The New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote on Monday about the newspaper’s inaccurate story about a Department of Justice investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email use while Secretary of State, concluding it was a “mess.”
Sullivan said the story was “fraught with inaccuracies,” prompted by the all-too-common rush for a scoop.
“There are at least two major journalistic problems here, in my view,” she wrote. “Competitive pressure and the desire for a scoop, led to too much speed and not enough caution.”
“Mr. (Matt) Purdy told me that the reporters, whom he described as excellent and experienced, were ‘sent back again and again’ to seek confirmation of the key elements; but while no one would discuss the specifics of who the sources were, my sense is that final confirmation came from the same person more than once.”
Assistant Managing Editor Purdy said the story’s reporters had “multiple, reliable, highly placed sources,” including some “in law enforcement” who told them the DOJ would be opening a criminal probe into Clinton’s email use; it was later revealed no such investigation will be launched. Sullivan concluded that it’s safe to say the source came from the DOJ.
Executive editor Dean Baquet told Sullivan the Times wasn’t open enough in its corrections process: “We should have explained to our readers right away what happened here, as soon as we knew it,” he said. “That could have been in an editor’s note or in a story, or in some other form.”
The paper received strong backlash after making changes to its headline and certain sections without notation or correction.
The Times first reported two inspectors general had requested that the Justice Department probe “into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state.”
That sentence was changed to “into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state.”
Co-author of the story Michael Schmidt said the changes to the article came in response to complaints from the Clinton campaign.