How NY Times Kicked Off A Revival Of The Benghazi Witch Hunt

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

The New York Times kicked off a pseudo-scandal over Hillary Clinton's use of a non-government email while serving as secretary of state, a manufactured controversy straight out of the GOP's Benghazi witch hunt. While the Times dug in its heels despite significant shortcomings in its reporting, the media piled on with innuendo and reckless speculation that is now being cited by Republicans to justify superfluous Benghazi investigations.

NY Times Kicked Off Pseudo-Scandal With Flawed Report On Hillary Clinton's Email Use

NY Times Botches Initial Report And Insinuates 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" through her use of a non-government email address while serving as secretary of state. [The New York Times3/2/15]

Media Scandalize Email Story With Innuendo And Reckless Speculation. Broadcast, print, cable, and online media outlets overreacted to the Times story with near wall-to-wall coverage laden with innuendo and speculation, saying the Times story "raises questions" and feeds into an existing "narrative" and created a "potential political problem." None of these reports cited an independent legal authority to verify the insinuation that Clinton broke the law. [Media Matters3/3/15]

Reporting Fell Apart Almost Immediately

Key Source Undercuts Central Claim. After publication, the Times' key witness, a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, said that Clinton did not "violate" the law. [CNN political producer Dan Merica, 3/3/15, via Twitter]

Media Matters Points Out Sloppy Reporting And Calls For "Prominent Correction." Calling for the Times to issue a "prominent correction" to its story, Media Matters documented serious shortcomings in the Times initial reporting, including the fact that the paper was forced to clarify Clinton's motivation for submitting her emails to the State Department, the fact that readers were left in the dark to the reality that no secretary of state prior to John Kerry used a government-sponsored email, the fact that the law concerning email maintenance was so ambiguous that legislation to update it was passed -- 18 months after Clinton left office, and the Times' decision to selectively quote a Clinton spokesman. ["An Open Letter to The New York Times," David Brock, 3/3/15]

Clinton's Emails Were Provided As State Dept. Updated Its Recordkeeping Following Update Of Records Law 

State Department: Clinton Submitted Emails In Line With Department Process Of Updating Records. In the daily press briefing, State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harfexplained that Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of documents as part of the State Department's "process of updating our records management" and emphasized that Clinton is the only former secretary of state to have done so. From Harf's briefing:

HARF: When in the process of updating our records management - this is something that's sort of ongoing given technology and the changes - we reached out to all of the former secretaries of state to ask them to provide any records they had. Secretary Clinton sent back 55,000 pages of documents to the State Department very shortly after we sent the letter to her. She was the only former Secretary of State who sent documents back in to this request. These 55,000 pages covered her time, the breadth of her time at the State Department. [State Department Daily Press Briefing, 3/3/15]

White House: Obama Signed Law "Clarifying The Guidelines" For Federal Records After Clinton Left Office. Asked about Clinton's emails during the daily press briefing, White HousePress Secretary Josh Earnest explained that it was after the federal records law was clarified last year -- 18 months after Clinton left office -- that the State Department began its process of updating its records. From Earnest's press briefing:

EARNEST: In fact, the President signed into law a bill at the end of last year clarifying the guidelines for how those personal emails can be properly stored and maintained.  This is part of why the State Department has asked all of the previous Secretaries of State who have used any email as they were conducting official U.S. business to send their emails to the State Department so they could be properly preserved and maintained. [White House Press Briefing, 3/3/15]

But NY Times Doubled Down And Defended Sloppy Reporting

NY Times Digs In In Defense Of Shoddy Reporting. In an email to Media Matters, a Times representative said they "stand by the story" and directed Media Matters to a 2009 rule from the National Archives and Records Administration that they claim was violated by Clinton's use of a non-government email. The Times representative did not explain why that information was not included in the paper's initial report, an after-the-fact claim that only further illustrates that the initial reporting was sloppy. [Media Matters3/4/15]

Flawed Reporting Coincided With GOP Fixation On Emails As Part Of Benghazi Witch Hunt

NY Times Story Came Days After GOP Asked State Department For Clinton Emails. The Times' sudden interest in the email domain Hillary Clinton used came just days after Republicans on the special select committee investigating Benghazi asked the State Department for the former secretary's emails as part of its witch hunt. In a March 4 interview on Fox News, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), head of the select committee, said, "It was only last week that we discovered they can't produce the -- all of her emails to us because they don't have all of her emails." [Fox News, On The Record, 3/4/15, via Nexis]

Even Though GOP Has Long Known About Clinton's Use Of Non-Government Email. Republicans in Congress have "known since last summer that Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic Party's 2016 nomination, used personal email addresses while serving as secretary," Politico noted. [Politico3/3/15]

GOP Uses Email Story To Justify Continued Benghazi Witch Hunt. Politico also explained how the day after the Times story was published, Gowdy  "told reporters on Tuesday that lawyers for the Benghazi Committee would be issuing the new requests -- which he didn't rule out could come in the form of subpoenas -- to Clinton and her email providers in the coming weeks." [Politico3/3/15]

Meanwhile, Clinton Has Called On State To Review And Release Emails Publicly

Clinton Called On State To Release Emails. On March 4, Clinton called on the State Department to review and release her emails, posting on her Twitter account: "I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible." [Hillary Clinton, 3/4/15, via Twitter]

State Department Is Reviewing Clinton Emails For Public Release. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the State Department is "now in the process of appropriately reviewing [Clinton's emails] for public release, as we do for any document for public release." [Secretary of State Press Availability, 3/5/15]

State Department Reportedly Had 90 Percent Of The Emails Already. A Clinton aide told The Daily Beast that "9 out of 10 emails that she sent over the course of her tenure went to the State Department," so that "State had it in their servers already." The aide further said that the 55,000 pages of emails already in State's possession represent the entirety of Clinton's work-related email sent during her tenure. [The Daily Beast, 3/3/15]

AP, Wash. Post Join NY Times In Publishing And Then Updating Sloppy Reports

AP Botches Its Story On Email Server. On March 4, the Associated Press reported that the server used for Clinton's email account "traced back to an Internet service registered to her family's home in Chappaqua, New York." AP reported that this was a "highly unusual practice." One day later, AP reported: "It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton's home computer server was run." [Associated Press, 3/4/153/5/15]

Wash. Post Forced To Clarify Report On Emails After It Was Published. On March 6, The Washington Post had to issue a clarification to a story in order "to clarify the State Department's explanation" for reviewing Clinton's email. The initial write-up insinuated that the Department was reviewing Clinton's email to determine whether her use of a non-government email account "violated policies designed to protect sensitive information." The updated language made clear that the motivation for reviewing Clinton's email was "to determine whether they can be released to the public." [The Washington Post, 3/6/15] [The Washington Post3/6/15]

CNN Debunked The "Clear-Cut" Narrative

Politico Asserted That Clinton "Violated 'Clear-Cut' State Department Rules. Politico reported, "The State Department has had a policy in place since 2005 to warn officials against routine use of personal email accounts for government work, a regulation in force during Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state that appears to be at odds with her reliance on a private email for agency business, POLITICO has learned." [Politico3/5/15]

CNN: 2005 Guidelines Were "Filled With Exemptions That Could Allow Clinton To Use A Private Account." According to CNN, citing a State Department source, "Clinton was not automatically in violation of State Department policy when she exclusively used a private email during her four years as America's top diplomat." CNN reported that 2005 guidelines insisting that employees use government-provided email "were filled with exemptions that could allow Clinton to use a private account."[CNN.com, 3/6/15]

Posted In
Cabinet & Agencies
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Associated Press
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