"What the hell is happening at the New York Times?" -- Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald
It's been four days since The New York Times uncorked perhaps the biggest newsroom blunder of the 2016 campaign season, when Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo erroneously reported that two inspectors general were seeking a criminal probe of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state. The Times' would-be blockbuster landed online on July 23 and on the front page of the print edition July 24.
But even before many readers picked up the paper on Friday morning, the story had begun to unravel. By Friday afternoon, the Times' exclusive had suddenly morphed into a humiliation for the Times itself. The paper was widely ridiculed for getting the referral story wrong, and then for awkwardly trying to limit the damage via stealthy online edits.
Almost four days after its initial publication, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan weighed in on the "mess" this morning, suggesting that the paper should have waited to publish until it had developed the story more extensively: "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."
Meanwhile, executive editor Dean Baquet pinned much of the blame for the debacle on the Times' sources -- rather than the reporters and editors involved -- suggesting that this might not be the last mistake of this nature we see from the paper: "You had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral ... I'm not sure what they could have done differently on that."
If you were surprised by the Times' face-plant, then you haven't been paying attention. Media Matters has been chronicling the Times' problematic Clinton coverage in recent months. (And for years.) Yet it wasn't until the email fiasco that the paper's ongoing Clinton troubles exploded into full view, prompting condemnations as journalists and commentators not only questioned the Times' competence, but also its fairness.
Boston Globe columnist Michael Cohen:
There's also no getting around the fact that the Times coverage of Hillary Clinton is a biased train wreck.
Vanity Fair contributing editor and Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald:
I worked at NYT for 20 yrs. I know what standards are supposed to be. The Hillary/email story violated all of them.
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen:
I have resisted this conclusion over the years, but after today's events it's fair to say the Times has a problem covering Hillary Clinton.
The unsettling question the Times now faces as it grapples with the fallout from the email debacle is whether or not the newspaper can be trusted to be an honest player when covering Clinton. It's an extraordinary position for the Newspaper of Record to be in. But the Times has been feeding this credibility crisis for a very long time.
The Cliff's Notes to this conflict: With the bogus pursuits of Whitewater, the Loral spy satellites story, would-be spy Wen Ho Lee, and many more, the Times uncorked supposedly blockbuster allegations against Bill Clinton during the 1990s that were based on vague reporting that later turned out to be flimsy. The stories imploded, but not before Republicans grabbed onto the "liberal" New York Times gotchas and launched investigation after investigation. Fast-forward two decades and the same newsroom dysfunction persists.
Let's be clear: The Times is hardly alone in terms of having trouble reporting factually on the Clinton email story. Beltway journalists have strained for months trying to turn what is largely a process story into a simmering scandal. (See here.)
But the Times remains the country's most influential news outlet and the daily has been carrying around an unmistakable Clinton grudge for nearly 20 years. And it's a collective disdain for the Clintons that stretches from the opinion pages to the newsroom that arguably leads to spectacular blunders like the one we saw last week.
There seems to be a world view within the Times that taking cheap shots at the Clintons is not only allowed, it's preferred; it's a way for Times journalists to raise their profiles and generate buzz. But not only is the practice unfair and unethical, it carries with it profound political implications.
Apparently making no effort to check with the lead Democrat on the panel about the anonymous claims of a criminal referral -- Rep. Elijah Cummings would have demolished the entire premise of the gotcha story -- the Times essentially acted as stenographer for sources who either manufactured the claim about a criminal referral or unknowingly botched the facts.
The Times' oddly personal crusade against Hillary Clinton is also a crusade against the Democratic frontrunner for president, so the Republican Party benefits. The stakes really could not be higher, which makes the Times' behavior all the more disturbing.
Back in May, Margaret Sullivan noted her objections to the paper's "oddly barbed tone" in some of its Clinton coverage. (That was putting it mildly.) At the time, readers were upset with a nasty, condescending news article by Jason Horowitz that referred to Clinton as a standoffish "regal" "freak." Additionally, in his tweet promoting the article, the Times reporter mocked the Democrat as "Queen Hillary."
