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“Fool Me Twice, New York Times…”: Long Past Time People Started Saying The Washington Bureau Has A Serious Problem?

In my experience, you can fool a golden retriever exactly twice with the old hidden ball trick. Our late dog Big Red was as exuberant an animal as ever lived. I used to say that if he wasn’t wet, cold, and hungry, Red was happy.

Then I had to rescue him from the Arkansas River during a sleet storm. He’d plunged in to chase ducks but couldn’t clamber back up the steep, slippery bank on his own. Coated in mud with icicles hanging from his coat, Red remained optimistic. See, after his walk came supper. His eyes shone like a puppy’s all the way home.

Anyway, that dog would fetch his beloved tennis ball until your arm ached from throwing it. Prank him with a fake toss and he’d charge off and search eagerly before returning with a quizzical look. A second fake drew less assiduous searching. After that, he kept his eyes riveted on your hand. No fooling him anymore.

It will be seen that Big Red would have been overqualified to edit The New York Times. Responding to the Washington bureau’s latest embarrassing front page blunder, Times executive editor Dean Baquet appeared to agree with the newspaper’s public editor Margaret Sullivan that something needed to be done about “the rampant use of anonymous sources” who turned out to be blowing smoke, or worse.

A second senior editor, Matt Purdy, offered an alibi when he claimed, “We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong… That’s an explanation, not an excuse. We have an obligation to get facts right and we work very hard to do that.”

Reporters Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt were absolved from blame. They’d simply written down what their excellent sources told them.

OK, that was a ball fake.

The above quotes don’t actually appear in public editor Sullivan’s analysis of the latest New York Times bogus blockbuster. They’re actually taken from her July 27 article headlined “A Clinton Story Fraught With Inaccuracies: How It Happened and What Next?”

Perhaps you remember “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email” — at least that was the original headline. Reporters Schmidt and Apuzzo had cited “senior government officials” hinting that the former secretary of state was in immediate legal peril.

Except, uh-oh, “virtually everything about the story turned out to be wrong. Clinton was not a target. The referral was not criminal. And as the story itself noted, the emails in question had most likely not been classified at the time Clinton saw them.”

It was, in short, a total journalistic failure, although you can still hear pundits predicting Hillary’s imminent indictment in the non-existent criminal probe.

(I’ve lost track of how often Kenneth Starr acolytes in the Washington media had Mrs. Clinton measured for an orange prison jumpsuit during the phony “Whitewater” investigation. Check out Joe Conason’s and my ebook The Hunting of Hillary for details.)

The newspaper’s latest embarrassing failure, involving as it does a matter of national security, is far more significant. “U.S. Visa Process Missed San Bernardino Wife’s Online Zealotry,” a December 12 front page headline read. But once again, the Times came up far short.

This time, ace reporters Schmidt and Apuzzo had found unnamed “American law enforcement officials” who claimed that San Bernardino terrorist Tashfeen Malik had “talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad,” and that feckless US immigration officials had failed to check her Facebook page. The implication was clear: Had they done so fourteen innocent Americans might still be alive.

Once again, however, the secret insiders were wrong. There was nothing open about Tashfeen Malik’s crazed musings. Written in Urdu under a pseudonym, as FBI director James B. Comey subsequently made clear, they’d been sent as private messages not visible to the public. No way investigators could have found them without a search warrant.

Evidently, The Times’ trusted sources (the same individuals?) didn’t know enough about how Facebook and similar social media sites work to be aware of these issues. Reporters and editors seemingly didn’t know enough to ask.

Also once again, the newspaper dragged its feet for most of a week before admitting error. Absent the insistence of Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple, it might never have done so. The Times’ stalling also had the effect of giving Republican presidential candidates time to falsely blame everything on Obama administration’s imagined “political correctness.”

For his part, Baquet, the executive editor, just back from snuffling in the brush for his lost tennis ball, told Margaret Sullivan that he “rejected the idea that the sources had a political agenda that caused them to plant falsehoods.” He did allow as how she was correct that the Times needed more stringent reporting procedures.

