Competition among news outlets to score Russiagate scoops is oppressive, as NBC News unintentionally proved on Thursday afternoon. The network claimed to have an exclusive on that much-discussed June 2016 meeting that included Donald Trump Jr., a Russian lawyer, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and others. All summer long, journalists have been crawling all over one another to secure the next increment in this narrative.
“We begin with exclusive reporting tonight from NBC News on the Russia investigation, and that now infamous meeting at Trump Tower last summer, the one between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, a Russian lawyer and multiple other Russian figures,” said anchor Katy Tur Thursday afternoon on MSNBC. “Two sources tell NBC News that Manafort’s smartphone notes from the meeting included the words ‘donations’ in close proximity to the reference to the Republican National Committee.”
The scoop was the handiwork of NBC News’s Ken Dilanian and Carol E. Lee. And it didn’t take long to unravel. Having first posted at 1:55 p.m. Thursday, it acquired this appendage about four hours later:
CORRECTION (Aug. 31, 6:30 p.m.): An earlier version of this article used an incorrect quotation in describing Paul Manafort’s notes. According to a spokesman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley, whose committee staff has reviewed them, the notes did not include the word “donation.” A source who provided the information said the notes used a word that referenced political contributions, and another source said the notes used the word “donor.”
The lead of the current version reads like this: “Paul Manafort’s notes from a controversial Trump Tower meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign included a mention of political contributions near a reference to the Republican National Committee, two sources briefed on the evidence told NBC News.”
So what? What if the notes were abridging a comment from the meeting in which someone said, “It’s illegal for foreign nationals to make contributions to the RNC or DNC.”? Both before the correction and after the correction, in other words, this story provides only fodder for innuendo and conspiracy, not for sound conclusions about what happened. According to a statement issued by Donald Trump Jr. when this whole story first broke, the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had mentioned information about Russia-connected figures funding the Democratic National Committee.
The Erik Wemple Blog doesn’t make donations to the RNC. Look: We just made a reference to “donations” in “close proximity” to “RNC”!