Fox News reported on a supposedly "bombshell" document signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that acknowledged the possibility of facing criminal penalties for mishandling classified information, while ignoring the revelation earlier the same day that two emails she had received, which the intelligence community had previously deemed top secret, did not contain such information.
The office of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has reportedly concluded that two emails received by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not contain top secret information, a reversal from the Intelligence Community inspector general's prior claim that they did, according to a Politico report. Media had previously used the notion that the two emails were highly classified to suggest that Clinton or her aides had engaged in criminal behavior.
In July, the New York Times published an article -- which it subsequently had to correct twice -- about a security referral the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (IG IC) made to the executive branch about whether there was any classified material on Clinton's email account during her time as secretary of state. The IG IC highlighted four allegedly classified emails and subsequently stated that two of those four emails contained "top secret" information. The State Department disagreed about whether the material in the emails was actually highly classified. As Politico is now reporting, "that disagreement has been resolved in State's favor" and the previous claim that the emails contained top secret information is wrong.
Despite the original disagreement between the two federal agencies, Fox News initially responded by running with speculation from an anonymous State Department official that aides to Hillary Clinton had "stripped" the classification markings from emails that she received in her private email server, and claiming that even if the emails hadn't been marked classified, Clinton should have known they contained highly classified information.
But Politico reported on November 6 that the office of the Director of National Intelligence has now overruled the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community's prior conclusion that two emails received by Clinton contained highly classified information. As Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists explained to Politico, this "mistake" is nothing short than "astonishing" because "[i]t was a transformative event in the presidential campaign to this point. It had a potential to derail Clinton's presidential candidacy." From the article:
The U.S. intelligence community has retreated from claims that two emails in Hillary Clinton's private account contained top secret information, a source familiar with the situation told POLITICO.
The determination came from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's office and concluded that the two emails did not include highly classified intelligence secrets. Concerns about the emails' classification helped trigger an on-going FBI inquiry into Clinton's private email set-up.
Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough III made the claim that two of the emails contained top secret information, the State Department publicly stated its disagreement and asked Clapper's office to referee the dispute. Now, that disagreement has been resolved in State's favor, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Intelligence officials claimed one email in Clinton's account was classified because it contained information from a top secret intelligence community "product" or report, but a further review determined that the report was not issued until several days after the email in question was written, the source said.
"The initial determination was based on a flawed process," the source said. "There was an intelligence product people thought [one of the emails] was based on, but that actually postdated the email in question."
A top expert in classification procedures called the development "an astonishing turn of events."
"It's not just a mistake," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. "It was a transformative event in the presidential campaign to this point. It had a potential to derail Clinton's presidential candidacy."
Aftergood said Clapper's office should be credited for seriously reconsidering the earlier conclusions by intelligence agencies.
CNN bizarrely framed an article around former President Bill Clinton not giving a speech to a company that, three years after the engagement, would be accused of crimes -- even though former President George W. Bush actually gave the speech to that company. The article was based on an email obtained by a right-wing organization whose leader has targeted the Clintons for decades.
Under the headline "Bill Clinton mulled speaking request for company later charged by SEC," CNN.com began its September 18 article by reporting that Clinton had considered taking a fee to speak at a corporate event that Bush actually ended up attending instead (emphasis added):
President Bill Clinton's aides once explored the possibility of him addressing a lavish energy conference, whose sponsor the Securities and Exchange Commission later accused of using a Ponzi-like scheme to obtain the money to cover the $200,000 speaker fee. The possibility of Clinton's participation in the event was discussed in an email from Clinton staff to a State Department official obtained by CNN.
Instead, Clinton's successor, President George W. Bush, spoke at the September 2012 event, billed as a "U.S. China Energy Summit."
The company, Luca International, and its top executives are now the subject of a lawsuit alleging securities fraud brought by the SEC in July. The complaint alleges that Luca misspent millions in foreign investor funds for improper purposes, including the summit, an all-expenses-paid golf junket to Pebble Beach, California, designed to recruit more Asian investors to the company.
The article goes on to note that "Both Clinton's staff and Don Walker, president of the Harry Walker Agency, the speaking agency booking engagements for Bill Clinton, expressed concerns about the request," specifically because the Clinton camp had misgivings about the event's host.
It's unclear why the outlet would deem it newsworthy that Clinton, who has regularly given paid speeches since leaving the Oval Office, would consider but decline to give this one. According to Buzzfeed, which originally broke this story months ago just days after the SEC fraud complaints were filed, Bush did accept the $200,000 speaking fee from Luca International. News outlets and conservative activists have frequently sought to scandalize the Clintons' speaking engagements.
