CNN's Brian Stelter hosted a panel discussion of The New York Times' latest reporting blunder, in which the paper cited anonymous sources to claim that one of the San Bernardino attackers "talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad" but still passed three background checks.
Right-wing media trumpeted a December 12 front-page New York Times piece that used unnamed sources to claim that one of the San Bernardino attackers "talked openly on social media" about violent jihad. As explained in the Times' December 18 correction, his claim was later contradicted by FBI Director James B. Comey, who clarified that Tashfeen Malik's online communications about jihad involved "direct, private messages." However, by the time the correction was issued, this falsehood had made its way into the December 15 CNN Republican debate, where candidates claimed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was prohibited from reviewing the social media of potential visa applicants out of concern for "political correctness." But DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson explained that the agency has been consulting social media as part of immigration application reviews since early 2015. The Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan penned an op-ed calling the report "a failure of sufficient skepticism at every level of the reporting and editing process," and executive editor Dean Baquet called the "really big mistake" a "system failure that we have to fix."
The New York Times came under scrutiny in July for falsely claiming -- again, based on anonymous sources -- that investigators were seeking a criminal probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. In fact, Clinton was not the target of a criminal probe.
On Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter pointed out that the Times' San Bernardino report "is the second time recently that this has happened" after they "erroneously reported -- also in a very high profile way -- that the Justice Department was considering a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails." American University journalism Professor Jane Hall implied that the paper violated the rules of "Journalism 101," and Stelter explained that "the real reason why this matters more than anything else is because ... people argue about policy as a result," adding that the GOP candidates on Tuesday's debate stage "were arguing in some ways based on misinformation."
From the December 20 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
BRIAN STELTER (ANCHOR): First this morning, terror and errors in The New York Times. Last Sunday, it seemed like the Times had broken a big story. This was the headline on page one. It says the "U.S. Visa process missed the San Bernardino wife's online zealotry." Now the Times reported that the woman who carried out the massacre along with her husband passed three background checks by U.S. immigration officials and that "none uncovered what Ms. Malik had made little effort to hide -- that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad." The key word there is openly. It makes it sound like she was posting on Facebook for everyone to see and the U.S. ignored it. This bombshell quickly became politicized and was even cited at Tuesday's Republican debate here on CNN.
STELTER: But that story was wrong. On Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey revealed that Malik's social media activity was in fact private, encrypted, and invisible to the public. He called The Times story "a garble." Then the newspaper revised its stor, it attached an editor's note and basically blamed sources in the government for getting their facts wrong. This is the second time recently that this has happened. You may remember that over the summer, the Times erroneously reported -- also in a very high profile way -- that the Justice Department was considering a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. Now the word "criminal" was wrong, and that article was written by two of the same reporters that wrote the San Bernardino story, Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt. So does the Times as a whole have a serious problem with its use of anonymous sources?
JANE HALL: I think law enforcement sources often have gotten things wrong or had an agenda. And you know, I think I agree with David, it seems almost to come into the area of you need to say as a reporter, "What are we talking about here?" And be sure that you and the source are talking about the same thing. And I saw that the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was quoted later after the Republicans went after them as saying we have been looking into social media. So it is more than a garble. I mean I think you have to -- if you have a high level source or somebody's saying something, they're telling you something -- you need to be sure you're talking about the same thing. I mean that's kind of Journalism 101. Although I don't want to, you know, second guess the Times too much but you do need to be sure you're talking about the same thing.
STELTER: And the Times has acknowledged this was a big error. Dean Baquet, the executive editor, telling the public editor of the Times, Margaret Sullivan, this was a "system failure" and that there has to be a review of what happened. Eric, the real reason why this matters more than anything else is because debates happen as a result, right? People argue about policy as a result. But when we see the candidates on stage on Tuesday they were arguing in some ways based on misinformation.
According to The New York Times' public editor, the paper's repeated publication of front-page, anonymously sourced stories that required major editor's notes damages the paper's credibility and should be a "red alert" for its editors.
