Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan seems surprised that the paper’s latest story on Hillary Clinton’s emails — sensational, wrong, leak based, and badly bungled — is now a significant journalistic debacle. Maybe she really is surprised, but there is in fact nothing startling about this embarrassing episode.

In a long post, headlined “A Clinton Story Fraught With Inaccuracies: How It Happened and What Next?” Sullivan criticizes the Times editors’ rush to print the July 23 story, which in its first iteration reported that Clinton is the subject of a “criminal referral” to the Justice Department by two inspectors general. In fact, the referral wasn’t “criminal,” the target isn’t Clinton, and the accusation that she emailed classified information is highly exaggerated.

Sullivan explains all those details quite adequately, if far too late. As she ruefully notes, it isn’t possible to put a story like that “back in the bottle” once it has begun to circulate “through the entire news system.” Not only was the original story unfair, she adds, but the editors’ subsequent failure to correct its mistakes in a timely and transparent manner made the resulting “mess” much worse, “damaging…the Times’ reputation for accuracy.”

Yet while hyping her exhaustive examination of this giant flub, Sullivan lets the Times editors and reporters off a bit too easily, allowing them to blame their anonymous sources and even to claim that the errors “may have been unavoidable.” What she fails to do, as usual, is to examine the deeper bias infecting Times coverage of Hillary and Bill Clinton — a problem that in various manifestations dates back well over two decades.

(For historical context, amusing background, and contemporary commentary on this issue, don’t miss our new e-book, The Hunting Of Hillaryavailable free of charge, for a limited time.)

In the paper’s ongoing coverage of the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s email practices as Secretary of State – and a related investigation by the House Select Committee on Benghazi – the pattern of slanted coverage deserves closer scrutiny by the paper’s editors, including Sullivan.

Those “anonymous sources” Sullivan briefly deplores are lurking among the members and staff of that committee’s Republican majority – a fact she teases when noting that initial “tips” about the non-existent criminal referral came from “Capitol Hill.” For reasons best known to reporter Michael S. Schmidt and his editors, committee chairman Trey Gowdy and his fellow “tipsters” get special treatment in the Times, while their Democratic critics are mostly ignored.

It is a pattern wearily familiar to anyone who observed Kenneth Starr’s taxpayer-financed inquisition against the Clintons. Starr always got sweet treatment from the reporters who relied upon leaks from him — and his politicized, drawn-out investigations of non-existent “crimes” provides a precise analogy to Gowdy’s phony, wholly partisan Benghazi probe.

After Sidney Blumenthal gave a deposition to the Benghazi committee behind closed doors, he emerged to deliver a public statement, which the Times barely mentioned (unlike many other news outlets). Was that because he criticized “reckless” repetition of inaccurate leaks from the committee, a remark clearly aimed at the Times?

The paper went on to report further leaks from Gowdy’s committee about Blumenthal’s testimony, without response from his attorney James Cole (although Schmidt didn’t hesitate to troll Cole on the eve of Blumenthal’s appearance on Capitol Hill). Nor did the paper report that Cole sent several letters to Gowdy, demanding that the committee release Blumenthal’s testimony in full, rather than leaking it in piecemeal drips designed to defame both Blumenthal and Clinton.

Similarly, the Times has given short shrift to statements from Democrats on the Benghazi committee, notably its ranking minority member Elijah Cummings, Jr. and Adam Schiff – both of whom have challenged Gowdy to release Blumenthal’s testimony and stop the majority’s pernicious, unethical leaking. The chief beneficiary of those leaks are Schmidt and the Times, whose editors haven’t hesitated to celebrate its Clinton coverage, despite a deepening credibility gap.

That editorial braggadocio erupted two months ago when Sullivan asked Carolyn Ryan, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, whose personal hostility to Clinton is widely known in the capital, to respond to reader concerns about the paper’s campaign reporting.

“We’ve had extraordinary and world-beating coverage,” said Ryan — who went on to highlight “praise” that she boasted the Times has earned this year from the likes of Matt Drudge, proprietor of the Drudge Report. Yes, the Drudge Report. Is a blurb on Drudge the standard by which we are now to judge the New York Times? Somewhere the paper’s late, great journalists are whirling in their graves at warp speed.

P.S. Even when the Times publishes a story that is entirely fair to Clinton – as it surely does, of course – the subtext can indicate inherent bias. To take a recent example, in a valuable July 25 article exposing the myriad ways that presidential candidates game the federal campaign finance disclosure system – which they evidently do by assigning expenses illegitimately to gubernatorial and other political committees – the Times noted, many paragraphs down, that one candidate has adopted a “conservative” approach to these practices. In other words, said presidential candidate didn’t cheat like so many of the others (who happen to be Republicans).