But when Sullivan asked Times political editor Carolyn Ryan about the complaints, Ryan absolved the Times of blame by arguing Times readers had simply "misread" the Horowitz piece. And that has been the Times pattern for years -- impenetrable denial that the paper had jumped the rails while covering Bill and Hillary Clinton. The result of that institutional denial? Last week's fiasco.
More from former Timesman Kurt Eichenwald and his bone-rattling denunciation of the paper's recent blunder:
Democracy is not a game. It is not a means of getting our names on the front page or setting the world abuzz about our latest scoop. It is about providing information so that an electorate can make decisions based on reality. It is about being fair and being accurate. This despicable Times story was neither.
Election Day is 400-plus days away. Can the New York Times' Clinton coverage be salvaged, or is the paper no longer an honest player?
From the July 26 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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This morning, The New York Times issued a second substantial correction to its anonymously-sourced report that originally hyped a potential Department of Justice investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of personal email. The paper has now removed the claim -- which appeared in both the article's headline and first sentence -- that two inspectors general were seeking a "criminal" investigation into the handling of Clinton's emails.
The paper has not addressed numerous lingering questions about both the sourcing and vetting of its report, with their corrections instead blaming the errors on "information from senior government officials" who remain anonymous. Times public editor Margaret Sullivan indicated on Twitter that she plans to weigh in on the story on Monday.
A comparison of the opening sentence of the July 23 article as originally published and how it currently appears on the Times website underscores the deeply flawed nature of the paper's report. In less than 48 hours, the article went from alleging a request for a "criminal investigation" of Clinton herself to "an investigation" into whether information had been mishandled in connection with her email account.
Here's the story's original opening, which appeared under the headline "Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use of Email":
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.
And here's how it currently appears, as of 2:30 p.m. EST on July 25:
Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state, senior government officials said Thursday.
The changes to the Times' original story have come as their reporting has unraveled.
Shortly after publication, the paper walked back the allegation that Clinton herself would be the target of the supposed criminal probe. While the Times made these changes without issuing a formal correction -- a spokesperson originally claimed it was unnecessary because there was no "factual error" -- it reversed course several hours later and appended a correction to its piece, explaining that the referral in question "did not specifically request an investigation into Mrs. Clinton."
But the Times hadn't only botched the target of the inquiry, it misstated its nature as well. Yesterday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democratic member of the Benghazi Select Committee, released a statement saying that he had personally spoken with the State Department Inspector General and the Intelligence Community Inspector General and "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."
Additionally, a Justice Department official reportedly said yesterday -- apparently contradicting earlier statements from the DOJ -- that the referral over the emails was not "criminal."
During an appearance on MSNBC's Hardball, Rep. Cummings called out the Times for still labeling the investigation "criminal" in its headline despite evidence to the contrary. This morning, the paper revised the article once again to remove references to a criminal investigation and added a second correction to the bottom of its piece:
In addition, government officials who initially said the request was for a criminal investigation later said it was not a "criminal referral" but a "security referral" pertaining to possible mishandling of classified information.
As Media Matters laid out yesterday, there are several significant questions about the Times' handling of the story, which originally levied the bombshell allegation that a criminal investigation had been sought into a leading candidate for the presidency based on anonymous sourcing. Those questions include the sources for the paper's faulty information, whether the Times saw or attempted to see the referral document itself, whether the paper reached out to Cummings or any other Democrats on the Benghazi committee, and whether it contacted the inspectors general before publication.
In a statement, Cummings highlighted the report's sourcing, calling the Times story "the latest example in a series of inaccurate leaks to generate false front-page headlines -- only to be corrected later -- and they have absolutely nothing to do with the attacks in Benghazi or protecting our diplomatic corps overseas." Media have frequently been forced to walk back their initially flawed reports on Clinton's emails.