The article also acknowledges that it is based on an email between a Clinton staffer and State Department officials who reviewed such potential speaking engagements "provided to the conservative group Citizens United" and "obtained by CNN." Citizens United is headed by David Bossie, who in 1998 was fired from his job as chief investigator for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform -- which was investigating alleged Clinton White House finance abuses -- because he released selectively edited transcripts that gave the false impression that then-first lady Hillary Clinton had been implicated in wrongdoing. His group regularly releases shoddy "documentaries" smearing progressives.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer cherry-picked from his network's polling to suggest that the proposed nuclear deal with Iran is opposed by a majority of Americans. But CNN's polling shows that when the terms of the deal are laid out, 50 percent of respondents say they support it.
Media continue to use the news that two emails Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton turned over to the State Department from her time as secretary of state may be retroactively classified as "top secret" to push myths about Clinton's handling of government information and scandalize her email use.
Fox News spent much of August 13 running with speculation from an anonymous State Department official that aides to Hillary Clinton had "stripped" the classification markings from emails that she received in her private email server, going so far as to state the claim as fact and speculate on who had done the alleged deed. Later that day, the State Department said there was no evidence any stripping of classification markings had occurred.
During the 5 p.m. ET Fox News Republican presidential debate, moderator Bill Hemmer asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) how Republicans could "trust" him after his "extremely unpopular" collaboration with Democrats on a cap-and-trade bill to address climate change. Graham reportedly warned Democrats at the time that they needed to accelerate negotiations on the bill as quickly as possible, "before Fox News got wind of the fact that this was a serious process." The network would go on to make a deliberate effort to undermine efforts to pass climate legislation.
During the debate, Hemmer asked Graham, "you worked with Democrats and President Obama when it came to climate change, something you know is extremely unpopular with conservative Republicans. How can they trust you based on that record?"
Ryan Lizza reported in The New Yorker that during 2010 negotiations on that climate bill, Graham urged fellow senators to move quickly on legislation before Fox found out about it: (emphasis added)
At a climate-change conference in South Carolina on January 5, 2010, Graham started to sound a little like Al Gore. "I have come to conclude that greenhouse gases and carbon pollution" are "not a good thing," Graham said. He insisted that nobody could convince him that "all the cars and trucks and plants that have been in existence since the Industrial Revolution, spewing out carbon day in and day out," could be "a good thing for your children and the future of the planet." Environmentalists swooned. "Graham was the most inspirational part of that triumvirate throughout the fall and winter," Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said. "He was advocating for strong action on climate change from an ethical and a moral perspective."
But, back in Washington, Graham warned Lieberman and Kerry that they needed to get as far as they could in negotiating the bill "before Fox News got wind of the fact that this was a serious process," one of the people involved in the negotiations said. "He would say, 'The second they focus on us, it's gonna be all cap-and-tax all the time, and it's gonna become just a disaster for me on the airwaves. We have to move this along as quickly as possible.'"
Fox News hosts and guests would go on to viciously attack the bill, which never came to a vote in the Senate.
Graham ultimately withdrew from the bipartisan climate bill efforts, subsequently claiming that he didn't believe human-caused emissions "are contributing overwhelmingly to global climate change."
Media Matters later obtained an email from Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon to Fox journalists instructing them in the midst of the 2010 climate bill debate on Captiol Hill to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question." Sammon has since been identified as the "secret weapon" helping Fox journalists "craft the questions" for the evening debate.
Bill Sammon, Fox News' vice president of News and Washington managing editor, is reportedly the "secret weapon" helping to develop the questions moderators will ask at the network's August 6 debate. Internal emails and critics within Fox have exposed Sammon's history of deception and his efforts to use his position at Fox to slant the network's news coverage to the right.
The Daily Beast has walked back its initial attempt to scandalize a "conspicuous two-month gap" in emails released by the State Department from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state, suggesting the gap indicates a tranche of "missing Hillary emails" about the Benghazi attacks. The site has updated its article to note that Clinton and her aides could have used other methods to communicate during that period, completely undermining the story's original implication.
The New York Times has published a 368-word editors' note in an attempt to end the firestorm of criticism that has engulfed the paper since they published a repeatedly corrected story that originally claimed inspectors general were calling for a federal criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton. The note, which largely expresses regret that the paper was not swift enough to offer public corrections rather than a critique of the flawed reporting, still leaves many questions unanswered.
On July 23, the Times published a report headlined "Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use Of Email" which stated that "[t]wo inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state." The Times has since issued two corrections, acknowledging that the referral in question was not criminal and did not specifically request an investigation into Clinton herself. They have yet to correct the piece's remaining error to indicate that the referral was actually made by only one inspector general.
