President Obama slammed the New York Times without mentioning the paper by name during his year-end press conference on Friday, echoing his FBI director’s criticism of the paper’s “garbled” story on the San Bernardino shooters’ social media use.
“The issue of reviewing social media for those who are obtaining visas, I think may have gotten garbled a little bit,” the president said.
He was repeating the same phrase FBI Director James Comey used in reference to the Times’ Sunday story that suggested security officials may have missed conspicuous social media posts from Tashfeen Malik in which she voiced her support for jihad.
The story was flawed from the beginning as it relied heavily on anonymous government sources that confused social media posts issued to the entire public with private messages between parties, which was the nature of the shooters’ social media communication.
Obama continued that “it’s important to distinguish between posts that are public … vs. private communications.” This misunderstanding was the fundamental flaw in the Times’ story.
Obama defended law enforcement, explaining intelligence professionals are “constantly monitoring” public posts, including during the Visa card process. He also acknowledged that no government has the capacity to read every single person’s text or email or social media post if it’s not posted publicly.
Before the press conference, Times executive editor Dean Baquet issued a mea culpa on the story.
“This was a really big mistake,” he said, adding, “and more than anything since I’ve become editor it does make me think we need to do something about how we handle anonymous sources.”
Baquet explained that the Times’ sources “misunderstood how social media works and we didn’t push hard enough,” he told public editor Margaret Sullivan, adding that sources didn’t know the difference between public and private social media messages.
The president opened his press conference vowing to make his final year in office a time for action rather than standing on the sidelines in the heat of the presidential election.
“There’s still a lot to do,” he said, including continuing to create jobs, reforming the criminal justice system and fighting ISIS.