From the August 2 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the July 30 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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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.
American Enterprise Institute scholar and The Atlantic contributing writer Norman Ornstein is strongly criticizing The New York Times' botched story on Hillary Clinton's emails, and its handling of the aftermath.
Ornstein writes that "the huge embarrassment over the story ... is a direct challenge to its fundamental credibility." He adds, "The paper's response since the initial huge error was uncovered has not been adequate or acceptable," pointing to Times editor Dean Baquet's response:
Times editor Dean Baquet does not fault his reporters; "You had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral," he said. That raised another question. What is "the government?" Is any employee of the Justice Department considered the government? Was it an official spokesperson? A career employee? A policy-level person, such as an assistant attorney general or deputy assistant attorney general? One definitively without an ax to grind? Did the DOJ official tell the reporters it was a criminal referral involving Clinton, or a more general criminal referral? And if this was a mistake made by an official spokesperson, why not identify the official who screwed up bigtime?
This story demands more than a promise to do better the next time, and more than a shrug.
Later Ornstein notes, "Holding a story until you are sure you have the facts--as other reporters did, with, it seems, 'government officials' shopping the story around--or waiting until you can actually read the documents instead of relying on your good sources, so to speak, providing misleading and slanted details, is what they could have done differently." Ornstein concludes that someone at the Times "should be held accountable here, with suspension or other action that fits the gravity of the offense."
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has criticized the paper for running a "sensational" story before it was ready and for not being transparent with readers about revising it. Media Matters Chairman David Brock recently called on the Times 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."
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?
From the July 27 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan published a column examining the problems with the Times' error-riddled story about Hillary Clinton's emails. Sullivan strongly criticized the paper for running a "sensational" story before it was ready and for not being transparent with readers about revising it.
On July 23, the Times published a story by Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo claiming that two federal inspectors general had requested a "criminal" referral about whether Clinton had sent classified information via a personal email server. Over the next few days, the paper revised the story numerous times, pulling back on several of its main allegations. In the most recent version of the story, the criminal allegation has been removed, as has the impression that Clinton herself was personally under a probe.
In her column, Sullivan says the paper's handling of the story was "to put it mildly, a mess." Citing the major allegations in the first version of the story, Sullivan notes that "you can't put stories like this back in the bottle - they ripple through the entire news system." At least one presidential candidate has echoed the incorrect statements in the Times story.
After speaking to reporters and editors at the Times who worked on the story, Sullivan concludes, "There are at least two major journalistic problems here, in my view. Competitive pressure and the desire for a scoop led to too much speed and not enough caution."
She says the Times should have chosen to report "a less sensational version of the story" without a headline including the word "criminal," or waited "until the next day to publish anything at all." She adds, "Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome than publishing an unfair story and damaging The Times's reputation for accuracy."
Sullivan also takes the Times' lethargic and opaque corrections to task, noting, "Just revising the story, and figuring out the corrections later, doesn't cut it," and that the changes to the paper's inaccurate reporting "were handled as they came along, with little explanation to readers."
According to Sullivan, the paper should have a discussion not only about increasing transparency, but also about its use of anonymous sources, "Mr. Baquet and Mr. Purdy said that would happen, especially on the issue of transparency to readers. In my view, that discussion must also include the rampant use of anonymous sources, and the need to slow down and employ what might seem an excess of caution before publishing a political blockbuster based on shadowy sources."
The column concludes, "When things do go wrong, readers deserve a thorough, immediate explanation from the top. None of that happened here."
This is not the first time Sullivan has pointed out problems with the paper's Clinton coverage. She previously took note of "the oddly barbed tone" of some of its Clinton pieces.
Yet despite the trouble generated by rushing for the scoop on another Clinton story, executive editor Dean Baquet seems reluctant to fault the story's editors and reporters. Discussing the error over "criminal," Baquet reportedly told Sullivan, "you had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral," adding, "I'm not sure what they could have done differently on that."
As Washington Post writer Erik Wemple points out, Baquet's comment is effectively "an exoneration of New York Times staffers for perpetrating what can be described only as a gargantuan mistake."
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.
From the July 27 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom With Carol Costello:
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From the July 26 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the July 24 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:
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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?
The New York Times issued a correction to its flawed report on a potential Department of Justice probe into Hillary Clinton's use of personal email while at the State Department.
After publishing a July 23 report that cited anonymous government officials to claim federal investigators were seeking a criminal probe into Clinton's use of personal email, the Times made dramatic alterations to the post, walking back the claim that Clinton was the target of the probe with no acknowledgement of the correction.
The Times initially said they would not issue a correction for the change, claiming there had been no "factual error," but issued a formal correction on the afternoon of July 24 to explain that Clinton was not personally the subject of the referral to investigate:
An earlier version of this article and an earlier headline, using information from senior government officials, misstated the nature of the referral to the Justice Department regarding Hillary Clinton's personal email account while she was secretary of state. The referral addressed the potential compromise of classified information in connection with that personal email account. It did not specifically request an investigation into Mrs. Clinton.
The Times' correction did not note the clarification from a Justice Department official that the referral was not criminal in nature, which further contradicts the Times' account.
As of posting, the Times article still appears to falsely characterize the referral as "criminal."
UPDATE: In a separate article published in the afternoon on July 24, the same NY Times reporters appear to acknowledge that DOJ has not received a "criminal" referral in this matter, writing "On Thursday night and again Friday morning, the Justice Department referred to the matter as a 'criminal referral' but later on Friday dropped the word 'criminal.'"
The State and Intelligence Community inspectors general have also put out a joint statement stating that there had been no criminal referral.
State & intel IGs put out a joint statement saying it was a counterintelligence referral, not criminal. pic.twitter.com/SZe2h7bBUm-- Byron Tau (@ByronTau) July 24, 2015
As of this posting, the original Times article is still headlined "Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account," and continues to claim that the inspectors general "have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation."
From the July 24 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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The New York Times dramatically changed a report that initially stated -- based on anonymous sources -- that federal investigators were seeking a criminal probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of personal email while at the State Department. The Times walked back their statement that the requested probe would target Clinton with no acknowledgement of the correction. This is the latest in a long series of cases of media outlets walking back initial sloppy reports on Clinton's email use.