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?
Fox News is attacking CNN's Chris Cuomo for pointing out that so-called "sanctuary cities" aren't "safe havens" for undocumented immigrants, "the way [critics] are describing." But as a former acting director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement pointed out on Cuomo's show this morning, there is no "free pass" for undocumented immigrants in those jurisdictions.
Politico published inaccurate information about emails between Hillary Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal provided to the outlet by an anonymous source who distorted the emails' contents with the intention of damaging the former secretary of state, according to Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
The Republican-led committee was formed more than a year ago with the mandate to investigate the 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya -- attacks which had already been subject to investigations by the State Department and numerous House and Senate committees. Critics have argued that the committee's actions since its formation demonstrate a "singular focus on attacking Hillary Clinton and her bid for president."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the Committee, writes in a July 6 letter that "a Member of the Committee, a staffer on the Committee, or someone who has been given access to the Committee's documents inaccurately described to the press email exchanges obtained by the Committee in a way that appeared to further a political attack against" Clinton. Cummings describes this as "only the latest in a reckless pattern of selective Republican leaks and mischaracterizations of evidence relating to the Benghazi attacks."
Cummings' letter specifically details inaccuracies in a June 18 Politico story that relied on "a source who has reviewed the email exchange" between Clinton and Blumenthal, a Media Matters consultant and former Clinton White House aide. In its original version, the story claimed:
While still secretary of state, Clinton emailed back and forth with Blumenthal about efforts by one of the groups, Media Matters, to neutralize criticism of her handling of the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, sources tell POLITICO.
"Got all this done. Complete refutation on Libya smear," Blumenthal wrote to Clinton in an Oct. 10, 2012, email into which he had pasted links to four Media Matters posts criticizing Fox News and Republicans for politicizing the Benghazi attacks and challenging claims of lax security around the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, according to a source who has reviewed the email exchange. Blumenthal signed off the email to Clinton by suggesting that one of her top aides, Philippe Reines, "can circulate these links," according to the source. Clinton responded: "Thanks, I'm pushing to WH," according to the source.
The emails were not included in documents originally turned over by the State Department.
Cummings notes that Clinton's email reading "Thanks, I'm pushing to WH" came not in response to Blumenthal's email with the Media Matters links, as Politico indicated, but rather in response to a "completely different" Blumenthal email from nine days earlier "forwarding an article from Salon.com reporting that Republicans were planning to claim inaccurately during the presidential debates that the White House had advance knowledge about the Benghazi attacks and failed to act on it."
The day after publication, Politico updated its story with a correction noting that "A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a Clinton email as a response to the Blumenthal email." As MSNBC.com's Steve Benen notes, "Politico obviously didn't make this up; it relied on a source that provided misleading information, apparently with a specific partisan agenda in mind."
Politico was also wrong to report that Clinton's email was "not included in documents originally turned over by the State Department," according to Cummings. He explained that "that email was turned over to the Select Committee by the State Department on February 13, 2015, marked with Bates number STATE-SCB0045548-SCB0045550. The Select Committee has had that email for four months."
As both Cummings and Benen point out, this is not the first time reporters have fallen from deceptive Benghazi leaks that appear to come from Republican sources. Reporters who relied on sources' characterizations of Benghazi-related documents rather than reviewing them directly have previously had to issue embarrassing corrections.
Right-wing media are seizing on a New York Times report that misleadingly stated that Paul Begala sought "talking points" from the State Department before a CNN appearance to discuss Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state to attack the CNN contributor as biased. But in the email in question, Begala actually requested a "briefing," not talking points.
Fox News has reduced President Obama's recent comments about the complex role of race in America to the question of whether or not it was appropriate for him to use the word "nigger" during that discussion, with one network contributor claiming this indicated Obama is the "rapper in chief."
Obama discussed the history of racism in America during an interview with the comedian Marc Maron for his WTF podcast, saying:
OBAMA: The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives -- that casts a long shadow, and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on. We're not cured of it.
OBAMA: Racism. We are not cured of --
OBAMA: And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened two to 300 years prior.
Much of the media have highlighted Obama's use of "the n-word" in their reports on his comments. But Fox in particular has focused its discussion of the interview almost solely on the propriety of his use of the word.
During a segment on America's Newsroom, anchor Bill Hemmer asked if Obama's use of the word was "too blunt" and asked if it was "necessary." Contributor Deneen Borelli said Obama had "lowered the stature" of his office with his "insane, crazy comment" and termed him the "rapper in chief."
HEMMER: Touchy, touchy, touchy deal here. Was it necessary?
