Hillary vs. the Press, Round One Million: The Times Screws Up a Scoop


Hillary Clinton’s email travails are a genuine problem for her. At best, relying solely on her own server to handle email while she was Secretary of State shows bad judgment, and at worst it might have violated government rules. There’s not much question this is going to dog her going into next year’s election.

That said, Jonathan Allen points out that the press is back to its old bad habits as well:

The Clinton rules are in full effect again. This case would fall under the umbrella of No. 3: The media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there’s hard evidence otherwise. The New York Times, which got the scoop, rewrote its original story and is taking a beating from political observers and other media outlets for it. The first version said the inspectors general want a criminal investigation into Clinton’s actions specifically, while the revised copy says they want the Justice Department to open a probe, more broadly, into whether the email was mishandled. It may turn out that Clinton is responsible for mishandling sensitive material, but the inspectors general didn’t ask for an investigation into her, as the first version of the Times story said.

Here are the two versions of the Times lede:

Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information….

 Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether sensitive government information was mishandled….

The second one is correct. [See update below.] The request is a very generic one, asking whether the State Department misclassified some documents, and criticizing it for “its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations.” Aside from the fact that the buck stops at the top, there’s nothing here that’s specifically about Clinton. And yet, the Times writers originally made their lede all about Hillary, almost as if on autopilot.

The feud between Hillary and the press is sort of like the Hatfields and McCoys: it’s now so old, and so deeply ingrained, that it’s almost impossible to tell who’s more at fault. The press learned to deeply mistrust the Clintons during the 90s, sometimes with cause, and the Clintons learned to deeply mistrust the press at the same time, also sometimes with cause. The result is that Hillary does everything she can to shield herself from the press, and the press assumes that everything she does has some kind of sinister motive. Meanwhile, Republicans sit back and fan the flames, just as you’d expect them to.

It’s gonna be a grim 2016 campaign if this keeps up.

UPDATE: Actually, even the second one is wrong. It’s not a criminal investigation. From Politico: “In an attempt to clarify reports, a Justice Department official said on Friday, ‘The Department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information. It is not a criminal referral.’ “