Media observers have harshly criticized the Times' reporting and its "jarring" attempts to explain its failure, with some stating that the events indicate that the paper "has a problem covering Hillary Clinton." Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has written that there were "at least two major journalistic problems" in the crafting of the story, calling the paper's handling of the story "a mess." Meanwhile, in an interview with Sullivan, Times executive editor Dean Baquet expressed regret that the paper had been slow to issue public corrections, but defended his editors and reporters, saying, "I'm not sure what they could have done differently" on the story.
The Times' July 27 editors' note takes a similar tact, stating that editors should have appended corrections to the story more quickly without apologizing for the failures in reporting that made those corrections necessary.
Several questions previously asked by Media Matters about the story are answered by the editors' note or by Sullivan's reporting: the Times' sources included ones from "Capitol Hill" and the Justice Department, the Times did not see the referral itself before publication, and there's no evidence the publication reached out to the Democrats or inspectors general who could have debunked their false story.
But many questions remain unanswered.
As Sullivan noted in her response, "It's hard to imagine a much more significant political story at the moment" than one claiming that federal inspectors general were seeking a criminal investigation of Clinton. And yet, the Times walked back its report that Clinton was the target of the alleged probe almost immediately after being contacted by aides to Clinton. According to the editor's note:
Shortly after the article was published online, however, aides to Mrs. Clinton contacted one reporter to dispute the account. After consultation between editors and reporters, the first paragraph was edited to say the investigation was requested "into whether sensitive government information was mishandled," rather than into whether Mrs. Clinton herself mishandled information.
Notably, the editors' note does not indicate that the Times attempted to reconfirm its reporting with its sources before making those changes. That seems curious, as according to Sullivan's reporting, the Times' sources had confirmed that the referral "was directed at Mrs. Clinton herself":
The story developed quickly on Thursday afternoon and evening after tips from various sources, including on Capitol Hill. The reporters had what Mr. Purdy described as "multiple, reliable, highly placed sources," including some "in law enforcement." I think we can safely read that as the Justice Department.
The sources said not only was there indeed a referral but also that it was directed at Mrs. Clinton herself, and that it was a criminal referral.
If the Times did in fact have sources telling them that Clinton was the target of the probe, why wouldn't they attempt to reconfirm that rather than changing their story simply because of complaints from Clinton's aides? Who told the Times that Clinton was the target? Or was that an unsupported logical leap the Times reporters made on their own?
The editors' note claims that the paper was led astray by "multiple high-level government sources." It gives no indication of who those sources were, but notes that the Justice Department confirmed to other news agencies that a "criminal" probe had been sought before walking back that description later in the day.
But Sullivan's reporting confirms that the Times relied on "tips from various sources, including on Capitol Hill." Since Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, issued multiple statements debunking the Times' reporting in the wake of the report, it seems clear that Democrats were not among those sources.
Cummings, in saying that the story was the result of "leaks" intended to damage Clinton that go "against the credibility of our committee," essentially suggested on MSNBC's Hardball that Republicans on the Benghazi Committee were responsible for faulty information. Cummings has previously criticized the "reckless pattern of selective Republican leaks and mischaracterizations of evidence relating to the Benghazi attacks," a claim supported by numerous examples.
So who were the Times' "Capitol Hill" sources, and what did they say? Why is the paper continuing to provide anonymity to sources who apparently fed them false information?
The Times editors' note cites the involvement of unnamed "editors," while Sullivan's reporting names "a top-ranking editor directly involved with the story, Matt Purdy."
Was Purdy, the paper's deputy executive editor, the highest-ranking editor involved with the story's production? As Sullivan noted, the story's potential political impact is difficult to overstate -- so did Baquet himself review the report before its publication? Why or why not?
Both the editors' note and Baquet's comments to Sullivan suggest that the paper hopes to blame its sources, deny any real fault in its reporting, sweep its botched story under the rug, and move on.
But as criticism continues to mount, it's unclear whether they will be able to do so. Media Matters Chairman David Brock has called on the paper to commission a review exploring "the process of reporting and editing at The New York Times that has allowed flawed, fact-free reporting on so-called scandals involving Hillary Clinton and report back to readers." Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall has suggested the need for a "J-school intervention." And American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norm Ornstein called the errors a "huge embarrassment" that "is a direct challenge to [the paper's] fundamental credibility," adding, "Someone should be held accountable here, with suspension or other action that fits the gravity of the offense."
What, if anything, will the Times do to get back its credibility on Clinton reporting?