CNN bizarrely framed an article around former President Bill Clinton not giving a speech to a company that, three years after the engagement, would be accused of crimes -- even though former President George W. Bush actually gave the speech to that company. The article was based on an email obtained by a right-wing organization whose leader has targeted the Clintons for decades.
Under the headline "Bill Clinton mulled speaking request for company later charged by SEC," CNN.com began its September 18 article by reporting that Clinton had considered taking a fee to speak at a corporate event that Bush actually ended up attending instead (emphasis added):
President Bill Clinton's aides once explored the possibility of him addressing a lavish energy conference, whose sponsor the Securities and Exchange Commission later accused of using a Ponzi-like scheme to obtain the money to cover the $200,000 speaker fee. The possibility of Clinton's participation in the event was discussed in an email from Clinton staff to a State Department official obtained by CNN.
Instead, Clinton's successor, President George W. Bush, spoke at the September 2012 event, billed as a "U.S. China Energy Summit."
The company, Luca International, and its top executives are now the subject of a lawsuit alleging securities fraud brought by the SEC in July. The complaint alleges that Luca misspent millions in foreign investor funds for improper purposes, including the summit, an all-expenses-paid golf junket to Pebble Beach, California, designed to recruit more Asian investors to the company.
The article goes on to note that "Both Clinton's staff and Don Walker, president of the Harry Walker Agency, the speaking agency booking engagements for Bill Clinton, expressed concerns about the request," specifically because the Clinton camp had misgivings about the event's host.
It's unclear why the outlet would deem it newsworthy that Clinton, who has regularly given paid speeches since leaving the Oval Office, would consider but decline to give this one. According to Buzzfeed, which originally broke this story months ago just days after the SEC fraud complaints were filed, Bush did accept the $200,000 speaking fee from Luca International. News outlets and conservative activists have frequently sought to scandalize the Clintons' speaking engagements.
The article also acknowledges that it is based on an email between a Clinton staffer and State Department officials who reviewed such potential speaking engagements "provided to the conservative group Citizens United" and "obtained by CNN." Citizens United is headed by David Bossie, who in 1998 was fired from his job as chief investigator for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform -- which was investigating alleged Clinton White House finance abuses -- because he released selectively edited transcripts that gave the false impression that then-first lady Hillary Clinton had been implicated in wrongdoing. His group regularly releases shoddy "documentaries" smearing progressives.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer cherry-picked from his network's polling to suggest that the proposed nuclear deal with Iran is opposed by a majority of Americans. But CNN's polling shows that when the terms of the deal are laid out, 50 percent of respondents say they support it.
Media continue to use the news that two emails Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton turned over to the State Department from her time as secretary of state may be retroactively classified as "top secret" to push myths about Clinton's handling of government information and scandalize her email use.
Fox News spent much of August 13 running with speculation from an anonymous State Department official that aides to Hillary Clinton had "stripped" the classification markings from emails that she received in her private email server, going so far as to state the claim as fact and speculate on who had done the alleged deed. Later that day, the State Department said there was no evidence any stripping of classification markings had occurred.
During the 5 p.m. ET Fox News Republican presidential debate, moderator Bill Hemmer asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) how Republicans could "trust" him after his "extremely unpopular" collaboration with Democrats on a cap-and-trade bill to address climate change. Graham reportedly warned Democrats at the time that they needed to accelerate negotiations on the bill as quickly as possible, "before Fox News got wind of the fact that this was a serious process." The network would go on to make a deliberate effort to undermine efforts to pass climate legislation.
During the debate, Hemmer asked Graham, "you worked with Democrats and President Obama when it came to climate change, something you know is extremely unpopular with conservative Republicans. How can they trust you based on that record?"
Ryan Lizza reported in The New Yorker that during 2010 negotiations on that climate bill, Graham urged fellow senators to move quickly on legislation before Fox found out about it: (emphasis added)
At a climate-change conference in South Carolina on January 5, 2010, Graham started to sound a little like Al Gore. "I have come to conclude that greenhouse gases and carbon pollution" are "not a good thing," Graham said. He insisted that nobody could convince him that "all the cars and trucks and plants that have been in existence since the Industrial Revolution, spewing out carbon day in and day out," could be "a good thing for your children and the future of the planet." Environmentalists swooned. "Graham was the most inspirational part of that triumvirate throughout the fall and winter," Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said. "He was advocating for strong action on climate change from an ethical and a moral perspective."
But, back in Washington, Graham warned Lieberman and Kerry that they needed to get as far as they could in negotiating the bill "before Fox News got wind of the fact that this was a serious process," one of the people involved in the negotiations said. "He would say, 'The second they focus on us, it's gonna be all cap-and-tax all the time, and it's gonna become just a disaster for me on the airwaves. We have to move this along as quickly as possible.'"
Fox News hosts and guests would go on to viciously attack the bill, which never came to a vote in the Senate.
Graham ultimately withdrew from the bipartisan climate bill efforts, subsequently claiming that he didn't believe human-caused emissions "are contributing overwhelmingly to global climate change."
