Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com
I don’t buy NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s explanation for the paper’s glaringly flawed “exclusive” story (splashed across the front page and digital platforms) about a criminal investigation on Hillary Clinton over her emails. No, what happened appeared to yet another instance of “Clinton Rules” though I do agree with the general point about scoop journalism Sullivan makes here:
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.
The reporters and editors were not able to see the referral itself, Mr. Purdy said, and that’s the norm in such cases; anything else would be highly unusual, he said. So they were relying on their sources’ interpretation of it. All at The Times emphasized that the core of the initial story – the request for an investigation – is true, and that it was major news, as was the later development.
Hindsight’s easy, but I’ll take a stab at it anyway. Here’s my take:
First, consider the elements. When you add together the lack of accountability that comes with anonymous sources, along with no ability to examine the referral itself, and then mix in the ever-faster pace of competitive reporting for the web, you’ve got a mistake waiting to happen. Or, in this case, several mistakes.
Reporting a less sensational version of the story, with a headline that did not include the word “criminal,” and continuing to develop it the next day would have been a wise play. Better yet: Waiting until the next day to publish anything at all.
Sullivan acknowledges at the end of her piece that readers don’t look to the New York Times for scoops, which further makes it dubious that a rush to be first was the primary driver of the debacle. The reporters and editors involved probably felt perfectly fine running the story based on a dodgy tip from GOP Congressman Trey Gowdy’s committee because, as Media Matters has extensively cataloged, it fits the established pattern of NYT coverage on the Clintons going back two decades.
I’ve subscribed to the Times for most of my adult life, with a sense of pride, but I’m having second thoughts lately given this Clinton nonsense and their insistence on employing the sex-obsessed Ross Douthat as a columnist.