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New York Times sports editor takes sole blame for Patriots tweet that elicited Trump response

President Trump welcomed the New England Patriots to the White House on April 19, to celebrate their Super Bowl win, but a number of key players were absent. (Video: Jenny Starrs, Dani Player/The Washington Post)

President Trump and the New England Patriots called out the New York Times for its interpretation of the size of the team’s Super Bowl delegations to the White House during the Obama and Trump administrations.

Photos tweeted by the Times showed a much larger group celebrating the 2015 Super Bowl victory with former president Barack Obama, with both staircases to the South Portico filled with people. The image from the team’s trip Wednesday shows a smaller group behind President Trump.

“Failing @nytimes, which has been calling me wrong for two years, just got caught in a big lie concerning New England Patriots visit to W.H.,” Trump tweeted just before 10 a.m. Thursday.

The Patriots rarely offer official comments, choosing to remain silent even after the death earlier Wednesday of former tight end Aaron Hernandez, but they clarified a few things Wednesday evening after the tweet was widely shared.

The team had tweeted that the photos “lacked context” because in 2015, staff members and players posed. On Wednesday, those staffers were seated in front of the podium on the lawn.

By midmorning Thursday, Jason Stallman, the Times’ sports editor, had taken responsibility for the tweet in an email to The Post. “Bad tweet by me. Terrible tweet. I wish I could say it’s complicated, but no, this one is pretty straightforward: I’m an idiot. It was my idea, it was my execution, it was my blunder. I made a decision in about four minutes that clearly warranted much more time.

“Once we learned more, we tried to fix everything as much as possible as swiftly as possible and as transparently as possible. Of course, at that point the damage was done. I just needed to own it.”

The Times also clarified the matter with a tweet that echoed a story they wrote on the visit.

The team pointed out that 36 players were in the House the last time the team won two Super Bowls in three years. On Wednesday, there were 34. Patriots spokesman Stacey James told the Times that Wednesday’s turnout was about the same as when George W. Bush was president and hosted the team in 2004 and 2005. James added that more than 45 players attended in 2002, after the franchise won its first Super Bowl, and that nearly 50 attended in 2015.

Chief among those who skipped the trip, as he did in 2015, was quarterback Tom Brady, who cited family considerations. Other players stayed away because of some of Trump’s political statements. James told the Times that many veterans didn’t see the need to make their second trip in three years. Devin McCourty explained his choice to stay away last week, saying that it should be “an individual decision” and that “everyone on our team has the right to go or not go.”

The Patriots celebrate a Super Bowl win with President Trump

“For me, it was just the different things that come out of the White House, or the administration, just didn’t agree or align with some of my views,” McCourty said. “I look at it now, and I’m a new dad. And you start to think about those things, you know, my daughter will be growing up in this country. … How will I explain to her why is there a photo op of me shaking someone’s hand if I didn’t agree, and taught her all the things that were opposite of that?

Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been a Trump supporter and Coach Bill Belichick famously wrote him a supportive letter just before the election last year. Although Brady was spotted with a “Make America Great Again” cap in his locker during the campaign and has called Trump a friend, he also has said that people can remain friends despite having different opinions. On Wednesday, his wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, tweeted a link to an April 29 march in Washington, D.C., “for climate, jobs, justice” and added “To change everything, we need everyone.” During Wednesday’s celebration, the president did not mention Tom Brady.

The responses to the Patriots’ tweets ranged from “Even the Patriots are calling out the Fake News media! haha” to “Guys, this is unbecoming of you. Just let it go.”