Public Editor Margaret Sullivan criticized the Times' December 12 story, claiming San Bernardino shooting suspect Tashfeen Malik passed three background checks to gain a visa while "she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad" was "wrong." The report was echoed by the right-wing media and GOP presidential candidates before the FBI director denied the claim. The Times has since published an editor's note stating Malik's "comments about jihad were not made in widely accessible social media posts."
Sullivan called the report "a failure of sufficient skepticism at every level of the reporting and editing process." Times executive editor Dean Baquet called the "really big mistake" a "system failure that we have to fix," explaining that the Times' "sources misunderstood how social media works and we didn't push hard enough." Noting the two of the Times reporters who wrote the story had also been responsible for an anonymously-sourced story claiming that Hillary Clinton was under criminal investigation that later collapsed, Sullivan called the situation a "red alert." From the December 18 post:
I have two major and rather simple questions: How did this happen? And how can The Times guard against its happening again? (As many readers have noted, some very critically, two of the authors of this article, Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt, also wrote the flawed story in July that reported that Hillary Clinton would be the target of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department because of her email practices while secretary of state. Reporting by the third reporter on the current article, Julia Preston, who covers immigration, was restricted to the visa-vetting process.)
I talked on Friday to the executive editor, Dean Baquet; to one of his chief deputies, Matt Purdy; and to the Washington editor, Bill Hamilton, who edited the article. All described what happened as deeply troubling. Mr. Baquet said that some new procedures need to be put in place, especially for dealing with anonymous sources, and he said he would begin working on that immediately.
"This was a really big mistake," Mr. Baquet said, "and more than anything since I've become editor it does make me think we need to do something about how we handle anonymous sources."
He added: "This was a system failure that we have to fix." However, Mr. Baquet said it would not be realistic or advisable to ban anonymous sources entirely from The Times.
How did this specific mistake happen?
"Our sources misunderstood how social media works and we didn't push hard enough," said Mr. Baquet, who read the article before publication. He said those sources apparently did not know the difference between public and private messages on social-media platforms.
The Times need to fix its overuse of unnamed government sources. And it needs to slow down the reporting and editing process, especially in the fever-pitch atmosphere surrounding a major news event. Those are procedural changes, and they are needed. But most of all, and more fundamental, the paper needs to show far more skepticism - a kind of prosecutorial scrutiny -- at every level of the process.
Two front-page, anonymously sourced stories in a few months have required editors' notes that corrected key elements - elements that were integral enough to form the basis of the headlines in both cases. That's not acceptable for Times readers or for the paper's credibility, which is its most precious asset.
If this isn't a red alert, I don't know what will be.
Right-wing media trumpeted a front-page New York Times piece that used unnamed sources to claim that one of the San Bernardino attackers "talked openly on social media" about violent jihad. These claims made their way into the December 15 CNN Republican debate, where candidates claimed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was prohibited from reviewing the social media of potential visa applicants out of concern for "political correctness." But the FBI and DHS explained that they are not prohibited from reviewing social media, and FBI Director James Comey found no evidence that the San Bernardino terrorists made any public "pro-Jihad" posts on social media.
From the December 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the December 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Right-wing media are repeating the false claim that a Defense Department email sent to Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff showing U.S. military forces were ready to "move to Benghazi" the night of the September 11, 2012 attacks contradicts former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's testimony about the attacks. In fact, the congressional testimony that conservatives claim the email contradicts shows that military forces were deployed that night.
Media are calling out Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States for marginalizing Muslims and helping ISIS recruitment tactics. Such criticism echoes statements from the U.S. Department of Defense explaining that "anything that creates tensions and creates the notion that the United States is at odds with the Muslim faith and Islam would be counterproductive to our efforts right now" to combat ISIS.
From the December 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
The Washington Examiner is presenting emails released six months ago as new to falsely claim that Hillary Clinton "is only now facing questions about how she characterized" the 2012 terror attacks on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi.
On November 30, the State Department published 7,800 pages of Clinton's private emails. Reporting on those emails under the headline "New Clinton emails contradict Benghazi testimony," the Examiner reported:
A new batch of Hillary Clinton's emails made public Monday by the State Department indicate the former secretary of state was worried about whether she had overplayed the administration's Benghazi narrative, blaming the attack on a demonstration over a YouTube clip, less than two weeks after four Americans at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi were killed.
