The New York Times got it wrong when it reported this year that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 election, former FBI Director James Comey testified Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The New York Times story, "Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence," was published on Feb. 14.
The story, which was anonymously sourced, alleged that members of Trump's campaign team communicated with Russian agents at around the same time that hackers published personal emails stolen from Democratic National Committee staffers and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta.
However, Comey flatly disputed all of that.
"That report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?" Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, asked.
"In the main, it was not true," Comey replied. "The challenge, and I'm not picking on reporters, about writing on classified information is: The people talking about it often don't really know what's going on, and those of us who actually know what's going on are not talking about it."
He added, "And we don't call the press to say, ‘Hey, you got that thing wrong about this sensitive topic.' We just have to leave it there."
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., later asked Comey if the story was "almost entirely wrong," and Comey said yes.
The paper, for its part, disputed these accounts. It maintained this week that its reporting is accurate, and also said its reporters are "looking into" Comey's remarks.
The apparently bogus New York Times report created a big splash when it was first published, practically kicking off a news cycle of its own. However, it was apparent even then that the story had serious problems.
One immediately noticeable flaw involved buried information presented to the reader only after the story had introduced the idea of Russian collusion.
The report opened with these two paragraphs:
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
It doesn't look good for Trump. The headline alone leads readers to suspect a disturbing partnership between Trump's campaign and the Russians.
However, buried in the third paragraph in the New York Times report is a crucial detail: "The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation."
That's an important piece of information, and it should have been included in the story's first paragraph. It doesn't really matter now. The whole thing is apparently nonsense, according to Comey.