Why Did the NYT Alter Quotes in their Background Story on the Romney Meltdown?

This is mysterious. In the morning post, I linked to a short piece by Josh Marshall on some disturbing changes the New York Times made its story on how Mitt Romney came to unleash his bizarre attacks on President Obama over a message posted on the website of the American Embassy in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday.

Marshall wrote:

I’m not sure what’s up with this. But earlier this evening the Times ran a story entitled “Behind Romney’s Decision to Attack Obama on Libya.” The byline was David Sanger and Ashley Parker. The big news out of the story was that Romney himself had been the driver of last night’s decision making. That and a lot of other color and interesting news. As I write, it’s still that piece and lede that’s on the front page. But now it’s been replaced (same url) by an almost unrecognizable piece entitled “A Challenger’s Criticism Is Furiously Returned”, bylined by Peter Baker and Ashley Parker….

The thrust of the piece is dramatically different and, unless I’m missing something, leaves out this critical quote from a Romney senior advisor explaining their rationale. “We’ve had this consistent critique and narrative on Obama’s foreign policy, and we felt this was a situation that met our critique, that Obama really has been pretty weak in a number of ways on foreign policy, especially if you look at his dealings with the Arab Spring and its aftermath.”

So basically, this “senior adviser” was saying that the campaign had built a specific narrative to use against Obama, and the events in Cairo appeared to meet the criteria of the manufactured narrative. Therefore, the decision was made to issue an immediate attack on Tuesday night before they really knew what was happening.

Late this morning, Marshall put followed up with another post.

A number of media reporters have now followed up with reports about the Times switcheroo. And the answer from the Times is that it was part of the normal editing process and the preference for on-the-record quotes over blind quotes. The specific response we got from Eileen Murphy, spokesperson for the Times, reads as follows …

As reporting went on during the day yesterday, we were able to flesh out the story, add more context and get more sources on the record, which is obviously what we prefer. Having said that, we stand by the reporting in all versions of the story.

Peter Baker, who replaced David Sanger as the lead byline, told Buzzfeed, “It’s just normal journalism — as more reporting comes in, you improve the story. On the record Republican criticism beats anonymous Republican criticism.”

But why was the damning quote left out of the second version of the story? Actually the missing quote was the first half of a longer quote, the second part of which was retained in the new version of the article. Here’s the entire original quote:

“We’ve had this consistent critique and narrative on Obama’s foreign policy, and we felt this was a situation that met our critique, that Obama really has been pretty weak in a number of ways on foreign policy, especially if you look at his dealings with the Arab Spring and its aftermath,” one of Mr. Romney’s senior advisers said on Wednesday. “I think the reality is that while there may be a difference of opinion regarding issues of timing, I think everyone stands behind the critique of the administration, which we believe has conducted its foreign policy in a feckless manner.”

Marshall writes:

The first part of that quote makes the advisor seem callow, frivolous, and shabby. We’ve had the critique out there, “this was a situation that met our critique”, and that was good enough for us. We just let fly.

In the edited version of the Times piece, as Politico’s Dylan Byers notes, that quote is replaced by an on-the-record quote from policy director Lanhee Chen …

Mr. Romney’s camp was surprised by the blowback. “While there may be differences of opinion regarding issues of timing,” Mr. Chen said, “I think everyone stands behind the critique of the administration, which we believe has conducted its foreign policy in a feckless manner.”

As you can see, the second portion is identical. So it really sounds like the blind quote was from Chen as well.

What the hell? Is the NYT suddenly in the business of helping the Romney campaign clean up their messes?

In an update to his piece, Politico’s Dylan Byers responds to NYT writer Peter Baker’s quote mentioned above:

UPDATE (11:06 a.m.): Missed this, but Peter Baker talked to the Huffington Post earlier this morning:

“As we reported more through the day, we found Republicans criticizing Gov Romney on the record, so why use an anonymous one?” Baker said. “There are too many blind quotes in the media and we try not to use them when it’s not necessary.”

Here’s why: Because there’s a big difference between “Republicans” and a Mitt Romney campaign adviser.

