The New York Times published a thorough editor’s note on Monday explaining where its story about a Department of Justice criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use went wrong.
“The Times’s coverage last week of Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s use of a personal email account as secretary of state involved several corrections and changes that may have left readers with a confused picture,” the 399-word note read.
The story reported the DOJ had received a referral from State Department officials requesting a criminal investigation into Clinton’s personal email use as Secretary of State: “That article was based on multiple high-level government sources,” the note continued.
The Times acknowledged it changed the first paragraph to “into whether sensitive government information was mishandled,” as opposed to whether Clinton personally mishandled information.
“That type of substantive change should have been noted immediately for readers; instead, a correction was not appended to the article until hours later,” the note continued, and then concluded, “Editors should have added a correction sooner to note that change.”
The paper also said sources reconfirmed for them the DOJ referral was indeed for a criminal investigation, but discrepancies later arose.
“Later in the day [Friday], the Justice Department and the inspectors general said that the request was not a ‘criminal referral’ but rather a ‘security referral,’ meant to alert the F.B.I. about a potential mishandling of classified information. It was not clear how the discrepancy arose.”
The Times was heavily criticized for changing the story’s headlines and paragraphs with no initial notations or corrections, but eventually issued a correction last Friday.
Even the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, concluded the story was a “mass” this week. She addressed it in a blog describing the story as “fraught with inaccuracies,” which were likely due to 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.”