Twice in the last few months, a hot, breaking New York Times story on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address while secretary of state has gone from “wow, that looks terrible for Hillary Clinton” to “wow, that looks terrible for the New York Times” in the day or so after its initial much-hyped publication. And judging by public editor Margaret Sullivan’s review of the latest f-up, the Times isn’t planning on changing its ways to avoid future embarrassments.
In March, Michael Schmidt wrote in the Times that Clinton “took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act”—except that the Federal Records Act didn’t start requiring that until after she had left the State Department.
Late this past Thursday night, the Times went up with a story, written by Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, claiming that two inspectors general were asking for a criminal investigation into whether Clinton had mishandled classified information in her email. Except that the referral wasn’t about Clinton’s actions, it was about the State Department’s handling of her email since she left office, and the referral was not criminal in nature. The Times was slow to correct its story and its corrections failed to convey that the entire story had basically fallen apart.
“The government.” Or, you know, anonymous sources in “the government” so that readers have no ability to guess what agendas are at play or ability to discount future information from those sources. Since clearly Michael Schmidt and the Times’ editors can’t be counted on to avoid being played by sources or to report accurately on this story. The Times is making it clear that it isn’t prepared to change the practices that led to serious mistakes in two bombshell-turned-bomb stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails—readers will just have to remember not to read any such story for the first 24 hours it’s out until all the necessary corrections can be made. But on the (pitifully dim) bright side, maybe next time the corrections won’t be made in stealth mode. Maybe.
“We should have explained to our readers right away what happened here, as soon as we knew it,” [executive editor Dean Baquet] said. That could have been in an editor’s note or in a story, or in some other form, he said.“The readers of The New York Times got whipsawed,” by all the conflicting reports and criticism, he said.