But first, you snark at the Clintons: Late last week, the New York Times ran an exciting front-page story which it had to correct two times.
For our previous post, click here.
The exciting, dramatic front-page story initially said that a criminal referral had been directed at Candidate Clinton. That was a fairly serious claim, presidential campaign-wise.
That was a fairly serious claim. But uh-oh:
In its first correction, the Times said the criminal referral in question wasn’t directed at Candidate Clinton.
In its second correction, the Times said the criminal referral in question wasn’t a criminal referral at all!
To us, that seemed like a fairly gigantic pair of mistakes, especially with the White House at stake. For that reason, we had to chuckle at Josh Marshall’s initial reaction to the Times’ latest disaster.
Marshall’s post appeared late Friday night. The scope of the problem had been apparent for at least ten hours.
The New York Times had done it again—to a Democratic front-runner named “Clinton.” This was a very serious, very familiar occurrence.
The Times had made a gigantic mistake. For whatever reason, here’s how Marshall started his post, headline included:
MARSHALL (7/24/15): How Did This Happen Exactly?Please note: Before he starts trying to figure how the Times managed to do this again, Marshall takes a gratuitous shot at the Clintons.
I’ve [sic] watching this New York Times blockbuster about the now non-existent criminal referral about Hillary Clinton's emails. And it is one of these stories that didn’t just come apart in one big way. It fell apart in several different big ways over the course of the day. Former Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald has a good dissection of how it all unfolded that makes a pretty good case that even now—post corrections and sorta retractions—the piece still contains major omissions and distortions.
One thing worth noting is that if you’re going to publish a piece that really lands a big blow on the Clintons, you really need to be a totally certain it’s not entirely wrong. Because, man, they will never let you hear the end of it!
But as I said in the title, how did this happen exactly?
People, don’t slander the Clintons on your front page during a presidential campaign! They’ll never let you hear the end of it! You know what those Clintons are like!
This was an amazing reaction. What makes people do that?
In the current case, we have no idea. As we’ve often noted in the past, that’s the way the career players tend to play it when the powerful Times is involved.
On Sunday’s Reliable Sources, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter played it much the same way. Stelter jumped to CNN from the Times. He interviewed Michael Oreskes, another former Timesman who’s now at NPR.
This is the way their discussion began. Could these guys rent a room?
STELTER (7/26/15): So what is the lesson we should learn from this Times screw-up?Could these guys possibly rent a room and share it with the Times?
Mike Oreskes is one of the country's top news editors. He used to be a deputy managing editor at The Times. He’s now the head of news at NPR.
Mike, I used to work at the Times as well. So we both know how the newsroom works. This story went online late in the evening. Presumably, the Clinton campaign started complaining about it. And then these changes were made in the middle of the night, without a correction.
What's your reaction to this dust-up?
ORESKES: Well, one thing. First of all, Brian, it’s important to put on the record what’s right here before we get into all the things that went wrong. The democracy must have journalism organizations that are aggressive about trying to hold public officials to account. I’m convinced the editors and reporters at the Times were honestly trying to do that. And it’s very important.
So it’s very important, in the process of fixing what went wrong here, we not defang journalists who want to hold public officials to account. That needs to be said because we don’t want to throw away what’s important here as we try to understand what’s wrong.
According to Stelter, the Clinton campaign began complaining, thus producing a “dust-up.” According to Oreskes, it’s very important to say how great the New York Times is before we say anything else.
Oreskes went on to offer a stunningly soft appraisal of what the Times had done wrong—an appraisal that was flatly inaccurate in one major respect.
In his own post, Marshall went on to say that something peculiar had happened here, though “not something nefarious, I don’t think.” He drew that conclusion after saying this:
MARSHALL: As I noted this afternoon, a lot of this has a disturbing similarity to the Times Whitewater coverage, which dominated much of the Clinton presidency and turned out to be either vastly over-hyped or in numerous cases simply false. And this is the Times! What's supposedly [sic] to be the best paper in the country.(For clarity, we’ve edited one error by Marshall. We’ve left one error in.)
Marshall specifically noted the “disturbing similarity to the Times Whitewater coverage, which dominated much of the Clinton presidency and turned out to be...in numerous cases simply false.” Despite that track record, he started with that weird remark about the way the Clintons complain so much, then included the mandatory reference to the Times’ presumed greatness.
Marshall didn’t mention another recent matter. We refer to the weirdest “news report” of the current campaign, the New York Times’ sprawling, 4500-word report about the scary uranium deal, in which the paper basically had Clinton and Clinton nailed on treason charges.
It would be hard to imagine a phonier, higher-profile example of bogus campaign reporting. Back in April, well-mannered liberals let it go without a word of complaint. Chris Hayes even vouched for the giant piece, which he twice described as a “blockbuster report.” Our fiery leaders seem to have a hard time telling the truth about the relentlessly awful work of the gruesome New York Times.
The Times has done this again and again. You have to be deeply in the bag to feel you have to keep making remarks about the way the New York Times is “supposedly to be the best paper in the country” (sic).
How did the Times manage to bungle so thoroughly again? We don’t know, but the New York Times bungles all the time, often spectacularly, often about the Clintons.
Marshall’s subsequent posts on this subject are perhaps worth reading. We thought it was worth recording that peculiar first reaction.
Why do the Clintons sometimes complain so loudly? Because people like Hayes and Marshall won’t! (Rachel is playing her toy xylophone and buying new URLs.) In March 1999, the jihad was transferred to Candidate Gore, producing a similar silent reaction from our fiery career brigade. Historically speaking, that didn’t work out real well.
Was there something “nefarious” about the Times’ latest mega-blunder? We can’t answer that question. But the paper has long since passed the point where it deserves a presumption of basic competence, basic innocence and/or basic good faith.
Because we’re discussing the New York Times, career players don’t seem eager to make such unseemly comments.
Tomorrow: Back to statistics v. anecdotes