NBC News published and aired a misquote of Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy on Thursday to suggest that the Republican was turning on President Donald Trump over alleged hush money payments.
Cassidy spoke to CNN reporter Manu Raju on Tuesday about whether or not Trump’s coordination of hush payments to multiple women constitutes a campaign finance violation. Cassidy invoked a similar case involving former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, who ultimately escaped punishment, to defend Trump from allegations of illegality. (RELATED: NBC News Claims Conservatives Paid For Steele Dossier)
However, NBC ran a shortened and misquoted version of Cassidy’s comments to create a narrative that he — and potentially other Republicans — were turning on the president.
The misquote was apparently due to a transcription error by NBC News’ automated service, according to a review of the internal transcript by The Daily Caller.
NBC’s auto-transcription has Cassidy telling CNN’s Raju the following (emphasis added):
“If you phrase it, I am concerned that the president might be involved in a crime, of course. The only question is then whether or not this so-called hush money is a crime. John Edwards obviously was prosecuted for the same thing and Justice Department failed. Acquitted on one, mistrial-ed on the others, but they decided not to proceed. This does seem to be what they are charging, by the way, this is not to say it’s right, this is not to say–to condone it. But it is to say if we take legal precedent, it is not something the Justice Department is going to win on.”
According to video of the interview, however, Cassidy actually said this:
“If you phrase it, ‘Am I concerned that the president might be involved in a crime?’ Of course. The only question is then whether or not this so-called hush money is a crime … “
It is common for reporters to use automated transcriptions of interviews as rough guides, however, the quotes are supposed to be confirmed next to audio or video to make sure they are fully accurate.
NBC and MSNBC ran with the misquote in several stories and TV packages throughout the day and conveniently left out the additional context that made clear Cassidy was defending Trump from allegations of illegality. (RELATED: Trump: ‘It Is Frankly Disgusting The Press Is Able To Write Whatever)
NBC’s first version of an article on Cassidy’s quote omitted “If you phrase it,” and included the misquote of “I am” instead of “Am I.”
“‘I am concerned that the president might be involved in a crime,’ Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told reporters Tuesday,” NBC incorrectly reported.
The article was corrected to reflect the transcription error, but still did not include the context surrounding Cassidy’s quote.
Finally, the third version of the article added the second part of Cassidy’s quote that made clear he did not accept the premise that Trump committed a crime.
Despite its corrections, NBC still insisted in the piece that Cassidy’s comments indicate “cracks in what has been a solid wall of support for Trump amid intensifying federal investigations.”
The original misreporting led to a series of articles, tweets, and comments on cable news mischaracterizing Cassidy’s comments.
The false quote, for example, spread to sister network MSNBC, who ran a chyron that read, “Sen. Cassidy: ‘I’m Concerned The President Might Be Involved In A Crime.'” MSNBC’s misquote is especially baffling because they ran the chyron on top of a video of Cassidy stating something obviously different.
An MSNBC article on the “Maddow Blog” contained the accurate quote, but misleadingly said that Cassidy “concede[d], out loud and on the record, that Donald Trump may have broken the law.”
The headline of the piece was similarly misleading, asserting, “GOP senator says he’s ‘concerned’ Trump was ‘involved in a crime.’”
Taegan Goddard, the publisher of Political Wire, ran with the false quote on Twitter. Goddard eventually updated the quote in his wire but has not deleted his tweet containing the misquote and did not include any of the additional context of Cassidy’s remarks.
Sen. Bill Cassidy: “I am concerned that the president might be involved in a crime.” https://t.co/d7KevDVN0j
— Taegan Goddard (@politicalwire) December 13, 2018
Left-wing website ShareBlue insisted that Cassidy was openly questioning if Trump committed a crime, writing, “even Trump’s stalwart Republican allies are beginning to question his innocence.”
“I am concerned that the president might be involved in a crime,” Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told reporters.https://t.co/P965TT1gAo
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 13, 2018
NBC News likely could have avoided the many mischaracterizations by first double-checking their transcript before publication, and subsequently by printing Cassidy’s quote in-full or airing the entire video.
But a spokesperson for Sen. Cassidy claims that despite NBC’s attempts to correct its misreporting, the news outlet still refuses to publish Cassidy’s full quote or the longer version of the video of his remarks.
“Despite our repeated requests, NBC News refused to include the Senator’s full answer in its article, and refused to release the full video on its website,” the spokesperson told The Daily Caller.
NBC did not return a request for comment.