Kathleen Parker submits to the pressure!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2016

It's time for the Post to go:
The Washington Post's Kathleen Parker may not be a fully skilled reader.

This judgment may seem surprising. Unlike her colleague, Matt Zapotosky, Parker isn't a fresh-faced kid eight years out of college.

Parker has been a professional journalist since 1977. She became a columnist ten years after that.

In 2010, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the category of having-waited-her-turn-up-till-now. According to the leading authority, her columns appear in more than 400 media outlets.

Parker is much more experienced than Zapotosky. But in her column in today's Post, she displays a basic journalistic skill:

She seems to knows how to copy-and-paste from a younger colleague! She seems to do so in this paragraph, in which she seems to cut-and-paste from Zapotosky while misstating what he actually said on the front page of yesterday's Post:
PARKER (10/19/16): Just days before a debate that has people buying Purell by the gallon, The Post learned that a top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton’s emails. Although Clinton had left State by the time this happened, there can be little question that this was attempted to benefit the former secretary.
On line, Parker links to an updated news report by Zapotosky. Meanwhile, she misstates what yesterday's news report said, in precisely the way we warned about in this award-wining report.

Uh-oh! According to Parker, [Zapotosky] "learned that a top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton’s emails."

If true, that's a serious claim. When we read it, it almost seemed that Parker was working from the first paragraph of yesterday's front-page report. In fact, the chain of confusion/misstatement may be more complex, as we'll note below.

That said, let's return to yesterday's front-page report, where this jumble began:

As we noted yesterday, Zapotosky didn't report that a State Department official "tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton's emails." If you read all the way to the end of his meandering first paragraph, he merely reported that that was what a couple of people had said.

Yesterday, we noted that readers were likely to misunderstand that meandering first paragraph. Here it is in all its convolution, as it appeared atop the front page of yesterday's Washington Post:
ZAPOTOSKY (10/18/16): A top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI to change its determination that at least one of the emails on Hillary Clinton's private server contained classified content, prompting discussion of a possible trade to resolve the issue, two FBI employees told colleagues investigating Clinton's use of a private server last year.
Is it true? Did a top State Department official "try to pressure the FBI" regarding that Clinton email?

If you read to the end of that wandering sentence, you'll see that Zapotosky didn't state that as a fact. He merely claimed that that was what two FBI employees said.

Yesterday, we noted that Zapotosky's full report didn't even seem to establish that claim—didn't seem to establish the claim that two FBI employees had actually made that claim. But we warned you that Zapotosky's rambling initial sentence could easily be misread.

This morning, along came Parker! She seemed to prove our matchless point, though the actual chain of custody may not be that simple.

At any rate, no, Virginia! There is no evidence that the Washington Post "learned that a top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton’s emails."

That isn't what Zapotosky reported on yesterday's front page. But his rambling, convoluted sentence may have given Parker that impression.

That said, what was the actual source of Parker's statement today? We aren't sure, but at this point in our wandering tale, the Washington Post becomes a full-blown ball of confusion.

In her column, Parker links to Zapotosky's news report in today's hard-copy Post. The report appears on page A3 of this morning's hard-copy Post. Yesterday afternoon, it first appeared on-line.

Can we talk? In this, the report to which Parker links, Zapotosky doesn't claim that the State Department's Pat Kennedy tried to pressure the FBI. In his one discussion of possible pressure, he quotes Brian McCauley, the FBI employee to whom Sullivan spoke.

Here's what McCauley says. He says he wasn't pressured:
ZAPOTOSKY (10/19/16): McCauley said Kennedy never pressured him and that he was unaware of Kennedy’s conversations with others. McCauley said he worked with Kennedy fairly often when the bureau needed to move personnel overseas for investigations...
In this, his second news report, that's Zapotosky's only reference to the possibility that the FBI was pressured. In that one reference, the person with whom Sullivan spoke says he wasn't pressured.

