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?
The New York Times' much-maligned report that originally claimed federal officials were seeking a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton still contains a major factual error, despite undergoing two rounds of corrections and criticism from its public editor. The report claims, based on anonymous sources, that "two inspectors general" have asked for an investigation into possible mishandling of government information with regard to Clinton's email -- in fact, only one inspector general made such a referral.
The New York Times' dramatic changes to their initial, anonymously-sourced claim that federal investigators were seeking a criminal probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of personal email raises significant questions about the paper's reporting of the story.
On July 23, The New York Times published a report headlined "Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use Of Email" which claimed 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." But soon after, the Times updated their report to remove the implication that Clinton was the target of the supposed investigation.
Since then, a U.S. official has reportedly stated that "the referral didn't necessarily suggest any wrongdoing by Clinton."
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic ranking member of the Benghazi Select Committee, has said that both the Intelligence Community Inspector General and the State Department Inspector General "confirmed directly to me that they never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation."
The Times gave no indication that the report had been altered for several hours before eventually issuing a correction explaining the paper was wrong to state that the probe targeted Clinton, but without correcting the apparent falsehood that a "criminal investigation" had been sought at all.
These developments raise substantial questions about the Times' reporting of this story, including:
In its initial article, the Times reported: "Two 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, senior government officials said Thursday."
It is currently unclear who those "senior government officials" are -- whether they were Justice Department sources who may have been mistaken, Republican congressional sources who may have had an interest in deliberately misleading the paper, or a combination of both.
Politico's Dylan Byers reported that his sources told him the error came from the DOJ, but it would be beneficial for the Times to confirm, or clarify, this.
While reporters generally maintain the confidentiality of their anonymous sources as inviolate, they occasionally do reveal them when they discover their sources have deliberately misled them. The journalist Craig Silverman explained the importance of this practice in detailing one such case (emphasis in the original):
A source burned the paper, so the paper decided to burn the source by detailing her lies in a follow up report.
The resulting report may seem like nothing more than payback, but it does two important things. First, it helps readers understand why the paper published a story that led with false information. At the same time, it holds the company accountable. Second, the story functions as something of a warning to other would-be dishonest sources: You can't lie to us and get away with it.
The Times also cited "senior government officials" as its source for the claim that two inspectors general had called for a DOJ criminal probe into Clinton's actions. The article also cites two "memos" from inspectors general on the topic, which were provided to the Times and which were apparently sent before the referral itself. On Twitter, Clinton campaign aide Brian Fallon noted that he was unaware of any reporter "who has actually seen a referral" like the one described by the Times.
Not aware of a single reporter - including NYT - who has actually seen a referral. Reckless to characterize it based on secondhand info-- Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) July 24, 2015
Did the Times reporters try to get their hands on such documentary evidence before running with their sources' claims? If they indeed did not see the document itself, why didn't they wait for such confirmation before publishing their story?
Reporters have frequently published inaccurate material related to Clinton's emails and other aspects of the work of the House Select Committee on Benghazi by trusting what appear to be mendacious leaks from that committee's Republicans. In such cases, the committee's Democrats have been quick to issue materials correcting the record.
The Times article includes quotes from the committee's Republican chairman criticizing the State Department for not providing documents, but includes no quotes from the committee's Democrats. This morning, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee's ranking member, issued a statement "in response to inaccurate leaks to the New York Times" effectively debunking a central premise of the article. Did the paper reach out to Cummings or other Democrats on the committee before publication?
The Times article, in citing anonymous "senior government officials" to claim that two inspectors general had sought a criminal investigation of Clinton never indicates whether the paper had sought to contact the offices of those inspectors general prior to publication.
In a July 24 press release, Cummings stated (emphasis added):
Over the past hour, I spoke personally with the State Department Inspector General and the Intelligence Community Inspector General together, and they both confirmed directly to me that they never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton's email usage. Instead, they said this was a 'routine' referral, and they have no idea how the New York Times got this so wrong.
Cummings' release further states that "The Inspectors General explained that under 50 U.S.C. section 3381, the heads of agencies notify the Department of Justice about potential compromises of classified information, but this is a routine notification process--not a request for a criminal investigation of an individual." Moreover, a Democratic spokesperson for the committee reportedly said State's inspector general "did not ask for any kind of investigation, criminal or otherwise."
