The New York Times has begun to quietly reverse course on reports about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email use, after Times public editor Margaret Sullivan admitted that the publication's initial misleading insinuation that Clinton violated the law was "not without fault." The new, more accurate reporting underscores the publication's initial sloppiness and rush to judgment.
The New York Times recently published an op-ed attacking renewable fuels from the Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce without disclosing his ties to the oil industry, despite a directive from its former public editor for the paper to fully disclose its op-ed contributors' financial conflicts of interest.
In a March 10 New York Times op-ed, Robert Bryce falsely characterized the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as an expensive "tax." The standard, which requires oil refiners, blenders, and gasoline and diesel importers to blend a set amount of renewable fuel into their gasoline supply, was dismissed by Bryce as a "boondoggle" and a "rip-off."
But the Times failed to disclose Bryce's financial incentive to attack the RFS, identifying him only as a "senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of a new report from the institute, 'The Hidden Corn-Ethanol Tax.'" The Manhattan Institute has, in fact, received millions from oil interests over the years, including $635,000 from ExxonMobil and $1.9 million from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, where Charles Koch and his wife sit on the board of directors. Koch made his fortune from oil and currently has significant holdings in oil and gas operations.
Bryce is, in essence, acting as a spokesperson for the oil industry, which has much to gain from weakening or repealing the RFS. The renewable fuel requirement is set to increase over the next several years, potentially replacing up to 13.6 billion gallons of the conventional fuel supply by 2022.
Media outlets are demanding that Hillary Clinton be subject to an independent review of her personal email account to disprove their own baseless suggestions that she engaged in illicit activity or failed to properly disclose all work-related correspondence. The demand ignores that every State Department employee, regardless of whether they use government or personal accounts, decides for themselves whether or not to preserve their emails.
Media figures are acknowledging that Hillary Clinton did not violate federal regulations with her use of personal email, a contrast to The New York Times' initial rush to judgment of possible wrongdoing on Clinton's part that kicked off a media feeding frenzy.
The New York Times published another speculative, counter-factual article in its campaign to scandalize Hillary Clinton's email use, this time insinuating that the former secretary of state is lying about having never sent classified emails during her tenure.
Clinton made clear that she "did not email any classified material to anyone on my email," during a Tuesday press conference made necessary by a manufactured scandal created by earlier shoddy reporting from the Times.
Providing no evidence to contradict Clinton, the Times turned to "some security experts and former government officials" whom they claimed "were skeptical." According to the Times, "Anyone who has tried to pry information from the federal government may have been surprised on Tuesday by Hillary Rodham Clinton's assertion that in all her emails in four years as secretary of state she never strayed into the classified realm."
The Times actually undercut its own reporting, burying the fact that Clinton issued a statement making clear that "Classified information was viewed in hard copy by the secretary while in the office.
That statement further explained: "A separate, closed system was used by the Department for the sole purpose of handling classified communications which was designed to prevent such information from being transmitted anywhere other than within that system, including to outside email accounts."
The Times' reliance on baseless speculation to insinuate wrongdoing adheres to the framework it established when first reporting on Clinton's use of a personal email account.
The New York Times was already forced to walk back their sloppy reporting on Clinton's emails -- after which the publication's public editor admitted conceded the story "was not without fault" and "should have been clearer about precisely what regulations might have been violated." Despite the initial report's suggestion that Clinton violated federal record keeping rules, the Times' key source later clarified that she in fact did not "violate" the law. Others in the media have consequently retracted their own baseless claims made in the rush to scandalize Clinton's emails after Times' report.
By omitting important information and context from the Hillary Clinton email story, are reporters and pundits guilty of trying to make the episode more interesting and more nefarious than it actually is?
As the press demands answers regarding which private emails Clinton handed over to the State Department and which ones she withheld because she deemed them to be personal in nature, many journalists fail to include relevant information about prominent Republicans who have engaged in similar use of private email accounts while in office, specifically former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
By omitting references to Powell and Bush and how they handled private emails while in office, the press robs news consumers of key information. It's also material that deflates the overheated suspicions of a wide-ranging Clinton cover-up.
Appearing on ABCs This Week on Sunday, Powell was asked how he responded to the State Department request last year that all former secretaries hand over emails from their time in office. Powell confirmed that he had used private email while secretary but that he didn't hand over any emails to the State Department because his private emails were all gone.
"I don't have any to turn over," he explained. "I did not keep a cache of them. I did not print them off. I do not have thousands of pages somewhere in my personal files." Powell's revelation is important because it puts into perspective the email protocol of a former secretary of state. By his own account, Powell's emails, unlike Clinton's, include his regular communications with foreign dignitaries. What was he emailing them in the lead-up to the war in Iraq? We'll never know.
To date however, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have largely downplayed references to the fact that Powell's private, secretary of state emails are all gone.
Why is Powell relevant to Clinton? Because after she took questions from the reporters yesterday about the email saga, the press focused in on the fact in reviewing her private emails, Clinton found roughly 60,000 messages. She handed over 30,000 to the State Department and determined the other 30,000 were personal in nature and disgarded them.