Good lord! The actual FBI employee says he wasn't pressured! But so what? On-line, Zapotosky's second report is accompanied by a bit of video, and someone at the Washington Post has appended this caption:
CAPTION TO VIDEO: The Post’s Matt Zapotosky explains how a State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into changing the classification of an email from Hillary Clinton’s server. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Say what? In his actual report, Zapotosky doesn't say that Sullivan tried to pressure the FBI. But sure enough! In that brief appended video segment, Zapotosky is shown saying this:
ZAPOTOSKY ON VIDEO: The big revelation today was that a senior State Department employee, a guy named Patrick Kennedy, put pressure on the FBI to sort of declassify or un-classify an email that traversed Hillary Clinton's private email server.
That's what Zapotosky says on the videotape. On the tape, he never cites any evidence for this serious claim.

Readers, is that statement true? Did "a guy named Patrick Sullivan" pressure the FBI?

In yesterday's news report, Zapotosky reported this as a claim. In this morning's news report, he quotes the one person who would know saying it didn't happen.

But so what? When Zapotosky sat down to be interviewed, he reported the claim as a fact! So it goes in the low-skill sandbox known as the Washington Post.

Let's return to Parker. In today's column, she makes a very serious charge: "The Post learned that a top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI into lowering the classification on one of Clinton’s emails."

That's a serious charge. But is her statement accurate? For her source, Parker links to a news report in which the one FBI employee who would know says he wasn't pressured.

The news report presents no evidence suggesting that the FBI actually was pressured. But the report is accompanied by a videotape in which the Post's reporter says that "a guy named Kennedy" did pressure the FBI.

He goes on to explain why it's such a big scandal for you-know-who, Hillary Clinton.

Zapotosky is perhaps a bit of an underskilled kid. On a purely rational basis, he shouldn't be working for an influential entity like the Washington Post, certainly not atop the front page with a sensitive topic like this.

That said, the Washington Post seems to be a sandbox full of the slower kids. This gigantic ball of confusion is another fine case in point.

According to the Washington Post, did "a guy named Sullivan" try to pressure the FBI? According to Parker, the Post has learned that he did!

Parker's statement will appear in 400 media outlets. It constitutes a serious charge. But is her statement accurate?

Go ahead! Start with the rambling sentence which sat atop yesterday morning's front page. Start with that sentence, then move on from there. You try to figure it out!

It's like the old jibe about New England weather: If you don't like Zapotosky's statement, just wait a while!

17 comments:

  1. One last shot at trying to smear Clinton with the emails before the debate tonight. Trump will make sweeping claims that she deleted emails and needs to go to jail and these specific claims about details of the FBI investigation will be lost on everyone in the audience. It will be a matter of Trump = put her in jail, Clinton = put her in office. Nothing more than that.

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  2. Is the guy's name Kennedy or Sullivan? We don't know the answer to that, but we bet it's one or the other.

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  3. TDH repeats several times that the charge that a State Department employee urged an FBI official not to classify one of the emails as 'secret' is a very serious charge. aside from the apparent fact that this didn't happen, I understand from what I've read over the past few months about this is that it is a common and accepted practice for someone in one of the Federal agencies to dispute a top secret classification. I think there is a vast overuse of classifying documents as secret. Its more befitting a dictatorship than a democracy.

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    Replies
    1. Not only is it common to have this interagency dispute, the SD was not making it a secret that that is what was going on at the time the documents were being reviewed for FOIA release.

      For example, this is from State Department daily briefing, September 2015.
      **********************************
      QUESTION: All right. Last one. This is related but not directly to her. This has to do with the report in the Times about the intelligence community coming back and confirming that there was some classified – top secret classified information in Secretary Clinton’s email. I understand, having read the story and seen various reports about it, that the State Department does not agree with the inspector – or with the intel community’s assessment of this and that you are – I don’t know if appeal is the right word, but you’re going to – still making a case for them to change their ruling. Is that correct?

      MR KIRBY: Yeah, Matt, I think at this time we would continue to maintain that any conclusion about the classification of the documents in question is premature. We are in the process of doing our analysis, and I expect that we will be able to present at least a portion of that analysis to the intelligence community in the coming days. We’ll continue to work this very, very hard.


      And the other thing I would say is that it’s not uncommon or atypical for there to be these kinds of give and take, this kind of give and take between agencies on something like this. So we’re going to keep working this. We still value the dialogue that we’re having with the intelligence community and we’re going to present – again, we’ll present our analysis in coming days.
      *********************************


      So the State Department spokesman was very forthright and open about their concerns with the IC classifying retroactively.

