New York Times' Washington Bureau Shake-Up Follows Years Of Shoddy Clinton Reporting
Research ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY
The New York Times announced that current Washington Bureau Chief Carolyn Ryan was stepping down to become a political editor, and would be replaced by Washington Editor Elisabeth Bumiller. Ryan was bureau chief for less than two years, and during that time the paper published a series of flimsy and often inaccurate reports about presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, causing other media figures and their own public editor to heavily criticize the paper.
Carolyn Ryan Steps Down As DC Bureau Chief After Less Than Two Years In Role
Politico: Ryan's New Role Will Focus Entirely On 2016 Coverage. Politico's Dylan Byers reported that Ryan would step down and focus on her role as political editor for the 2016 presidential campaign:
New York Times Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan will step down and be replaced by current Washington Editor Elisabeth Bumiller, the Times said on Tuesday.
The change, which was announced by executive editor Dean Baquet, reflects the longstanding editorial arrangement that existed in everything but name, several Times sources said. Bumiller had served as the de facto bureau chief while Ryan, who also serves as political editor, had focused on the paper's 2016 coverage.
Ryan leaves the bureau chief role less than two years after replacing David Leonhardt, a Pulitzer Prize-winning economic columnist who now heads the Times' 'Upshot' column.
The new assignments will match that division of labor: Ryan "will now focus all of her attention on the campaign," Baquet wrote in his memo. "Her appointment as a senior editor for politics is a testament to the remarkable job she has done running coverage as the campaign evolved into the story of more than 20 candidates, and billions of dollars." [Politico, 9/8/15]
Last Two Years Of Times Politics Coverage Featured Series Of Errors
THE CLINTON EMAILS: NON-EXISTENT FEDERAL LAWS AND A NON-EXISTENT CRIMINAL PROBE
Times Quietly Walked Back Initial Email Reporting, Which Falsely Claimed Private Email Use "Violated" Federal Law. In its initial report on Clinton's email, the Times accused Clinton of possibly having "violated federal requirements" with her use of personal email for official government business during her time at the department, specifically citing the Federal Records Act. But they subsequently published a report explaining that oversight of email guidelines had been "vague" at the time Clinton worked at the State Department, and that "there has never been any legal prohibition" against private email use. [Media Matters, 3/13/15]
Times Issued Two Corrections On Heavily-Criticized Story Falsely Claiming Clinton Is Subject Of "Criminal Probe." On July 23, the Times published a story that falsely claimed that two inspectors general had requested a criminal investigation by the Justice Department into Clinton's use of email during her tenure as secretary of state. In reality, the probe was not criminal and was not focused on Clinton personally. The Times, which issued two separate corrections, came under widespread public criticism and was strongly reproached by its public editor. [Media Matters, 7/31/15; Media Matters, 7/24/15]
Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan: Clinton "Criminal Probe" Story Had "Major Journalistic Problems" That Damaged The Paper's Reputation. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan published a column examining the problems with the Times' error-riddled story about Hillary Clinton's emails. Sullivan strongly criticized the paper for running a "sensational" story before it was ready and for not being transparent with readers about revising it. After speaking to reporters and editors at the Times who worked on the story, Sullivan concluded, "There are at least two major journalistic problems here, in my view. Competitive pressure and the desire for a scoop led to too much speed and not enough caution." [Media Matters, 7/27/15]
THE "EXCLUSIVE" WITH AN ERROR-RIDDLED BOOK
Times Made An Exclusive Agreement With Conservative Author Peter Schweizer For Portions Of His Error-Riddled Book. Politico reported in April 2015 that "The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have made exclusive agreements with a conservative author for early access to his opposition research on Hillary Clinton ... to pursue some of the material included in his book, which seeks to draw connections between Clinton Foundation donations and speaking fees and Hillary Clinton's actions as secretary of state." This agreement for the Times resulted in a piece that uncritically hyped Schweizer's evidence-free suggestion that Clinton changed U.S. policy while secretary based on donations to the Clinton Foundation. [Politico, 4/20/15; New York Times, 4/19/15; Media Matters, 4/23/15]
Schweizer's Clinton Cash Contained More Than 20 Errors, And Multiple Other Media Orgs -- But Not the Times -- Documented The Factual Inaccuracies. Media Matters' review of Schweizer's Clinton Cash found that it was shoddily researched, featuring over 20 errors, fabrications, and distortions. Multiple media organizations, including Politico, BuzzFeed, ABC News, FactCheck.org, and Time detailed factual shortcomings in the book. Time noted that a central claim was "based on little evidence," and even Fox News' Chris Wallace told Schweizer he didn't "have a single piece of evidence" to support one of his claims about Hillary Clinton. [Media Matters, 4/30/15; Media Matters, 5/1/15]
Multiple Media Figures And The Times' Public Editor Called Out The Times' Coverage
Public Editor Agrees With Concerns That The Paper Has An "Unfairly Critical Edge" When Reporting On Clinton. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan agreed with concerns that the paper subjects Clinton to tougher scrutiny than other 2016 contenders, and promised to evaluate the Times' future coverage of Clinton for fairness (emphasis added):
My post quickly generated more than a thousand reader comments (a record), many of which had the same complaint: The reporting on Mrs. Clinton from such a dominant news source has an unfairly critical edge.
