NBC News issued an embarrassing correction after initially reporting President Biden could have received Paul Whelan, instead of WNBA star Brittney Griner, in the White House’s controversial prisoner swap this week.
Griner was freed from Russian detention on Thursday in a high-profile prisoner exchange with Russia, who got back notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death.” When NBC News covered the story, it indicated Biden had the option to instead bring home Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who has been in Russian custody for nearly four years.
News of the swap sparked outrage among Americans who wanted to see Whelan return home. NBC News initially reported that “the Kremlin gave the White House the choice of either Griner or Whelan — or none.”
NBC News issued a correction after reporting President Biden could have received former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, left, instead of WNBA star Brittney Griner, in the White House’s controversial trade for the “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout. (Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency photo via AP/AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Later, the article was edited to read, “The Kremlin ultimately gave the White House the choice of Griner or no one after different options were proposed.”
A correction was added, noting that “an earlier version of this article misstated the choice the Biden administration was given over hostages. It was to swap for Griner or no one, not a choice between Griner or Whelan.”
It’s the latest major correction from NBC of a report that initially went against the established media narrative.
Last month, NBC News mysteriously retracted a story that indicated Paul Pelosi might not have been in immediate danger when he was violently attacked inside the San Francisco home he shares with his wife, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. NBC has refused to explain what was inaccurate aside from a brief note about not meeting standards.
A separate NBC report on Thursday gushed over Griner’s freedom as one of Biden’s “political, policy and diplomacy wins” to end the year.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was on the same page as NBC News when he appeared on Fox News earlier on Friday.
In this image made from video provided by Russian Federal Security Service, WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner sits in the plane as she flies to Abu Dhabi to be exchanged for Russian citizen Viktor Bout. (Russian Federal Security Service via AP)
“The only deal that the Russians were willing to put forward was Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout. And believe me, we would have liked to have both of them home today. And we tried all kinds of different permutations and options and different sort of initiatives, proposals to get that done. But it just wasn’t possible,” Kirby told Dana Perino.
“Paul was never in that mix in their mind with respect to Mr. Bout. It was just for Brittney. So the president had a tough decision to make,” Kirby continued. “Obviously, we did everything we could to get both of them, but he had an opportunity to at least get one. And so he made that tough decision.”
The grounds for Whelan’s arrest remain dubious, with different accounts from U.S. and Russian authorities. Whelan has been in Russian custody for nearly four years, convicted on charges of espionage and spying for the U.S. government and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Whelan and the U.S. have denied the charges as the 52-year-old remains imprisoned at a labor camp in Russia’s Mordovia republic.