Those 30,000 emails have now become the key storyline, which goes like this: How can people be assured that Clinton turned over all the pertinent emails when she was the one (or her attorney) who decided which ones were personal, and would be withheld, and which ones were government-related, and would be turned over. Doesn't there need to be an "independent arbiter" to look over all 60,000 emails to decide which ones the State Department gets to keep?
"They were personal and private about matters I believed were in the scope of my personal privacy," Clinton said. "They have nothing to do with work. I didn't see any reason to keep them." That's what the so-called scandal revolves around: Hillary's team decided which emails to turn over and which ones to toss. And that's a deeply troubling development. The press is insistent on that fact.
Multiple media outlets have been forced to walk back and update initial reports scandalizing Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account during her tenure as secretary of state, after The New York Times kicked off the pseudo-scandal in an article the paper later acknowledged was "not without fault."
Even for a Republican White House that was badly stumbling through George W. Bush's sixth year in office, the revelation on April 12, 2007 was shocking. Responding to congressional demands for emails in connection with its investigation into the partisan firing of eight U.S. attorneys, the White House announced that as many as five million emails, covering a two-year span, had been lost.
The emails had been run through private accounts controlled by the Republican National Committee and were only supposed to be used for dealing with non-administration political campaign work to avoid violating ethics laws. Yet congressional investigators already had evidence private emails had been used for government business, including to discuss the firing of one of the U.S. attorneys. The RNC accounts were used by 22 White House staffers, including then-Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who reportedly used his RNC email for 95 percent of his communications.
As the Washington Post reported, "Under federal law, the White House is required to maintain records, including e-mails, involving presidential decision- making and deliberations." But suddenly millions of the private RNC emails had gone missing; emails that were seen as potentially crucial evidence by Congressional investigators.
The White House email story broke on a Wednesday. Yet on that Sunday's Meet The Press, Face The Nation, and Fox News Sunday, the topic of millions of missing White House emails did not come up. At all. (The story did get covered on ABC's This Week.)
By comparison, not only did every network Sunday news show this week cover the story about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emails, but they were drowning in commentary. Between Meet the Press, Face The Nation, This Week, and Fox News Sunday, Clinton's "email" or "emails" were referenced more than 100 times on the programs, according to Nexis transcripts. Talk about saturation coverage.
Indeed, the commentary for the last week truly has been relentless, with the Beltway press barely pausing to catch its breath before unloading yet another round of "analysis," most of which provides little insight but does allow journalists to vent about the Clintons.
What has become clear over the last eight days however is that the Clinton email story isn't about lawbreaking. "Experts have said it doesn't appear Clinton violated federal laws," CNN conceded. "But that hasn't stemmed the issue that has become more about bad optics and politics than any actual wrongdoing." The National Law Journal agreed, noting that while the story has created a political furor, "any legal consequences are likely to prove negligible."
Still, the scandal machine churns on determined to the treat the story as a political blockbuster, even though early polling indicates the kerfuffle will not damage Clinton's standing.
Looking back, it's curious how the D.C. scandal machine could barely get out of first gear when the Bush email story broke in 2007. I'm not suggesting the press ignored the Rove email debacle, because the story was clearly covered at the time. But triggering a firestorm (a guttural roar) that raged for days and consumed the Beltway chattering class the way the D.C. media has become obsessed with the Clinton email story? Absolutely not. Not even close.
The New York Times adopted partisan smears to cast Hillary Clinton as "vulnerable" on the subject of gender, relying mainly on Republican criticisms to undermine her career of advancing women's rights by scandalizing the acceptance of donations to the Clinton Foundation charity from foreign governments which discriminate based on gender. But the Times' own report undermines the suggestion that Clinton's record on women's advocacy has been questionable, and donations have not stopped Clinton from speaking out against countries violating women's rights.
In a March 8 article, The New York Times cast Clinton as "vulnerable on the subject" of gender, citing mainly Republican criticisms to highlight "her family foundation's acceptance of millions of dollars in donations from Middle Eastern countries known for violence against women and for denying them many basic freedoms," to evidence their characterization of the former secretary of state. Despite noting that "advancing women has been" Clinton's "central life's work," the Times nevertheless cited attacks from last month's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the Republican National Committee (RNC), a former White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, and a Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) supporter to highlight the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation's acceptance of donations from foreign countries, "which the State Department has faulted over their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues." The report alleged that these donations "present a difficult appearance problem for a candidate running in part as the embodiment of women's aspirations to equality," turning to Republicans to back the claim:
Republicans quickly zeroed in on the apparent contradiction. Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief, told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month that Mrs. Clinton "tweets about women's rights in this country and takes money from governments that deny women the most basic human rights."
And on Wednesday, the Republican National Committee released a biting video showing President Obama calling political donations from foreign sources "a threat to our democracy" -- and Mrs. Clinton smiling next to several Middle East leaders.
"It's a perfect example of the conflict of interest here," said Richard W. Painter, a White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.