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?
Media Matters for America Chairman David Brock issued a letter today calling on The New York 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." Brock's letter was issued after the paper published another error-filled report on Clinton, this time about her use of personal email while at the State Department.
The full letter is below:
July 24, 2015
Mr. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Chairman & Publisher
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY, 10018
Dear Mr. Sulzberger:
As you well know, millions of readers look to your paper for its factual, impartial reporting. The New York Times' reputation as the country's newspaper of record is something we cherish -- as I am sure you do as well. I am writing to you today to express my continued concern about a string of reports from your publication that have been used to cast a shadow over Hillary Clinton under false pretenses.
Let me begin by saying I acknowledge that all journalists make mistakes. Corrections get issued as a matter of course. However, an extraordinarily troubling pattern has emerged at The New York Times of flawed reporting focused on one presidential candidate in particular -- Hillary Clinton. This long pattern raises significant concerns of seemingly institutional anti-Clinton bias at the paper. Regretfully, several examples of what can be characterized at best as flawed reporting on Clinton come immediately to mind:
1) An August 13, 2013, report that claimed to expose the "unease" over finances and management at the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation was an exercise in evidence-free speculation. To date, several errors in this story, which wrongly cast aspersions on foundation management (including the false suggestion that the foundation ran a deficit in a year it actually ran a surplus), have never been corrected.
2) A March 2, 2015, report suggested former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "may have violated" federal law with respect to her use of private email while at the State Department. The relevant rules covering such behavior didn't apply to Hillary Clinton's tenure at the State Department. Even The Times' key source undercut the story's central claim, saying later that Clinton had not violated the law. The original botched Times story has yet to be corrected. The Times has quietly walked back the initial claims in subsequent reporting -- with even the paper's public editor admitting that the original story was "not without fault."
3) In advance of serial misinformer Peter Schweizer releasing the decidedly anti-Hillary Clinton book Clinton Cash, The Times reported that "major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book." To date, the exact terms of the arrangement between Schweizer and The Times remain secret -- though it was clearly the springboard for yet another faulty Times story. This is extremely troubling given that Media Matters detailed more than TWENTY errors, fabrications, and distortions in Clinton Cash.
Which brings us to today and the latest disgraceful and embarrassing misstep in The New York Times' reporting on Hillary Clinton. The New York Times dramatically changed a report that initially -- based on anonymous sources -- cast Clinton as the target of a requested criminal probe. After publication, The Times altered the report to remove the implication that Clinton was the target of the requested probe -- with no acknowledgement of a correction. A spokeswoman for The New York Times even told The Washington Post there was "no reason for a correction" -- an untenable position that was abandoned later this afternoon after the Justice Department and Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, refuted reports of a "criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton's email usage."
I trust you can see that The Times' reputation is at serious risk. Given the four clear examples cited here, it's time for The New York Times management to address the situation by commissioning a review that will explore 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. Perhaps lessons can be learned from the internal review commissioned by CBS News following a flawed 60 Minutes report regarding the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi. Following that internal review, then-Chairman of CBS News and Executive Producer of 60 Minutes Jeff Fager admitted that "there is a lot to learn from this mistake for the entire organization."
I implore the paper to take any and all steps necessary so that these chronic lapses in accuracy and editorial judgement do not recur, and to ensure that the nation's paper of record can be depended on for coverage that is factual and impartial going forward.
Chairman, Media Matters for America
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.
The New York Times called out the "campaign of deception" behind the Center for Medical Progress' selectively edited videos attacking Planned Parenthood and accusing them of selling "baby parts," as well as conservatives' efforts to exploit the media frenzy to defund the organization.
