The New York Times got ahead of itself again with yet another supposedly hot scoop involving former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, the Russians and the 2016 presidential election.
The story, now titled “McFarland’s Testimony About Russia Contacts Is Questioned,” reported originally that an email sent by the former Trump transition official indicated she lied to Congress this summer when she was questioned about disgraced Gen. Michael Flynn's communications with the Russians.
The article has been heavily amended since publication so that it is now mostly innuendo. The initial references to the emails have been removed, and the story now leans mostly on Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who only questions whether McFarland was forthright in her testimony.
The headline alone has undergone multiple facelifts. Here they are, in order of changes:
- “McFarland Contradicted Herself on Russia Contacts, Congressional Testimony Shows”
- “Email Counters Aide on Flynn’s Russia Contact”
It then reverted to back to: “McFarland Contradicted Herself on Russia Contacts, Congressional Testimony Shows,” and then changed twice more:
- “Email Counters Testimony On Flynn by Former Aide”
- “Former Aide’s Testimony On Russia Is Questioned”
Multiple headline changes are not the worst of it. Not by a long shot.
The original version of the Dec. 4 report began with the following lines:
An email sent during the transition by President Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, appears to contradict the testimony she gave to Congress over the summer about contacts between the Russian ambassador and Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.
Ms. McFarland had told lawmakers that she did not discuss or know anything about interactions between Sergey I. Kislyak, who had been Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, and Mr. Flynn, according to Senate documents.
But emails obtained by The New York Times appear to undermine those statements. In a Dec. 29 message about newly imposed Obama administration sanctions against Russia for its election interference, Ms. McFarland, then serving on Mr. Trump’s transition team, told another transition official that Mr. Flynn would be talking to the Russian ambassador that evening.
The discrepancy is likely to add to mounting troubles for the White House that stem from Mr. Flynn’s interactions with Russian officials. He pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to F.B.I. agents about his discussions with Mr. Kislyak about the sanctions.
These four paragraphs have been removed entirely from the Times' report. The website Newsdiff, which tracks changes in stories, illustrates the major narrative overhaul in this Times report:
There are no editor’s notes drawing attention to the story’s many changes.
The report's core message has been softened considerably since its initial publication. Where the headline once declared that "McFarland Contradicted Herself on Russia Contacts," the story now reads, “A leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questioned on Monday whether a high-ranking official in Donald J. Trump’s transition team had been deceptive over the summer about her knowledge of discussions between Michael T. Flynn ...”
The article, which was once so sure of itself, now eases away from its original message by stating McFarland, “might have given ‘false testimony’ in her answers.”
That's not to say the article doesn't try to pin something on the former deputy national security adviser. The wink-winking seen in the original version of the story is still there; the language is just less certain.
“Court documents … indicate that senior members of Mr. Trump’s transition team were well aware of [Flynn’s] discussions with the Russian ambassador,” the report states. “Court documents state that Mr. Flynn discussed what he should tell Mr. Kislyak with another transition official beforehand and briefed that person afterward.”
The article, which keeps the content and full context of the Flynn court documents secret, heavily hints that the nameless “transition official” was likely McFarland. What makes this insinuation particularly shameful is the fact that the article itself notes the court documents “do not identify that official, who was with other senior members of the transition team at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.”
Even more embarrassing is the fact that the article also includes this sentence: “White House officials said on Friday that they believed that the official was Ms. McFarland, but that information has not been confirmed.”
Perhaps as a Hail Mary to make something stick, the article tries to tie McFarland to Flynn via reputation: “Ms. McFarland worked so closely with Mr. Flynn on the transition team that her colleagues sometimes referred to her as his ‘brain.’”
Translation: It was probably her that he talked to, but we’re not sure.
Once again, this Times report references email correspondence that it refuses to let the reader see.
“An email exchange obtained by The New York Times indicates that Ms. McFarland was aware at the time of a crucial Dec. 29 phone call between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak that was intercepted by American intelligence,” the story said.
That’s it. We’re left with nothing but an excerpt out of context, newsroom interpretation, and a lot of innuendo.
This comes just two days after the paper published a separate article that left readers assuming McFarland conceded in a private correspondence on Dec. 29, 2016, that the Kremlin had tipped the election in Donald Trump’s favor.
She didn’t say that — at least, not that we know of. The Times declined to reproduce her email correspondences in full, leaving readers with no choice but to guess as to the true meaning of McFarland's reported conversations, which didn't appear to match the Times' in-print speculation.
This newer report has the same style of insinuation as the Dec. 2 article, but with the added bonus of many amendments and clarifications. Call me crazy, but the way the story stands now is a long way off from “McFarland Contradicted Herself on Russia Contacts, Congressional Testimony Shows.”
After two misleading reports like these, maybe the Times should get a fresh set of eyes to read and report from these emails.