News & Politics

'NY Times' Scrubs Obama Comment About Not Understanding Americans' Terrorism Anxiety

I’m sure the president is quite appreciative of how the New York Times has his back.

In an off-the-record interview with several liberal news outlets and websites, President Obama offered a doozy of an explanation for why he appears to be so sanguine about the terror threat. The New York Times relayed the gist of his comments:

In his meeting with the columnists, Mr. Obama indicated that he did not see enough cable television to fully appreciate the anxiety after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and made clear that he plans to step up his public arguments.

Two devastating terrorist attacks in a matter of weeks — one in an American city — and he needs to watch TV to fully appreciate the anxiety of the American people?

I don’t blame him for cocooning himself. If I had contributed to the kind of chaotic world we live in today, I’d be embarrassed and depressed too.

But as bad as the comment was, the New York Times upped the controversy several degrees by deleting the above passage on the website. Their explanation? Edited for “space.”

The version of the New York Times story that was published early Thursday evening indicated that Obama knew he was out of touch with the country on terrorism, and he thought that was due to not watching enough television. Obama critics immediately pounced on the stunning admission from the president, expressing shock that he would claim that a lack of TV time was the real reason for him not understanding Americans’ anxiety about terrorism.

As of Friday morning, however, the passage containing Obama’s admission was gone. Newsdiffs.org, a web site which captures changes made to online news stories, indicates that the major revision to the NYT story happened late on Thursday night, several hours after the story was published (text with a red background and strike-through is text that was eliminated from the story; text with a green background is text that was added to the story since its last revision):

The unexplained deletion of that major passage wasn’t the only significant change made to the story since it was first published. The Times’ editors also changed the story’s headline four separate times, according to Newsdiffs.org. Each headline revision either put Obama in a better light or put the GOP in a worse one.

The original headline when the story was first published was “Obama Visiting National Counterterrorism Center.” Less than two hours later, the headline was “Obama, at Counterterrorism Center, Offers Assurances on Safety.” Then the headline was changed to “Frustrated by Republican Critics, Obama Defends Muted Response to Attacks.” Two hours later, the headline was once again revised to “Under Fire From G.O.P., Obama Defends Response to Terror Attacks.” The most recent headline revision, which accompanied the deletion of the passage where Obama admitted he didn’t understand the American public’s anxiety about terrorism, now reads: “Assailed by G.O.P., Obama Defends His Response to Terror Attacks.”

The Times issued a statement later, claiming the revisions were routine edits for space.

But that’s an absurd explanation, as Sean Davis explains:

The NYT excuse that it had to erase the mention of Obama’s remarks due to space constraints–even though its initial revision and deletion of those remarks actually added 50 words to the story–now looks even more absurd. It’s completely obvious what happened. The White House wanted all these reporters and writers to act as stenographers of the president’s spin, just so long as they pretended the spin never came from him.

In his column on the meeting, the Washington Posts‘s David Ignatius did exactly what Obama wanted him to do: regurgitate Obama’s spin and blame cable news for stirring up anxiety about terrorism. Obama’s remark was meant to accomplish two things: 1) to place him above the fray–he has far more important things to do than just sit around and watch silly cable news programs all day, and 2) to subtly place blame on cable news (guess which network he had in mind) for ginning up fears–unfounded in Obama’s mind–of future terrorist attacks.

The Obama team’s spin cycle would’ve continued without a hitch, if not for that messy little New York Times article which not only attributed the remarks to Obama, but reported them in a way that made Obama look obscenely aloof and out of touch with the concerns of most Americans.

Until the turn of the 20th century, newspapers routinely engaged in this kind of manipulation. The difference was that you knew what side the paper was playing for. Democrats had their papers and Republicans had theirs.

Until the New York Times came along, other papers printed propaganda while the Times purported to print nothing but “news.”

Nowadays, the Times prints propaganda and buries the news. All sorts of metaphors come to mind about the “Gray Lady” and the world’s oldest profession, but I’m not in the habit of insulting innocent prostitutes.