A Timeline Of The AP’s Flawed Clinton Foundation Reporting
Research ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & OLIVER WILLIS
The Associated Press has been criticized for an August 23 report and tweet that claimed more than half of the people outside government that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton met with while secretary of state gave to the Clinton Foundation. Some media figures claimed the report was “arguably misleading” and “took some interesting information they gathered and spun it into something it wasn’t,” and there was “near unanimous agreement” among journalists that the AP’s tweet was incorrect. Despite criticism and AP’s own admission that the tweet was “sloppy,” the AP has stood by the report and refused to take down the tweet.
August 23: The Associated Press Reports That “Many Donors To Clinton Foundation Met With Her At State, And Inaccurately Tweets That More Than Half Of Clinton’s Meetings Were With Foundation Donors
AP: “More Than Half The People Outside The Government Who Met With Hillary Clinton While She Was Secretary Of State Gave Money … To The Clinton Foundation.” According to The Associated Press, “More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money - either personally or through companies or groups - to the Clinton Foundation.” The AP wrote that the number is “an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.” From the August 23 report:
More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money - either personally or through companies or groups - to the Clinton Foundation. It's an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.
At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.
The findings represent the first systematic effort to calculate the scope of the intersecting interests of Clinton Foundation donors and people who met personally with Clinton or spoke to her by phone about their needs.
Clinton's campaign said the analysis was flawed because it did not include in its calculations meetings with foreign diplomats or U.S. government officials, and the meetings examined covered only the first half of Clinton's tenure as secretary of state. [The Associated Press, 8/23/16]
AP Tweet Misleadingly Claims That “More Than Half Those Who Met Clinton As Cabinet Secretary Gave Money To Clinton Foundation.”
August 24: Some Media Call The AP Report A “Bombshell” While Noting No Ethical Breach As Others Criticize The Report As Flawed And The Tweet As “Misleading”
Media Scandalized “Optics” In The AP Report, While Admitting There Was No Evidence Of Ethics Breaches. Multiple media figures claimed the AP report was a significant finding, while at the same time noting there was no clear law or rules that were violated. CBS anchor Anthony Mason noted that “there is no proven quid pro quo here,” but said that “the optics are disturbing.” CNN political analyst Josh Rogin noted, “it doesn't even technically break the rules that Clinton and the Clinton Foundation agreed to” but “85 is still a big number” and “it looks bad.” Fox anchor Eric Bolling falsely called it “evidence of pay-to-play deals between the Clinton Foundation and Hillary's State Department,” while co-host Juan Williams pointed out “you don't have a thing” in terms of actual evidence of wrongdoing. [Media Matters, 8/24/16]
Others In Media Point Out Flaws In AP’s Report. Some media figures criticized the AP report as misleading. MSNBC contributor Steve Benen wrote that “there are no real allegations of wrongdoing here” and that the “assorted details that seem kinda sorta wrong” create “something that resembles a ‘controversy,’ even if the evidence is vague and unpersuasive.” Washington Monthly contributor Nancy LeTourneau argued that the AP report “has just shown us why it is important to be vigilant in how we consume the news as it is reported” because it “took some interesting information they gathered and spun it into something it wasn’t…scandalous.” Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote that the AP “did not come up with anything” and that “There’s just nothing here. That’s the story.” Yglesias added that “The real news here ought to be just the opposite: Donors to the Clinton Foundation may believe they are buying Hillary Clinton’s political allegiance, but the reality is that they are not.” [Media Matters, 8/24/16]
Wash. Post’s Erik Wemple: AP Tweet Is “Tendentious And Misleading.” Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple wrote that the AP’s tweet that “more than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation” was “tendentious and misleading” and a “lamentable hyping on social media” because the count in the report “doesn’t include anyone in the U.S. federal government or representatives of foreign governments.” From the August 24 article:
Holy Moly! So more than half of all the people that huddled with Clinton were donors to her family’s foundation? Grab the can of damage-control spray!
Or maybe not. Click through to the actual article and a key qualifier rears its head. The count doesn’t include anyone in the U.S. federal government or representatives of foreign governments. In other words, most of the people with whom Clinton met as secretary of state. The analysis drilled in on “154 people from private interests” who chatted by phone or met with Clinton in person. Eighty-five of them “donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs,” for a total of “as much as $156 million.”
Those numbers represent the fruit of worthwhile investigation; we ought to know everything about the overlaps between Clinton’s work as secretary of state and the operations of the Clinton Foundation. Yet the tweet promoting the story, which has more than 10,000 retweets and likes combined, is tendentious and misleading. A lamentable hyping on social media. [The Washington Post, 8/24/16]
August 24: AP Defends Its Report As Clinton Campaign Calls For A Correction To The Tweet
Clinton Campaign Calls For Correction To AP’s Tweet. Clinton’s campaign told Wemple that it had “formally requested that AP remove or amend” its tweet, adding that it “seems pretty egregious to knowingly allow a falsehood to remain posted under AP’s banner.” [The Washington Post, 8/24/16]
AP Releases Statement Defending The Report. In a statement, The Associated Press defended its report, claiming it “has been transparent in how it has reported this story” and focused on “Mrs. Clinton’s meetings and calls involving those people outside her duties as secretary of state whom she chose to include in her busy schedule.” From the August 24 statement:
The Associated Press’ reporting relied on publicly available data provided by the State Department about Hillary Clinton’s meetings, phone calls and emails, cross-referenced against donor information provided by the Clinton Foundation and its related charities on its websites.
As AP wrote, our reporting was based on Mrs. Clinton’s calendars covering the entirety of her tenure as secretary of state and on more detailed schedules of meetings and phone calls covering roughly half that period. AP first requested Mrs. Clinton’s calendars and schedules in 2010 and again in 2013 but was unsuccessful. AP then sued the State Department in federal court to obtain the schedules it has received so far. AP expects to receive the remaining files before Election Day and will continue to examine them and report on their contents.
