I just want to make a quick follow on to Anne Laurie’s post by getting to the real meat of the issue that the New York Times framed the reporting on Secretary Clinton from 23 July 2015 forward by publishing an inaccurate story with a thoroughly misleading headline. Leave all the self defensiveness of different NY Times reporters aside. It is all sound and fury signifying nothing but the all too human self defensiveness when someone is involved with a major screw up.
Since this is going to be long, here’s the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) since 1/2 the post is going to be after the page jump.
Bottom Line Up Front
- The New York Times wrote an inaccurate story with a completely misleading headline that framed all future reporting on this issue and which also further framed Secretary Clinton as criminal in her behavior as Secretary of State.
- As a result the New York Times blew the larger story, which is that US governmental IT is so bad and lagging, not to mention insecure, that utilizing a private server was both not prohibited according to the rules in place at the time that Secretary Clinton became Secretary of State, and that it still isn’t much better.
- That the real political question, if there really was one, was about political calculus and optics. As in should Secretary Clinton have been considering the potential future political optics when deciding to go with the personal server if she was still considering running for President again in the future?*
- Reporters, both at the New York Times and other newspapers, networks, and/or platforms DID NOT then and DO NOT now understand classification, classification issues, nor the classification review that occurs when a FOIA request is made!
- Political reporters did not realize then, and still do not realize now, that they were being manipulated to achieve the aims of Judicial Watch in an attempt to achieve Judicial Watch’s political goals in regard to both Secretary Clinton and the 2016 election.
And now on to the actual post.
The real issue here is that the New York Times got the initial reporting wrong, used a terribly misleading headline, and that almost three years later seemingly NO ONE in the news media, especially the US political news media, still has any understanding of how classification works! This whole mess is the result of reporters not bothering to learn, or acting as if they don’t know, how the actual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process works, including classification review. That whenever a FOIA request is made a review is done to determine if classified information can now be declassified and released pursuant to the request. And, equally importantly, that material that was deemed unclassified at the time it was created and/or transmitted should now be retroactively up classified as a result of changed circumstances. Nor did anyone bother to actually investigate that all of this resulted from Judicial Watch weaponizing the FOIA process in an attempt to create just this type of situation, which it could then exploit the political news media in order to achieve Judicial Watch’s own political goals.
On 23 July 2015, the Times then public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote an article delineating what and how the Times reporting had gotten wrong:
The story certainly seemed like a blockbuster: A criminal investigation of Hillary Rodham Clinton by the Justice Department was being sought by two federal inspectors general over her email practices while secretary of state.
It’s hard to imagine a much more significant political story at this moment, given that she is the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.
The story – a Times exclusive — appeared high on the home page and the mobile app late Thursday and on Friday and then was displayed with a three-column headline on the front page in Friday’s paper. The online headline read “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” very similar to the one in print.
But aspects of it began to unravel soon after it first went online. The first major change was this: It wasn’t really Mrs. Clinton directly who was the focus of the request for an investigation. It was more general: whether government information was handled improperly in connection with her use of a personal email account.
Much later, The Times backed off the startling characterization of a “criminal inquiry,” instead calling it something far tamer sounding: it was a “security” referral.
And the evolving story, which began to include a new development, simply replaced the older version. That development was that several instances of classified information had been found in Mrs. Clinton’s personal email – although, in fairness, it’s doubtful whether the information was marked as classified when she sent or received those emails. Eventually, a number of corrections were appended to the online story, before appearing in print in the usual way – in small notices on Page A2.
But you can’t put stories like this back in the bottle – they ripple through the entire news system.
So it was, to put it mildly, a mess. As a result, I’ve been spending the last couple of days asking how this could happen and how something similar can be prevented in the future. I’ve spoken to the executive editor, Dean Baquet; to a top-ranking editor involved with the story, Matt Purdy; and to the two reporters, Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt.
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. And that’s how The Times wrote it initially.
“We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong,” Mr. Purdy told me. “That’s an explanation, not an excuse. We have an obligation to get facts right and we work very hard to do that.”
By Friday afternoon, the Justice Department issued a terse statement, saying that there had been a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information, stating clearly that it was not a criminal referral. Mr. Purdy says he remains puzzled about why the initial inaccurate information was confirmed so clearly. (Update: Other news outlets also got confirmation of the criminal referral as they followed The Times’s story. They did not report, as an earlier version of this post suggested, that she herself was the target of the referral.)
I want to highlight something that I quoted from Sullivan above because I think it is highly significant:
(Update: Other news outlets also got confirmation of the criminal referral as they followed The Times’s story. They did not report, as an earlier version of this post suggested, that she herself was the target of the referral.)
Sullivan clearly recognized that The Times reporting set up all the subsequent reporting. This is significant. Had The Times gotten it right, then the framing would not have been set that there were two criminal referrals for Secretary Clinton made by two Inspectors General regarding her handling of emails. The Times was the initial point of transmission, as the paper of record, for this inaccurate information.
Here’s the actual truth about classified information transmitted to Secretary Clinton by email and therefore through the Clinton server. It was provided, under oath, by former FBI Director Comey to the House Oversight Committee in his public testimony in July 2016. (emphasis mine)