Gosh, you think?

Otherwise, isn’t it past time people started saying out loud that the newspaper’s vaunted Washington bureau has a serious problem?

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, December 23, 2015

December 24, 2015 Posted by | Anonymous Sources, Journalism, The New York Times | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Distasteful Degree Of Opportunism”: Public Editor; No Problem With Dowd Column, But News Story Needs Correction

Today New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan weighed in on the Maureen Dowd-Joe Biden controversy (see my previous post), allowing the columnist to defend her account of the fraught conversation between the vice president and his late son, Beau Biden.

“The column is accurate,” affirmed Dowd, noting that on 60 Minutes, Biden referred to a “Hollywood-esque thing that at the last minute” his son had made a deathbed request that he run for president:

I never reported a last-minute deathbed scene where Beau grabbed his father’s hand. In fact, my column recounted a conversation they had seated at a table after Beau knew his prognosis was bad. He was terminally ill for some time.

She also noted that Dick Harpootlian, the South Carolina Democratic activist, had referred to Beau’s wish for his father to enter the presidential primary in a June Wall Street Journal column.

Sullivan concurred: “A re-reading of the column (and a second look at the vice president’s words on CBS) bear [Dowd] out. There is no mention in the column of a deathbed conversation or hand-grabbing, and there is mention of father and son sitting at a table.”

She has a point. But “deathbed” is not necessarily a literal expression; in Dowd’s August 1 column, she described Beau as having lost control of his face and his speech. She also recounted Joe Biden’s inner thoughts as he spoke with his son, and quoted Beau as pleading that “the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.”

Sullivan did chide political reporter Amy Chozick and the paper’s news editors for repeating and amplifying Dowd’s story in a front-page news article , complaining that the following sentence merited a correction:

Ms. Dowd reported that as Beau Biden lay dying from brain cancer, he tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.

Evidently Sullivan believes Biden merely denied was that this conversation occurred while his son was actually prone — when he sounded as if he was denying the tone of the discussion as reported by Dowd and repeated by Chozick. We may never know exactly what he meant, unless another interviewer asks Biden a few more questions: Did he talk to Dowd himself? Was her account of his conversation with his son (and his own inner thoughts) accurate? And why did he wait almost three months to issue a denial?

On national television, Biden went out of his way to correct the record: “Nothing like that ever, ever happened.” Nothing like that – and Dowd’s column, which set the tone of subsequent sensational coverage in the Times and everywhere else, was a lot like that. The issue isn’t whether Beau Biden was lying down or sitting at a table, but what kind of conversation he had with his father about the presidency, the Clintons, and “Biden values,” which – if Dowd is indeed telling the truth – seem to include a distasteful degree of opportunism.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, October 27, 2015

October 28, 2015 Posted by | Joe Biden, Maureen Dowd, The New York Times | , , , , | 4 Comments

“A Maureen Dowd Media Conflagration”: Dowdgate? Biden Insists Deathbed Scene With Son Beau Never Happened

Not every day does the Vice President of the United States accuse America’s most respected newspaper of publishing a falsehood about him and his family. Over the weekend that is what Joe Biden alleged, posing a difficult problem for The New York Times.

Appearing on CBS 60 Minutes, Biden denied that the affecting deathbed scene between him and his older son Beau, as famously recounted by Times Op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd, had ever occurred. Dowd’s sensational August 1 column sparked a media conflagration, fired up the “draft Biden” movement, and the scene, not incidentally, was reported on the paper’s front page that same Sunday.

According to Dowd, Beau Biden on his deathbed “had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” But according to Joe Biden, it didn’t go down that way at all.

