The Atlantic has committed what some observers are calling journalistic malpractice by creatively editing quotes in its Monday story about correspondence between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump, Jr., who advised and campaigned for his father in the 2016 presidential election.
The Atlantic article, entitled “The Secret Correspondence Between Donald Trump, Jr. and WikiLeaks,” turns 23 messages from WikiLeaks and three brief replies from Junior into a nearly-2,000 word article. Every correspondence is meticulously documented and analyzed.
Most of the conversation is fairly innocuous, with WikiLeaks asking Trump, Jr. to help disseminate stories on their website. The most juicy part comes when WikiLeaks hits Junior with an “unusual idea” on October 21, 2016.
“Leak us one or more of your father’s tax returns,” WikiLeaks proposed. The benefits to this are threefold: the New York Times has already done “most of the harm” by revealing Trump’s tax writeoffs, a “most biased source” could reveal the returns and “distort them into the worst posible [sic] light,” and “If we publish them it will dramatically improve the perception of our impartiality.”
“That means the vast amount of stuff that we are publishing about Clinton will have a much higher impact, because it won’t be perceived as coming from a ‘pro-Trump’ ‘pro-Russian’ source, which the Clinton campaign is constantly slandering us with.”
You may be wondering why we’ve bolded the end of the quote. The answer for that is that The Atlantic saw fit to omit that part, presumably to smear WikiLeaks. By omitting the end of the quote, WikiLeaks seem to be tacitly admitting that they carry a pro-Trump, pro-Russia bias.
The Atlantic didn’t even bother to add an ellipsis to suggest that there was more to the quote that they were omitting. That would be disingenuous as well, but not a blatant manipulation of WikiLeaks’ words to make them look worse.
Not that this breach of integrity mattered to several outlets, with ABC, CBS, GQ and The Guardian all running The Atlantic’s altered quote. Of course, at the time, Trump, Jr. had yet to release the full transcript of the Twitter conversation and reveal The Atlantic’s mischief-making.
In case you were hoping it was an honest mistake on the part of author Julia Ioffe or The Atlantic’s editorial team, it wasn’t. Shortly after Trump Jr. unveiled the DMs, Ioffe retweeted them with the comment “There are a couple missing pages in this release.” She then followed it up: “My bad, didn’t realize there were three tweets. Carry on!”
In other words, Ioffe clearly had the full text of the DM’s — otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for her to know that there were multiple pages, journalist Caitlin Johnstone points out in a Medium post on Ioffe’s “scoop.”
Trump, Jr. didn’t reply to WikiLeaks’ offer or respond to any further message from them — even as their offers became more and more outlandish, such as a suggestion that candidate Trump should challenge the results of the election if he loses and that President Trump should suggest Australia appoint WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as their ambassador to the US.