That honest politician, who spent her own money and didn’t game the system, was Hillary Clinton. Now given the negative impression of her so often emphasized by Times correspondents and columnists, the fact that the paper’s reporters could find no violation of federal spending rules by her campaign may have merited more than two short paragraphs buried in a lengthy article.

Still further down, the same story describes some of Jeb Bush’s various campaign finance scams and prevarications, noting that his conduct has provoked the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization that monitors campaign finance ethics, to file complaints against him with the Justice Department. Don’t wait for any headlines about that “referral” in the paper of record.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, United States, July 17, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young  

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 The National Memo
  • Jon C

    More than a few updates to The New York Times article:

    Can The New York Times Salvage Its Clinton Coverage? Email
    Blunder Fits Disturbing Pattern Of Misinformation

    Times Public editor @Sulliview fails 2 address that NYTimes
    misrepresented what OIG memos were about. Read 4 urself:

    TODAY- From The New York Times’s Public Editor: A Clinton
    Story Fraught with Inaccuracies: How It Happened and What Next?

    The New York Times SNAFU’ed/FUBAR’ed the story. The Big
    Screw Up at the New York Times

    2) How the New York
    Times bungled the Hillary Clinton emails story

    3) Times Reporter
    Can’t Answer Questions About Faulty Email Story

    4) Inspectors General
    Release Joint Statement to Clear Up Hillary Email Referral Flap

    5) NY Times Issues Second Major Correction To Botched Report
    On Clinton’s Emails 6) Journalists of All Stripes Slam
    NY Times for Stealth-Editing Clinton Story

    1) Law that requires
    government officials use of official email was only signed last November Obama
    Signs Modernized Federal Records Act

    2) Was never made real clear just when high level/ranking
    Cabinet Officers received their own Official e-mail programs and address.

    3) Nor was it made real clear what rules (vs laws) in place
    at that time and just what they were.

    4) That Story About Hillary Clinton’s Private Email Account
    Isn’t as Awful as It Seems The New York Times

    5) The New York Times ‘ Deceptive Suggestion That Hillary
    Clinton May Have Violated Federal Records Law

    6) What Clinton’s Email Habits Reveal About Federal Records

    7) Media’s Double Standard On Transparency For Hillary

    8) What’s the big deal about Hillary using her personal
    email at work?

    9) How the State Department Is Defending Hillary Clinton’s
    Personal Email Use

    10) Powell served as secretary of state from
    2001 to 2005 under former President George W. Bush, while Clinton served under
    President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013.

    ​10A) Colin Powell
    also used personal email at State Dept., but was it illegal? — RT USA

    10B) Colin Powell relied on personal emails while secretary
    of state

    11) Bombshell New York Times Report On Hillary Clinton Email
    Account Disputed

    12) Hillary Email
    ‘Scandal’? Not So Fast

    13) Clinton’s Private
    E-Mail Use Ran Against Obama Records Push

    14) Former State
    Department officials explain why the Clinton email ‘scandal’ is ridiculous

    The Hillary Clinton email ‘scandal’ says more about us than about her ethics |
    Jeb Lund

    16) Getting serious about protecting access to public email

    17) Clinton attorney disputes GOP email claim

    18) Jeb Bush owns his own email server And
    something overlooked, more often than not, that out of +/- Three (3) Million
    e-mails from both Government and private servers, only +/- 250,000 were ever

    19) The Phony Hillary Clinton Email Scandal-Why is this
    coming up now?

    AP Might Want To Retract The Hillary ‘Home-Brew’ Server Story :

    Every Clinton Scandal Is Exactly the Same

    22) Hillary Clinton’s Emails: Is This A Scandal? Or A

    23) Bad News Republicans, Voters Aren’t Going To Care About
    Hillary Clinton’s Emails

    CNN: Jeb Bush aides used private domain for public business

  • randomfactor

    There’s only one way the Times can make this right. Out the sources.

  • Dominick Vila

    Unfortunately, when it comes to electioneering, what is really important is not the potential damage done to the reputation of the Times, but the damage done to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, who was the intended target regardless of the legitimacy of the claims being made. Nobody cares about sloppy or biased journalism. What most voters will remember is Donald Trump claiming that Hillary Clinton had engaged in criminal activities, based on what he read in The New York Times…and many voters will be influenced by Trump’s claim, rather than a retraction in the back pages on a newspaper that most Americans don’t bother to read.

