The “Missing Hillary Emails” Story The Daily Beast Walked Back

The Daily Beast has walked back its initial attempt to scandalize a “conspicuous two-month gap” in emails released by the State Department from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state, suggesting the gap indicates a tranche of “missing Hillary emails” about the Benghazi attacks. The site has updated its article to note that Clinton and her aides could have used other methods to communicate during that period, completely undermining the story's original implication.

Daily Beast Revises Story To Explain “The Missing Hillary Emails No One Can Explain”

Original Daily Beast: “Conspicuous Two-Month Gap” In Clinton Benghazi Emails. On July 28, The Daily Beast published an article with the headline “The Missing Hillary Emails No One Can Explain” and the subheadline, “There is a two-month gap in Hillary Clinton's emails that coincides with violence in Libya and the employment status of a top Clinton aide, Huma Abedin.” The first two paragraphs of the story stated:

Among the approximately 2,000 emails that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has released from her private account, there is a conspicuous two-month gap. There are no emails between Clinton and her State Department staff during May and June 2012, a period of escalating violence in Libya leading up to the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead.

A State Department spokesman told The Daily Beast that for the year 2012, only those emails related to the security of the consulate or to the U.S. diplomatic presence in Libya were made public and turned over to a House committee investigating the fatal Benghazi assault. But if that's true, then neither Clinton nor her staff communicated via email about the escalating dangers in Libya. There were three attacks during that two-month period, including one that targeted the consulate. [The Daily Beast original version, 7/28/15]

Revised Daily Beast: “Of Course” Email Isn't “Preferred” Way State Department Makes Such Communications. The Daily Beast has since updated their story to note that “email isn't the only or even the preferred way State Department officials communicate about sensitive issues.” They also changed the subheadline to: “Two very different groups are trying to track down months' worth of Clinton emails. One wants to know about her reaction to Libyan violence; the other, about her aide Huma Abedin.” The first two paragraphs of the story now read (emphasis added):

Among the hundreds of emails released by the State Department from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private account, there is a conspicuous two-month gap. So far, there are no emails between Clinton and her State Department staff during May and June 2012, a period of escalating violence in Libya leading up to the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead.

A State Department spokesman told The Daily Beast that for the year 2012, only those emails related to the security of the consulate or to the U.S. diplomatic presence in Libya were made public and turned over to a House committee investigating the fatal Benghazi assault. But if that's true, then neither Clinton nor her staff communicated via email about the escalating dangers in Libya during those two crucial months. There were three attacks during that two-month period, including one that targeted the consulate. (Of course, email isn't the only or even the preferred way State Department officials communicate about sensitive issues--especially if one of those officials is using a private server ill equipped to handle classified information.) [The Daily Beast, 7/28/15]

Clinton Staffers Have Explained That Email Wasn't Clinton's Preferred Or Exclusive Method Of Communication

Clinton Aide: She Rarely Used Email -- It Wasn't A Good Way To Get Her Attention. As the Daily Beast update makes clear, the reason there are no emails about “escalating dangers in Libya during those crucial months” could be because email wasn't the method used to discuss such information. Indeed, Bloomberg Politics reported on March 3 that a former State Department official said that he generally communicated with Clinton in person or by phone and that email “wasn't the best way to get Clinton's attention” :

One former State Department official who worked for Clinton told Bloomberg Politics he did not find the practice unusual, given how little Clinton actually used e-mail. Most of the time, the former official said, his interactions with Clinton and across the department were either face to face or over phone.

When he did get an e-mail from Clinton, the former official said, it was generally a directive and his response usually came on paper or in person the next time they saw each other. When Clinton was traveling, the former official said, he generally conveyed messages to Clinton through a core group of four senior aides-Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, Huma Abedin, and Philippe Reines.

E-mail, the former official added, also wasn't the best way to get Clinton's attention, since she couldn't bring her BlackBerry into diplomatic meetings at home or abroad, or into the White House situation room, because of security reasons. Even when sitting at a computer, an official e-mail address would have been a clunky way for Clinton to communicate, since many aides would have had to been copied and responses would have piled up quickly, filling her inbox. [Bloomberg Politics, 3/3/15]

Clinton Campaign: She Consumed Classified Information Through “Separate, Closed” State System And Via “Hard Copy.”  Another possible explanation for the gap is that the communications detailing the Libyan situation were classified. According to the Clinton campaign, such information would be consumed through a separate State Department system or in hard copy:

Clinton only used her account for unclassified email. A separate, closed system was used by the State Department for the purpose of handling classified communications, which was designed to prevent such information from being transmitted anywhere other than within that system. 

[...]

The Secretary's office was located in a secure area. Classified information was viewed in hard copy by Clinton while in the office. While on travel, the State Department had rigorous protocols for her and traveling staff to receive and transmit information of all types. [HillaryClinton.com, accessed 7/29/15]

Daily Beast Also Walked Back Suggestion That Emails About Clinton Aide's Exemption Are Missing

Original Daily Beast: Two-Month Email Gap “Also Coincides” With Clinton Aide Huma Abedin Getting “Special Exemption.”  In its original version, The Daily Beast reported: 

That two-month period also coincides with a senior Clinton aide obtaining a special exemption that allowed her to work both as a staff member to the secretary and in a private capacity for Clinton and her husband's foundation.  The Associated Press has sued to obtain emails from Clinton's account about the aide, Huma Abedin. [The Daily Beast original version,7/28/15] (Included link to screenshot of original again)