Media Matters later obtained an email from Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon to Fox journalists instructing them in the midst of the 2010 climate bill debate on Captiol Hill to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question." Sammon has since been identified as the "secret weapon" helping Fox journalists "craft the questions" for the evening debate.
Bill Sammon, Fox News' vice president of News and Washington managing editor, is reportedly the "secret weapon" helping to develop the questions moderators will ask at the network's August 6 debate. Internal emails and critics within Fox have exposed Sammon's history of deception and his efforts to use his position at Fox to slant the network's news coverage to the right.
The Daily Beast has walked back its initial attempt to scandalize a "conspicuous two-month gap" in emails released by the State Department from Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state, suggesting the gap indicates a tranche of "missing Hillary emails" about the Benghazi attacks. The site has updated its article to note that Clinton and her aides could have used other methods to communicate during that period, completely undermining the story's original implication.
The New York Times has published a 368-word editors' note in an attempt to end the firestorm of criticism that has engulfed the paper since they published a repeatedly corrected story that originally claimed inspectors general were calling for a federal criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton. The note, which largely expresses regret that the paper was not swift enough to offer public corrections rather than a critique of the flawed reporting, still leaves many questions unanswered.
On July 23, the Times published a report headlined "Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use Of Email" which stated that "[t]wo 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." The Times has since issued two corrections, acknowledging that the referral in question was not criminal and did not specifically request an investigation into Clinton herself. They have yet to correct the piece's remaining error to indicate that the referral was actually made by only one inspector general.
Media observers have harshly criticized the Times' reporting and its "jarring" attempts to explain its failure, with some stating that the events indicate that the paper "has a problem covering Hillary Clinton." Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has written that there were "at least two major journalistic problems" in the crafting of the story, calling the paper's handling of the story "a mess." Meanwhile, in an interview with Sullivan, Times executive editor Dean Baquet expressed regret that the paper had been slow to issue public corrections, but defended his editors and reporters, saying, "I'm not sure what they could have done differently" on the story.
The Times' July 27 editors' note takes a similar tact, stating that editors should have appended corrections to the story more quickly without apologizing for the failures in reporting that made those corrections necessary.
Several questions previously asked by Media Matters about the story are answered by the editors' note or by Sullivan's reporting: the Times' sources included ones from "Capitol Hill" and the Justice Department, the Times did not see the referral itself before publication, and there's no evidence the publication reached out to the Democrats or inspectors general who could have debunked their false story.
But many questions remain unanswered.
As Sullivan noted in her response, "It's hard to imagine a much more significant political story at the moment" than one claiming that federal inspectors general were seeking a criminal investigation of Clinton. And yet, the Times walked back its report that Clinton was the target of the alleged probe almost immediately after being contacted by aides to Clinton. According to the editor's note:
Shortly after the article was published online, however, aides to Mrs. Clinton contacted one reporter to dispute the account. After consultation between editors and reporters, the first paragraph was edited to say the investigation was requested "into whether sensitive government information was mishandled," rather than into whether Mrs. Clinton herself mishandled information.
Notably, the editors' note does not indicate that the Times attempted to reconfirm its reporting with its sources before making those changes. That seems curious, as according to Sullivan's reporting, the Times' sources had confirmed that the referral "was directed at Mrs. Clinton herself":
The story developed quickly on Thursday afternoon and evening after tips from various sources, including on Capitol Hill. The reporters had what Mr. Purdy described as "multiple, reliable, highly placed sources," including some "in law enforcement." I think we can safely read that as the Justice Department.
The sources said not only was there indeed a referral but also that it was directed at Mrs. Clinton herself, and that it was a criminal referral.
If the Times did in fact have sources telling them that Clinton was the target of the probe, why wouldn't they attempt to reconfirm that rather than changing their story simply because of complaints from Clinton's aides? Who told the Times that Clinton was the target? Or was that an unsupported logical leap the Times reporters made on their own?
The editors' note claims that the paper was led astray by "multiple high-level government sources." It gives no indication of who those sources were, but notes that the Justice Department confirmed to other news agencies that a "criminal" probe had been sought before walking back that description later in the day.
But Sullivan's reporting confirms that the Times relied on "tips from various sources, including on Capitol Hill." Since Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, issued multiple statements debunking the Times' reporting in the wake of the report, it seems clear that Democrats were not among those sources.
Cummings, in saying that the story was the result of "leaks" intended to damage Clinton that go "against the credibility of our committee," essentially suggested on MSNBC's Hardball that Republicans on the Benghazi Committee were responsible for faulty information. Cummings has previously criticized the "reckless pattern of selective Republican leaks and mischaracterizations of evidence relating to the Benghazi attacks," a claim supported by numerous examples.
So who were the Times' "Capitol Hill" sources, and what did they say? Why is the paper continuing to provide anonymity to sources who apparently fed them false information?
The Times editors' note cites the involvement of unnamed "editors," while Sullivan's reporting names "a top-ranking editor directly involved with the story, Matt Purdy."
Was Purdy, the paper's deputy executive editor, the highest-ranking editor involved with the story's production? As Sullivan noted, the story's potential political impact is difficult to overstate -- so did Baquet himself review the report before its publication? Why or why not?