However, the Times' own report undermined their suggestions about Clinton's questionable track record on women's rights. As the paper noted, "At the State Department, Mrs. Clinton emphasized how empowering women and girls could also enhance economies, national security and the overall progress of a country." Throughout her career, Hillary Clinton has continuously worked as champion of women's rights and leadership.
And previous donations to the foundation have not stopped Clinton from vocally criticizing countries on gender discrimination. During her time as secretary of state, Clinton criticized Saudi Arabia, among other Arab leaders, for discriminating against women -- despite the countries' previous donations to Clinton Foundation.
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan is right that the Times story last week, which falsely charged that Hillary Clinton might have broken federal rules regarding her email practices was "not without fault." According to Sullivan, "the story should have been much clearer about precisely what regulations might have been violated, and when they took effect."
But Sullivan misses the main point, and in doing so continues to leave the wrong and unfair impression that Clinton might have violated federal rules when she plainly didn't.
In defending the story's charge, Sullivan cites federal regulations from 2009 that "required that any emails sent or received from personal accounts be preserved as part of the agency's records."
As the State Department said last week, in 2014 Secretary Clinton turned over to the department some 55,000 pages of emails from her personal account. Clearly the emails were preserved, as the rules required. They are part of the agency's records, and Secretary Clinton has called on the department to release all of them to the public, an unprecedented act of transparency.
The 2009 regulations contained no real-time preservation requirements, according to the State Department. The time requirements were added to the law that I referenced in my letter to the Times, and which passed after Clinton left office. As such, they are not pertinent to her tenure. Moreover, more than 90 percent of the emails from Clinton's personal account were sent to official State Department email addresses, and thus were preserved in real-time in the agency's records, exceeding the requirements of the law as it existed at the time.
Sullivan failed entirely to confront the fact that the main authority cited by the paper on the Clinton emails, a former top lawyer at the National Archives and Records Administration, said the day after the article appeared that Clinton had not violated the law, undercutting the article's central contention. Indeed, the Times cited no legal authority whatsoever to say a violation had occurred or even might have occurred.
Clearly, what happened here is that the reporter, Michael Schmidt, and presumably his editor, Carolyn Ryan, mistakenly believed that Clinton's email practices violated federal rules, and despite finding no source to back them up, they published the allegation on the Times front page anyway.
I don't know what that is, but it isn't journalism.
In any event, I welcome Sullivan's conclusion that the Times can learn from this controversy by ensuring subsequent stories are "airtight."
Sullivan's reply to my letter can be read in full here.
The New York Times kicked off a pseudo-scandal over Hillary Clinton's use of a non-government email while serving as secretary of state, a manufactured controversy straight out of the GOP's Benghazi witch hunt. While the Times dug in its heels despite significant shortcomings in its reporting, the media piled on with innuendo and reckless speculation that is now being cited by Republicans to justify superfluous Benghazi investigations.
The New York Times is holding Jeb Bush to a lower standard over his selective release of emails from his time as governor of Florida, taking Bush's word for it that enough emails have been "made public" despite reports that Bush hand-picked the emails he would release. At the same time, the Times is insisting that Hillary Clinton lay out the process she used to release emails from her tenure as secretary of state.
"Under Florida's records laws, emails from Mr. Bush's personal account have been made public," the Times reported. "'His emails were available via public records requests throughout his time in office and have remained available,' Ms. Campbell [a Bush spokesperson] said."
That's it. That's all the Times had to say about Jeb Bush's use of a non-government email account during his tenure as governor.
From the March 4 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper:
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The New York Times dug in its heels to defend its inadequate reporting that insinuated that Hillary Clinton broke the law by maintaining a non-government email account as secretary of state, rejecting a call from David Brock, founder and chairman of Media Matters, to issue a correction.
In its response refusing to publicly correct the serious shortcomings in its initial reporting, the Times actually underscored how its initial report was not properly vetted prior to publication.
Brock issued a public letter to the Times on Tuesday requesting a "prominent correction as soon as possible" after reporter Michael Schmidt published an article suggesting Clinton violated federal law by using a non-government email address while serving as secretary of state. Brock wrote:
The Schmidt article failed to meet the highest journalistic standards that readers expect of The New York Times. Since it was published, the Times has been leaning on other reporters to vet the story after the fact. Our hope is that after reviewing the situation, the Times will do the right thing and correct this sloppy, innuendo-laden report in a prominent place.
In an email to Media Matters, a Times representative said they "stand by the story" and directed Media Matters to a 2009 rule from the National Archives and Records Administration that they claim was violated by Clinton's use of a non-government email. The Times representative did not explain why that information was not included in its initial report, an after-the-fact claim that only further illustrates that the initial reporting was so sloppy.
And, as The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, Clinton has provided 55,000 pages of her emails to the State Department, in compliance with the 2009 regulatory change and a 2014 law that was passed after Clinton had left the administration.
Nor does the Times response address the fact that Jason Baron, the former head of litigation at the National Archives and Records Association and the key source quoted by The New York Times, has said that Secretary Clinton did not "violate" the law.
No authoritative legal expert has identified any violation of the law with her use of personal email. In contrast, The National Law Journal reported that "lawyers say it's unlikely she did anything illegal."
From the March 3 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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