Another NY Times’ ‘Clinton Rules’ report falls apart


I warned you about the “Clinton Rules” of media reporting earlier this year, The Hunting of The President: The Sequel:

HillaryRemember that it was The New York Times, routinely derided by conservatives as the “librul” media, that did the early reporting on White Water and abandoned its role as  a “gatekeeper” of the mainstream media by engaging in scandal mongering over White Water and other non-scandals. Geezus, The Times Maureen Dowd got her start as a columnist in 1995 and developed her patented “mean girls” style with a series of columns about the Monica Lewinkski scandal, which continues to this day. (I stopped reading MoDo well over a decade ago).

The Times witch hunt failed — none of its non-scandals resulted in charges against the Clintons. Is this latest project part of a long simmering resentment at The Times to finally get the Clintons after all these years? And can anyone reasonably view this as “journalism”?

The New York Times has done a series of breathless reports on Hillary Clinton this year, all of which have amounted to much ado about nothing. I don’t know who at the Times has an axe to grind, but someone clearly does.

The latest report broke Thursday night with an ominous headline: Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account. The kidz at POLITICO Tiger Beat on the Potomac reported that the Times story had gone through several revisions to make it appear that Clinton was not the subject of the inquiry, New York Times alters Clinton email story, suggesting that the Times maybe was covering up something to add some spice to this alleged “scandal.” The Washington Post’s media reporter, Eric Wemple, reported that the New York Times says there was ‘no factual error in Hillary Clinton email referral story. That proved not to be true.

After a day of the media villagers trying to get their story straight, all the while encouraging salacious headlines and wild speculation about a criminal inquiry into Hillary Clinton among news outlets that simply repeat what they read off the wire reports, the Times story has fallen apart.

Think Progress reports, The Unraveling Of A New York Times Story About A ‘Criminal Probe’ Of Hillary Clinton:

The New York Times broke a big story on Thursday night. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the Times reported, could be the subject of a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice because of the personal email account she used as secretary of state. The Times reported that two inspectors general had asked for the criminal probe.

This would be a pretty big deal if true. . . Clinton publicly released her emails from that account, and insisted nothing was improper or unlawful. A possible criminal investigation would suggest otherwise.

But as the story unfolded, things became a bit more complicated. Most importantly, the Justice Department has said that it never actually received a request for a criminal probe into Clinton’s email, contradicting the New York Times story. Prior to that announcement, the Times made small but significant changes to its copy, and a high-ranking congressman said the Inspector General’s request was about something entirely different.

The whole thing has been a bit scattered, so it’s worth taking each detail step by step to understand the full picture. Here’s what we know so far.

The Times’ story was published Thursday night, citing “senior government officials” who said that the Justice Department would be asked to perform a criminal investigation into Clinton’s emails. It asserted that the personal account may have contained “hundreds of potentially classified emails,” and that Clinton herself may have improperly handled the sensitive materials.

The internet then promptly exploded. As a barrage of aggregated articles piled up, pundits put the candidate under fire. On CNN, John King called the allegations “very troubling,” while Michaela Pereira called the story “pretty damning” for Clinton’s presidential campaign. “It feeds into a kind of narrative she can’t quite be trusted,” Earth Institute director Jeffery Sachs said on MSNBC. [Exactly! This is the principal narrative the GOP is pursuing against Clinton on a daily basis.]

* * *

Amid the hubbub, it was discovered that the Times had quietly altered the story. “Small but significant” is how Politico described it, and noted that the headline, among other things, had been changed. The first headline, “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” had been changed to “Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account.”

The change reflects something very important: that the possible criminal inquiry was not necessarily about Clinton’s direct use of her own email. The potential criminal inquiry, then, could now be read as not being focused on Clinton herself. The correction was made in response to pushback from the Clinton campaign, Politico reported.

Things got even more confusing when Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said he had spoken directly to the State Department Inspector General. According to Cummings, the inspector general said he had never asked the Justice Department to perform a criminal probe of Clinton’s email.

Instead, he said the investigation was about something entirely different. According to Cummings, the inspector general had identified classified information in a few emails that Clinton had publicly released in response to outrage over her personal account, and told the Justice Department about it. Those emails had not been previously marked as classified, though there was no evidence that Clinton had marked them as classified at the time they were transmitted.

“This is the latest example in a series of inaccurate leaks to generate false front-page headlines — only to be corrected later — and they have absolutely nothing to do with the attacks in Benghazi or protecting our diplomatic corps overseas,” Cummings said in a statement.

Later on Friday afternoon, Reuters reported that the Justice Department said that it had indeed received a request to look at Clinton’s email, but that it wasn’t a request for a criminal investigation. Instead, the story suggested that the requested investigation may be about how the emails were handled as they were being prepared to be released to the public, alluding to concerns that they may not have adequately censored classified information.

If Cumming’s statements are correct, however, those emails would not have been previously marked as classified, meaning Clinton would not be held responsible.

As the details continue to unfold, Hillary Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill issued a statement speaking harsh words to the Times.

