NY Times Walks Back Flimsy Report On Probe Into Clinton's Email

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.

UPDATE: The Times issued a correction to their faulty report on the afternoon of July 24, explaining that Clinton was not personally the subject of the referral to investigate. The correction did not, however, note the clarification from a Justice Department official that the referral was not criminal in nature, which further contradicts the Times' account. The correction stated:

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.

 As of posting, the Times article still appears to falsely characterize the referral as “criminal.”

NY Times Report Initially Casts Clinton As Target Of Requested Criminal Probe

NY Times Reports Clinton Is Target Of Criminal Probe Into Personal Email Use. On July 23 The New York Times published a report headlined “Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use Of Email” which reported that two inspectors general are seeking a criminal investigation into Clinton's use of personal email while at the State Department, according to anonymous “senior government officials”:

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. [NewsDiff.org, 7/23/15]

Times Makes Major Change To Report, Walking Back Accusation Against Clinton With No Acknowledgement Of Correction

NY Times Alters Report To Remove Claim That Clinton Is Target Of Criminal Probe. After publication, the Times changed their report to remove the statement that Clinton is the target of the requested criminal probe, offering no notification or explanation for the alteration. The new report said:

Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal 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 updated report is currently headlined “Criminal Inquiry Is Sought In Clinton Email Account.” [The New York Times, 7/23/15]

Times Denies “Factual Error,” Says They Will Not Issue Correction. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple reported:

One of the story's reporters, Michael Schmidt, told Politico, “It was a response to complaints we received from the Clinton camp that we thought were reasonable, and we made them.”

In an e-mail to the Erik Wemple Blog, New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy notes, “As often happens, editors continued to revise this story after initial publication to make it as clear and precise as possible. There was no factual error, so there was no reason for a correction.” [The Washington Post, 7/24/15]

U.S. Official Subsequently Told Associated Press That The Possible Probe “Doesn't Suggest Wrongdoing By Clinton”

AP: U.S. Official Said That Request Of DOJ “Doesn't Suggest Wrongdoing By Clinton Herself.” The Associated Press quoted an anonymous U.S. official who noted that the referral did not implicate Clinton in any wrongdoing:

The New York Times first reported the referral. The Clinton campaign said Friday that she “followed appropriate practices in dealing with classified materials.” Spokesman Nick Merrill said emails deemed classified by the administration were done so after the fact, not when they were sent.

One U.S. official said it was unclear whether classified information was mishandled and the referral doesn't suggest wrongdoing by Clinton herself. [Associated Press, 7/24/15]

Rep. Cummings: State Department IG Says He Has Not Requested A Criminal Investigation

Senior Democrat On Benghazi Committee: State IG Said "He Never Asked The Justice Department To Launch A Criminal Investigation. The Hill reported July 24:

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is rebutting reports that the State Department has formally requested federal investigators to launch a criminal probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of State.

“I spoke personally to the State Department Inspector General on Thursday, and he said he never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton's email usage,” Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said Friday in a statement.

Instead, Steve Linick, State's Inspector General “told me the Intelligence Community IG notified the Justice Department and Congress that they identified classified information in a few emails that were part of the [Freedom of Information Act] review, and that none of those emails had been previously marked as classified.” [The Hill, 7/24/15]

Neither Version Of Times Article Identifies The Inspectors General Reportedly Seeking Probe. While the Times reports that “The request follows an assessment in a June 29 memo by the inspectors general for the State Department and the intelligence agencies that Mrs. Clinton's private account contained ”hundreds of potentially classified emails," it does not specifically name which inspectors general their anonymous sources claim have requested a criminal probe. [The New York Times, 7/23/15]

Wash. Post, The Hill Ran With Initial Misleading Times Report

The Hill: DOJ “Has Been Asked To Open A Criminal Investigation Into Hillary Clinton's Use Of A Private Email Server” As Secretary Of State. From The Hill's July 23 article:

The Justice Depar[t]ment has been asked to open a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server during her time as secretary of State, the New York Times reported late Thursday.

The request by two inspectors general follows a June 29 memo to State Department Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick F. Kennedy that found Clinton's email server held “hundreds of potentially classified emails.” [The Hill, 7/23/15]

The Washington Post: DOJ Has Been Asked To “Launch A Criminal Investigation Into Whether Hillary Clinton Mishandled Sensitive Information Through Her Private E-Mail Account.” From The Washington Post's July 24 article:

Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled sensitive information through her private e-mail account, according to the New York Times.

The Times, citing unnamed “senior government officials,” said Thursday night that the requests had come from the inspectors general for the State Department and intelligence agencies. They concluded that Clinton's private account contained “hundreds of potentially classified emails,” according to the Times. [The Washington Post, 7/24/15]

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

The New York 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 Matters, 3/13/15]

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 Matters, 3/10/15]

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 Matters, 3/12/15]

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 Matters, 7/6/15]