In a post that’s generating some attention today, Josh Marshall pointed out that last night’s New York Times story detailing the Romney camp’s step-by-step thinking on the Embassy attacks was replaced with another version that was missing key reporting. The new version removed a quote from a top Romney adviser in which he was perhaps overly candid about what motivated the Romney camp to put out its statement claiming Obama “sympathized” with the attackers.
I’ve determined what happened here. I’m not particularly interested in criticizing the Times over this; stories get rewritten all the time. What is more interesting to me is that it is now very clear who that adviser was.
In short, it’s now clear that top Romney policy director Lanhee Chen basically confirmed to the Times — even though he was not quoted on record doing so — that the Romney camp attacked Obama in the way it did because it fit the campaign’s predetermined narrative.
Here’s the key quote in the original version of the story (with the subsequently removed part in bold):
“We’ve had this consistent critique and narrative on Obama’s foreign policy, and we felt this was a situation that met our critique, that Obama really has been pretty weak in a number of ways on foreign policy, especially if you look at his dealings with the Arab Spring and its aftermath,” one of Mr. Romney’s senior advisers said on Wednesday. “I think the reality is that while there may be a difference of opinion regarding issues of timing, I think everyone stands behind the critique of the administration, which we believe has conducted its foreign policy in a feckless manner.”
As Josh noted, this is akin to the Romney camp admitting: “we saw this thing happen. It fit with our campaign narrative. So we pounced.”
That quote is missing from the current version of the story. But the second half of it is on the record from Chen:
Mr. Romney’s camp was surprised by the blowback. “While there may be differences of opinion regarding issues of timing,” Mr. Chen said, “I think everyone stands behind the critique of the administration, which we believe has conducted its foreign policy in a feckless manner.”
So, what plainly happened here is that Chen agreed to put the second half of the quote on the record, but not the first half. Yet it’s obvious that Chen is the one who said that the campaign pounced on the Libya situation because it fit the campaign’s “narrative.”
In fairness, the quote is a bit ambiguous; it could mean that they thought the storming of the Embassies genuinely did fit their narrative in substantive terms. But the quote also provides a possible explanation for why the Romney camp jumped the gun, and what is clear about the quote is that Chen didn’t want to be on record saying it.
Peter Baker, one of the authors of the story, told me: “I can’t comment about the origins of the quote that are in my story. But we do make a point in general of trying to get sources to be on the record as much as possible.”
Again, my interest here is not really in the Times’ journalism. Rather, I believe it’s newsworthy that we now know the identity of the top adviser who made this candid admission about what happened here.