More than three years after the attack, Clinton is only now facing questions about how she characterized the raid.
The Examiner cites a September 24, 2012, email from Clinton aide Jake Sullivan to Clinton two weeks after the Benghazi attack in which he provides her with a compilation of her statements on the attacks and notes that she "never said spontaneous or characterized the motives" of the attackers but was instead "careful in your first statement to say we were assessing motive and method."
Unfortunately for the Examiner, that email isn't news. In fact, it was released by the Select Committee six months ago and was reported at the time by Reuters, Los Angeles Times, The Hill, New York Post, MSNBC, and CNN, among others.
And despite the Examiner's attempt to scandalize the email, it's not surprising that Clinton had sought to determine if her public statements on the attacks had been accurate given evolving assessments made by the intelligence community in the weeks following the attack.
Initial intelligence suggested that the Benghazi attacks had grown out of protests against an anti-Islam YouTube video, resulting in a set of CIA talking points released to congressional and administration officials on September 15 that stated that "the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post."
Then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice was heavily criticized for using those talking points during a series of September 16 media interviews. But the intelligence continued to evolve and on September 24 -- the day of the Sullivan email -- the CIA changed its assessment, finding based on video footage and FBI interviews that no protest had occurred outside of the Benghazi facility.
The November 30 Examiner article also offered a second false attack on Clinton, claiming that an email that is actually newly released contradicts Clinton's October 22 testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
The Examiner cited a single email forwarded to Clinton on the night of the Benghazi attack as contradicting her testimony to the Benghazi Committee that she "conducted the majority of her work outside of email":
Email sent the night of the attack indicate Clinton did indeed receive updates about the unfolding violence in Benghazi via her private, unsecured email network, contrary to her testimony in an Oct. 22 hearing before the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
Clinton argued last month that she had conducted the majority of her work outside of email and that she had been receiving live updates about the attack in person, not on her private server. When describing her modes of communication she used on the night of the attack, Clinton cited secure phones and the SCIF, or sensitive compartmented information facility used for viewing classified material, in her home.
But Clinton defended the lack of Benghazi updates among her private emails by arguing that most of her communications did not take place over email.
This argument makes no sense. By definition, Clinton conducting "the majority of her work outside of email" and "arguing that most of her communications did not take place over email" suggests that some communication did take place over email. At no point in her testimony did Clinton state that she received no email communications on the night of the attack. (In fact, she did testify that beyond secure phones she used "other equipment that kept [her] in touch with the State Department at all times.")
And while the Examiner wrote that Clinton said she conducted most of her work outside of email in order to "defend the lack of Benghazi updates among her private emails," her testimony actually indicates that she made that remark while explaining why she did not have emails concerning an April 2012 attack on an U.N. convoy in Benghazi.
That hasn't stopped Hugh Hewitt, the Salem Radio host who serves as a panelist on CNN's Republican primary debates, from trying to badger CNN anchor Chris Cuomo with the Examiner report as "evidence crucial to" the election:
She testified though that she did not use her server on night of attack. Turns out she did. https://t.co/6uDqd1K8Jq-- Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) December 1, 2015
During a subsequent appearance on Cuomo's New Day program on December 1, Hewitt suggested that the GOP candidates should use the next debate to "point out that yesterday, for example, new e-mails showed up that make it abundantly clear that Mrs. Clinton lied during her testimony before the Benghazi committee about not receiving e-mails on her private server the night of Benghazi."
Conservatives have made so many fraudulent Benghazi attacks that they are starting to lose track of them.
A day after The Wall Street Journal attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for attempting to rein in racial bias in auto loan practices, Politico questioned the agency for seeking advice from a consumer advocacy group that many media outlets -- including Politico -- frequently ask to comment on consumer issues.