Asked by correspondent Norah O’Donnell about the conversations he had with Beau about running for president, he replied:

Well, first thing I’d like to do, and you’re being very polite the way you’re asking me the question because some people have written that, you know, Beau on his deathbed said, “Dad, you’ve got to run,” and, there was this sort of Hollywood moment that, you know, nothing like that ever, ever happened…Beau all along thought that I should run and that I could win…there was not what was sort of made out as kind of this Hollywood-esque thing that at the last minute Beau grabbed my hand and said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to run, like, win one for the Gipper.’ It wasn’t anything like that.

While the facts behind this bizarre drama remain mysterious, the motivations seem obvious. Certainly Dowd, whose corrosive hatred of Hillary Clinton is the stuff of soap opera, wanted to encourage the entry of Biden into the Democratic presidential primary (as did many of her colleagues in the Beltway press corps). As for Biden, the dramatic scene in Dowd’s column encouraged supporters and sympathizers to rally behind his possible campaign, which may explain why he failed to shoot down the story until now.

While the vice president allowed this anecdote to persist for two months — notably failing to deny it when he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or when Politico reported that he was its source — he seems to have no compelling reason to prevaricate about the matter now.

That leaves a big dark cloud of doubt over Dowd and the Times editors. (In today’s edition, a story on an inside page about Biden’s 60 Minutes interview glancingly notes his denial of “news reports about conversations with his dying son,” while neglecting to mention the role of the newspaper and its star columnist.) Presumably the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, will inquire how this happened on behalf of perplexed readers. The explanations should be interesting.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, Ocetober 26, 2015

 

October 27, 2015 Posted by | Joe Biden, Maureen Dowd, The New York Times | , , , , | 2 Comments

“Credulous Times”: Grasping At Straws In The Wind, What Has Happened To Journalism At The New York Times?

If you are a regular reader of the New York Times, and tend to think of it not just as a Newspaper of Record, but as an institution with unimpeachable standards of journalistic objectivity and excellence, you might want to give a gander to a scathing piece by New America’s Peter Bergen at CNN about the New York Times Magazine cover story suggesting the official story of Osama bin Laden’s assassination was a pack of trumped-up lies. Seems its author, Jonathan Mahler, is largely buying a conspiracy theory hatched by the famed muckraking journalist Seymour Hersh back in the spring, which was pretty thoroughly challenged at the time–by among others Bergen, who wrote a well-regarded book on the pursuit and killing of bin Laden.

[A]s I wrote in May when Hersh’s story first appeared, his account of the bin Laden raid is a farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense.

As Berger notes, both Hersh and Mahler paint a picture of US-Pakistani complicity in a handover of bin Laden followed by a deliberately fabricated “firefight” that contradicts other Times reporters who cover Pakistan and the U.S. intelligence community.

Among those sharing in the Big Lie of bin Laden’s capture and assassination if these lurid tales are true, of course, is not only the President of the United States but his most likely Democratic successor, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

One of those supposed liars would also be the woman who may well be the next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton. By the way, give her an Oscar for acting for her performance when the iconic photograph was taken at the White House as the bin Laden raid went down, the one in which Clinton has her hand over her mouth in disbelief and anxiety so uncertain was the outcome of the raid.

Hmmm. Seems like there’s another recent line of reporting at the Times that is focused on showing that Hillary Clinton’s an untrustworthy liar, eh?

I don’t know that there’s a connection, but without question, certain elements at the Times are showing some surprising credulity at any straws in the wind that can be used to build the facade of a case against Obama and Clinton.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 19, 2015

October 20, 2015 Posted by | Journalism, Journalists, The New York Times | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The ‘Clinton Rules’ Of Journalism”: Why Clinton-Bashing Articles Are A Golden Goose For Her Detractors

We’re beyond corrections now.

The New York Times issued a lengthy editors’ note Tuesday regarding the paper’s tangled, bungled coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails, which, they conceded, “may have left readers with a confused picture.”

That’s a rather gentle gloss on the media tempest that made landfall Thursday night, after an article that purported to break news of a criminal investigation into Clinton, was published on the Times site and front page Friday morning, and was the subject of an email blast.

