The New York Times on Thursday said it has not received any complaints from the Romney campaign over a story the paper published — and substantially revised — about the candidate’s clumsy response to violent attacks against U.S. diplomats in the Middle East.
Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt, after checking with political editor Dick Stevenson, told TPM: “As far as both of us know, the campaign did not complain about the Web version of the story.”
An earlier version of the story quoted an unnamed Romney adviser and former George W. Bush administration official saying Romney’s response to the attacks made it seem like “he had forgotten the first rule in a crisis: don’t start talking before you understand what’s happening.”
In the later version of the story, that quote was removed, and the story contained no express or implied rebuke of the candidate by anyone associated with the campaign. (See both versions back-to-back here.)
“We didn’t need that quote for the story to make the point that Romney’s response yesterday was clumsy. … The story said that and showed that without the quote,” said, Leonhardt, who declined to say whether a reporter or editor decided to remove that quote from later versions of the story.
Romney had fired off a statement late Tuesday, claiming the Obama administration sympathized with the militants who attacked American diplomatic facilities in Libya and Egypt. U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other State Department staff died in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, although only one of the deaths was publicly known at the time of Romney’s statement.
What Romney was criticizing, in fact, was the U.S. embassy in Cairo’s statement, which the embassy issued before the attacks and was intended to pre-empt the violence.
In addition to the “first rule” quote, the updated piece cut out a quote from a “senior Romney adviser” who said the situation in the Middle East met the campaign’s critique of the administration’s foreign policy and that the campaign saw an opportunity to contrast Romney with Obama. In the updated version, Romney policy director Lanhee Chen told the Times: “I think everyone stands behind the critique of the administration, which we believe has conducted its foreign policy in a feckless manner.”
The online story developed throughout the day, with a total of seven reporters contributing, according to the footnote on the piece. The final result bears little resemblance to the original version. Leonhardt emphasized that it’s standard operating procedure for the Times to revise and update online stories throughout the day.
“We change what we put online everyday,” Leonhardt said. “We try to move from written statements to spoken word.” If it’s a political story, the paper prefers named sources to anonymous ones, he said. The Times’ official statement on the matter echoed that point:
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.
The Romney campaign did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment on the story.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com