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 he 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.”
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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 “an earlier version of this article misstated the choice the Biden administration was given over hostages. It was to swap Griner for no one, not a choice between Griner or Whelan.”
NBC News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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.
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“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.”
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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.
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Fox News’ Lawrence Richard and Phillip Neito contributed to this report.