A New York Times story on the early days of the Trump White House has stirred a lot of discussion, and with good reason. Written by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, the story describes a solitary Trump skulking around the White House at night. “When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home,” reads the story. Another newsy moment comes via the revelation that Trump was not “fully briefed” on the executive order that gave chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon a seat on the National Security Council.
Another, quite small, detail is worth noting. In the original story, the New York Times reports that Bannon “texts” with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). Herewith a screen shot of an early version as captured on MSN.com:
The current version of the story describes a different form of communication. “He now talks regularly with Mr. Ryan to coordinate strategy or plot their planned overhaul of the tax code,” reads the story. Bolding added to facilitate comparison.
This blog asked the New York Times why the change occurred and who may have requested it. “Per the editor, the change was due to the normal process of editing a story. Nothing more,” responded Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for the newspaper. She also indicated that the New York Times saw “no need” for a correction.
How about a clarification, editor’s note, footnote, amplification, addendum or somethingum?
The Bannon-Ryan channel matters for reasons beyond the nit-picking gotcha impulses of some media critic. There are record-keeping considerations here, too. “I agree the change should give you pause as the distinction between a talk and a text is a crucial one that goes to whether a presidential record was created and how it should be preserved,” notes Douglas Cox, an expert on federal records and an associate professor at the City University of New York School of Law. “In short, there is nothing wrong with the White House communicating via text per se. If Bannon has been texting the speaker of the House, however, those texts ought to constitute presidential records that must be preserved in an official account.” There’s a caveat here, as Cox notes to this blog — the court rulings have accorded presidents latitude in interpreting the Presidential Records Act, such that they can execute an “end around” the law.
There’s also a law on the books governing the disposition of communications that take place on personal devices of White House aides. They must be preserved on official accounts. A senior White House official from the Obama years tells the Erik Wemple Blog that such texting wasn’t allowed because there was no “certainty” that the record would be preserved.
Putting aside solemn record-keeping considerations for just a second, this New York Times reader wants to know if Bannon and Ryan have an LOL-OMG-TY relationship.