By Peter Hasson
Media outlets botched another Trump-Russia story on Sunday.
President Donald Trump sent out a tweet Sunday morning defending his son Donald Trump, Jr.’s decision to take a July 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information on then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower,” the president tweeted. “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”
The vast majority of reporting on the president’s tweet portrayed it as a significant admission. The Associated Press breathlessly reported that Trump “appeared to change his story” and sent out a news alert to that effect.
HuffPost titled its story: “Trump Finally Admits His Campaign Colluded With Russia At Trump Tower Meeting.” (RELATED: Still Lacking Evidence Of Collusion, Democrats Move The Goalposts)
New York Times reporter Jose Del Real called Trump’s tweet an “astonishing and brazen admission.” Both the Times and The Washington Post portrayed Trump’s tweet as a new and significant development in their coverage on Sunday.
President Trump admitted that a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign aides and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was designed to “get information on an opponent” https://t.co/E6iQVZoIsA pic.twitter.com/JFtC24yXz4
— NYT Politics (@nytpolitics) August 5, 2018
There’s just one problem: Trump’s tweet wasn’t a reversal at all. It’s true that Trump’s original explanation for the Trump Tower meeting was that it focused on adoptions, but the president has long since acknowledged that the meeting’s origin was an offer of opposition research. (RELATED: Yet Another Anonymously Sourced Trump-Russia Story Falls Apart)
“I do think this, that taken from a practical standpoint … most people would’ve taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent,” Trump said at a July 13, 2017 press conference. “I’ve only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up, ‘Oh gee, we have information on this factor or this person,’ or, frankly, Hillary.”
“That’s very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard where they have information and you take the information, and I think the press made a very big deal out of something that really a lot [of people] would do,” Trump said at the time. (RELATED: CNN Botches ‘Bombshell’ Don Jr. Story)
Axios reporter Jonathan Swan was a notable exception to the widespread media overreaction.
“Trump said nothing substantively different today from what he said last July,” Swan noted. “I don’t understand why people are treating this as breaking news.”
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