How Not To Cover A Scandal: 4 Media Outlets Walking Back Reports In The Clinton Feeding Frenzy

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.”   

The New York Times

NY Times Insinuated That Clinton Broke Law With Use Of Non-Government Email. In a March 2 report, The New York Times insinuated that Hillary Clinton “may have violated federal requirements.” The Times' key source, Jason R. Baron, claimed that Clinton's “exclusive use of her private email, for all of her work, appears unusual,” despite the fact that she “is not the first government official -- or first secretary of state -- to use a personal email account on which to conduct official business.” [The New York Times3/2/15]

The Times' Key Source Undercuts Central Claim, Saying Clinton Didn't Violate The Law. According to CNN's political producer, the Times' key source Baron, a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, said that Clinton did not “violate” the law after the Times article was published. [CNN political producer Dan Merica, 3/3/15, via Twitter]

NY Times Public Editor Admits Original Story “Was Not Without Fault.” The Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan, responded to criticism of the paper's initial reporting stating the story “was not without fault” and “should have been clearer about precisely what regulations might have been violated.” [The New York Times3/8/15]

The Associated Press

AP Reported A “Mysterious Identity” Linked To Clinton Emails On “Homebrew” Server. 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. [Associated Press, 3/4/15]

AP Walks Back “Mysterious Identity” Behind Clinton Email Account, Allegations Of Clinton Running A “Homebrew” Server. Later, the AP shifted from claiming that the server “traced back to an Internet service registered to her family's home in Chappaqua, New York” to stating, “It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton's home computer server was run.” Acknowledging the server was registered to Eric Hoteham, the AP clarified 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. [Associated Press, 3/5/15]

The Washington Post 

Wash. Post Initially Implied State Department Was Reviewing 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.” [The Washington Post3/6/15]

Wash. Post Forced To Clarify The Purpose Behind State's Review.  As the Post's Erik Wemple pointed out, 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.” Wemple added that while the initial headline “asserts a purpose behind the review,” the second headline “suggests that any such finding would be incidental.” [The Washington Post, Erik Wemple Blog, 3/6/15]


Politico Asserted That Clinton's Private Email Violated “Clear Cut” State Department Rules From 2005. 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.” [Politico3/5/15, via Internet archive]

Politico Clarified Limits Of The 2005 Policy, Which Does Not Automatically Apply To Use Of Personal Email. An updated version of the Politico article quoted a State Department official who explained that the 2005 policy “is limited to records containing such sensitive information” and added, “Reports claiming that by using personal email she is automatically out of step of that FAM are inaccurate.” [Politico3/6/15]