MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reported Thursday that she received a "carefully forged" document from someone who likely had prior access to top secret material, but the Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald provided evidence the following day that Maddow's document was an altered version of publicly available material.
Maddow presented the document as evidence that someone with access to high-level intelligence was working to discredit media investigations into allegations of Russian collusion with Donald Trump's presidential campaign. She touted her report as an exclusive "scoop." The facts about her document, however, indicate that anyone could have sent her it.
Maddow pointed to the metadata time-stamp on the document to imply that it was obtained by the sender three hours before the Intercept published the original, authentic document. Greenwald, however, found that the time-stamp was actually the same as the Intercept‘s document, down to the second, meaning that Maddow's document was almost certainly created from the Intercept‘s document template that was made public.
"In other words, anyone who took the document directly from the Intercept‘s site would have a document with exactly the same time-stamp as the one Maddow showed," Greenwald wrote. "Thus, rather than proving that this document was created before the Intercept‘s publication, the time-stamp featured by Maddow strongly suggests exactly the opposite: that it was taken from the Intercept‘s site."
Maddow granted Thursday that the time-stamp could have been changed, which lessens the possibility of an insider being Maddow's source. But the time-stamp being exactly the same makes it almost certain that the source got it from the Intercept.
The sender apparently did not alter the metadata to cover their tracks. Nevertheless, he or she got Maddow to spend about 20 minutes covering this forged document, which she said may have been used to discredit reporting about the ongoing Russia investigation. Greenwald said that Maddow should have contacted the Intercept about the document.
"Had MSNBC sought comment from the Intercept before broadcasting this story," Greenwald wrote, "they would have learned that the sole piece of evidence on which their entire theory was predicated—the time-stamp that preceded the Intercept‘s publication by a few hours—strongly suggests that whoever sent them the document did not have special, early, pre-publication access to it, but rather took it from the Intercept‘s site."
Greenwald criticized Maddow for the way that her report seemed to imply that the forger had prior access to the Intercept‘s document.
"That she was strongly suggesting that the forger obtained the document prior to the Intercept‘s publication—and thus must have had special access to it—was something heard by numerous people," Greenwald wrote, providing the example of Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare.
I will be very interested to learn whether the true lesson of this @maddow story is that the Intercept has, as I predicted, been penetrated.
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 7, 2017
All of the facts, however, seem to discount the idea that a Russian agent or another insider forged this document as part of a sophisticated operation.
"There is a massive difference in terms of the importance of this story if it was sent by some random person from the public who obtained the document after the Intercept published it, as opposed to someone who had access to it before publication," Greenwald wrote.
"While it is of course possible that there is some widespread, coordinated, official effort to feed news outlets false information in order to discredit stories about Trump and Russia, there is no real evidence for that theory, and this story does not offer any," Greenwald concluded.