AP has been transparent in how it has reported this story. It focused on Mrs. Clinton’s meetings and calls involving people outside government who were not federal employees or foreign diplomats, because meeting with U.S. or foreign government officials would inherently have been part of her job as secretary of state.
We focused on Mrs. Clinton’s meetings and calls involving those people outside her duties as secretary of state whom she chose to include in her busy schedule.
This reporting was done by the same AP investigative team that discovered Mrs. Clinton’s private email server and traced it to her basement in Chappaqua, New York, and whose reporting last week resulted in the resignation of Donald Trump’s top campaign strategist. AP has been examining issues facing the presidential candidates and will continue to do so. [The Associated Press, 8/24/16]
August 26: CNN Reports “Near Unanimous Agreement” Among Journalists That AP Tweet Is False
CNN: AP Is Defending The Story And Tweet “Despite Near Unanimous Agreement Among Other Journalists That The Tweet, At Least, Was False.” CNN senior media reporter Dylan Byers wrote that the AP’s tweet was “inaccurate” and that the report was “arguably misleading.” Byers noted that the AP refused to take down the tweet “despite near unanimous agreement among other journalists that the tweet, at least, was false.” From the August 26 article:
Hillary Clinton is surrounded by suggestions of controversy. Terms like "Clinton Foundation," "email server," and "Benghazi" hover around her like a faint smoke that hints at the existence of fire.
But finding the fire -- the lie, the misdeed, the unethical act -- is proving to be rather difficult, as evidenced this week by an inaccurate tweet and arguably misleading story from the Associated Press that were quickly rebutted by the Clinton campaign and dismissed by many media outlets.
Three days later, the Associated Press is still standing by its story and has yet to correct its tweet, despite near unanimous agreement among other journalists that the tweet, at least, was false.
"The AP's social-media take on the story was seriously flawed," David Boardman, the Dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University and former editor of the Seattle Times, told CNNMoney. "It's sloppy, click-grabbing shorthand that is a disservice to the reporting to which it refers." [CNN.com, 8/26/16]
August 28: AP Executive Editor Concedes AP Tweet Was “Sloppy,” But Refuses To Take It Down
AP Executive Editor: Tweet Was “Sloppy” And “Could Have Used … More Precision.” The AP’s executive editor editor, Kathleen Carroll, told CNN anchor Brian Stelter that the tweet was “sloppy” and “could have used some more precision,” but refused to say it should be taken down. Stelter told Carroll the tweet was “wrong,” explaining, “Sometimes a story can leave a misleading impression with people though, even if the story isn’t exactly false, right? By focusing so heavily on something, you give the impression that there’s a fire there, when really there’s only smoke.” From the August 28 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources:
BRIAN STELTER (HOST): Now the story was scrutinized, but this tweet was especially scrutinized. Really widely criticized. It said: “Breaking, AP analysis: More than half of those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation.” There’s no link to a story there. And the tweet, I would say, is inaccurate. The Clinton campaign and several other media outlets have scrutinized the tweet, they’ve said it was wrong, and then there’s wider questions about why the AP published the story at all. They conducted a long investigation, did they just want to show they had done the work? Did they just want to show that they had found something, even if it didn't amount to much?
STELTER: Really one of the things that was scrutinized the most was that tweet, let’s put it back on screen if we can. It suggested that half of the people Clinton met overall during her State Department time were donors to the Clinton Foundation. Would you agree that tweet was inaccurate?
KATHLEEN CARROLL: I would say that we’re a lot better at breaking stories and covering news and gathering video and taking photographs than we are on tweets on some day and this one could have used some more precision.
STELTER: Does that mean regret?
CARROLL: No. If we felt it was wrong we would have taken it down right away.
STELTER: But it was wrong. It says that half of the people she met with were donors.
CARROLL: Yeah. I think it was sloppy.
STELTER: Why not delete it? Why not take it down and correct it?
CARROLL: Well, you know maybe going forward we would need to work more on our precision on the tweets.
STELTER: Sometimes a story can leave a misleading impression with people though, even if the story isn’t exactly false, right? By focusing so heavily on something, you give the impression that there’s a fire there, when really there’s only smoke. [CNN, Reliable Sources, 8/28/16]
August 29: Wash. Post’s Wemple Slams AP Editor For Refusing To Correct “Patently Wrong” Tweet
Wemple: AP “Deserves No Credit For The False Tweet” It Refuses To Correct. On August 29, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple slammed AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll for refusing on CNN’s Reliable Sources to take down the false tweet promoting the AP’s story. Wemple stated that “There can be no dispute about the tweet. It is wrong, prima facie wrong. Clearly wrong. Patently wrong. Simply wrong,” adding that “the permanence of the tweet continues to stand as a monument to mainstream media bullheadedness”:
The Associated Press deserves credit for fighting for six-and-a-half years to get the records of Hillary Clinton’s schedules when she served as secretary of state. The AP also deserves credit for analyzing that information and putting it alongside the database of donors to the Clinton Foundation, the better to sniff out any conflicts of interest. The AP, however, deserves no credit for the false tweet that it used to promote the resulting story, which covered her first two years in office.
Bolding added to highlight a mind-boggling statement. There can be no dispute about the tweet. It is wrong, prima facie wrong. Clearly wrong. Patently wrong. Simply wrong. Had AP deleted it and published a follow-up tweet amending the record, we could move on to discussing the organization’s dogged work in digging up documents. Instead, the permanence of the tweet continues to stand as a monument to mainstream media bullheadedness. [The Washington Post, 8/29/16]