The Washington Post has retracted its anonymously sourced claim that 147 FBI agents are detailed to the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, and is now reporting that the real number is fewer than 50. Media outlets trumpeted the Post's report of the supposedly “staggering” number of FBI agents working the investigation as bad news for Clinton.
On March 27, the Post published a 5,000-word article detailing the FBI's investigation into Clinton's use of a private email and personal Blackberry device during her time as secretary of state. The original story reported: “One hundred forty-seven FBI agents have been deployed to run down leads, according to a lawmaker briefed by FBI Director James B. Comey.”
The Post's claim spread throughout the media, with outlets frequently highlighting the 147 figure in their headlines and some using the report to attack Clinton. National Review termed the figure “a staggering deployment of manpower,” while Breitbart News celebrated the “FBI recently kick[ing] its investigation into high gear.” The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza highlighted the “eye-popping” 147 figure by commenting, “W-H-A-T?”, adding that the reported number of agents seemed “like a ton for a story that Clinton has always insisted was really, at heart, a right-wing Republican creation,” while MSNBC's Joe Scarborough called the number the “worst kept secret in DC for months.” The story was also highlighted in several segments on Fox News.
But the next day, Politico reported that the Post's story might be inaccurate. According to Politico, an official close to the investigation refuted the Post's report, saying that “The FBI does not have close to 150 agents working the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email server” and that the Post's “number is greatly exaggerated.”
The Washington Post issued a correction to both their initial story on March 29, explaining that they incorrectly reported “that 147 FBI agents had been detailed to the investigation” and that multiple U.S. law enforcement officials “have since told The Washington Post that figure is too high” and the actual number of “FBI personnel involved in the case is fewer than 50”:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Clinton used two different email addresses, sometimes interchangeably, as secretary of state. She used only firstname.lastname@example.org as secretary of state. Also, an earlier version of this article reported that 147 FBI agents had been detailed to the investigation, according to a lawmaker briefed by FBI Director James B. Comey. Two U.S. law enforcement officials have since told The Washington Post that figure is too high. The FBI will not provide an exact figure, but the officials say the number of FBI personnel involved is fewer than 50.
Cillizza issued an update to his post, changing his headline but not the text of his piece to reflect the Post's correction and stating, “I apologize for the error.”
The Washington Post joins other media outlets that have been forced to issue embarrassing corrections after publishing faulty claims on Clinton's emails based on anonymous sources. The New York Times issued two corrections on stories claiming Clinton was the subject of a “criminal probe,” based in part on unnamed “Capitol Hill” sources.
The media continues to scandalize Hillary Clinton during the FBI's probe, even though legal experts have repeatedly explained that Clinton is unlikely to face prosecution and have termed an indictment "ridiculous."