On July 21 anti-choice conservative group The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a deceptively cut video claiming to have recorded a Planned Parenthood official "haggling over" prices for fetal tissue donations and offering to change procedure techniques "to get more intact fetuses." A previous undercover video from CMP purported to show another Planned Parenthood official on tape discussing prices for the sale of fetal tissue. Both videos have been deceptively edited to leave out crucial context which debunks both claims.
Right-wing media seized on the videos to attack Democratic candidates, call for an FBI investigation into Planned Parenthood, and accuse the organization of "celebrating its practice of harvesting the organs of aborted fetuses for money." Despite the fact that the original "shady video" was quickly denounced in mainstream media for "show[ing] nothing illegal,"Republicans are trying to capitalize on right-wing media's phony outrage to defund Planned Parenthood and fundraise for presidential campaigns.
The Times blasted those "howling to defund Planned Parenthood," in a July 22 editorial, arguing they "care nothing about the truth here, being perfectly willing to undermine women's reproductive rights anyway they can." Pointing to the deceptive edits and missing context left out of the video, the editors wrote that "clearly, the shorter version [of the video] was edited to eliminate statements" about how the organization doesn't profit from fetal tissue donation. The editorial went on to explain that the research enabled by fetal tissue donation is a critical tool for fighting a number of diseases and Planned Parenthood is just one of a number of organizations contributing to the effort:
The full video of the lunch meeting, over two hours long and released by the Center for Medical Progress after complaints by Planned Parenthood, shows something very different from what these critics claim. Clearly, the shorter version was edited to eliminate statements by Dr. Nucatola explaining that Planned Parenthood does not profit from tissue donation, which requires the clear consent of the patient. Planned Parenthood affiliates only accept money -- between $30 and $100 per specimen, according to Dr. Nucatola -- to cover costs associated with collecting and transporting the tissue. "This is not something with any revenue stream that affiliates are looking at," she said. Under federal law, facilities may be reimbursed for costs associated with fetal tissue donation, like transportation and storage.
Researchers use fetal tissue to study and develop treatments for diseases and conditions like H.I.V., hepatitis, congenital heart defects, retinal degeneration and Parkinson's. Last year, the National Institutes of Health gave $76 million in grants for fetal tissue research. Planned Parenthood is certainly not the only collector of fetal tissue -- clinics associated with universities also supply tissue for research.
The Center for Medical Progress video campaign is a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal. Lawmakers responding by promoting their own anti-choice agenda are rewarding deception and putting women's health and their constitutionally protected rights at risk.
The Times editorial comes just hours after Fox News' Kirsten Powers penned a USA Today column titled "Crush Planned Planned Parenthood." Powers claimed that "[i]t's a measure of how damning the video is that Planned Parenthood's usual defenders were nowhere to be found. There was total silence from The New York Times editorial board and their 10 (out of 11) pro-abortion rights columnists."
Since Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) announced his presidential campaign, the media has largely ignored the controversy over his attempt to gut Wisconsin's open records laws while continuing to obsess over Hillary Clinton's emails.
Walker, working with other Republicans in Wisconsin, inserted a measure in the proposed state budget that would, as the Associated Press reported, "shield nearly everything created by state and local government officials from Wisconsin's open records law, including drafts of legislation and staff communications." The provision was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats in the state, with one state senator, Robert Cowles (R - Green Bay), describing it as an "assault on democracy."
As the controversy grew, it became clear Walker's office was involved in drafting the provision. The Wisconsin State Journal noted the controversy began to heat up "barely a week before Walker was scheduled to announce a bid for the 2016 presidential nomination." The provision was then pulled.
Yet, national media largely ignored the story after months of coverage of Hillary Clinton's emails and the issue of transparency.
Around the time of Walker's July 13 presidential announcement, the open records controversy was barely mentioned. A USA Today op-ed from a Wisconsin Democrat noted it, as did the Washington Post, along with a short mention in a CNN report.
Fox's Sean Hannity interviewed Walker on the evening of his announcement, asking what he thought about "somebody that erases not only their e-mails and then their server" but never brought up Walker's open records problem or the bipartisan backlash.
