Rachel Maddow accused the White House of omitting a key part of the Trump-Putin press conference, but there's a plausible explanation

Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesRussian President Vladimir Putin hands U.S. President Donald Trump (L) a World Cup football during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.

  • MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Tuesday charged that the White House “skillfully cut out” a crucial portion of a question from Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason during last week’s press conference after the Helsinki summit.
  • Mason asked Russian President Vladimir Putin whether he wanted President Donald Trump to win the 2016 election and whether he directed any Russian officials to tilt the election in Trump’s favour.
  • In the White House’s transcript, the first part of Mason’s question appears to have been omitted, while another version of the transcript features his full question.
  • The transcript the White House was provided was the same as the one provided to The Washington Post and some other news outlets.
  • The discrepancy between the two transcripts appears to stem from an overlap in the audio feed, not from an intentional misrepresentation on the White House’s part.

During her show Tuesday night, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow suggested that the White House selectively edited a video and transcript of last week’s joint press conference with US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But subsequent reports have blamed technical difficulties for the discrepancy that has led to several rounds of controversy in the week since the summit.

Maddow acknowledged the possibility in a tweet after Business Insider reached out to MSNBC for comment.

“White House edits video to remove question about whether Putin wanted Trump to win,” said a separate tweet from the show’s Twitter account on Tuesday night.

The question at the center of Maddow’s segment came from Reuters’ Jeff Mason.

Mason asked Putin: “Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”

The White House’s video and written transcripts appear to have omitted the first part of Mason’s question – when he asked whether Putin favoured Trump during the election – and only include the second.

Putin then responded, “Yes. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal.”

Maddow said the White House had “skillfully cut out that question from the Reuters reporter as if it didn’t happen.”

She then aired two separate clips: one featured the full question, and the other only included the second part of it, during which Mason asked Putin whether he directed any Russian officials to help Trump win the election.

Technical difficulties

But as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump pointed out on Wednesday, the error likely wasn’t intentional. He said The Post’s transcript, which he said came from Bloomberg Government, initially had the same omission.

The discrepancy in the transcripts seems to stem from an overlap in the audio feed during the presser.

Right before Mason asked his question, the interpreter was in the middle of translating Putin’s answer to a previous question, during which he said, “Options abound, and they all can be found in an appropriate legal framework.”

When Putin was done speaking, Mason asked his question. But at that point, the interpreter was still translating the Russian leader’s words.

In the version of the transcript the White House put out, the feed focused on what the translator was saying in its entirety. It then cut to Mason, who by that point was already halfway through asking his question and could be heard saying, “And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?”

Bump said The Post’s feed initially featured the same audio based on the transcript that was provided to the outlet.

But in the other transcript Maddow aired, which features Mason’s full question, the feed cuts from the interpreter to the reporters in the room as soon as Mason begins speaking. It appears to cut off, to some extent, what the interpreter was saying while it focused on the reporter’s question.

A White House official told CNN that the audio feed used to produce both the video and transcript the White House put out did not have Mason’s audio turned up in time, and as a result, he could only be heard when it became clear that the translator had finished speaking. In other feeds, like one Fox News aired, both Mason and the translator could be heard speaking.

But CNN noted that when the issue first became clear a week ago, the network asked the White House to correct its transcript, which it still had not done by Wednesday.

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