Revised Daily Beast: Abedin Emails Wouldn't Be Included In Released Emails To Benghazi Committee, “Which Asked Only For Libya-Related Material.”  The story has since been updated to note that there would be no reason to expect emails about Abedin to be included in the “two-month gap” because the emails released to the Benghazi committee deal only with “Libya-related material” (emphasis added): 

That two-month period also coincides with a senior Clinton aide obtaining a special exemption that allowed her to work both as a staff member to the secretary and in a private capacity for Clinton and her husband's foundation. The Associated Press has sued to obtain emails from Clinton's account about the aide, Huma Abedin. So far, the State Department has rebuffed those efforts. Nor, understandably, did Foggy Bottom turn over any emails about Abedin's employment status to the Benghazi Committee, which asked only for Libya-related material. [The Daily Beast, 7/28/15]

Daily Beast Issues “Update” Detailing Story Modifications

Update Notes Additions To Story Related To Clinton's Emails And Abedin. The update reads:

UPDATE: This story has been modified to make clear that the State Department -- not the former Secretary of State herself -- is releasing Clinton's emails. The number of emails has been changed from “approximately 2,000” to “hundreds,” to more accurately reflect how many messages from 2012 have been released. The story now also notes that email is hardly the only way that State Department officials communicate. And the piece has been clarified to underscore that emails about Huma Abedin's employment status would not necessarily be in the tranche of messages released to the Benghazi Committee. [The Daily Beast, 7/28/15]

Media Outlets Have Repeatedly Walked Back Flawed Reports Scandalizing Clinton's Email Use

The New York Times Issued Multiple Corrections To False Report That Inspectors General Wanted Criminal Investigation Of Hillary Clinton. On July 23 the Times published a report headlined “Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use Of Email” which reported that two inspectors general were seeking a criminal investigation into Clinton's use of personal email while at the State Department, according to anonymous “senior government officials.”  The paper subsequently issued two corrections, noting that the requested probe was not criminal in nature and it did not target Clinton. [Media Matters7/24/157/25/15]

NY Times Reversed Course After Admitting Insinuation That Clinton Violated Federal Requirements Was “Not Without Fault.”  In a March 2 report, the Times accused Clinton of possibly having “violated federal requirements that officials' correspondence be retained as part of the agency's record” with the use of personal email for official government business during her time at the department. Following criticism, the Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan admitted that this initial report “was not without fault.” In subsequent reporting on Clinton's email use, the paper acknowledged that guidelines on the email use were vague while Clinton was at the State Department, that the requirement for agencies to preserve emails rapidly was not put in place until after Clinton left the State Department, and that there has never been any legal prohibition against the practice of using personal email. [Media Matters3/13/15]

Associated Press Changed Report That Baselessly Hyped A “Mysterious Identity” Linked To Clinton's Email On “Homebrew” Server. On March 3 the Associated Press initially alleged that a “homebrew” email server -- used to transmit Clinton's emails, and registered to her home in New York -- was traced “to a mysterious identity, Eric Hoteham,” noting that the name Eric Hoteham doesn't appear in public records. The subsequently acknowledged that “Hoteham” was an aide to Clinton and considered “one of the family's information technology experts” and that his name was actually spelled Hothem. [Media Matters, 3/10/15]

Politico Clarified Initial Allegation That Clinton Violated “Clear Cut” Email Policy. On March 5, Politico claimed that Clinton's use of a private email account was at odds with a “clear cut” 2005 policy used to “warn officials against routine use of personal email accounts for government work.” But an updated version of the Politico article noted, “After this story was first published, a State Department official acknowledged the 2005 policy but emphasized that it is limited to records containing such sensitive information.” [Media Matters,3/10/15

The Washington Post Significantly Altered Report To Walk Back Insinuation That State Department Was Investigating Whether Clinton Violated Security Policies. A March 6 Washington Post report suggested that the purpose behind a State Department review was to determine whether Clinton's use of a private email account “violated policies designed to protect sensitive information.” But a later version of the article significantly changed the headline and updated language to clarify that the purpose of the State Department's review of Clinton's email was “to determine whether they can be released to the public.” As the Post's Erik Wemple pointed out, while the initial headline “asserts a purpose behind the review,” the second headline “suggests that any such finding would be incidental.” [Media Matters3/10/15

CNN Admitted It Is “Common Practice” To Print Emails For Review After Initial Report Suggested Clinton Printed Emails To Obstruct Review Process. On March 11, CNN published an article noting that Clinton's emails have been submitted for review for public release as printed-out hard copies, rather than electronic documents. The article stated, “By doing it that way, Clinton has made it harder and more expensive for the federal government to quickly review her emails and decide what's OK for the public and what's not.” But the next day, CNN had updated its report after the State Department told CNNMoney that it is standard practice to print emails for review. The revised article noted, "[A] State Department official said that printing emails is common practice because they would have to print Clinton's emails in their normal review process." [Media Matters3/12/15

Politico Corrected Inaccurate Claim That Clinton Pushed Emails With Media Matters Links From Sidney Blumenthal To The White House. Politico published inaccurate information about emails between Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal described to the outlet by an anonymous source who apparently distorted the emails' contents. The June 18 article initially reported that Clinton told Blumenthal she was “pushing” his email containing Media Matters' fact checks of Benghazi smears to the White House. But as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) pointed out, Clinton's email reading “Thanks, I'm pushing to WH” came not in response to Blumenthal's email with the Media Matters links, as Politico indicated, but rather in response to a “completely different” Blumenthal email from nine days earlier. Politico updated its story with a correction the day after publication. [Media Matters7/6/15]