At the same time, the media continued to bring up the Clinton email story - the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Fox News during Special Report, Hannity, and The Kelly File, and MSNBC on Hardball. Often the Clinton emails were still being referenced despite the absence of any relevant news. The State Department disclosure of some of the emails produced anodyne highlights like inter-office discussions about the use of a fax machine and iced tea.
As they reported on these conversations, Walker's gambit barely registered with the national press despite the furor in Wisconsin.
The media has previously exhibited this double standard on covering transparency issues within the context of covering the 2016 presidential campaign. When disclosing his emails from his time as governor of Florida, Jeb Bush omitted emails he determined were not relevant to the public record - including emails related to "politics, fundraising and personal matters while he was governor."
Even when it became known that Bush had discussed security and troop deployments using his private email, the press barely noticed, still focusing on the Clinton story.
Last week, the Associated Press helped dictate campaign coverage for a news cycle when it emphasized how its latest poll showed Hillary Clinton's favorable ratings falling.
"The survey offers a series of warning signs for the leading Democratic candidate," the AP warned, suggesting its survey results were "troubling" for the Democratic frontrunner. Despite the fact that the AP's own poll found that a vast majority of Democratic voters view Clinton favorably, the article included interviews with three Democratic voters, all of whom gave Clinton negative reviews.
The excited AP dispatch set off a new round of Clinton-in-trouble coverage by news organizations that reprinted the AP's survey results:
And at the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza pounced on the AP's polling data and announced it was all very bad news for Clinton.
But notice what information was buried in the 18th and final paragraph of the AP's report on Clinton's falling favorable ratings [emphasis added]:
Clinton's bad marks weren't unique: Nearly all of the Republican candidates surveyed in the poll shared her underwater approval ratings. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a leading GOP candidate, saw his unfavorable ratings rise to 44% from 36% in April.
Bush's favorable ratings, which have been underwater all year, lag behind Clinton's in the latest AP poll (31 percent Bush, 39 percent Clinton) and his unfavorable ratings are on the rise? Correct. But at the AP, there were no warnings about what those "troubling" numbers mean for Bush's campaign, and there were no AP interviews with Republican voters voicing their disappointment in the candidate.
For the AP, Jeb Bush and his soft poll numbers were clearly not the story. They barely even garnered a footnote.
Welcome to the often-baffling world of polling reporting for the 2016 campaign, where perceived dips by Clinton are obsessed over by the press while Bush stumbles rarely draw interest.
The famous Republican scion from a family whose supporters have raised over $100 million in campaign funds trails a buffoonish celebrity in several recent polls? The press doesn't really think that's a big story for Bush's candidacy. Imagine if Clinton were suddenly overwhelmed by a political outsider on the Democratic side, the doom-and-gloom commentary would be all-consuming.
What is a big story, apparently, is the state of Clinton's favorable ratings.
There's no real mystery why the press downplays polling results that show Clinton with a commanding lead and hypes surveys that show that gap closing, or her popularity supposedly slumping. "Coronations are boring," noted Nate Silver, as he recently highlighted deficiencies in the media's polling coverage. Journalists would "rather see a competitive Democratic primary, which means more to talk about and analyze."
The problem for the press is that, the AP survey notwithstanding, Clinton has enjoyed a nice run of polling results in recent days and weeks.
That last Iowa poll may be the most telling in terms of the very peculiar news coverage that Clinton polls produce, simply because there was essentially a news blackout surrounding the survey's results compared to polls that show a tightening race.
For instance in early July, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Clinton's Iowa lead shrinking to 19 points and the New York Times wrote up a separate news dispatch just about that poll. Just six days later, a We Ask America poll was released showing Clinton with a 40-plus point lead in Iowa. The New York Times reaction? It simply ignored it, as did virtually every news organization in America.
It didn't fit the script.