BORELLI: We're talking about the president of the United States using the "n-word," Bill. He has really dragged in the gutter speak of rap music. So now he is the first president of rap, of street? Come on, he has lowered the stature of the high office of the president of the United States and the question is why did he do this? ...
You see all of the people coming together in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, black, white and otherwise, coming together, praying, supporting each other. And here you have the president make this insane, crazy comment of using the "n-word" to really distract. This is all a distraction, grand distraction to take away from the people uniting and then the president in chief, the rapper in chief, now further dividing our country. I find it outrageous.
Hemmer later declared, "As a white American, my entire life I know that that is an electric word and you stay away from it," adding, "this is something that we thought was entirely off limits and now you have the president using it."
Fox & Friends also fixated on Obama's language, with co-host Steve Doocy saying that "today people are going to be talking, Bret, about whether or not it is appropriate for the president to use the 'n-word' and whether or not it is beneath the dignity of his office."
Rupert Murdoch described as "almost fascist" Hillary Clinton's remarks in support of anti-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans during her campaign launch speech.
Murdoch falsely claimed during a stream of tweets referencing her June 13 speech that Clinton had "promise[d to] outlaw free speech about LGBT," adding, "Sounds almost fascist."
HillaryNo Promises outlaw free speech about LGBT. What next? Sounds almost fascist.-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) June 14, 2015
It's unclear to what Murdoch was referring. During her speech, Clinton stated that "we should ban discrimination against LGBT Americans and their families so they can live, learn, marry, and work just like everybody else." Earlier, she recognized "[b]usiness leaders who want higher pay for employees, equal pay for women and no discrimination against the LGBT community either."
In recent months, Clinton has urged the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality and condemned proposed so-called "religious freedom" legislation in Arkansas and Indiana on the grounds that they provide a legal defense "beyond protecting religion" for business owners who discriminate against LGBT people.
In a 2011 speech as Secretary of State, she stated that "gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights."
Murdoch recently announced that he would step down as CEO of Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox, ceding the title to his son, James. He will remain executive chairman of the company, as well as chairman of News Corp., parent company of The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, among other media properties.
An ABCNews.com article prominently highlighted Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-CA) criticisms of the State Department for providing "heavily redacted" documents related to the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya to the congressional committee investigating the attack. But as the article itself makes clear, congressional investigators were provided an unredacted version of the very document in question.
The article, headlined, "Blanket Redactions to Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Records 'Typical,' Issa Says" begins by highlighting the attack from the former chairman of the House Oversight Committee: "Rep. Darrell Issa ripped the State Department on Twitter today for heavily redacted records related to Hillary Clinton's involvement in the Obama administration's response to the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks."
But in the very next paragraph, the article establishes that Issa's attack was completely misleading, reporting:
However, though Issa suggested the redacted document was sent to the Benghazi Select Committee, which is investigating the circumstances surrounding the attack, the committee actually received an unredacted version, according to committee aides. The heavily redacted version Issa tweeted was actually the one publicly posted on the State Department website as part of its release of Clinton's emails as secretary of state last month.
ABC News' article demonstrates a type of misinformation Media Matters has termed "privileging the lie." ABC News is legitimizing Issa's claim by headlining and beginning the article with an allegation its own reporting shows to be false. But rather than make that falsehood the focus of the story, the report is framed around Issa's allegations.
According to The Washington Post, such framing distinctions are crucial because social science research shows that, "once an idea has been implanted in people's minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it."
For this reason, former Media Matters senior fellow Jamison Foser has written, "If Candidate A lies about Candidate B, for example, the fact that Candidate A is lying should be the lede - otherwise the news report just drills the false claim into readers' and viewers' minds, allowing the misinformation to take hold before it is corrected."
In this case, however, ABC News privileged the lie, leaving its readers the worse off.
A front-page Wall Street Journal report suggested that a top political appointee in Hillary Clinton's State Department improperly "blocked" documents sought under public records law. But even the article's anonymous sources don't support that allegation.
While career officials are supposed to make the final decisions on the release of documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it is normal for political appointees to play a role in the process. As explained in a 2011 Inspector General report issued as part of an investigation into the role political appointees played in the FOIA processes of the Department of Homeland Security, both political and career officials "should undoubtedly ask questions and offer suggestions while a course of action is under consideration. This is the 'deliberative process' in which government employees must engage in order to make reasoned decisions. "The report noted that it is "appropriate that there be internal debate among DHS employees about DHS programs, and FOIA processing is no exception."
Echoing this understanding of how the FOIA process works, the Journal includes a State Department spokesman's comment that it is "entirely appropriate for certain Department personnel" to be consulted regarding FOIA requests, and a Clinton spokesman's statement that the focus of the article, former State Department chief of staff Cheryl Mills, "did not inappropriately interfere with the FOIA process."
