The New York Times ran a story on Saturday implicating Breitbart News in what it claimed was a misleading effort to state that former FBI Director James Comey had testified under oath that he had not been pressured to stop an investigation.
The Times‘ Jeremy W. Peters — normally one of its more credible journalists — reported that a tweet by Jack Posobiec led Breitbart News and other conservative outlets to conclude — falsely, in its view — that Comey had exonerated President Donald Trump of wrongdoing, under oath.
“Mr. Posobiec wrote on May 17 that Mr. Comey, the recently ousted F.B.I. director, had ‘said under oath that Trump did not ask him to halt any investigation’,” the Times reported. “It mattered little that Mr. Comey had said no such thing. The tweet quickly ricocheted through the ecosystem of fake news and disinformation on the far right, where Trump partisans like Mr. Posobiec have intensified their efforts to sow doubt about the legitimacy of expanding investigations into Trump associates’ ties to Russia.
The Times included Breitbart News in that “ecosystem,” citing an article at Breitbart News that mentioned Posobiec’s tweet.
But the Breitbart article was careful to note that Comey’s testimony on May 8 had not responded specifically to a question about whether Trump himself had asked him to stop an investigation.
It did draw the inference that Comey’s comment could have included Trump — but was precise in its language: “Although Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) didn’t specifically ask about Trump in the question she posed to Comey, the inquiry was about whether or not he had experienced having a higher authority stop an FBI investigation.”
The inference is not the only possible one — but neither is the inference that the Times prefers to draw against Trump, and to present as established fact. The Breitbart headline also did not specifically mention Trump.
Comey did not volunteer any information about Trump during that testimony.
He only accused Trump of having asked him to stop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — by allegedly expressing a “hope” — once Comey had been fired.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.