      This was NO SECRET. Yet once again we see the media blow it up hysterically into a scandal.

      Just to further hammer home the point, from the same SD briefing in September 2015:

      *************
      QUESTION: One more from me. The assessment – I mean, and I know this is identical, I believe, to what they’ve been saying since, I think, July 11th – but the OIG – the intel community’s OIG repeated its assessment, more recently reviewed by – information management officials of all likely sources confirmed that the specific information in the two emails could only have been derived from classified intelligence programs. You disagree with that assessment, correct?

      MR KIRBY: We still maintain our position.

      QUESTION: So where – since we’re not talking – in here we’re not talking about classified intelligence programs, where did the information come from? If they’re wrong that it could only have been derived from classified intelligence programs, where do you guys think it came from?

      MR KIRBY: Well, again, we’re doing our analysis, Arshad. I’m not going to speak to the content of intelligence matters here from the podium. I think you can understand that. But we still maintain our position and we’re going to make our case.
      *************************

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    2. Note that there is a difference between a Secret classification and Top Secret. Also between Confidential and Secret. When you mark something Secret it has consequences for who can see the document and how it must be handled. As you go to Top Secret, the requirements change too. It matters what a document is classified as, for practical purposes and day-to-day use of documents.

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    3. As I noted above, all this classifying should be viewed with great skepticism. My sense is they go way overboard on this stuff, e.g., classifying things as secret or top secret when our 'enemies' already know about it.

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  4. You forgot to mention that Parker writes her column from her far-flung home in NC, perhaps in her pajamas (tops only, my febrile locker-room mind keeps whispering).

    Purely from a newswriting perspective, we should let up a little on Mr. Z. His lead paragraph may be a tad overstuffed, but hardly wandering, not even meandering. Only whenthe source is the POTUS or maybe Franco's ghost should the source be the lead. When the source is a couple of relatively low-placed officials, the meat of the story would lie more in what they aver, with sourcing tacked on at the end.

    Maybe KP could have said "as reported in WaPo" rather than "WaPo has learned," but that sounds like a distinction to be quibbled over by scholastic monks.

    Terms like "establishing the claim as fact" seems more appropriate to a PhD. dissertation than a daily newspaper story. Nor are reporters blessed with the power of subpoena. They learn things from hopefully reliable sources and report them. In this case we have word from two FBI employees. That's the double sourcing made famous by Woodward and Bernstein -- unless the two spoke in unison standing arm-in-arm like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

    Though KP was simply standing by her colleague's story and trusting the standards of her flagship paper, none if this is to say that the story is ultimately correct, just reportable. In the free and open market of ideas, as John Milton rhymed, the true will chase out the lie.

    Our blogger reminds me of Mike Pence calling allegations against Trump "unsubstantiated." Chuck Todd tried hopelessly to point out the allegations were substantiated, though not proved, by the victims who by definition were eye witnesses. Pence stuck to Kellyanne's story, and I was left wondering about the distance between "substantiated" and "proved."

    But this is journalism, not history, not prosecution. In a functional democracy, a wise electorate will keep abreast of available intelligence but hold in abeyance its final judgment.

    Reminds me of the scene in Scorsese's "The Aviator," in which Ava Gardener tells Howard Hughes, "Nothing's ever really clean, honey. We just do our best."

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    Replies
    1. A wise electorate - would that it were true. The same as to a competent news media corps.

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    2. Jeeves did you even read the article? It clearly indicates there was no quid pro quo. Instead of doing journalism KP did a propaganda piece.

      Misinformation might be your forte as well - KP lives in SC, not NC.

      Bob does a good job explaining why he calls the first sentence of the article meandering and convoluted.

      Merely good journalism would preclude hacks like Zapotsky and KP from making the mistakes they made, notwithstanding your astute but meaningless observation that journalism differs from PhD dissertations, history, and prosecution.

      Your Milton reference is so silly. Milton used blank verse and wrote a poem that championed free speech, not misreporting to support an agenda as is the case here. He certainly did not compare freedom of expression to free markets.

      Free markets result in cheating and poor quality products. Journalism has been an extremely poor medium for the truth over the past few decades.

      Delete
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