A New York Times story that originally reported government officials had requested a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of government information was “fraught with inaccuracies,” New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote Monday morning.
The story, a bombshell that has received intense pushback from Newsweek and others in recent days, drew fire from Clinton’s camp shortly after it was published. The article was revised multiple times — once to distance Clinton herself from the probe and once to eliminate references to a “criminal” inquiry.
The story quickly found itself in the crosshairs of Media Matters for America, a left-leaning organization that called on The New York Times to investigate its Clinton reporting Friday. The New York Times originally claimed that the story was error-free, then declined to elaborate on the justification for its corrections when contacted for comment.
Sullivan writes that the article began to crumble shortly after it was published and was the victim of journalistic errors that resulted in “a mess.”
There are at least two major journalistic problems here, in my view. Competitive pressure and the desire for a scoop, led to too much speed and not enough caution. Mr. 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.
In an interview with Sullivan, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet wrote that The Times was not transparent enough during its correction process, leaving a stopgap between when the article was revised and when a correction appeared on the site.
“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, he said.