“It is now more clear than ever that the New York Times report claiming there is a criminal inquiry sought in Hillary Clinton’s use of email is false,” he said. “It has now been discredited both by the Justice Department and the Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee. This incident shows the danger of relying on reckless, inaccurate leaks from partisan sources.”

The Times story is still in place, but on Friday afternoon, the Times added a correction saying the original version “misstated the nature of the referral to the Justice Department regarding Hillary Clinton’s personal email account while she was secretary of state.”

“The referral addressed the potential compromise of classified information in connection with that personal email account,” the correction continued. “It did not specifically request an investigation into Mrs. Clinton.”

In other words, Times reporters Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo completely botched this story, but it served the purpose of the GOP narrative about Hillary Clinton, which was really the purpose of this story.

I suspect that Congressman Elijah Cummings is spot-on: someone leaked information to these reporters that was inaccurate, and in their zeal to be first with a breaking story that could damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign, these reporters and their editors applied the “Clinton Rules” of reporting and published this salacious reporting without verifying the facts, because damaging Clinton was the purpose of this story. Someone at the Times has an axe to grind.

In a later report, the kidz at POLITICO Tiger Beat on the Potomac reports, Hillary on email scandal: Everybody calm down (Check out the sub-caption “The controversy will likely stay in the headlines and could further damage voters’ perception of whether Clinton is honest.” Sorry kidz, but the only “scandal” here is how the media falsely reported this story and continues to echo the GOP narrative to damage Hillary Clinton):

Clinton on Friday said people are getting worked up over not much. “Maybe the heat is getting to everybody,” she said, in remarks before a policy speech in New York on Wall Street.

She went on to express frustration over what she called erroneous reporting. “We all have a responsibility to get this right. I have released 55,000 pages of emails. I have said repeatedly that I will answer questions before the House committee. We are all accountable to get the facts right. I will do my part. But I’m also going to stay focused on the issues, particularly the big issues that really matter to American families.”

* * *

Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill said about the New York Times story, “Contrary to the initial story, which has already been significantly revised, she followed appropriate practices in dealing with classified materials. As has been reported on multiple occasions, any released emails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted.”

Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said the campaign is pleased about the New York Times’ correction but said the situation should have never happened.

“I think they got taken for a ride here by partisan sources,” Fallon said on MSNBC’s “Now with Alex Wagner” Friday.

* * *

In an attempt to clarify reports, a Justice Department official said on Friday, “The Department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information. It is not a criminal referral.”

A spokeswoman for I. Charles McCullough III, the intelligence community’s inspector general, confirmed that MCullough had contacted the FBI about a “potential compromise of classified information” regarding Clinton’s email.

* * *

In a letter sent to Congress late Thursday, McCullough said the State Department’s recent releases of some of Clinton’s emails — disclosures prompted by Freedom of Information Act requests and a court order for monthly posting of the emails online — had already led to “an inadvertent release of classified national security information.” The State Department disputes that the information was classified, McCullough said.

McCullough also said he was concerned that Clinton’s private attorney, David Kendall, reportedly continues to have copies on a thumb drive of the roughly 30,000 emails the former secretary returned to State in December at the agency’s request.

If you read the POLITICO report you will see how Tiger Beat on The Potomac does its best to scandal-monger and stick to the GOP narrative about Hillary Clinton not being trustworthy, and that this “scandal” will hurt her campaign — because we say so. This is not reporting, this is “Clinton Rules” reporting that only applies to the Clintons.

UPDATE: Media Matters, admittedly a Clinton ally but nevertheless correct on the Times’ false and salacious reporting, has been all over this:

A New York Times spokesperson issued this statement to the Erik Wemple blog at the Washington Post: “David Brock is a partisan. It is not surprising that he is unhappy with some of our aggressive coverage of important political figures. We are proud of that coverage and obviously disagree with his opinion.”

Brock is a partisan, but he also has the advantage of being correct: the Times used incorrect information leaked to the newspaper (no doubt by a GOP operative on The Hill) and published a salacious story alleging a criminal investigation of Clinton without verifying the facts.

Rather than be “proud of that coverage,” the Times should be ashamed and reporters and editors should lose their job or suffer other serious consequence.

The Times has a long history of hunting the Clintons with so-called scandals, only one of which — the Monica Lewinkski affair — ever panned out. All the rest were scandal-mongering to advance a GOP narrative about the Clintons, which males the owners, publisher and editors of the Times just as partisan as David Brock I would say.

Claiming that David Brock is a partisan does not relieve the Times of conducting an internal investigation into what is driving its partisan coverage of Hillary Clinton. Someone at the Times has an axe to grind, and has been doing so since 1992.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. Some heads at the NYT need to roll. They have gotten worse and worse with their reporting of facts…instead succumbing to one sided political games…that have nothing to do with telling citizens that it serves, the truth.

    Our democracy relies on an informed citizenry. Thoughtful, fair, balanced, comprehensive reporting in print and in photos or video may be the best way to know what’s going on — the way to best inform ourselves. Information is what keeps us free from tyranny. ~ Nancy Conway

    More on this story from Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek:

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