Lazy Saturday Reads: Is The New York Times Morphing Into A Scandal Sheet?

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Good Morning!!

Early Friday morning, The New York Times published a story about Hillary Clinton on the front page below the fold. In it reporters Michael Schmitt and Matt Apuzo stated that–according to unnamed government sources–a criminal investigation into emails from Hillary Clinton’s server was in the offing.

The story’s lead soon had to be altered, and in the course of the yesterday, the story fell apart. Dylan Byers reported the changes at Politico at 4:58AM Friday.

New York Times alters Clinton email story.

The New York Times made small but significant changes to an exclusive reportabout a potential criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s State Department email account late Thursday night, but provided no notification of or explanation for of the changes.

The paper initially reported that 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.”

That clause, which cast Clinton as the target of the potential criminal probe, was later changed: the inspectors general now were asking for an inquiry “into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state.”

The Times also changed the headline of the story, from “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email” to “Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account,” reflecting a similar recasting of Clinton’s possible role. The article’s URL was also changed to reflect the new headline.

As of early Friday morning, the Times article contained no update, notification, clarification or correction regarding the changes made to the article.

Whoever it is at the NYT who is making decisions based on Clinton hatred is making a laughing stock of what was once considered “the newspaper of record.”

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Salon: Another shoddy Clinton smear: Anatomy of the New York Times’ epic email screw-up (emphasis added).

Late last night, The New York Times published an anonymously sourced reported, titled ”Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” that claimed two inspectors general asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether the Democratic presidential frontrunner “mishandled” sensitive government information by using a personal email account and server while she was secretary of state. That story quickly fizzled by early Friday morning, with the Justice Department quashing talk of a criminal probe, although a new report claims Clinton sent at least four emails that contained classified intelligence community information from her private server while at the State Department.

 A spokesperson for the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that a review of 40 of the 30,000 emails Clinton has released from her time in office found that four “were classified when they were sent and are classified now.” Clinton had previously claimed she never sent classified emails using her personal server, although the State Department has later acknowledged that some information in the messages should be retroactively classified.

But even that was incorrect, as reported Michael Schmidt had to admit on Hardball With Chris Matthews last night (thanks for Dakinikat for telling me about the MSNBC report. If you watch it, you’ll learn that there never was any criminal investigation and that the emails in question were not even sent by Hillary. They were messages that may have been sent to her that contained information that probably should have been marked classified, but were not so marked.

The best part of the Matthews segment was his interview with Representative Elijah Cummings, who explained why the story is just plain B.S. and not worth the paper it was printed on. Here’s the segment as posted on YouTube.

Back to the Salon story:

The Clinton campaign came out forcefully against the news, much swifter than they had with the initial round of New York Times reporting on the use of Clinton’s email account, with a campaign spokesman railing against “reckless, inaccurate leaks from partisan sources.”  After allegedly receiving complaints on the report’s accuracy from the Clinton campaign, The Times changed the article’s title to ”Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account,”and most crucially, walked back the claim that Clinton herself was the target of the probe. A spokesman for the campaign released a statement on Twitter early this morning blasting the report:

Contrary to the initial story, which has already been significantly revised, she followed appropriate practices in dealing with classified materials. As has been reported on multiple occasions, any released emails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted.”

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Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek: How The New York Times Bungled the Hillary Clinton Emails Story.

What the hell is happening at The New York Times?

In March, the newspaper published a highly touted article about Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account that, as I wrote in an earlier column, was wrong in its major points. The Times’s public editor defended that piece, linking to a lengthy series of regulations that, in fact, proved the allegations contained in the article were false. While there has since been a lot of partisan hullaballoo about “email-bogus-gate”—something to be expected when the story involves a political party’s presidential front-runner—the reality remained that, when it came to this story, there was no there there.

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Then, on Thursday night, the Times dropped a bombshell: Two government inspectors general had made a criminal referral to the Justice Department about Clinton and her handling of the emails. The story was largely impenetrable, because at no point did it offer even a suggestion of what might constitute a crime. By Friday morning, the Times did what is known in the media trade as a “skin back”—the article now said the criminal referral wasn’t about Clinton but about the department’s handling of emails. Still, it conveyed no indication of what possible crime might be involved.

The story seemed to further fall apart on Friday morning when Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued a statement saying that he had spoken to the inspector general of the State Department and that there had been no criminal referral regarding Clinton’s email usage. Rather, Cummings said, the inspectors general for State and the intelligence community had simply notified the Justice Department—which issues the regulations on Freedom of Information Act requests—that some emails subject to FOIA review had been identified as classified when they had not previously been designated that way.

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But Eichenwald says the problems with he story “may” be even worse.

But based on a review of documents from the inspectors general, the problems with the story may be worse than that—much, much worse. The reason my last sentence says may is this: There is a possibility—however unlikely—that theTimes cited documents in its article that have the same dates and the same quotes but are different from the records I have reviewed. I emailed Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor, to ask if there are some other records the paper has and a series of other questions, but received no response. (Full disclosure: I’m a former senior writer for the Times and have worked with Baquet in the past.)

So, in an excess of caution, I’m leaving open the possibility that there are other documents with the same quotes on the same dates simply because the other conclusion—that The New York Times is writing about records its reporters haven’t read or almost willfully didn’t understand—is, for a journalist, simply too horrible to contemplate.

Indeed, if the Times article is based on the same documents I read, then the piece is wrong in all of its implications and in almost every particular related to the inspector generals’ conclusions. These are errors that go far beyond whether there was a criminal referral of Clinton’s emails or a criminal referral at all. Sources can mislead; documents do not.

Please go read the whole thing at the link.

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Media Matters’ take on the story: The Unanswered Questions From The NY Times‘ Debunked Clinton Emails Report.

The New York Times‘ dramatic changes to their initial, anonymously-sourced claim that federal investigators were seeking a criminal probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email raises significant questions about the paper’s reporting of the story.

Read the whole thing at the link, but here are the questions:

“Who were the Times’ sources?”

It’s still unclear, but whoever they were they apparently burned the Times and they should be outed, according to a Media Matter source.

“Did the Times seek documentary evidence of the referrals for a criminal probe?” 

The answer seems to be no.

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“Did The Times Reach Out To Democrats On The Benghazi Committee Before Publication?”

Again the answer seems to be no. The story only quoted Republicans.

“Did The Times Reach Out To The Inspectors General Before Publication?”

Apparently not.

Quoting Kurt Eichenwald, “What the hell is happening at The New York Times?” Are they trying to become The New York Post? The powers that be at the Times need to start providing some answers.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread and have a terrific weekend!