Political Editor's Comments Raise Questions About New York Times Clinton Coverage

Carolyn Ryan, political editor for The New York Times made the case for assigning a reporter to cover Hillary Clinton full-time more than three years before the next presidential election by claiming "[w]ith the Clintons ... there is a certain opacity and stagecraft." Ryan's caricature of the Clintons alongside the Times' recent reporting raises significant questions about how they will be covered by the paper.

An August 17 New York Times article from public editor Margaret Sullivan described the “potential benefits and the possible pitfalls” of assigning a reporter to a full-time beat of Hillary Clinton -- someone who “holds no political office and has not said she's running for one” -- more than three years removed from the next presidential election.

From Sullivan's conversation with Times' political editor Carolyn Ryan:

Carolyn Ryan, The Times's political editor, made the case to me for the assignment. Mrs. Clinton, she said, “is the closest thing we have to an incumbent, when we look at 2016.” And getting in early allows The Times to develop sources and get behind the well-honed facade.

“With the Clintons,” she said, “there is a certain opacity and stagecraft and silly coverage elsewhere. Amy can penetrate a lot of that.” She praised Ms. Chozick as a relentless reporter who is “very savvy about power and has a great eye for story.”

Ryan's description of “a certain opacity and stagecraft” surrounding the Clintons, as well as the decision to assign a full-time reporter to Hillary Clinton, raises questions about the publication's coverage of the family. Indeed, the same article addresses this concern when Brendan Nyhan, assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College, said, “a dedicated beat creates the incentive to make news.”

Evidence of Nyhan's concerns can be seen in a flawed report the Times published on August 13 which speculated that The Clinton Foundation was experiencing financial and management issues, questioned the capabilities of senior Foundation employees, and asserted that the Foundation “ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years.” This prompted a letter from former President Bill Clinton where he corrected the record by pointing out several key flaws in the Times' story. Furthermore, Mr. Clinton released an executive summary of a 2011 review of the Foundation by the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett which refutes the Times' assertion of mismanagement. The review states that "[i]nterviewees uniformly praised the effectiveness of the Foundation and its affiliates, noting the enormous amount they have accomplished over a ten-year period."

The flawed Times report was followed on August 17 by columnist Maureen Dowd who used the faulty information to launch an "empty calorie attack" on the Clintons.

Times readers are already experiencing the “pitfalls” of the paper's approach to this subject without the “benefits”, as the drive to make news outstrips verifiable facts and misinforms the public in the process.