The New York Times denied on Friday that it had softened its scathing editorial blasting the Obama administration for collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers.
In the editorial, first published late Thursday afternoon, the Times said the White House had “now lost all credibility” after reports that the National Security Agency had been gathering phone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top-secret court order issued in April.
But by 9 p.m., the sentence had been changed to say, “The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue,” a much softer tone than previously published.
“We thought it was obvious that we were talking about the administration’s credibility on this particular issue — secrecy and surveillance,” Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, told the Times’ “Public Editor’s Journal” blog on Friday. “But it soon became obvious that some well-meaning people were not understanding that, so we thought that we should clarify it.
“We think issue by issue,” he added. “We didn’t intend a blanket condemnation.”
The editorial received prominent display on Newsmax and other websites — even making the rounds on Capitol Hill.
Rosenthal rejected accusations that the Times had back-pedaled its attack on the Obama administration.
“We didn’t soften it one iota from its original intent,” he said, noting that it was not unusual to update online versions of editorials to reflect new developments.
He also said that the revised editorial should not have carried an “editor’s note” or some other disclaimer.
“If we had changed the intent of the editorial, it would have been dishonest not to say so,” Rosenthal said. “But that wasn’t the case. We don’t have to run a note every time we make an update.”
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