How Liberal Websites Pushed A Dubious Claim That Trump "Turned Off" A Recorder For His Call With Putin

A baseless claim made during a panel discussion spawned a series of stories and one hugely viral tweet.

“You always look for the readout of the phone call, whatever it is,” he said. “Did you guys notice there was no American readout of the phone call? There was none. They turned the tape recorder off. There was a Russian readout of the phone call."

.@ilanberman: "there was no readout of the Trump-Putin call bc WH turned off recording" - Kremlin readout is very p… https://t.co/xgSkD9BTv4

First, the White House did issue a readout of the call, though it was very brief. Second, the explosive claim about the tape recorder being turned off by the US side is not based on any specific knowledge on Berman's part. He's completely guessing. As he later said on Twitter, it was "conjecture." He also said he doesn't "know for a fact that they turned it off."

On top of that, no one seems to be sure whether these calls are recorded or not. In response to a question about taping procedures, a White House spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, "How these meetings are conducted is classified."

But given Berman's expertise in foreign affairs, and the fact that he works for a conservative-leaning think tank, his baseless claim quickly rocketed around liberal websites as evidence that Trump did something suspicious on his call with Putin.

Left-leaning website Raw Story was the first to write up Berman's comment. Its story was headlined "Foreign Policy Insider: 'No Readout of Trump-Putin Call Because White House Turned Off Recording.'" It quickly spread on Facebook and Twitter.

That story was soon picked up by liberal sites like DailyKos, Addicting Info, GQ, and Truth Examiner. Almost every one of those stories cited the claim from Berman as a fact.

A day later, conservative websites like Washington Examiner and The Daily Caller stepped in to point out that there was no evidence that a recorder was deliberately turned off (or that it would have been used anyway).

That same day, Feb. 3, Raw Story changed its headline to read "Foreign Policy Insider: ‘Curious’ That White House Didn’t Publish Detailed Readout of Trump-Putin Call."

But by then the story was already going viral on Twitter. Geraldine DeRuiter, a travel writer, quoted a Raw Story tweet with the original headline and made a comparison to Obama. It's generated over 70,000 retweets.