Today, the Department of Justice's Inspector General officially retracted its allegation that at a 2009 conference, the DOJ had paid $4,200 for 250 muffins -- or, more than $16 per muffin. From the IG's statement:
After publication of the report, we received additional documents and information concerning the food and beverage costs at the EOIR conference. After further review of the newly provided documentation and information, and after discussions with the Capital Hilton and the Department, we determined that our initial conclusions concerning the itemized costs of refreshments at the EOIR conference were incorrect and that the Department did not pay $16 per muffin. We have therefore revised the report based on these additional documents and deleted references to any incorrect costs. We regret the error in our original report.
Earlier this week, Media Matters released a report detailing media coverage of the story on network news, cable news, and print. We discovered that while many outlets reported the initial $16 claim from the IG, few followed up when the figure was disputed by Hilton. Key findings from the report:
- The major broadcast news networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) all reported the Inspector General's initial $16-muffin claim but failed to report that Hilton disputed it and that the IG later walked it back.
- The Washington Post ran the initial $16-muffin story on the front page but buried the Hilton's response on page 16 of the news section.
- The New York Times and USA Today reported the Inspector General's initial claim without any follow-up.
- Fox News -- Bill O'Reilly's coverage in particular -- was the only cable network that failed to report any of the statements that called the claim into question.
As we explained, the media's irresponsible coverage of "muffin-gate" reinforced the common conservative narrative of wasteful government spending. We'll be watching to see whether news outlets that pushed the IG's initial allegation inform their audiences that the $16-muffin claim has now been officially debunked.