July 10, 2017

NY Times Uses Eight Revisions to Fine-Tune Its Trump-Putin Meeting Spin

The New York Times posted eight revisions over a 23-hour period to its Saturday and then-Sunday story about U.S. President Donald Trump’s first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the process, the paper’s headline went from an original “Russians Call Trump Meeting Putin a Win, but Doubt Concrete Gains,” to a more certain “Russians Call Trump Meeting Putin a Win,” to a celebratory “Russia Crows Over Putin’s Trump Meeting.”

Additionally, as obsessed as the press has been with Russia and Putin supposedly influencing the 2016 presidential election and Trump’s campaign and administration, one would think that the folks at the Times would recognize when Vladimir Putin is not in a photo. Nope. On Saturday, in a tweet about “body language,” the Times used a photo it claimed showed Trump and Putin shaking hands. The problem is that it really showed Trump with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Putin’s visage is quite familiar by now, given that he has been Russia’s President or Prime Minister for almost 18 years. He is so prominent in perceived worldwide status that, in a backhanded and self-unaware slap at former U.S. President Barack Obama, Forbes claimed last year that Putin has been “the world’s most powerful person for four years running.”

But that didn’t stop the Times from believing that a man who looks nothing like Putin is in the photo below, accompanied by a hysterical tweet about “body language” (HT Weasel Zippers):

TrumpPutinReallyTrumpDuda0717

Here are close-ups of Putin and Duda:

DudaAndPutin0717

It took about an hour, but the Times replaced the erroneous photo in its tweet with one showing Trump and Putin — but not shaking hands, and with Putin, who is considerably shorter than Trump, seen in a higher position:

NYTerrorFixingTweetTrumpPutin0717

The lack of a handshake photo is easily explained. In a photo provided by Reuters, it’s The Donald who appears to have the visual upper hand.

While the Times isn’t the only media outlet which wasted precious ink and bandwidth analyzing “body language,” it appears to be the only one which sought to place the opinion of an alleged Russian “expert” in such matters in a presumptively superior position, not only in the tweet, but also in Neil MacFarquhar’s coverage (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Audiences in both countries were also closely watching the power dynamics between the two men. While a body language specialist employed by the BBC suggested that Mr. Trump won the day, a Russian expert consulted by the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid was having none of it.

Mr. Putin exuded confidence, the Russian expert said, while Mr. Trump seemed to show a lack of it by sitting on the edge of his chair. Mr. Putin “controlled the situation and decided its tone,” the expert said, concluding that over all the meeting was “a psychological victory for the Russian president.”

Though ripe for ridicule, the botched tweet and MacFarquhar’s body language blather are nowhere near as noteworthy as the paper’s clear determination to spin the results of the Trump-Putin meeting in the Russian leader’s favor.

The website NewsDiffs.org, which tracks changes made to articles at “nytimes.com, cnn.com, politico.com, washingtonpost.com, and bbc.co.uk,” identified eight revisions the Times made to MacFarquhar’s article over a period of 23 hours. Tracking those changes is a tedious but revealing exercise.

What follows are just two examples of how the writeup changed from its original to its final product.

On Friday at 7:18 p.m., the Times made the aforementioned final headline change from “Russians Call Trump Meeting Putin a Win,” to “Russia Crows Over Putin’s Trump Meeting.” That change occurred over four hours after the final meaningful change to MacFarquhar’s content at 2:49 p.m. (a later 3:15 p.m. revision only changed two separate words). That headline change, based on no substantive change in the underlying article for 4-1/2 hours, appears to have been made solely for the purpose of creating a Russia-enhancing, Trump-bashing first impression for that evening’s online and the next day’s print edition readers.

The second example, relating to the article’s content, shows how its first few paragraphs went from the internal Russian perspective to references to alleged Russian “hacking”:

(as seen at 12:30 p.m. revision)

(Original)

There was a certain degree of exulting in the Russian capital on Saturday in the wake of the first meeting between President Vladimir V. Putin and President Trump, with various politicians and commentators crowing that the Russian leader had both secured a lot of time with and received some new assurances from his American counterpart on issues like Syria and cybersecurity.

One Russian tabloid called the meeting “historic,” and over all there was a sense of relief that if short on concrete agreements, the talks seemed to halt the downward spiral in relations and lack of contact between the two countries.

“Let’s congratulate Vladimir Vladimirovich with a geopolitical victory?” wrote Maria Snegovaya, a political analyst, on Facebook, referring to Mr. Putin. She said the meeting laid to rest the effort to try to isolate Russia after the 2014 Ukraine crisis.

(Revision)

There was a certain degree of exulting in the Russian capital on Saturday in the wake of the first meeting between President Vladimir V. Putin and President Trump, with Mr. Putin himself saying that the American president seemed satisfied with his answers on the hacking issue and that the talks had set the stage for improved relations.

Asked repeatedly about the two presidents’ conversation about accusations of Russian hacking during the 2016 American election, Mr. Putin said at a news conference in Hamburg, Germany, that Mr. Trump had paid a lot of attention to the issue, asking multiple questions.

“When possible, I answered his questions in detail,” Mr. Putin said, noting that he had reviewed previous exchanges that he had had with former President Barack Obama on the topic. “I got the impression that my answers satisfied him.”

Demonstrating that the paper’s ridiculous final headline change had no justification, MacFarquhar’s opening characterization did not change from “a certain degree of exulting,” and the only use of the word “crows” is in that final headline.

The whole exercise appears to be an object lesson in how working to spin and distort is harder than simply reporting facts. Management at the Times, which is in the process of forcing itself to become a leaner operation, should take note. The overwhelming odds are that it won’t.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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