About a month ago, we reported that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest misheard a question from Fox News correspondent Kevin Corke, and appeared to answer “no” when asked if he could state definitively that no White House official had ever lied about the Iran nuclear deal. That moment has now exploded into the Great May 9 Transcript Controversy of 2016 because that barely-audible portion of Earnest’s reply did not end up in the briefing transcript.
At Tuesday’s White House daily briefing, Fox News reporter James Rosen grilled Earnest on the transcript issue, asking him why the transcript didn’t say that the response was inaudible, and asking if Earnest would consider reviewing the video and having it changed:
Here’s the White House version of the exchange and clips from two other outlets, followed by the transcript:
Q Can you state categorically that no senior official in this administration has ever lied publicly about any aspect of the Iran nuclear deal?
MR. EARNEST: Kevin, I think the facts of this agreement and the benefits of this agreement make clear that the national security of the United States of America has been enhanced, and Iran’s effort to acquire a nuclear weapon has been set back. In fact, Iran has now committed to not seeking to acquire to a nuclear weapon, and we can now verify that they’re not able to acquire a nuclear weapon.
As you can see, the audio from the White House recording is hampered by the fact that you can’t see Earnest’s face as he replies, and there’s a loud crinkling of paper just before he says “No, Kevin,” which is probably what caused the mic to compensate. It’s tough to hear. The White House compiles transcripts by starting with a computer-generated voice-to-text transcript that is then corrected by a press aide, usually an intern, and in this case, they missed that snippet.
When we reported on the story, there was some internal discussion as to whether Earnest really said “No, Kevin.” But if you listen closely, you can definitely make it out. It’s also the case that Earnest obviously misheard the question, as even our own Alex Griswold, no White House stooge, acknowledged when reporting it. Earnest, for his part, hasn’t actually denied saying “no, Kevin,” he’s only said that he did not change his answer, which context and Corke’s follow-up make clear was that no, no one lied.
Unfortunately, the State Department’s edited video cock-up has turned this molehill into a prize for James Rosen, and Earnest, in response to Rosen’s bad faith, has decided not to give an inch. But the record is the record, and that transcript should be updated. They can also append a correction, as they often do in briefing transcripts, but pique at James Rosen is no reason to leave an inaccurate record.
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