It’s Memorial Day weekend. A time for remembrance. But for the anti-Trump media, it’s just another opportunity to beclown itself by pushing a false gotcha narrative.

It all started, as often is the case, with a Trump tweet:

The Failing @nytimes quotes “a senior White House official,” who doesn’t exist, as saying “even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.” WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1000396430371106817

The language quoted in the tweet came from a NY Times article regarding a background briefing at the White House:

“On Thursday, for example, a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.”

The briefing was on background: “This afternoon, a senior White House official will hold an off-camera, not for broadcast, background briefing on North Korea.”

https://twitter.com/ddale8/status/1000401282853687296

Since the briefing was on background, the source’s name could not be used under standard journalistic guidelines. For example, here is the Associated Press’s guidelines:

On the record. The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.

Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication.

Background. The information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position. AP reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record. These background briefings have become routine in many venues, especially with government officials.

Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.

In general, information obtained under any of these circumstances can be pursued with other sources to be placed on the record.

In reaction to Trump’s tweet, the media almost unanimously jumped to the defense of the NY Times.

One or more of the reporters at the briefing leaked to other reporters who were not at the briefing the name of the source. This allowed the non-attending reporters to claim they were not violating their ethical duties because they never agreed to the conditions.

Leading the charge was Yashar Ali, of New York Magazine and HuffPo, who has an enormous Twitter following, who named the source:

https://twitter.com/yashar/status/1000404335568785408

https://twitter.com/yashar/status/1000414561261047810

But that wasn’t all, audio of the comments also was leaked supposedly backing up the NY Times story (click on image to listen):

https://twitter.com/yashar/status/1000418699273175044

This supposed gotcha on Trump even made it to Twitter Moments:

https://twitter.com/TwitterMoments/status/1000498932269572096

The problem for the gotcha was that the audio did not back up the Times’ reporting. At no point did the source say the meeting on June 12 was impossible, or even words to that effect. Here’s what he said:

“the main point, I suppose, is that the ball is in North Korea’s court right now. And there’s really not a lot of time.”

Clearly the Times did not quote the source directly, as Trump claimed in the tweet. So for using the term “quotes” in his tweet, Trump was wrong in that the impossible language was not in quotation marks in the Times story. But substantively Trump was right, since the characterization of the meeting being “impossible” is not a reasonable interpretation of the comments.

Nonetheless, the Times declared victory over Trump, Trump Falsely Says Times Made Up Source in Report on Korea Summit Meeting:

It is not clear whether the president was simply unaware of the actions of his own senior staff or if he knowingly ignored the truth. The source of that sentence was a White House official who held a briefing on Thursday afternoon in the White House briefing room that was attended by about 50 reporters, with about 200 or so more on a conference call.

Reporters often request such briefings to be on the record, which would allow the official to be named. But, in this case, the rules of the briefing imposed by the White House required that the official be referred to only as a “senior White House official.” The Times is continuing to abide by that agreement.

In the course of the briefing, the official was asked about the possibility that the summit meeting could be held on June 12, despite the president’s decision to cancel it a day earlier. The discussion was prompted by earlier statements from the president suggesting that the meeting might still happen.

The official noted that “there’s really not a lot of time — we’ve lost quite a bit of time that we would need” to prepare for the summit meeting.

“June 12 is in 10 minutes,” the official said.

On Friday, White House officials took pains to demonstrate that it was still possible to hold the meeting. Mr. Trump himself said Friday morning that he was hopeful again that there might still be a meeting on June 12 with the North Koreans.

“They very much want to do it,” the president told reporters. “We’d like to do it. We’ll see what happens.”

A recording of the key part of the Thursday briefing, discussing the timing issues of the summit meeting, appeared on Twitter after Mr. Trump’s tweet on Saturday. At the end of the briefing, reporters asked the official to put comments on the record, but the official said that both Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had spoken publicly, and that their comments could stand by themselves.

Molly Hemingway led the counter-offensive against this false narrative:

So the bottom line is that the NY Times did not have a real source for the “impossible” characterization. At most, the Times had a source for some other characterization. Yet the Times and supportive media seized on the existence of a source, even though not a source which said what the Times said he said, to prove Trump wrong.

In so doing, one or more journalists at the briefing arguably violated their ethical duties by leaking the source name and audio, despite the briefing being on background, and other journalists not bound by the background preconditions used that information.

A simple “we’re sorry” from the Times for the false “impossible” claim would have been more effective. But at least all those in Journalist Twitter are convinced of their moral superiority.