No, Mr. President, the New York Times didn’t say that.
In bolstering his claim that the administration of former president Barack Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower during the fall campaign, President Trump has repeatedly cited a New York Times story that Trump claims made that assertion.
Asked by Fox News host Tucker Carlson Wednesday night how he learned of the alleged surveillance, Trump said, “Well, I’ve been reading about things. I read in, I think it was a January 20 New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article. I think they used that exact term.”
Carlson followed up by asking if the president should wait to make such a serious allegation until proof emerged. “Don’t you devalue your words when you can’t provide evidence?” he said.
“Well,” replied the president, “because the New York Times wrote about it.”
The Times didn’t, at least not in the way Trump suggested.
The story in question was published on the paper’s front page on Jan. 20 — the day Trump was inaugurated — under the headline, “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides.”
So, in fact, the word “wiretapped” appears. But at no point does the article, produced under the bylines of four reporters, make the assertion that Obama “ordered” a wiretapping of candidate Trump or that any such surveillance took place at Trump Tower in New York.
Instead, the Times story speaks to a broader and more diffuse FBI investigation of possible links between unnamed Russian officials and Trump associates. The article identified the associates under investigation as former campaign manager Paul Manafort and advisers Carter Page and Roger Stone.
The closest the story comes to President Obama is this vague assertion: “One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.”
Thus, Trump’s reading of the story is a gross misreading of it.
“It is, of course, not what we reported,” Times editor Dean Baquet said Thursday. “The only reason there has been confusion is that the administration keeps misstating what we reported.”
Conservative media sources have also picked up on the Times story, apparently triggering a game of telephone that has contorted and disfigured the original facts. The Times article was cited by radio host Mark Levin on March 2 as part of what he called Obama’s “silent coup” against Trump. From there it jumped to Breitbart News, which apparently then led the next day to Trump’s shocking tweets. In the early hours of March 4, Trump accused Obama of “McCarthyism” and being a “bad (or sick) guy” for “tapping my phones” in October.
The Times has tried to keep the record straight several times, most recently on Thursday when it published an article fact-checking several of Trump’s inaccurate or misleading statements.
Trump and his spokesman, Sean Spicer, have sought to defend the claim, despite the absence of hard evidence. At first, the White House declined to comment, saying the matter should be investigated by Congress. Under mounting criticism, however, they have sought to change the terms of the issue, saying the definition of “wiretapping” could include “broad surveillance” or intelligence-gathering in general.
On Thursday, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), said they have seen no evidence for the allegation. The leaders of the House intelligence committee made similar statements on Wednesday.
This led to a heated series of exchanges between Spicer and reporters at the White House’s daily briefing on Thursday. Challenged by journalists to provide any evidence to validate the claim, Spicer cited “a vast amount of reporting,” ranging from the New York Times to Fox News host Sean Hannity, that suggested some kind of monitoring had occurred. He continued to insist evidence would emerge but declined to say if Trump would apologize or retract the claim if it didn’t.
Baquet said the Times hasn’t faced much direct fallout from the Jan. 20 Times article, “just the occasional reader who needs a bit of explanation.”
But he noted the irony of Trump invoking the paper as his source, considering that Trump has repeatedly slammed the Times as “failing,” “dishonest,” “FAKE NEWS” and “the enemy of the American people,” among many other things. “As I’ve said before, the president’s description of us as failing does not bother us since it is demonstrably false,” he said.