I agree with this sentiment from a reader, Evan Hannay, who is troubled by some of the Clinton coverage: "Hillary deserves tough questions when they are warranted. But it is undeniable that she is already facing significantly tougher coverage than any other potential candidate." He thinks The Times should make "a promise to readers going forward that Hillary is not going to be treated unfairly as she so often is by the media."
Last Thursday, I handed Mr. Baquet a printed copy of Mr. Hannay's email and asked him to address it.
To that end, he told me that he has urged reporters and editors to focus anew on issues stories. And he pledged fairness. "I'm happy to make a promise that she'll be treated fairly," he said, though he added, "If you look at our body of work, I don't believe we have been unfair." One testament to that, he said, was an investigative piece written by David Kirkpatrick shortly after the 2012 Benghazi attacks, with conclusions seen as favorable for Mrs. Clinton, who was then secretary of state. It came under heavy attack from the right.
But the Times's "screw-up," as Mr. Baquet called it, reinforces the need for reporters and their editors to be "doubly vigilant and doubly cautious."
Times readers (and on their behalf, I, too) will be watching and evaluating that over the next months. No one should expect a free ride for Mrs. Clinton. But she certainly deserves a fair shake. [New York Times, 8/1/15, via Media Matters]
NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen: "It's Fair To Say The Times Has A Problem Covering Hillary Clinton." On Twitter, Rosen wrote after the email story unraveled: "I have resisted this conclusion over the years, but after today's events it's fair to say the Times has a problem covering Hillary Clinton." [Twitter.com, 7/24/15, via Media Matters]
Former Times Reporter Eichenwald: NY Times Committed "Journalistic Sin" In Clinton Emails Story. Writing in Newsweek, former NY Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald heavily critiqued the paper for its "recklessness" in trying to create a "Clinton scandal" out of "current bureaucratic processes" related to a FOIA process the former secretary has no part in. As explained by Eichenwald, the memos that the NY Times based its report on "in no way discuss Clinton, her handling of emails or anything approaching those topics":
Yes, there is memo after memo after memo, which the Times gloats were given to it by a senior government official. (For those who have thoughts of late-night meetings in parking garages or the Pentagon Papers, they were unclassified documents. Reporters obtain those kinds of records through the complex, investigative procedure of asking the press office for them.) And all of them are about the exact same thing: the process being used by current FOIA officials reviewing the emails of a former official is messed up. That's like criticizing the former owner of a car for the work conducted by the new owner's mechanic.
So what was the point of the memo written by Linick and McCullough? The memo itself is very clear: "The Department should ensure that no classified documents are publically released."
In terms of journalism, this is terrible. That the Times article never discloses this is about an after-the-fact review of Clinton's emails conducted long after she left the State Department is simply inexcusable. That this all comes from a concern about the accidental release of classified information--a fact that goes unmentioned--is even worse. In other words, the Times has twisted and turned in a way that makes this story seem like something it most decidedly is not. This is no Clinton scandal. It is no scandal at all. It is about current bureaucratic processes, probably the biggest snooze-fest in all of journalism.
The heavy breathing of deception or incompetence by the Times doesn't stop there. In fact, almost every paragraph at the top of the story is wrong, misleading or fundamentally deceptive.
[A]gain, what those memos are actually discussing is the way that the FOIA office is handling its review of the former secretary of state's emails for public release. They in no way discuss Clinton, her handling of emails or anything approaching those topics. [Newsweek, 7/24/15]