This description of events differs wildly from how it was originally reported by the Times. Did its reporters reach out to the offices of those inspectors general for clarification before publishing a story that appears to be based solely on anonymous sources?
Fox News is attacking CNN's Chris Cuomo for pointing out that so-called "sanctuary cities" aren't "safe havens" for undocumented immigrants, "the way [critics] are describing." But as a former acting director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement pointed out on Cuomo's show this morning, there is no "free pass" for undocumented immigrants in those jurisdictions.
Politico published inaccurate information about emails between Hillary Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal provided to the outlet by an anonymous source who distorted the emails' contents with the intention of damaging the former secretary of state, according to Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
The Republican-led committee was formed more than a year ago with the mandate to investigate the 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya -- attacks which had already been subject to investigations by the State Department and numerous House and Senate committees. Critics have argued that the committee's actions since its formation demonstrate a "singular focus on attacking Hillary Clinton and her bid for president."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the Committee, writes in a July 6 letter that "a Member of the Committee, a staffer on the Committee, or someone who has been given access to the Committee's documents inaccurately described to the press email exchanges obtained by the Committee in a way that appeared to further a political attack against" Clinton. Cummings describes this as "only the latest in a reckless pattern of selective Republican leaks and mischaracterizations of evidence relating to the Benghazi attacks."
Cummings' letter specifically details inaccuracies in a June 18 Politico story that relied on "a source who has reviewed the email exchange" between Clinton and Blumenthal, a Media Matters consultant and former Clinton White House aide. In its original version, the story claimed:
While still secretary of state, Clinton emailed back and forth with Blumenthal about efforts by one of the groups, Media Matters, to neutralize criticism of her handling of the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, sources tell POLITICO.
"Got all this done. Complete refutation on Libya smear," Blumenthal wrote to Clinton in an Oct. 10, 2012, email into which he had pasted links to four Media Matters posts criticizing Fox News and Republicans for politicizing the Benghazi attacks and challenging claims of lax security around the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, according to a source who has reviewed the email exchange. Blumenthal signed off the email to Clinton by suggesting that one of her top aides, Philippe Reines, "can circulate these links," according to the source. Clinton responded: "Thanks, I'm pushing to WH," according to the source.
The emails were not included in documents originally turned over by the State Department.
Cummings notes that Clinton's email reading "Thanks, I'm pushing to WH" came not in response to Blumenthal's email with the Media Matters links, as Politico indicated, but rather in response to a "completely different" Blumenthal email from nine days earlier "forwarding an article from Salon.com reporting that Republicans were planning to claim inaccurately during the presidential debates that the White House had advance knowledge about the Benghazi attacks and failed to act on it."
The day after publication, Politico updated its story with a correction noting that "A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a Clinton email as a response to the Blumenthal email." As MSNBC.com's Steve Benen notes, "Politico obviously didn't make this up; it relied on a source that provided misleading information, apparently with a specific partisan agenda in mind."
Politico was also wrong to report that Clinton's email was "not included in documents originally turned over by the State Department," according to Cummings. He explained that "that email was turned over to the Select Committee by the State Department on February 13, 2015, marked with Bates number STATE-SCB0045548-SCB0045550. The Select Committee has had that email for four months."
As both Cummings and Benen point out, this is not the first time reporters have fallen from deceptive Benghazi leaks that appear to come from Republican sources. Reporters who relied on sources' characterizations of Benghazi-related documents rather than reviewing them directly have previously had to issue embarrassing corrections.
Right-wing media are seizing on a New York Times report that misleadingly stated that Paul Begala sought "talking points" from the State Department before a CNN appearance to discuss Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state to attack the CNN contributor as biased. But in the email in question, Begala actually requested a "briefing," not talking points.
Fox News has reduced President Obama's recent comments about the complex role of race in America to the question of whether or not it was appropriate for him to use the word "nigger" during that discussion, with one network contributor claiming this indicated Obama is the "rapper in chief."
Obama discussed the history of racism in America during an interview with the comedian Marc Maron for his WTF podcast, saying:
OBAMA: The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives -- that casts a long shadow, and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on. We're not cured of it.
OBAMA: Racism. We are not cured of --
OBAMA: And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened two to 300 years prior.