The last oddity: There's an entrenched pattern of media polls echoing Republican talking points about Clinton and her honesty.
Note this from Fox News:
But here's the possible trouble for Clinton in the general election: 70 percent of voters overall say that a candidate who is sometimes less than honest is a "deal breaker" for their vote -- and a 58-percent majority believes Clinton's natural instincts lean more toward "hiding the truth" than "telling the truth" (33 percent).
What is odd is that Fox never asked voters about Bush's trustworthiness, or any other Republican candidate's trustworthiness. Fox only asked about Clinton.
The same was true of a poll released in June by CNN: "A growing number of people say she is not honest and trustworthy." How did Clinton's "trust" score compare with Bush's? We don't know because CNN didn't ask if voters trust Bush.
And yes, the latest AP poll is guilty of the same imbalance -- it asks if Clinton is "honest," types up the results as bad news for the Democrat, but doesn't pose that query about Bush, or any of the Republican candidates.
Why the persistent double standard?
Does anyone remember the rope line kerfuffle that broke out between reporters and Mitt Romney's campaign team in May 2012? After the Republican nominee addressed supporters in St. Petersburg, Florida, campaign aides tried to restrict reporters from getting to the rope line where the candidate was greeting audience members.
As the incident unfolded, Kasie Hunt from the Associated Press tweeted, "Campaign staff and volunteers trying to physically prevent reporters from approaching the rope line to ask questions of Romney." And from CNN's Jim Acosta: "Romney campaign and Secret Service attempted to keep press off ropeline so no q's to candidate on Bain." (Bain Capital is the investment firm Romney co-founded.)
Contrast that with the media wildfire that broke out over the Fourth of July weekend this summer when Hillary Clinton marched in the Gorham, New Hampshire parade. Surrounded by throngs of reporters who jumped into the parade route to cover the event, Clinton's aides created a moving roped-off zone around Clinton to give her more space.
The maneuver produced images of journalists temporarily corralled behind a rope, which most observers agreed made for bad campaign optics.
Note that like Romney's episode on the rope line when reporters objected to being barred from overhearing the candidate interact with voters, journalists in New Hampshire were upset they couldn't hear Clinton greet parade spectators. But this story was hardly a minor one. It created an avalanche of coverage -- nearly two weeks later journalists still reference it as a major event.
It's interesting to note that during his 2012 campaign, Romney often distanced himself from the campaign press and provided limited access, the same allegations being made against Clinton this year. But the way the press covered the two media strategies stands in stark contrast.
That's not to suggest Romney's avoidance of the press wasn't covered as news four years ago. It clearly was. But looking back, it's impossible to miss the difference in tone, and the sheer tonnage of the coverage. Four years ago the campaign press calmly detailed Romney's attempts to sidestep the national press (minus Fox News), versus the very emotional, often angry ("reporters are being penned off like farm animals"), and just weirdly personal dispatches regarding Hillary's press strategy.
In a 2011 article, the Huffington Post interviewed reporters about how Romney was employing a much more closed-off press strategy compared to his 2008 campaign. The article featured quotes from Beltway journalists like the Washington Post's Dan Balz saying that while Romney had been more "open and available" in his 2008 campaign, during the 2012 cycle, "In general, I think they have kept him as much as possible out of the press spotlight ... And I think it's part of what has been their overall strategy, which has been to act like a frontrunner and not do a lot of interviews."
By contrast, the New York Times, reporting on Clinton's press relationship, recently described her as a "regal" "freak" who "seems less a presidential candidate than a historical figure, returning to claim what is rightfully hers." Slate noted "the political press has turned noticeably hostile in the face of her silence." And the Daily Beast wanted to know why Clinton was so "determined" to "infuriate the press."
So when Clinton's standoffish with the press, she's deliberately trying to "infuriate" journalists. But when Romney was standoffish, he was just employing a frontrunner strategy.
