NBC News, come clean on Tillerson's alleged 'moron' quote

NBC News reported on Wednesday that Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE called President Trump a "moron" in July.  

And as one would expect, the seagulls that are our political media all came flying in, swallowing anything they're fed when it comes to palace intrigue via the usual unnamed sources. 


So, did Tillerson really call his boss a "moron" in public? And did he, also per the report, threaten to resign until Vice President Pence intervened and asked him to reconsider? 

Tillerson denies the conversation with Pence ever took place, as does Pence. 

"The vice president has never had to persuade me to stay because I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said at a Wednesday morning press conference. 

"My commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve," he added. 

President Trump weighed in to slam the report with the perfunctory #fakenews charge: 

When asked if he called the president a "moron" (and there's a reason that word is being kept in quotes, but more on that in a moment), Tillerson replied he wouldn't respond to petty stuff like that because the allegation and language is only meant to divide. 

But here's the thing about quotes: They're verbatim. They represent the exact words of the person who said it (or in this case, allegedly said it). 

So why did one of the reporters on the story, MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, add an additional and rather key word to the quote well after the report was published? 

“My source didn’t just say that he called him a moron,” Ruhle said on MSNBC on Wednesday afternoon, hours after the report went viral. “He said an f-ing moron.” 


But a check of the original report doesn't mention anything about an f-bomb being attached. 

If Tillerson did indeed say it, why wasn't that rather incendiary word included? 

After all, we're all past the point of being shocked by the word, even in standard traditional media. The omission couldn't have been done for that reason, right? Because Ruhle would later saying "f-ing" on national television without a moment's thought. 

So why wouldn't Ruhle include the verbatim quote in the original written piece?  

The Hill reached out to MSNBC and NBC News for comment on Wednesday and will update the story if we hear back.

As for media coverage from other outlets of this story, it's about what one would expect if precedent is any indication. 

For starters, we're fully expected to believe as fact that Rex Tillerson, one of the more guarded public figures around, called the president an "f-ing moron" or "moron" in public within earshot of the three sources NBC has. 

We're also expected to believe as fact that all three of these nameless people kept this to themselves for almost three months before running to NBC with the story.  

Tillerson, by saying the alleged comment was too petty to even address, is actually confessing to saying it. Or so we're told ...

On a day when the president is visiting with victims of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, another story based on unnamed sources is taking up a good chunk of whatever passes for analysis these days on cable news. 

All while nobody appears to be asking the question about why half of an alleged verbatim quote was curiously omitted from an original story about what a secretary of State may or may not have said about a sitting president. 

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.