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The controversy over missing portion of Trump-Putin news conference transcript

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Did the White House intentionally edit out a key question from President Trump’s joint news conference earlier this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin? If you watched MSNBC Tuesday night or CNN Wednesday morning, you may have walked away with that impression.

However, upon examination, it appears that the missing question from the White House transcript and video was more likely the result of a technical glitch.

The controversy started last week when The Atlantic published a story pointing out that the official White House transcript did not include a portion of the question Jeff Mason, a White House correspondent for Reuters, asked Putin. 

Mason asked, “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?” Putin responded in the affirmative, saying, “Yes, I did.” But the White House transcript muddled the meaning of his answer because it only quoted Mason as saying, “And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?” 

On Tuesday night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow breathed new life into the story. She opened her show declaring, “We can report tonight that the White House video of that exchange has also skillfully cut out that question from the Reuters reporter as if it didn’t happen.” 

In the course of a lengthy monologue, Maddow said it was plausible for the omission from the transcript to have been an innocent error, but seemed to suggest that the video proved it was not.

“Turns out it wasn’t a mistake,” Maddow said. “Turns out it was on purpose.” 

The theory jumped to CNN’s airwaves the next morning. 

“New Day” co-host Alisyn Camerota said Wednesday the White House had “changed reality” and “deleted” the question from the transcript. Camerota added, “They don’t want the public to see that anymore, so they have taken that out of the official record of what happened.”

Max Boot, a columnist for The Washington Post and a CNN analyst, then told Camerota that it would be appropriate to call the incident “Orwellian.” He added that Trump was “rewriting the past” in a “ridiculous way.”

But The Washington Post and CNN later reported that the omission appeared to be due to a technical issue. 

The discrepancy seems to be the result of overlap between the translation of Putin’s remarks and the first part of Mason’s question. The audio feed that stenographers relied on picked up Putin’s translator and did not cut to Mason until the overlap had concluded. 

Transcripts published by other news outlets, including The New York Times and Washington Post, included the same error. 

“This was by no means malicious,” a White House official told CNN.

Reached for comment, an MSNBC spokesperson pointed CNN to Maddow’s tweets on the matter. In those tweets, Maddow said the technical error was “one possible explanation,” but she did not retract her claims that the White House intentionally edited out the portion of the question from the official records. 

The Twitter account operated by Maddow’s staff tweeted, “We’ve updated the text of our A block video clip from last night.” But it was unclear exactly what that meant. An MSNBC spokesperson did not respond when asked over email.

CNN said that Camerota will address the issue on Thursday’s edition of “New Day.”

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