NY Times' Healy falsely suggested that Sen. Clinton shifted position on gay marriage, then corrected himself; MSNBC followed suit

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

The New York Times' Patrick Healy reported that Sen. Hillary Clinton had said she "would support a gay marriage law in New York" and suggested that she had changed her position from her previous opposition to same-sex marriage -- an account that MSNBC's Chris Jansing echoed. Healy later amended his report to say that Clinton had said she "would not stand against a gay marriage law" and appeared on MSNBC to "correct the record." But he failed to acknowledge that his own flawed original reporting may have led to MSNBC's inaccurate report.

At an October 25 meeting with local gay and lesbian leaders, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) reportedly stated that she would not stand in the way of efforts by the New York governor or legislature to enact a gay marriage law in the state -- a stance consistent with her longstanding position that decisions about same-sex marriage should be made at the state level. But in an October 26 article, New York Times staff writer Patrick Healy reported that Clinton had said she "would support a gay marriage law in New York" and suggested that she had abandoned her previous opposition to same-sex marriage. In a revised version of the article, Healy's report was amended to say that Clinton had said she "would not stand against a gay marriage law" and this time quoted her stating, "My position is consistent. I support states making the decision." On the October 27 edition of MSNBC News Live, however, anchor Chris Jansing echoed Healy's flawed original article, reporting that Clinton said "she would support a gay marriage law in New York" and that she "has not before fully supported gay marriage." Healy subsequently appeared on the show to "correct the record" on the Clinton meeting, but failed to acknowledge that his own reporting had been corrected as well.

During the October 25 meeting, a participant noted that New York attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer intended to introduce a bill legalizing gay marriage in the state if elected. Following is Clinton's response, as reported in an October 26 Gay City News article:

Later in the discussion, Larry Moss, who as a Democratic state committeeman led the charge for the state party's endorsement of marriage equality, raised the issue with specific reference to politics in Albany. Noting that Spitzer, if elected governor, plans to introduce a "program bill" legalizing gay marriage as a sign of his commitment to the issue, Moss asked, "How do we keep your words from being cover for conservative Democrats who want to compromise with Eliot and say, 'Just do civil unions?'"

Clinton's response was probably the evening's most newsworthy moment.

"My position is consistent," she said. "I support states making the decision. I think that [Sen.] Chuck Schumer [D-NY] would say the same thing. And if anyone ever tried to use our words in any way, we'll review that. Because I think that it should be in the political process and people make a decision and if our governor and our Legislature support marriage in New York, I'm not going to be against that... So I feel very comfortable with being able to refute anybody who tries to pit us or pit me against Eliot."

Asked several moments later by Gary Parker, the Greater Voices leader who chaired the meeting, to clarify that point, Clinton reiterated, "I am not going to speak out against, I'm not going to oppose anything that the governor and the Legislature do."

In an October 26 post on the Times' Empire Zone weblog, Healy reported that Clinton said "she would support a gay marriage law" in the state:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton told a group of gay elected officials last night that she would support a gay marriage law in New York if a future governor and legislature chose to enact one, according to three participants at the meeting.

In his original October 27 article on Clinton's comment -- headlined "Mrs. Clinton Is Said to Be Open to a Law Allowing Gay Marriage" -- Healy again wrote that Clinton pledged her "support" for a same-sex marriage law:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton told a group of gay elected officials Wednesday night that she would support a gay marriage law in New York if a future governor and Legislature chose to enact one, according to three participants at the meeting.

Mrs. Clinton has long opposed same-sex marriage and instead favors civil unions for gay couples, a position that has drawn sharp criticism from some gay advocacy groups. But she has also said that each state should decide the issue for itself.

The Democratic candidate for governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who is well ahead in the polls, has pledged to fight to legalize gay marriage, and Mrs. Clinton made it clear on Wednesday that she would go along with a gay marriage law.

"If our governor and our Legislature support marriage in New York, I'm not going to be against that," Mrs. Clinton said, according to an article about her remarks yesterday in Gay City News. "I feel very comfortable with being able to refute anybody who tries to pit us or pit me against Eliot."