  • Andrew Freeland

    Hopefully, most objective readers will consider the partisan source of the attacks on Hillary, and judge them accordingly. Republicans are way out of touch with the majority on the issues, so they’re forced to gin up some hokey ‘scandal’ in an attempt to win.

    • njguy54

      Smart readers will… but there are too many “low information voters” who will continue to hear about Benghazi, email-gate, etc. from their wingnut friends and relatives who consume an all-day diet of Fox News, Rush and Drudge. They’ll conclude that Hillary must have done something naughty, thought they they won’t be sure what. The NYT will be cited as the “authoritative source” (yet if the Times publishes something critical of a Republican, they’ll be dismissed as the “lamestream media”).

      • idamag

        You have that right. Money not only corrupts politics, but it corrupts the media.

  • Carolyn1520

    With the knowledge that a new faux “scandal” will emerge weekly on Hillary the closer we are to the election, only morons ail give any of them any credence. That this one emerged from the NYT, confirms their long known hatred of the Clintons. They were the ones who said the news media would be her toughest foe. Not if they can’t get their facts right.

    • Louis Allen

      And you, of course, know all the facts.
      And your impeachable, private sources are way better than the NYT’s, of course.
      Oh brother, the blind leading (trying at least !) the blind ….

    • Carolyn1520

      Sewers overflow and out pops Louie .

    • idamag

      Yes. expect it to get worse as time goes on.

  • Theodora30

    A lot of those sources have repeatedly lied to the Times. Schmidt has gotten it wrong over and over because he goes back to the same poisoned well. So why does he still have a job? At least they got rid of Judith Miller for being a mouthpiece for Roget wing propaganda.
    A reasonable person might assume that after getting Whitewater and WMD so wrong the Times would be more careful. Helping lead our country to an unnecessary impeachment and and unnecessary war ought to have consequences.

  • FT66

    Slowly, slowly, NYT is losing its reputation. In reporting, there isn’t speedy and not having accuracy of what is reported. No any reader is interested to be lied on. Mike Schmidt must be kicked out of the job in order to let people know NYT is in serious business and not on reporting on hear-saying.

  • paulyz

    This is the same Liberal NYT’s that “progressives” have always used as their source of “facts & information”. Funny.

    • 788eddie

      Hey Paulyz, it’s good to see that “the edge” (or shall I say “fringe”) is back.

      • paulyz

        I am usually tempted to just delete the National Memo exactly because it’s blind, low-info, gullible followers are in a very small minority, but there are some moderate listeners that need opposing views to better decide the truth. So I will continue to show them how you and others are mostly full of it.

        • 788eddie

          Please feel free to delete the NatMemo without opening it.

          Don’t open it on my account.

          • paulyz

            But it is always so fun to see all the idiotic, false comments by you lefties.

          • 788eddie

            They’re nowhere near as inventive as the lies and false comments from you right wingnuts.

      • idamag

        No matter how he spells it: lyz or lies, Paul lies and lies and lies.

        • 788eddie

          I’ve noticed that idamag, and so has almost everyone else.

          Unfortunately, he’s like the Everready Bunny” of lies. He’s got to be pretty dumb not to realize that most of us are laughing at him.

    • Louis Allen

      Yeah, but this time The NYT is wrong, ….. because they are trying (at long last) to come up with something called “facts”.
      …. and “facts” are a lefty/liberal’s WORST enemies.

      • paulyz

        Right, facts are something Lefties cannot tolerate, causes brainless personal attacks.

      • davidcayjohnston

        Do you actually read the news pages of the New York Times? There are more fax printer in the times and any other newspaper in America, gathered at great expense by the best collection of journalist currently working in the United States.

        I once had a man sit down next to me on the coast to coast flight who made an observation like yours about the times. I didn’t identify myself I simply handed in the paper and said would you please show me. I had to control him but he eventually went through the paper, who’s lead story that morning was a model of how to handle extremely difficult subject with perfect balance and depth. Finally, the man came upon something and handed the paper back to me saying it was pure opinion – and it works.

        • Carolyn1520

          Louie uses newspapers to line the bottom of his cage.

    • davidcayjohnston

      All news organizations make mistakes and sometimes get used by their sources. What distinguishes serious publications like the New York Times from dishonest outfits like Fox ( and in subtle and very disturbing ways The Wall Street Journal under Murdoch) is that honest journals come clean – see the 14,000 words expose by the New York Times of Jayson Blair, the 48,000 word Philadelohia Inquirer expose of Laura Foreman or the 32-page special section in the LATimes about the Staples Center.

      Fox, however, never comes clean and will perpetuate falsehoods, sometimes mixed with mealy mouth apologies broadcast at odd hours, rather than a complete skinback.