Why the blatant double standard? Why the steeper grading curve for the Democrat?
Are the Romney and Clinton press scenarios identical? Probably not. But they do seem awfully similar. Note that in February 2012, ABC News reported that "Romney last held a press conference in Atlanta on Feb. 8, and has not done so again since. Wednesday is the two week mark." Two months later, not much had changed: "Reporters yelled questions at Romney yesterday on the rope line after a speech prebutting this summer's Democratic National Convention -- to no avail. Romney has not taken questions from the press since March 16 in Puerto Rico."
That dispatch came on April 19, which meant at the time Romney hadn't taken a question from the national press in more than a month, and that was during the heart of the Republican primary season. But where was the Washington Post's running clock to document the last time Romney fielded a question, and the New York Times special section to feature hypothetical questions to ask Romney if and when he next spoke to the press?
When Romney ignored the national media for more than a month in 2012 the press mostly shrugged. When Hillary did something similar this year, the press went bonkers, sparking "an existential crisis among the national press corps," according to Slate.
And that may be an understatement. The coverage of Clinton's treatment of the press has become a truly boundless genre of commentary. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
And that's just a sampling.
For whatever reason, the Beltway press signaled a long time ago that the press was going to be a central topic during the Clinton campaign and the press was going to write a lot about how the press felt about Clinton's relationship with the press. (Media critic Jay Rosen has dismissed some of the media's campaign complaints as being nonsensical.)
We've certainly never seen anything like this in modern campaigns. And it certainly did not happen with Romney four years ago.
Media outlets called out a conservative group for deceptively editing a video purporting to show a Planned Parenthood official discussing prices for the illegal sale of fetal tissue from abortions. As many articles pointed out, the full, unedited footage shows the official discussing the reimbursement cost of consensual, legal tissue donations.
When the story of Hillary Clinton's private email account first broke in March, the Beltway media's response resembled barely controlled hysteria as pundits searched for adjectives to describe the impending political doom in store for Clinton.
Ron Fournier at National Journal immediately announced that perhaps Clinton shouldn't even bother running for president, the damage she faced was so grave. And New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wondered if the revelation meant Clinton had a secret political "death wish."
According to the nattering nabobs of negativism (to borrow a phrase), the revelation that Clinton had used a private email server while secretary of state was possibly the story that would doom Clinton's White House hopes.
As the media firestorm raged, the State Department announced it would release 55,000 pages of former Secretary of State Clinton's emails next January. But a U.S. District Court ordered the department to release portions of the email archive on a monthly basis. The first batch was released in May, and the second round, or roughly 3,000 emails, came late last week. Clinton has always said she welcomed the emails being made public. And now we know why.
Among the "highlights" from the latest email revelations, a story that has at times consumed the Beltway press? She once emailed then-Center for American Progress chief John Podesta to "Please wear socks to bed to keep your feet warm." She on one occasion requested some iced tea. In June 2009, she wrote aides, "I heard on the radio that there is a Cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?"
That October, Clinton sent an email to longtime confidante Sidney Blumenthal, asking in the subject line, "Are you still awake?" The body of the email read, "I will call if you are." (That Clinton emailed with Blumenthal has been treated as very big news, although there's rarely a press explanation as for why it's treated that way.)
More scintillating insights? Clinton emailed an assistant to get the phone number of Judge Sonia Maria Sotomayor so Clinton could congratulate her on being nominated for the Supreme Court. Clinton once sent senior advisor Jake Sullivan an appreciative email, telling him what good work he was doing. And of course, there was the media's never-ending fax-machine coverage, detailing the trivial back-and-forth between Clinton and her aide as they struggled to get a piece of office equipment to work.
So since March, we've gone from breathless claims that Clinton's emails might end her presidential hopes, to reporting about how Clinton's emails revealed she was flummoxed by the office fax machine.
In other words, the story has traveled from scandal to farce in just four months' time.