CNN's Stelter: GOP Candidates Debated "Based On Misinformation" After Faulty NY Times San Bernardino Report
Stelter Details The Times' Year Of Faulty, Anonymously Sourced Reporting
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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.