Fox News' special based on discredited conservative journalist Peter Schweizer's book Clinton Cash dishonestly promoted several of the author's speculative attacks on Hillary Clinton.
In the April 24 special, The Tangled Clinton Web, host Bret Baier gave Schweizer a platform to discuss a series of stories that fail to connect the dots between donations to the Clinton Foundation, speaking fees earned by former President Bill Clinton, and policies supported by the State Department during Secretary Clinton's tenure in the Obama administration.
Schweizer is a Republican activist whose previous reporting has been marked by false claims and retractions.
Journalists who have reviewed Schweizer's Clinton book have noted that his reporting lacks a "smoking gun" to back up his suggestions of impropriety. Reporters have also pointed to several errors in his book. But host Bret Baier warned at the conclusion of the program that the claims could lead "people" to "worry that another Clinton administration could mean influence peddling on a scale never before imagined."
Schweizer and Baier tried to connect the decision by Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson to pay Bill Clinton for a speech in November 2011 with the exclusion of the telecommunications industry from sanctions against Iran, which does business with Ericsson.
From the special:
SCHWEIZER: Beginning in 2009, the Swedish telecom giant Ericsson is coming under pressure in the United States, because it's selling telecom equipment to oppressive governments around the world. In the midst of all of this, they decide to pay Bill Clinton to give a speech for the first time ever. They pay him a whopping $750,000.
BAIER: Soon after, Hillary Clinton's State Department urged new, broader sanctions against Iran, but the guidelines did not include telecom, which is Ericsson's business.
In fact, the Iran sanctions in question actually took the form of executive actions from President Obama, and not State Department initiatives.
Baier and Schweizer provided no evidence that telecommunications were excluded from the sanctions as a result of the speech. In fact, the sanctions in question specifically targeted Iran's energy sector. As CNN reported at the time, "The U.S. government tightened restrictions on companies that provide Iran with equipment and expertise necessary to run its vast oil and chemical industry."
When Yahoo News reviewed the chapter of Clinton Cash featuring this allegation, they noted that there was "no smoking gun" connecting the speech and the sanctions. Yahoo News further noted that a Clinton aide pointed out that telecommunications manufacturers like Ericsson have not been added to the sanctions since Clinton left the State Department, casting doubt on the suggestion of a connection between the 2011 Bill Clinton speech and U.S. sanctions policy.
Schweizer and Baier baselessly suggest that a donation to the Clinton Foundation from Saudi Arabia's Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi caused the State Department to certify Ethiopia's human rights record, allowing them to receive U.S. aid.
Schweizer reports that Al-Amoudi's 2009 donation was highlighted at the time by "Ethiopian groups in the west, because they are very concerned about the repressive government in Ethiopia and the fact that Sheikh Al-Amoudi has a large business empire in Ethiopia." He goes on to connect these concerns to the fact that "when Hillary Clinton becomes secretary of state, one of the things that she needs to do is certify Ethiopia on human rights, but Hillary Clinton granted them a waiver which allowed them to continue U.S. assistance even though that they weren't complying with U.S. law."
But contrary to the special's suggestion that Ethiopia was allowed access to U.S. assistance directly because of this Clinton Foundation donation, that access predated and continued after Clinton left the State Department. In fact, the document Fox showed on-screen in support of their claim actually postdates her tenure.
As evidence of their theory, Fox aired an image of a Department of State Public Notice 8553, titled "Waiver of Restriction on Assistance to the Central Government of Ethiopia":
That waiver, signed by then-Deputy Secretary William J. Burns, is actually dated July 10, 2013 -- months after Clinton left office. It appears in the December 18, 2013, edition of the Federal Register, which also reports that identical waivers were granted to the governments of 11 other African nations.
Such aid is not a new phenomenon. The State Department's Agency for International Development has provided economic assistance to Ethiopia for decades, including throughout the Bush administration.
Baier and Schweizer baselessly suggested that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally approved a deal that eventually gave the Russian government ownership of U.S. uranium mines to benefit a Clinton Foundation donor.
During the segment, Schweizer detailed the sale of Uranium One, chaired by a Clinton Foundation donor, to the Russian state corporation Rosatom. He and Schweizer then had the following exchange:
BAIER: Now, does Secretary Clinton factor into this?
SCHWEIZER: For that deal to go through, it needs federal government approval and one of those people that has to approve that deal is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
NBC News has noted in discussing a similar story by The New York Times that this implication "doesn't hold up that well." Indeed, as Media Matters has noted: