The State Department denied Monday that the specific mention of Fox News and Iran by the employee who ordered the editing of a 2013 State Department briefing was evidence of an effort to erase a section featuring a Fox News reporter for deceptive reasons.
A State Department investigation was launched after Fox News reported that video of a December 2013 exchange between Fox News reporter James Rosen and then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had been deleted from the State Department website. Rosen and Psaki had sparred about possible deceit by the Obama administration to preserve nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Spokesman John Kirby said last week that the investigation's results were inconclusive. However, buried within the report was news that the technician who edited the video remembered the woman who ordered the edit mentioned Fox News:
Kirby explained Thursday that a technician in the department's Bureau of Public Affairs recalled receiving a telephone call from a female superior back in December 2013, ordering the editing of the video. The legal adviser’s report said that while the technician "did not believe" the call had come from Psaki, the technician was otherwise unable to remember the identity of the superior.
Kirby added: "There’s no evidence to suggest [the deletion] was made with the intent to conceal information from the public and … there is no evidence to indicate who might have placed that call or why."
What Kirby omitted was that the legal adviser’s report — shared with news organizations on condition they not publish it in full — did indeed contain evidence to indicate why the unidentified supervisor demanded the deletion, in a section of the report captioned "Evidence of Purposeful Editing."
"The technician did not recall a reason being given for the edit request," the report stated, "but did believe that the requester had mentioned in the course of the call a Fox network reporter and Iran." The report continued: "The technician indicated that the requester may also have provided the start and end times for an edit."
The disclosure that the superior official specifically cited a Fox News reporter and his questioning about Iran when demanding the edit, and "may" even have provided the start and end times that ensured the relevant exchange would be excised, suggest the editing was a more deliberate act of censorship than State Department investigators and Kirby have publicly acknowledged.
Rosen took exception to Kirby's statement that there was "no evidence" of why the edit was ordered, citing the report’s findings, which were listed under the heading "Evidence of Purposeful Editing."
"That suggests that the exchange between Ms. Psaki and me was in fact directly related to why the call was placed, does it not?" Rosen asked.
"I'm not sure it does," Toner said. "I think it actually would just mark where it was identifiable, and that's a common thing. Look, I'm speculating here, and I think that's the important part to stress here."
Toner repeated that the agency did not know how or why the edit occurred, even after its "honest appraisal" of the edit.
"When Admiral Kirby stated that there was quote, no evidence to indicate why this call was placed, that was false, wasn't it?" Rosen asked. "There was some evidence, and in fact, the mention of me and Iran appears in a section of the report entitled Evidence of Purposeful Editing. So there was not no evidence, was there?"
Toner said Kirby was trying to convey that there was no "smoking gun" that the edit was done with malicious intent, but Rosen charged again that Kirby said "no evidence."
"We can't rule out that that was in fact the basis for the request, correct?" Rosen asked.
"I think we can't rule in or out anything," Toner said.