      Fox coverage of the fabricated IRS “scandals” in Cincinnati and Benghazi are textbook examples that have led many people to firmly believe things which have NO basis in the factual record.

      • paulyz

        But then again, there is little need for FOX News to apologize since they are the most factual news organization, always with opposing viewpoints on their news, as opposed to the extremely one-sided, leftist NY Times or MSNBC.

        Always an “excuse” by Liberals when the facts don’t jive with their ideology.

        • jamesowens

          LOL fox is rated by 10 independent fact checker sites as the biggest liars there are

  • stcroixcarp

    If the GOPer plan is to totally trash Hillary, they may find themselves facing Bernie Sanders who has a knack of speaking truth to power.

    • geraldhoey

      Bernie as the Democratic nominee is the Republicans wet dream. It is the only way they could win the election.

      • PAG

        And the polls has him still beating Trump, Jeb and uneducated Walker.

  • duif100

    Hillary has an edge on Trump.
    She does not have to worry about spousal rape.

    • Darsan54

      You suh are a cretin, unworthy of being heard.

      • duif100

        The truth hurts?

    • jamesowens

      your correct trump just trades I his hookers when he gets a better looking one

  • Darsan54

    Ryan cited Drudge as a merit of note? The Apocalypse is coming sooner than I thought.

  • jamesowens

    they lied just like bengazi they try to make dems look as crooked as they are – if they cant find an honest republican then try and make the dems look as bad as they are only policy they got since they all thiefs -liars and sell outs

    • idamag

      Today’s Republicans – honest Republican is an oxymoron.

  • Louis Allen

    Joe Conason can always be counted on to unconditionally, no-matter-what-unconditionally, Hillary-can-do-no-wrong-unconditionally, it’s-Hillary’s-turn-unconditionally, everybody-does-emails-unconditionally, it-was-an-incendiary-criminal-video-unconditionally, Susan-Rice-did-not-lie-unconditionally, I-never-kept-classified-info-in-my-personal-account-unconditionally, ….. defend HiLIARy.
    Joe, wise up man, that woman has more skeletons in her closet (and, believe you me, they WILL be found !) than Leningrad’s cemetery.

  • davidcayjohnston

    Joe Conason get it right in everything he wrote above, but there is another dimension relevant to the coverage the Clintons get.

    Many politicians get better coverage than they deserve because they court working reporters and editors. See the documentary on the 2000 election by Nancy Pelosi’s daughter in which GW Bush is charming to campaign reporters while Al Gore is condescending in the Extreme.

    Politicians who get the best coverage, in terms of the verbs, adverbs and adjectives and framing by reporters, are those who try to roll with tough questions and difficult journalists. Smart political operatives teach their clients how to control reporters, not express contempt for them. Here the Republican operatives are miles ahead of the Democrats.

    Hillary Clinton is badly in need of some charm school lessons. If she does not become president — which seems more likely with every mishandled opportunity – her utter failure to apply her significant diplomatic skills to dealing with journalists will surely turn out to be one of the major reasons.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    Once you rule out which of the Big 6 Billionaire Media moguls insist that their media public according to their ideology, you cannot hope to get unbiased journalism in this day and age.

    The reality is that scandal mongering is out of control. The NY Times and journalists today are not journalists of the Walter Cronkite, Douglas Edwards or Edward R. Murrow breed. They are hacks sucking up for big bucks who will write as they are “told.” That’s not journalism that presents 2 sides of any issue.

    And, this entire Hillary email BS is going to end the GOP faster than Trump ever can. Gowdy and Cotton, the GOP’s little attack dogs ala Roy Cohn, have already wasted more taxpayer dollars trying to GET HILLARY. This email investigation is exactly what women in the US know men always do when they want to “get even.” They nose around in women’s most personal business. Do that to any man and they go into Rambo mode.

    So, this entire NY Times debacle is just that…another attempt to help the richest among the GOP campaign donors put another Republican in the White House, even if they have to put Hillary in prison on trumped up charges to do it.

    Low is as low does among the Get Even boys.

    • davidcayjohnston

      Clearly, Eleanor Whitaker, you have a very inflated idea of what print journalism pays. Typical NYTimes reporter pay is around $100,000. The multimillion dollar salaries are for TV newsreaders at the network level and big metro market level. Katie Couric’s CBS annual pay was more than the COMBINED TOTAL BUDGETS of the NPR shows All Things Considered and Morning Edition.

      There are lots of great reporters (and photographers, graphic artists and editors) at The Times, which you would know if you actually read the paper. See the on-going NYT investigation of murder and other crimes on the high seas, for example.