At New York Magazine, Joe Coscarelli has a piece headlined: Romney Adviser Admitted Libya Flub Before New York Times Scrubbed Story. Coscarelli notes a second quote that was left out of the “scrubbed” NYT article:

A front page New York Times article this morning describes how Mitt Romney “personally approved” his apology-less campaign statement yesterday accusing Barack Obama of sympathizing with terrorists, but an early iteration of the story was far juicier. In a version posted online last night, the Times quoted “an adviser to the campaign who worked in the George W. Bush administration” who went so far as to say that Romney “had forgotten the first rule in a crisis: don’t start talking before you understand what’s happening.” That’s more or less the criticism that was pelted at Romney throughout the day yesterday by pundits, and by President Obama himself, but to hear it from the mouth of an adviser, even an anonymous one, in the Times, really stings. Or stung — that quote has since disappeared from the article.

Coscarelli brings up a stunning possible explanation for the altered/dropped quotes: “Could this be that campaign quote approval we’ve heard so much about?” He then links to a story he wrote in July: Political Campaigns Reserve the Right to Neuter Journalism in Exchange for Access.

A front-page story in the New York Times today describes the process by which reporters at major news organizations — including Bloomberg, the Washington Post, and yes, the Times — agree to let political campaigns not only have veto power over which quotes get used, but allow after-the-fact editing on remarks from insiders. “The quotations come back redacted, stripped of colorful metaphors, colloquial language and anything even mildly provocative,” the Times reports.

Afraid of losing their access to top spokesmen and strategists, journalists agree to the tweaks. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns have their own quote-approval demands, and the results are official lines that always stay on-script, lack any off-the-cuff qualities, and on top of that, are often anonymous anyway. And in playing by the rules written for them by those they’re supposed to be covering, print journalists falls further behind the times.

That’s a new one on me. News organizations allowing the subjects of their articles to make changes after the fact? Here’s hoping Josh Marshall or one of the other big bloggers who can get access to the NYT will force them to publicly admit they took orders from the Romney campaign.

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39 Comments on “Why Did the NYT Alter Quotes in their Background Story on the Romney Meltdown?”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    CNN posted the latest Romney campaign talking points at midnight last night. They consist of instructions for surrogates on how to avoid dealing with Romney’s horrible behavior in the wake of the deaths of four Americans in Libya.

    • RalphB says:

      Kind of neutralizes them as talking points :-) I saw the talking points yesterday on CNN complete with suggested questions and answers. All media outlets should do this and save people the trouble of listening to campaign flacks.

    • bostonboomer says:

      In the talking points, Romney is suddenly against the content of the “movie” that led to the murders.

      – Governor Romney rejects the reported message of the movie. There is no room for religious hatred or intolerance.

      – But we will not apologize for our constitutional right to freedom of speech.

      Of course no one did that.

      – If pressed: Governor Romney repudiated this individual in 2010 when he attempted to mobilize a Quran-burning movement. He is firmly against any expression of religious hatred or intolerance.

      So what exactly was Romney’s complaint about the original statement from the Cairo embassy again? The statement denounced religious intolerance and defended freedom of speech.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Here’s the original statement (now scrubbed from the embassy’s website!):

        The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

      • RalphB says:

        It was just a flailing ignorant shot taken by a desperate campaign. He has no complaint, except that he may really believe his own version of an Imaginary Obama who can do nothing right. Mitt may have convinced himself he has to save the world, who knows?

    • dakinikat says:

      I go run errands for a few hours and come back to this! I’m going to read it now!!!

    • ecocatwoman says:

      This immediately reminded me of a trend (which I think has ended) for celebrity interviews. A tape of the celebrity answering questions would be sent to a radio station. The questions, provided by the celebrity’s PR person, would also be included with the tape. The station would have their on-air personality record the questions & then splice them into the taped answers. It would appear that the station on-air personality was actually conducting an interview with the celebrity sitting across from them.

      This whole story smacks of anything but free speech. Politicians telling the media what questions they will answer, what questions the media is permitted to ask. Isn’t this the kind of thing our leaders accused Pravda of doing? Only reporting what leaders wanted them to report. And how long was it before Romney condescended to interviews on any network but Fox Propaganda Network? And the Repugs accuse Obama of being The Communist in Chief? As my mother would say, “that’s the pot calling the kettle black.” Or maybe it’s bait & switch – it’s all about sales & profits after all, isn’t it?

