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No, the White House didn’t intentionally edit a question to Putin out of a video

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MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow led her show Tuesday night with an explosive allegation: The administration of President Trump had intentionally buried a question asked of Russian President Vladimir Putin during last week’s news conference in Helsinki. Not an insignificant question, either. The one about whether or not Putin wanted Trump to win.

“We can report tonight that the White House video of that exchange has also skilfully cut out that question from the Reuters reporter as if it didn’t happen,” Maddow claimed.

Here’s her report.

She also noted that the White House’s written transcript also excludes the question. Here’s what that transcript says.

PUTIN: Options abound, and they all can be found in an appropriate legal framework.
REPORTER: And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
PUTIN: (As interpreted.) Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.

Here’s the thing: That’s also how The Post’s transcript of the news conference initially read, too. Ours came from Bloomberg Government and ours, too, excluded the first part of the reporters question in which he begins, “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election”.

What happened? If you watch the videos, it’s pretty clear. At some point in the middle of that question, there’s a switch between the feed from the reporters and the feed from the translator. In the White House version of the video, you can hear the question being asked very faintly under the woman who is translating saying “president.”

You can hear the same audio in The Post’s feed, starting at about a minute in.

Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed he wanted President Trump to win the 2016 election, during a joint news conference in July 2018. (Video: The Washington Post)

We did not edit the question out. This is the feed we were provided.

In this version of the news conference posted by Fox News, you can hear something different. In this, the question being asked more prominently with the translator muted and in the background.

But more importantly in that video, you can hear the actual switch-over.

If you’re wearing headphones, you can notice how the latter part of the question is suddenly audible in the right earpiece. At first, the right channel is only the translator. Mid-question, the reporter is suddenly heard in both left and right as the translator feed drops out. Notice, too, that Putin then picks up his earpiece — through which he can hear the translations — and puts it in his right ear.

Our transcript and the White House’s were apparently based on the feed that runs only in the right channel. A White House official told CNN’s Abby Phillip that its transcript “did not have Mason’s audio turned up in time,” referring to Reuters reporter Jeff Mason, who asked the question.

This is not a conspiracy from the White House. While the White House certainly has a track record of misrepresenting facts, this would have been a remarkably futile revision of reality to attempt. As it turns out, they didn’t.

Update: Since a number of readers have indicated that they still think the White House video was edited, here’s a comparison I created using the videos above. The “ping” sound marks the start of Mason’s question in each segment.

This article was updated after our transcript was corrected.