Both the editors' note and Baquet's comments to Sullivan suggest that the paper hopes to blame its sources, deny any real fault in its reporting, sweep its botched story under the rug, and move on.
But as criticism continues to mount, it's unclear whether they will be able to do so. Media Matters Chairman David Brock has called on the paper to commission a review exploring "the process of reporting and editing at The New York Times that has allowed flawed, fact-free reporting on so-called scandals involving Hillary Clinton and report back to readers." Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall has suggested the need for a "J-school intervention." And American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norm Ornstein called the errors a "huge embarrassment" that "is a direct challenge to [the paper's] fundamental credibility," adding, "Someone should be held accountable here, with suspension or other action that fits the gravity of the offense."
What, if anything, will the Times do to get back its credibility on Clinton reporting?
The New York Times' much-maligned report that originally claimed federal officials were seeking a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton still contains a major factual error, despite undergoing two rounds of corrections and criticism from its public editor. The report claims, based on anonymous sources, that "two inspectors general" have asked for an investigation into possible mishandling of government information with regard to Clinton's email -- in fact, only one inspector general made such a referral.
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.
On July 23, The New York Times published a report headlined "Criminal Inquiry Sought In Clinton's Use Of Email" which claimed that "[t]wo 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." But soon after, the Times updated their report to remove the implication that Clinton was the target of the supposed investigation.
Since then, a U.S. official has reportedly stated that "the referral didn't necessarily suggest any wrongdoing by Clinton."
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic ranking member of the Benghazi Select Committee, has said that both the Intelligence Community Inspector General and the State Department Inspector General "confirmed directly to me that they never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation."
The Times gave no indication that the report had been altered for several hours before eventually issuing a correction explaining the paper was wrong to state that the probe targeted Clinton, but without correcting the apparent falsehood that a "criminal investigation" had been sought at all.
These developments raise substantial questions about the Times' reporting of this story, including:
In its initial article, the Times reported: "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, senior government officials said Thursday."
It is currently unclear who those "senior government officials" are -- whether they were Justice Department sources who may have been mistaken, Republican congressional sources who may have had an interest in deliberately misleading the paper, or a combination of both.
Politico's Dylan Byers reported that his sources told him the error came from the DOJ, but it would be beneficial for the Times to confirm, or clarify, this.
While reporters generally maintain the confidentiality of their anonymous sources as inviolate, they occasionally do reveal them when they discover their sources have deliberately misled them. The journalist Craig Silverman explained the importance of this practice in detailing one such case (emphasis in the original):
A source burned the paper, so the paper decided to burn the source by detailing her lies in a follow up report.
The resulting report may seem like nothing more than payback, but it does two important things. First, it helps readers understand why the paper published a story that led with false information. At the same time, it holds the company accountable. Second, the story functions as something of a warning to other would-be dishonest sources: You can't lie to us and get away with it.
The Times also cited "senior government officials" as its source for the claim that two inspectors general had called for a DOJ criminal probe into Clinton's actions. The article also cites two "memos" from inspectors general on the topic, which were provided to the Times and which were apparently sent before the referral itself. On Twitter, Clinton campaign aide Brian Fallon noted that he was unaware of any reporter "who has actually seen a referral" like the one described by the Times.
Not aware of a single reporter - including NYT - who has actually seen a referral. Reckless to characterize it based on secondhand info-- Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) July 24, 2015
Did the Times reporters try to get their hands on such documentary evidence before running with their sources' claims? If they indeed did not see the document itself, why didn't they wait for such confirmation before publishing their story?
Reporters have frequently published inaccurate material related to Clinton's emails and other aspects of the work of the House Select Committee on Benghazi by trusting what appear to be mendacious leaks from that committee's Republicans. In such cases, the committee's Democrats have been quick to issue materials correcting the record.
The Times article includes quotes from the committee's Republican chairman criticizing the State Department for not providing documents, but includes no quotes from the committee's Democrats. This morning, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee's ranking member, issued a statement "in response to inaccurate leaks to the New York Times" effectively debunking a central premise of the article. Did the paper reach out to Cummings or other Democrats on the committee before publication?
The Times article, in citing anonymous "senior government officials" to claim that two inspectors general had sought a criminal investigation of Clinton never indicates whether the paper had sought to contact the offices of those inspectors general prior to publication.
In a July 24 press release, Cummings stated (emphasis added):
Over the past hour, I spoke personally with the State Department Inspector General and the Intelligence Community Inspector General together, and they both confirmed directly to me that they never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton's email usage. Instead, they said this was a 'routine' referral, and they have no idea how the New York Times got this so wrong.
Cummings' release further states that "The Inspectors General explained that under 50 U.S.C. section 3381, the heads of agencies notify the Department of Justice about potential compromises of classified information, but this is a routine notification process--not a request for a criminal investigation of an individual." Moreover, a Democratic spokesperson for the committee reportedly said State's inspector general "did not ask for any kind of investigation, criminal or otherwise."
This description of events differs wildly from how it was originally reported by the Times. Did its reporters reach out to the offices of those inspectors general for clarification before publishing a story that appears to be based solely on anonymous sources?