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!