      • bostonboomer says:

        But politicians telling the media what quotes it can publish and causing a major newspaper to completely rewrite a story? That’s beyond the pale.

  2. RalphB says:

    I apologize for the OT comment but the Fed has kicked off QE3 and apparently it’s got no set expiration date. People have wanted this for over two years. Wonder if House republicans will want to impeach Bernanke now?

    Fed bets big in new push to rescue economy

    The Federal Reserve launched another aggressive stimulus program on Thursday, saying it will buy $40 billion of mortgage debt per month and continue to purchase assets until the outlook for jobs improves substantially.

    In a significant shift in the direction of U.S. monetary policy, the Fed has tied its unconventional bond buying directly to economic conditions, a move that is likely to be controversial among central bank critics.

    “If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the committee will continue its purchase of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability,” the Fed said in a statement.

    In an additional step that reflects just how concerned Fed officials have become about the health of the economy, policymakers said they would not likely raise rates from current rock-bottom lows until at least mid-2015. Previously, it had set such guidance at late 2014.

  3. RalphB says:

    Can’t imagine why Rmoney might be panicing.

    Poll shows Obama up five on Romney in Colorado

  4. Fannie says:

    I don’t like Romney, he is one cluster fuck, and the media need not play the game……….

  5. bostonboomer says:

    LA blogger tried to warn city council about anti-islam film in June.

    A California man says he tried to alert officials about a mysterious anti-Islam film months before it became the center of an international crisis involving the deaths of American diplomats in the Middle East.

    On June 29, a man named John Walsh, who blogs at hollywoodhighlands.org, appeared before the Los Angeles City Council and raised concerns about a movie titled “Innocence of Bin Laden,” that was set to be shown that week at a theater in Hollywood.

    That movie now appears to be a version of a film blamed for setting off violent protests at U.S. Embassies in the Middle East. It’s unclear whether the film was linked to the deaths of American diplomats in Libya, but it has been cited as the driving force for demonstrations in Egypt, Sudan and Yemen.

    “There is an alarming event occurring in Hollywood on Saturday,” Walsh said at the city council meeting. “A group has rented the Vine Street theater to show a video entitled ‘Innocence of Bin Laden.’ We have no idea what this group is.”

  6. ecocatwoman says:

    OT, folks but I just received this email with a petition asking for clemency for Terry Williams. He is a young black man who was sexually abused by older men from the time he was 6 years old. None of this was presented to the jury during his trial for murdering the last man who raped him repeatedly for 5 years, beginning when Terry was 13. Here’s the link to the petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-tom-corbett-pa-board-of-pardons-district-attorney-seth-williams-grant-clemency-to-terrance-williams-survivor-of-child-sexual-abuse?utm_source=action_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=10675&alert_id=haqebjIzZe_rVybpHYuNh

  7. RalphB says:

    McClatchy reporters interview the emergency room doctor who attempted to save Amb Stevens. They also found the reason he was in Benghazi.

    Benghazi doctor: Stevens showed no signs of life when he arrived in emergency room

    Stevens, who’d been based in Benghazi throughout the revolt and became the U.S. ambassador to Libya in May, had traveled from Tripoli, where the U.S. Embassy is protected by a unit of U.S. Marines, to the less-protected Benghazi consulate to open a Libyan-American cultural center, a Libyan legislator told a local television station.

  8. Oh this is what I was hoping for, thank you BB for doing this…. I have another football game tonight so I have to read it later, can’t wait!

    2012

    Had to share this with y’all, Bebe and Jake…little pains in the ass!

    2008

    They sure have changed…

  9. Pat Johnson says:

    Mitt Romney has shown that he should never, ever be let near the nuclear codes for any reason. This man is unfit to lead.

  10. bostonboomer says:

    NYT says it didn’t get any complaints from the Romney campaign about the story the scrubbed.

    http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/09/ny-times-romney-libya.php?ref=fpb

  11. Holy shit BB, this is amazing. Especially the stuff about “final approval” from the campaign. Wow!!!!