Much of the media have highlighted Obama's use of "the n-word" in their reports on his comments. But Fox in particular has focused its discussion of the interview almost solely on the propriety of his use of the word.
During a segment on America's Newsroom, anchor Bill Hemmer asked if Obama's use of the word was "too blunt" and asked if it was "necessary." Contributor Deneen Borelli said Obama had "lowered the stature" of his office with his "insane, crazy comment" and termed him the "rapper in chief."
HEMMER: Touchy, touchy, touchy deal here. Was it necessary?
BORELLI: We're talking about the president of the United States using the "n-word," Bill. He has really dragged in the gutter speak of rap music. So now he is the first president of rap, of street? Come on, he has lowered the stature of the high office of the president of the United States and the question is why did he do this? ...
You see all of the people coming together in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, black, white and otherwise, coming together, praying, supporting each other. And here you have the president make this insane, crazy comment of using the "n-word" to really distract. This is all a distraction, grand distraction to take away from the people uniting and then the president in chief, the rapper in chief, now further dividing our country. I find it outrageous.
Hemmer later declared, "As a white American, my entire life I know that that is an electric word and you stay away from it," adding, "this is something that we thought was entirely off limits and now you have the president using it."
Fox & Friends also fixated on Obama's language, with co-host Steve Doocy saying that "today people are going to be talking, Bret, about whether or not it is appropriate for the president to use the 'n-word' and whether or not it is beneath the dignity of his office."
Rupert Murdoch described as "almost fascist" Hillary Clinton's remarks in support of anti-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans during her campaign launch speech.
Murdoch falsely claimed during a stream of tweets referencing her June 13 speech that Clinton had "promise[d to] outlaw free speech about LGBT," adding, "Sounds almost fascist."
HillaryNo Promises outlaw free speech about LGBT. What next? Sounds almost fascist.-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) June 14, 2015
It's unclear to what Murdoch was referring. During her speech, Clinton stated that "we should ban discrimination against LGBT Americans and their families so they can live, learn, marry, and work just like everybody else." Earlier, she recognized "[b]usiness leaders who want higher pay for employees, equal pay for women and no discrimination against the LGBT community either."
In recent months, Clinton has urged the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality and condemned proposed so-called "religious freedom" legislation in Arkansas and Indiana on the grounds that they provide a legal defense "beyond protecting religion" for business owners who discriminate against LGBT people.
In a 2011 speech as Secretary of State, she stated that "gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights."
Murdoch recently announced that he would step down as CEO of Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox, ceding the title to his son, James. He will remain executive chairman of the company, as well as chairman of News Corp., parent company of The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, among other media properties.
An ABCNews.com article prominently highlighted Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) criticisms of the State Department for providing "heavily redacted" documents related to the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya to the congressional committee investigating the attack. But as the article itself makes clear, congressional investigators were provided an unredacted version of the very document in question.
The article, headlined, "Blanket Redactions to Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Records 'Typical,' Issa Says" begins by highlighting the attack from the former chairman of the House Oversight Committee: "Rep. Darrell Issa ripped the State Department on Twitter today for heavily redacted records related to Hillary Clinton's involvement in the Obama administration's response to the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks."
But in the very next paragraph, the article establishes that Issa's attack was completely misleading, reporting:
However, though Issa suggested the redacted document was sent to the Benghazi Select Committee, which is investigating the circumstances surrounding the attack, the committee actually received an unredacted version, according to committee aides. The heavily redacted version Issa tweeted was actually the one publicly posted on the State Department website as part of its release of Clinton's emails as secretary of state last month.
ABC News' article demonstrates a type of misinformation Media Matters has termed "privileging the lie." ABC News is legitimizing Issa's claim by headlining and beginning the article with an allegation its own reporting shows to be false. But rather than make that falsehood the focus of the story, the report is framed around Issa's allegations.
According to The Washington Post, such framing distinctions are crucial because social science research shows that, "once an idea has been implanted in people's minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it."
For this reason, former Media Matters senior fellow Jamison Foser has written, "If Candidate A lies about Candidate B, for example, the fact that Candidate A is lying should be the lede - otherwise the news report just drills the false claim into readers' and viewers' minds, allowing the misinformation to take hold before it is corrected."
In this case, however, ABC News privileged the lie, leaving its readers the worse off.