The New York Times reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein considered privately whether to secretly record conversations with President Donald Trump as a way to potentially remove him from office.
The report was mostly anonymously-sourced, as is often the case with NYT stories about the Trump administration. Perhaps worse, however, is how misleadingly the Times presented the story, creating a narrative that doesn't necessarily match up with what the sources said.
Rosenstein, of course, denied the story completely and criticized the Times for its lack of transparent sourcing.
"The New York Times's story is inaccurate and factually incorrect," Rosenstein said in a statement. "I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda.
"But let me be clear about this," Rosenstein's statement continued. "Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment."
What was misleading?
The article's headline reads: "Rod Rosenstein Suggested Secretly Recording Trump and Discussed 25th Amendment."
Now, that's a headline that really pops on social media and spreads quickly, especially among people who don't bother to read into the article to get the context and details.
First, the sources. The NYT describes them as people who were "briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by FBI officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein's actions and comments." Notably, not people who actually heard/witnessed this themselves.
There is one person cited in the story, however, who was reportedly present when Rosenstein allegedly suggested wearing a wire when talking to Trump:
From the article (emphasis added):
"A Justice Department spokeswoman also provided a statement from a person who was present when Mr. Rosenstein proposed wearing a wire. The person, who would not be named, acknowledged the remark but said Mr. Rosenstein made it sarcastically."
The Washington Post provided some more detail about how that witness remembers the conversation transpiring:
"That person said the wire comment came in response to McCabe’s own pushing for the Justice Department to open an investigation into the president. To that, Rosenstein responded with what this person described as a sarcastic comment along the lines of, 'What do you want to do, Andy, wire the president?'"
That paints quite a different picture from the one that is implied in the headline and lead of the story. So while people "briefed either on the events themselves or on memos" agree on the content, the person who apparently heard it being said captured a deeper level of context.
The response to the article on social media was polarizing, with some defending the Times' reporting and others criticizing the habit of using anonymous sources without the proper levels of skepticism and corroboration.
This Rosenstein story is precisely why I find it laughable that people think that the NYT newsroom, or any major ne… https://t.co/9lIAHydOcO— Charles M. Blow (@Charles M. Blow) 1537561504.0
Argumentum ad hominem cuts both ways. Here in Baltimore, I've watched Mr. Rosenstein conduct himself or years & the… https://t.co/E0fbDhlyRS— David Simon (@David Simon) 1537556549.0
Others provided some context about Rosenstein's personality and the way prosecutors talk.
I dunno if Rosenstein seriously considered taping POTUS or was being saracastic, as many outlets report. I know Rod… https://t.co/qspRBC54t9— Preet Bharara (@Preet Bharara) 1537559114.0
Much is unknown here. What is known, however, is that the only person who addressed the report on the record, Rosenstein himself, denied it completely. Anything else is just speculation that people can use to fit whatever narrative they prefer.