspiracy from the White House.

Ironically, one media outlet had a better and more complete version of the exchange. That turned out to be Fox News, Bump notes, whose engineers were a little more on the ball with the audio feed controls. In that video, Mason’s question is much more audible — and had it been used for the transcription, would likely have been in the White House and Post versions from the beginning.

It’s not as if this White House hasn’t attempted to spin news and facts — and for that matter, it’s not as if its predecessor administrations hadn’t done the same thing. But as Bump also notes, it would be preposterously stupid to edit out a question from a presser that every major media outlet carried, and for which a multitude of videos had already been made available. What would be the point?

This is an apt reminder that political observers should always keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind when discovering error: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence. In this case, the incompetence wasn’t even the White House’s but Bloomberg’s, of an innocuous and understandable type. None of that accurately describes MSNBC’s incompetence on its coverage of the error.

Addendum: This seems to have fooled others in the media, too. CNN’s media analyst Brian Stelter amplified the accusation, apparently without looking into it too much.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough was more prompt in dealing with the correction, although he took the opportunity to drop in some snark:

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022