On November 19, Politico questioned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) supposedly "cozy" relationship with a consumer advocacy group after emails revealed the agency consulted with the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) on payday lending reforms. CRL is a leading source of research on the issue of payday loans; however the article misleadingly compared the CFPB consulting with a consumer advocacy nonprofit to the often nefarious "influence of big banks and lobbyists in writing legislation":
When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put out its proposal to overhaul payday lending rules in March, the move was cheered by consumer advocates as a much-needed crackdown on an industry that preys on the poor.
But the final product wasn't a surprise to at least one nonprofit group.
While Elizabeth Warren and other progressives decry the influence of big banks and lobbyists in writing legislation, in this instance, the agency created by Warren to protect consumers from abusive lending leaned heavily on consumer activists as it drafted regulations for the $46 billion payday loan industry. The Center for Responsible Lending spent hours consulting with senior Obama administration officials, giving input on how to implement the rule that would restrict the vast majority of short-term loans with interest rates often higher than 400 percent. The group regularly sent over policy papers, traded emails and met multiple times with top officials responsible for drafting the rule.
Politico's criticism comes a day after The Wall Street Journal's editorial board lambasted the agency for drafting guidelines on ending racial bias in auto lending, and advocated for legislation to slow the CFPB's consumer advocacy work.
Politico's false comparison that consumer watchdogs have the same pervasive effect as big banks on legislation and rulemaking fails to note that the Center for Responsible Lending is a well-respected resource on financial products and how these products affect consumers. In the last month, research from the CRL has been cited by a Yale professor in The New York Times, and appeared in articles in Time, The Atlantic and The Huffington Post. On November 19, The Washington Post's Dave Weigel took to Facebook to criticize Politico, explaining to readers that "the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending, which reporters who have covered any of this stuff recognize as a pretty above-board group that lobbies against predatory loan practices":
In 2009, the Center for Responsible Lending uncovered that 76 percent of the total volume of payday loans are borrowers taking out new loans to pay their existing loan. The CRL also reported that payday loan practices lead to $3.4 billion in excessive fees a year with over 75 percent of these fees generated by borrowers with more than 10 loans a year. The CRL and its sister non-profit -- the Self Help Credit Union -- use this research to advocate for lending practices that will end the perpetual payday loan cycle, saving low income Americans billions.
While Politico questioned why "CFPB requested data from the nonprofit on payday lenders 'to help focus these efforts,'" it failed to mention it has used reports and published comments from the Center for Responsible Lending on multiple occasions in relation to financial products and legislation. On October 29, Politico asked CRL's Maura Dundon to explain a financial ruling on student loans and, on October 16, quoted Dundon to emphasize the strength of a CFPB crackdown on for-profit colleges. In December of 2008, Politico reported on the CRL findings that minority homeowners were pushed into higher priced mortgage options:
Research by the Center for Responsible Lending, for instance, shows that African-American and Latino homeowners were often steered into subprime mortgages with hefty fees when their credit scores in fact qualified them for less expensive prime loans. Now those groups are experiencing some of the highest rates of foreclosure.
From the November 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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At least 30 state governors -- 29 Republican, 1 Democratic -- are parroting right-wing media myths about security concerns presented by incoming Syrian refugees to argue against taking part in expanded refugee resettlement programs. However, the overwhelming majority of refugees pose no credible threat to the United States, and the vetting process for refugee applicants is thorough. Furthermore, state governments lack the legal authority to dictate immigration policy in the United States.
In the wake of the November 13 Paris attacks, Republicans rushed with their conservative media allies to call for a halt to the admission of Syrian refugees into America, claiming that they would pose a significant threat to the United States. Major editorial boards slammed Republicans for "def[ying] what the nation stands for" and pushing divisive rhetoric that could "provide propaganda benefits to the Islamic State."
Conservative media used the terrorist attacks in Paris to fearmonger about the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States, claiming that the U.S. cannot effectively vet potential refugees, ignoring experts who say that the thoroughness of the U.S.'s refugee vetting process sets it apart from those of European countries.
Right-wing media seized on the November 13 terror attacks in Paris to make at least five false or misleading claims about Syrian refugees, past statements from Hillary Clinton, President Obama's strategy against ISIS, the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees, and how guns in civilian hands could have supposedly changed the outcome of the attacks.