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ink-stained wretches

The New York Times Altered Its Obama Criticism for ‘Clarity’ [Updated]

NEW YORK - APRIL 21: A man speaks on his mobile phone across from The New York Times headquarters building April 21, 2011 in New York City. The New York Times profits fell 58 percent in the first quarter of 2011. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

On Thursday afternoon (even before the world learned of "PRISM"), the New York Times published a blistering editorial on the developing government surveillance scandal that declared, "The administration has now lost all credibility." The phrase was soon all over Twitter and appeared prominently on websites ranging from Politico to Drudge — everywhere but the New York Times. As cataloged by NewsDiffs, by the evening, the phrase had been modified to read, "The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue." (Emphasis added.)

Conservative outlets like Newsmax.com and Hannity suggested the paper wanted to tone down its criticism of President Obama, but Eileen Murphy, the vice-president of corporate communications at the Times, tells Daily Intelligencer that wasn't the case. "The change was indeed for clarity's sake," she says. "It was clear from the context of the editorial that the issue of credibility related to this issue, but the final edit of the piece strengthened that point." Nevertheless, we suspect the original line will forever be tied to the surveillance scandal. As tonight's PRISM revelation underscored, there's no delete button on the Internet.

Update: "We thought it was obvious that we were talking about the administration's credibility on this particular issue — secrecy and surveillance," editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal told Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, echoing the Times' initial comment. "We think issue by issue. We didn't intend a blanket condemnation."

"We didn't soften it one iota from its original intent," he said.

In Sullivan's view, "There's no question that the sentence, as edited, has a significantly different meaning. But I don't believe that the editorial board's original intention was to say that the administration no longer has any credibility on any issue. Nor do I believe that the board was frightened out of its convictions by reaction from the outside." And reading the entire editorial, its harsh criticisms stand.

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Photo: Ramin Talaie