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        Wow…you really are behind the “times” (pun intended). Most of the top NY Times journalists are paid on average over $200K a year. They work in NY remember? Not Dallas, Not Atlanta…the average middle class NY salary is $100K.

        If Kouric was paid less, it’s because the NY Times is gender biased. But, you are so wrong about how much they are paid.

        Even pressmen in NY earn 6 figures these days.

        • davidcayjohnston

          Please show any document that supports your assertion on pay, which is wildly inflated. I did work there, you know….. And Couric (not Kouric) was not “paid less” and was not at The Times — she was at CBS where she made $15m +/- a year as anchor, more than the combined annual budgets of Morning Edition and All Thiongs Considered.

          Pressman have often earned more than reporters.

          But I look forward to your backing up your assertion that “most top NYT reporters” making $200k on average. BTW,. when a pay study was done in 1996 it showed that 75% made scale or no more than $25 a week above Guild scale, which at the time was around $70k….

          • Eleanore Whitaker

            link for comparison…and these are the average low end salaries…not the salaries of the top anchor journalists in NYC.:


            Most top reporters, and to be clear, I’m talking about those who are overall media journalists like Rachel Maddow.

            Your posts indicates you think there are still newspaper journalists who earn less than $200K a year. Does Matt Lauer?

            “Amy Robach is an American journalist which has an estimated net worth of $1.5 million. Amy Robach worked before with WTTG in Washington D.C. She transferred to NBC News”

            The problem with your figures is that they are “OLD” and outdated.

          • davidcayjohnston

            Clearly, Eleanor Whitaker, you do not understand what you are writing about. You were the one who wrote “Most of the top NY Times journalists are paid on average over $200K a year.” And now you claim I am out of date.

            The Newspaper Guild contract pay scale in effect TODAY is $1,886 a week or about $98,000 per year. For those not eligible for overtime (including national and foreign correspondents) it is $2,075 or $107,500. Those are the pay scale in effect TODAY. And the internal pay studies showed that among Metro and National reporters only than one in four made more than $25 a week in oversell, which would add another $1,300.

            So your statement, quoted above, is not just wrong, it is wildly wrong. People with character acknowledge they got it wrong when presented with facts.

            Then you mix working newspaper reporters with people who are TV personalities paid on the basis of the size and demographics of the audience they draw and the skill of of their agents.

            You can make huge money in entertainment. Bill O’Reilly, cited in the link you gave, is by his own account an entertainer.

            Matt Lauer is a host of a combined entertainment and news show that costs little to produce beyond pay for the “talent,” as its hosts are known in the trade. Rachel Maddow, for whom I have lots of respect, is no working reporter, but a host of an eponymous show run on a tight budget.

            Such comparisons are ludicrous. They are akin to comparing a bankable movie star to your average fully employed member of Actors Equity. The first likely owns a private jet; the other manages to make the mortgage payment each month.

            I once earned more than half a year of my NYTimes pay — and I got a lot of over scale — over a weekend. How? A brand name director wanted a hurry-up treatment for a movie — which never got made. (The after-tax proceeds did pay for lovely, professionally landscaped gardens for my home.)

            Print reporters I know across the country call me regularly for advice on new job offers, exit packages, negotiating their pay, freelance fees, etc. Most of those with staff jobs work for five figures — less than $100,000 — and as newsroom jobs have shrunk I have advised (pro bono) reporters whose pay was near six figures and has now fallen to half that, around $1,000 per week plus health insurance, but no pension.

            Net worth is also a nonsense comparison. I know of several NYTimes reporters and editors who are fabulously wealthy because of trust funds or spouses. Many more were the children or grandchildren of a coal miner, newspaper delivery manager, school teachers, literature professors, journalists or, in my case, a 100% disabled WW2 vet and a disowned heiress who did clerical work.

            Except for those who had rent-stabilized apartments or spouses with jobs that paid well most of these people live in modest homes or apartments, often enduring long daily commutes from North Jersey and Long Island.

            Your figures conflate national television and big city anchors with working reporters, which is ludicrous and does not in any way buttress the ridiculous assertion you made about NYT reporter pay which is quoted above. My figures are based on 1) a contract at the NYT, 2) compare apples to apples and 3) rely on extensive direct experience with reporters across the country.

        • davidcayjohnston

          Top Guild pay is a bit over $2,000 a week. That’s about $105,000 per year. Most reporters do not make overscale or only small amounts. When one of the top bylines left the paper the reporter declared that salary was $140,000. Since then pay raises have not kept up with inflation. So, Eleanore Whitaker, facts (see my earlier post below) do not support what you wrote.

    • idamag

      You don’t get journalism in this day and age.