NBC News issued a report contradicting the Biden administration’s official narrative concerning the government’s prisoner swap with Russia. Apparently hoping no one would take notice, the news organization quickly changed its original report without signaling it had done so.
While ostensibly intended to buttress the Biden administration’s claims about its inability to bring home former Marine Paul Whelan, NBC News’ stealth edit has prompted some to wonder what actually went on behind the scenes.
Only after being met with criticism online and a request for comment from TheBlaze did the news organization offer a retroactive correction hours later.
What are the details?
The White House suggested that the Biden administration never had a choice to bring home Whelan from Russia — that “the choice became to either bring Brittany home or no one.”
However, NBC News, citing a senior U.S. official, first reported that the “Kremlin gave the White House the choice of either Griner or Whelan — or none.”
Rikki Ratliff-Fellman, director of programming at Blaze Media, noted a significant discrepancy between NBC News’ original report and the article as it now exists online.
Without issuing an editorial note, NBC News made a stealthy change to the article, such that it now reads, “The Kremlin ultimately gave the White House the choice of either Griner or no one after different options were proposed.”
Ratliff-Fellman highlighted the changes in a Tweet, posing the question, “Why the cover-up?”
— Reality Czar Rikki (@Reality Czar Rikki)
This alteration to the article changes the entire narrative.
It also happens to buttress the tale told by President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and other members of the administration and mainstream media.
Biden said, “This was not a choice of which American to bring home. … Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s.”
— TheBlaze (@TheBlaze)
Blinken said, “This was not a choice of which American to bring home. The choice was one or none.”
— The Hill (@The Hill)
Jean-Pierre recycled the line, saying, “The choice was bring Brittney home or no one. The president will never stop working to secure Paul Whelan’s release.”
Perhaps providing a rationale behind what NBC News originally reported was a binary decision, Jean-Pierre said that Griner is “an important role model; an inspiration to millions of Americans particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color.”
— TheBlaze (@TheBlaze)
An entire paragraph concerning Whelan’s notification in prison about the “outcome of the negotiations” was also was initially added without editorial note to the NBC News article in addition to the stealth edit.
TheBlaze reached out to NBC News with regards to its changes, asking why it originally failed to highlight the change with an editorial note, whether someone at the White House asked for the change, whether its original source had recanted or stood by its initial claim, and whether its continue to stand by its source.
While NBC News failed to respond to TheBlaze at the time of this writing, it did however issue a correction at 4:09 p.m. on Thursday claiming that “an earlier version of this article misstated the choice the Biden administration was given over hostages. It was to swap for Griner or no one, not a choice between Griner or Whelan.”
Despite the stealth edit and the subsequent correction, the NBC News article still references remarks made by Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov.
Zherebenkov indicated that the deal involved a choice and implied that it was between the former Marine and the basketballer.
The lawyer said the exchange was a “one to one” and that “choosing Griner appeared ‘more humane’ because she is a woman and an Olympic champion, while Whelan was in the military and it is ‘easier for him to be in custody.’
Although happy about Griner’s release, Whelan told CNN, “I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four year anniversary of my arrest is coming up.”
Whelan suggested that he was “led to believe that things were moving in the right direction, and that the governments were negotiating and that something would happen fairly soon.”
Whelan is a former Marine who served in Iraq. He has been detained in Russia since December 2018 and was convicted by a Moscow court of espionage in 2020.
Griner, a basketballer who refused to stand for the American national anthem during home openers in 2020, was arrested in February on smuggling charges after traveling to Russia with cannabis oil in her luggage.
David Whelan, the American hostage’s brother, told reporters, “It is so important to me that it is clear that we do not begrudge Ms. Griner her freedom. … As I have often remarked, Brittney’s and Paul’s cases were never really intertwined. It has always been a strong possibility that one might be freed without the other.”