Over the past two days, The New York Times has devoted five of its six above-the-fold articles to FBI director James Comey’s letter to congressional leaders indicating that the Bureau is reviewing additional “emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state. By providing such prominent coverage, the Times has indicated that the letter is news of the highest possible significance -- in spite of the Times’ own reporting that FBI agents have yet to read the emails and determine if they are significant and the letter “did not reopen” the investigation.
In his October 28 letter, Comey wrote that the FBI has “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” while investigating an unrelated case and is taking “appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.” He added that the “FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete.”
The Times, which has both a responsibility as the leading national newspaper to put the story in appropriate context, and a long history of applying excessive and disproportionate scrutiny to news about Bill and Hillary Clinton, led the media’s feeding frenzy.
On Saturday, the entirety of the Times’ front page above the fold was dedicated to three separate articles about Comey’s letter. The lead story declared, “New Emails Jolt Clinton Campaign In Race’s Last Days; FBI Looks at Messages Found During Inquiry.” But as that article noted, it is not clear whether the emails are “new” or duplicates of emails previously reviewed by the FBI; the FBI “had not yet examined” the emails.
The Times has been frequently criticized during this election season for overplaying stories that suggest scandal on the part of Hillary Clinton, including publishing 16 articles on its front page that referenced the Clinton Foundation between July 2015 and September 2016 and botching key reports on Clinton’s email server.