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Attorney General William Barr speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room on March 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Brandon) Attorney General William Barr speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room on March 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Brandon)

Attorney General William Barr speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room on March 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Brandon)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy May 11, 2020

NBC’s Chuck Todd, ‘Meet the Press’ leave out key context in shortened Barr clip

If Your Time is short

  • NBC’s Chuck Todd aired an abbreviated quote from William Barr that left out important context. “Meet the Press” acknowledged the error on Twitter.

  • The missing context: Barr said “a fair history” would say his request to dismiss the case  against Michael Flynn was “a good decision because it upheld the rule of law.”

A clip played by NBC host Chuck Todd cut important context from Attorney General William Barr’s interview with CBS News, leaving the impression that Barr spoke only in political terms about his move to drop charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

On "Meet the Press," Todd played an abbreviated quote from Barr’s May 7 interview with CBS News' Catherine Herridge, in which Barr was asked how history would view his decision to reverse course on a prosecution that had already produced a guilty plea. 

"He didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law," Todd said after the clip. "He was almost admitting that, yeah, this is a political job."

But Todd’s description of Barr’s remarks was wrong. Barr did say he believed he was sticking up for the rule of law — and he said it immediately after the clip Todd presented was cut off.

"Meet the Press" acknowledged the error in response to criticism from Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec on Twitter. NBC News declined to comment further, and Todd did not respond to a separate request for comment.

"Earlier today, we inadvertently and inaccurately cut short a video clip of an interview with AG Barr before offering commentary and analysis," the show said in a tweet. "The remaining clip included important remarks from the attorney general that we missed, and we regret the error."

The discrepancy between Todd’s description of the clip he showed and Barr’s complete remarks drew backlash on Twitter from conservative pundits and politicians. President Donald Trump retweeted several criticisms and called more than once for the "Meet the Press" host to be fired, tagging the Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Ajit Pai.

"Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd should be FIRED by "Concast" (NBC) for this fraud," Trump said in one tweet, using his pejorative nicknames for Todd and Comcast, NBC’s parent company. "He knew exactly what he was doing."

Todd’s clip was cut short, omitting key context

The clip from Barr’s interview was shown as part of a question during a panel discussion about the Flynn case. Todd teed up his question for Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan after NBC News reporter Kristen Welker, another panelist, mentioned the attorney general.

"I want you to listen to this Bill Barr answer to a question about what will history say about this," Todd said. "Wait until you hear this answer. Take a listen."

The tape rolled, showing Herridge asking Barr what the impression will be "when history looks back on this decision" to recommend the dismissal of Flynn’s charges.

"Well, history is written by the winners," Barr said in response. "So it largely depends on who’s writing the history."

That’s where the clip stopped. 

At that point, Todd said he was struck "by the cynicism" of Barr’s answer. "It's a correct answer," he said. "But he's the attorney general. He didn't make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this is a political job."

But had the tape kept rolling, viewers would have seen that Barr did insist that he was upholding the rule of law. In fact, he used those exact words. Here’s his full quote, with the relevant portion in bold:

"Well, history is written by the winners. So it largely depends on who's writing the history. But I think a fair history would say it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law, it upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice."

Kupec said on Twitter that Barr made similar points elsewhere in the interview. For example, when asked if he was doing Trump’s bidding by altering the course of the Flynn case, Barr said, "No, I’m doing the law’s bidding. I’m doing my duty under the law, as I see it."

For its part, "CBS Evening News" also trimmed the clip of Barr in the same fashion during its May 7 TV broadcast, cutting his quote after "winners." Norah O’Donnell, the show’s anchor, didn’t claim that Barr never said he was upholding the law, as Todd did.

"CBS This Morning" presented the clip in its full context May 8.

Our ruling

Todd said Barr "didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law" with regard to Flynn during an interview with CBS News.

"Meet the Press" did not show the attorney general’s complete remarks. 

After saying that "history is written by the winners," Barr said, "I think a fair history would say it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law."

We rate Todd’s statement False.

UPDATE, May 13, 2020: Todd apologized for the error during the May 12 edition of MSNBC’s "Meet the Press Daily."

Todd said his team did not deliberately omit Barr’s complete remarks or edit them out. They saw only the "CBS Evening News" version of the clip, and they did not check for a full transcript, he said.

"The second part of the attorney general’s answer would have put it in the proper context, and had I seen that part of the interview, I would not have framed the conversation the way I did, and I obviously am very sorry for that mistake," Todd said.

Our Sources

NBC News, "Meet the Press - May 10, 2020," May 10, 2020

NBC News on YouTube, "Meet The Press Broadcast (Full) - May 10th, 2020 | Meet The Press | NBC News," May 10, 2020

The Washington Post, "Trump, in a Mother’s Day tweetstorm, says NBC’s Chuck Todd should be fired over edited interview clip," May 11, 2020

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, May 11, 2020

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, May 11, 2020

KerriKupecDOJ on Twitter, May 10, 2020

Meet the Press on Twitter, May 10, 2020

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, May 10, 2020

CBS This Morning on YouTube, "Attorney General Barr defends Justice Dept. decision to drop criminal case against Michael Flynn," May 8, 2020

CBS News on YouTube, "Department of Justice drops charges against Michael Flynn," May 7, 2020

CBS Evening News, "CBS Evening News, May 7, 2020," May 7, 2020

CBS News, "Attorney General William Barr on Michael Flynn, Obamacare and coronavirus restrictions – Transcript," May 7, 2020

PolitiFact, "A closer look at Michael Flynn’s reversal of legal fortune," May 8, 2020

Email correspondence with Kerri Kupec, spokesperson for the Justice Department, May 11, 2020

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NBC’s Chuck Todd, ‘Meet the Press’ leave out key context in shortened Barr clip

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