Monday, July 27, 2015

NYT Public Editor: Falsehoods Are Bad but Misleading Innuendo is Just Fine

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has once again been forced to clean up the mess left by her overzealous colleagues over another botched anti-Hillary smear. It's a tough job, and I don't envy it.

To her credit, she seems to understand how bad it is:
The most recent story is both a messy and a regrettable chapter. It brings up important issues that demand to be thought about and discussed internally with an eye to prevention in the future....
When you add together the lack of accountability that comes with anonymous sources, along with no ability to examine the referral itself, and then mix in the ever-faster pace of competitive reporting for the web, you’ve got a mistake waiting to happen. Or, in this case, several mistakes...
Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome than publishing an unfair story and damaging The Times’s reputation for accuracy.
What’s more, when mistakes inevitably happen, The Times needs to be much more transparent with readers about what is going on. Just revising the story, and figuring out the corrections later, doesn’t cut it.
This is right on the money. But is her paper even listening?

I have to ask because NYT executive editor Dean Baquet doesn't fault the reporters or the editors for what went wrong:
“You had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral...I’m not sure what they could have done differently on that.”
You're not sure what could have been done differently? How about an official, on-the-record, unanonymous statement from the Justice Department? Or better yet, how about asking the inspectors general themselves instead of forcing them to come out the next day to refute what you wrote about them? Or maybe it's time to finally stop printing leaks from Trey Gowdy's Benghazi committee, eh?


And when Ms. Sullivan gets defensive, even her argument falls apart:
None of this should be used to deny the importance of The Times’s reporting on the subject of Mrs. Clinton’s email practices at the State Department, a story Mr. Schmidt broke in March. 
Oh yeah? Let's take a quick look (again) at the second paragraph of Michael S. Schmidt's initial piece, which contains the most damaging accusation:
Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.
Hillary violated the Federal Records Act? No, she did not. Relevant changes to the Act occurred after she served as Secretary of State. And much like their latest fiasco, this was also cleared up the very next day.

In other words, Schmidt knew Clinton was in compliance with the law while she was in office, but his expert diabolical phrasing sure made it seem like she wasn't...and I'd have to say that his mission was accomplished because we're about to get into, what, month six of this baloney?

What's worse: Getting some crucial facts flat-out wrong...or very carefully phrasing a story to make it seem like there is unlawful wrongdoing when there actually isn't any?

Both are examples of awful journalism which further a chosen partisan narrative, but only one of them might (eventually, after much criticism) force a correction. But the New York Times public editor continues to stand by her paper's "important" earlier reporting on Emailgate, despite it being based on demonstrably misleading innuendo.

In the future, the Times will probably be more careful about printing the sort of outright falsehoods about Hillary Clinton that led to the current full-blown journalistic disaster. For their own sake, that's good.

However, no one should expect their bad behavior to change...because they're still pretty damned proud of it.


  1. Also, what possessed the Times to run this kind of bombshell story without having SEEN the referral? That kind of incompetence is mind-boggling. What's just as embarrassing, too, is how fast this fell apart. A few extra phone calls would've prevented it.

    And I think we can agree the Times would NEVER be guilty of such malfeasance if the subject of the story were one of the GOP candidates. The double standard is appalling.

    1. It's mindboggling. We just gotta keep calling them out on it.

  2. Yet the next day the referral was in the public domain. You really mean to tell me the Times couldn't get hold of it?

  3. Another 5 days where the media reports certain polls and ignores others-another 5 days where the media repeats lies told by a supposedly first rate newspaper, another day of relentless bashing of Hillary Clinton on Fox BUT more importantly on MSNBC--which never ceases in their shilling for Sanders or their darling Elizabeth Warren. If one watched MSNBC on 7/27 one would think that Sanders was closing the gap on Hillary. Really: Sanders was behind in IA in latest Q poll by 19pts--on Sunday he was behind (Marist poll) in IA by 29 pts!!! Yet the "headlines" are that Sanders is "surging". The stench of the press in this country is overwhelming.