But contrary to Healy's reporting, Clinton did not state that she would "support" a gay marriage law in New York. Rather, she said she "would not speak out against" such legislation because she supports "states making the decision." By asserting in the lead paragraph that Clinton voiced her support for a gay marriage law, Healy left the false impression in the second paragraph that this position was at odds with the fact that she had "long opposed same-sex marriage." But in an updated version of the article -- which ran in the October 27 print edition of the Times -- the headline and first paragraph were corrected:

Clinton Wouldn't Block Law if Albany Backs Gay Marriage

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton told a group of gay elected officials Wednesday night that she would not stand against a gay marriage law in New York if a future governor and Legislature chose to enact one, according to three participants at the meeting.

Mrs. Clinton has long opposed same-sex marriage and instead favors civil unions for gay couples, a position that has drawn sharp criticism from some gay advocacy groups. But she has also said that each state should decide the issue for itself.

Moreover, Healy reported her full quote from the meeting, including her statement "My position is consistent":

The Democratic candidate for governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who is well ahead in the polls, has pledged to fight to legalize gay marriage.

"My position is consistent," Mrs. Clinton said, according to an article about her remarks yesterday in Gay City News. "I support states making the decision. I think that Chuck Schumer would say the same thing. And if anyone ever tried to use our words in any way, we'll review that. Because I think that it should be in the political process and people make a decision and if our governor and our Legislature support marriage in New York, I'm not going to be against that.

"So I feel very comfortable with being able to refute anybody who tries to pit us or pit me against Eliot."

Nonetheless, on the October 27 edition of MSNBC News Live, Jansing appeared to echo Healy's flawed original article, reporting that Clinton said "she would support a gay marriage law" (while an on-screen caption read, "Report: Hillary Clinton Would Support Gay Marriage Law in NY.") Jansing went on to depict Clinton as having changed her earlier position on the issue:

JANSING: Just hours after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, New York Senator Hillary Clinton told a group of gay elected officials she would support a gay marriage law in New York. Now, Senator Clinton has supported civil unions but has not before fully supported gay marriage. It's an issue now back in the headlines after that ruling in New Jersey. According to those who attended the meeting, Mrs. Clinton supports the spirit of the New Jersey ruling because she feels the states should decide the issue of gay marriage, not the courts.

Two hours later, MSNBC again reported that Clinton said "she would support a gay marriage law" (using the same on-screen caption as the first report). But this time, Healy joined anchor Melissa Slager over the phone to discuss Clinton's statement. Healy immediately noted that "we need to correct the record" and "to be clear about what she said specifically." He went on to clarify that "her exact quote is that she would not ... stand in the way of a gay marriage law." Slager then noted that this position -- that "it's the state's decision" -- has been "[h]er point all along":

SLAGER: Well, just hours after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled gay couples were entitled to the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, New York Senator Hillary Clinton reportedly told a group of gay elected officials that she would support a gay marriage law in that state.

Joining us on the phone is Patrick Healy, a reporter for The New York Times who attended that meeting where Senator Clinton apparently made these remarks. Patrick, did Senator Clinton say, in fact, that she would support a gay marriage law in New York? I mean, we've heard reports that only gay members of the press were there. Is that correct?

HEALY: Yeah, Melissa, we need to correct the record on a couple of things. I wasn't at the meeting. It was only -- it was limited to reporters from gay media outlets in New York. So my story's based on participants who were at the meeting who talked to me about it, as well as a story that was in a newspaper the next day.

And we also need to be clear about what she said specifically. It wasn't so much -- she basically said -- her exact quote is that she would not oppose, she would not stand in the way of a gay marriage law if one were enacted by a governor and legislature sometime down the road in New York.

SLAGER: Her point -- her point -- her point all along --

HEALY: So essentially, she's not going to be fighting it.

SLAGER: Her point all along has basically been it's the state's decision, and who is she to stand in the way. Right?

HEALY: That's right, that's right. And she sort of said that in reaction to the New Jersey court decision as well. She said this is a decision that should be left up to states to say whether gay couples should be allowed to get married. That's a matter for legislators, for voters, for the democratic process.

Absent from this discussion, however, was any acknowledgement by Healy that his original reporting might have led to MSNBC's inaccurate reporting on Clinton's statement.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
The New York Times
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