But then the Times silently amended the story, whittling the headline, and the story’s claims, down from “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email” to “Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account,” and then finally, “Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” where it stands as of this writing.

Of course by then, it had been copied, repeated, and aggregated all over the Web.

Per Reuters:

The New York Times originally reported that two government inspectors general had asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into Clinton’s use of her private email account

It altered its report on its website overnight without explanation to suggest she personally was not the focus of a criminal referral.

Then, the Justice Department said the inspectors general had requested a criminal investigation into the emails, before backtracking and saying that there was a request for a probe but not a criminal one.

When the crux of the original story — that Clinton was under criminal investigation — was tweaked to indicate that the investigation was not criminal in nature, nor was Clinton the target, the Times editors quietly corrected it on the online edition of the paper, after it had been online for a few hours, with none of the fanfare that attended the original story’s publication: no email blast; no correction.

Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, published a long note outlining exactly how and why Times reporters fouled it up. She concluded that, in the Times’ haste to publish an earth-shattering exposé on the Democratic frontrunner, the paper of record had rushed to print an overly sensationalistic story that relied on dubious sources. She also lamented editors’ decision to discreetly revise the story without first issuing a proper correction. Her prescription: “Less speed. More transparency.”

National Memo editor Joe Conason argued Monday that:

Sullivan lets the Times editors and reporters off a bit too easily, allowing them to blame their anonymous sources and even to claim that the errors “may have been unavoidable.” What she fails to do, as usual, is to examine the deeper bias infecting Times coverage of Hillary and Bill Clinton — a problem that in various manifestations dates back well over two decades.

It seems clear that the Times article was written in accordance with the “Clinton rules” of journalism — which, as articulated by Jonathan Allen, state that “the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family’s political empire” is the primary goal for journalists. Clinton rules endorse the use of tabloid-worthy headlines (“Criminal!”) and dubious sources, presume guilt, and operate under the assumption of a massive Clintonian conspiracy of widespread collusion and ill intent.

The Times finally ran two belated, garrulous corrections — the first on Saturday, the second on Sunday — which together read:

An article and a headline in some editions on Friday about a request to the Justice Department for an investigation regarding Hillary Clinton’s personal email account while she was secretary of state misstated the nature of the request, using information from senior government officials. It addressed the potential compromise of classified information in connection with that email account. It did not specifically request an investigation into Mrs. Clinton.

An article in some editions on Friday about a request to the Justice Department for an investigation regarding Hillary Clinton’s personal email account while she was secretary of state referred incorrectly, using information from senior government officials, to the request. It was a “security referral,” pertaining to possible mishandling of classified information, officials said, not a “criminal referral.”

These are not corrections on the order of “Mr. McDougal’s name is actually MacDougal,” and it’s baffling that they would be treated as such, quietly airbrushed onto the site like fixing a typo. Which, of course, became the next phase of the story.

It didn’t help that the Times reporter who wrote the piece conceded that the corrections were “a response to complaints we received from the Clinton camp that we thought were reasonable.” This is how a Clinton-bashing story evolves from one of sloppy journalism to the way Hillary Clinton muscled a media titan into reporting what she wanted them to report.

Of course this episode is already becoming subsumed into the vast Clinton conspiracy, as when S.E. Cupp accused the Times of altering its headline “because Hillary asked them to.” A Breitbart headline similarly proclaimed: “New York Times Stealth-Edits Clinton Email Story At Her Command.”

As Sullivan said, “you can’t put stories like this back in the bottle – they ripple through the entire news system.”

Clinton-bashing articles are the gifts that keep on giving, a veritable golden goose of insinuation, innuendo, and dishonesty: Even once the initial specious recriminations have crumbled, the storm of media attention and confusion that follows creates a feedback loop that reinforces Clinton’s detractors’ view of her as a media-manipulating mastermind. And for voters — even those who support Clinton — it’s a reminder that this kind of thing is just going to happen again and again.

 

By: Sam Reisman, The National Memo, July 29, 2015

August 1, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Media, The New York Times | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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