Accuracy in Media

Less than four months after President Donald Trump took office, he met with Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, and Sergey Kislyak, who was then the Russian ambassador to the United States in the White House.

The only media present was a photographer who traveled with Lavrov and distributed images of the meeting for use by the worldwide media. Getting left out of the meeting rankled reporters, who since have made a variety of claims about what transpired.

The latest such claim came over the weekend when the Washington Post reported Trump had told the Russians he was unconcerned about their alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election because the United States does the same in other countries.

The quote is attributed to “three former officials with knowledge of the matter.” It is not confirmed by Trump, the Russians or the photographer – the only attendees at the meeting. The Post claims, in “Trump told Russian officials in 2017 he wasn’t concerned about Moscow’s interference in U.S. election” by Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey and Ellen Nakashima, that “a memorandum summarizing the meeting” exists in a safe place in the White House and “was limited [in distribution] to a few officials with the highest security clearances.”

It later admits “it is not clear whether a memo documenting” the meeting exists or was placed into the classified system. “White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said.”

It does not make clear the former officials worked in the Trump White House, which implies they may well have been part of the Obama White House. Their remarks could well have been based on public statements by the president that the Russia investigation was politically motivated and that the Russians’ role in attempting to influence the result were limited in reach and effect.

The piece adds anonymous quotes saying the president doesn’t seem to understand the difference between Voice of America, “a US-supported news organization that airs in foreign countries” and “Russian efforts to persuade American voters by surreptitiously planting ads in social media.” It quotes another saying Trump “was always defensive of Russia” and “’thought the whole interference thing was ridiculous. He never bought into it.”

But this was hardly the first time media, with no corroborating sources, attacked Trump over what he was reported to have said.

First off, the meeting took place the day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, which the Washington Post, in “The strange Oval Office meeting between Trump, Lavrov and Kislay” by Julie Vitkovskaya and Amanda Erickson, called “a curious choice for a meeting” in terms of timing, given “questions about whether Trump fired Comey because of that investigation.”

A few weeks later, it was that Trump had supposedly given away sensitive intelligence information that had provided to the U.S. by Israel, which “infuriated the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities.” The story also claims that Israel’s intel community had told the U.S. only recently that Russia ‘had leverages of pressure’ over Trump.

A “senior Israeli military official was quoted as saying “Trump betrayed us. And if we can’t trust him, then we’re going to have to do what is necessary on our own if our back is up against the wall with Iran.”

Unlike its predecessor, the Trump administration has worked aggressively to neutralize the threat Iran poses to Israel and elsewhere in the world, and its relationship with Israel has never been stronger.

Back on Sept. 12, CNN’s Jim Sciutto, a former Obama aide, reported that the U.S. had to pull a top spy out of the Kremlin in part because of information Trump reportedly disclosed in that meeting, although it since has been revealed the security lapses that led to the spy being pulled occurred during the Obama administration.

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