“What the hell is happening at The New York Times?” former Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald asked after the Grey Lady’s story about a possible criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email usage blew up in their faces. (Eichenwald is now a writer for Newsweek.)
On Friday, the Times push-alerted its readers that the Inspector General was opening up a criminal inquiry into whether Clinton discussed classified information on her private, non-=secure server while Secretary of State. This would have constituted a major development in the email story, which until now Clinton had been weathering, and seriously imperiled the frontrunner’s campaign.
But no quickly was it published than it began to crumble, as ranking member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said the documents the Times thought it had obtained were merely FOIA requests. The Times reworded the post at the Clinton campaign’s requests, walking back much of the criminal element of the story, and Clinton’s direct involvement in the actions described therein.
“So had the Times mixed up a criminal referral—a major news event—with a notification to the department responsible for overseeing FOIA errors that might affect some documents’ release?” Eichenwald asked. “It’s impossible to tell, because the Times story—complete with its lack of identification of any possible criminal activity—continues to mention a criminal referral.”
But based on a review of documents from the inspectors general, the problems with the story may be worse than that—much, much worse…In an excess of caution, I’m leaving open the possibility that there are other documents with the same quotes on the same dates simply because the other conclusion—that The New York Times is writing about records its reporters haven’t read or almost willfully didn’t understand—is, for a journalist, simply too horrible to contemplate.
…Indeed, if the Times article is based on the same documents I read, then the piece is wrong in all of its implications and in almost every particular related to the inspector generals’ conclusions. These are errors that go far beyond whether there was a criminal referral of Clinton’s emails or a criminal referral at all. Sources can mislead; documents do not.
…In terms of journalism, this is terrible. That the Times article never discloses this is about an after-the-fact review of Clinton’s emails conducted long after she left the State Department is simply inexcusable. That this all comes from a concern about the accidental release of classified information—a fact that goes unmentioned—is even worse. In other words, the Times has twisted and turned in a way that makes this story seem like something it most decidedly is not. This is no Clinton scandal. It is no scandal at all. It is about current bureaucratic processes, probably the biggest snooze-fest in all of journalism.
FWIW, Eichenwald had been previously critical of the Times’ reporting on Clinton’s email story; the paper revealed the existence of her private email address last spring, a major scoop, but was obtuse on whether it constituted a violation of laws or regulations.
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