Hillary Clinton's scathing letter to NY Times: Email story 'abandonment of standard journalistic practices'

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Clinton Slams New York Times

Hillary Clinton's campaign wrote a scathing letter to the New York Times earlier this week, calling its inaccurate story about a Department of Justice investigation into her email use an "abandonment of standard journalistic practices."

"I am writing to officially register our campaign's grave concern with the Times' publication of an inaccurate report related to Hillary Clinton and her email use," the 1,903-word letter, written by campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri, said.

The letter went on to go point by point on all the errors in the story, and the Times' rush to publish instead of engage in more thorough reporting.

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Hillary Clinton's scathing letter to NY Times: Email story 'abandonment of standard journalistic practices'
A 1992 photo shows then Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton (L) and his wife Hillary (R) embracing. (Photo credit AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton (L) waves to supporters as he holds the hand of his wife Hillary, 22 July, 1992 after speaking at a rally. St. Louis was the last stop on the Clinton-Gore campaign's bus tour. The crowd was estimated at 40,000. (Photo credit Tim Clary, AFP/Getty Images)
US President Bill Clinton's wife Hillary Rodham Clinton (l) in a picture taken 16 January 1993 in Little Rock, hugs her daughter Chelsea during a farewell address to the people of Arkansas at an airport rally. The Clinton family then left for Charlottesville, Virginia for the start of the planned bus trip to Washington, DC. (Photo credit J. David Ake, AFP/Getty Images)
First Lady Hillary Clinton (R) watches over as 12-year-old Chevon Perry (L) works on a lesson at P.S. 115 Elementary School 26 January 1993. Clinton made her first trip as first lady to New York to receive an award for her service to children. (Photo credit Tim Clary, AFP/Getty Images)
First Lady Hillary Clinton responds to applause, 12 February 1993, in Arlington, VA, as U.S. President Bill Clinton stands behind her. (Photo credit Robert Giroux, AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton laughs as she is presented a bouquet of flowers by Japanee children 08 July 1993 at the Meguro waste incineration plant in Tokyo, Japan. Mrs. Clinton, maintaining a high profile during the G7 summit, is popular in Japan. (Photo credit David Nelson, AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Bill Clinton (R) and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (L) listen to Karl Kregor explain, 16 September 1993 in Washington, D.C. why he is afraid of losng health isurance for his family.The Clintons met at the White House with citizens who shared problems they have had with the present health care system. Clinton is scheduled to present his health care plan to a joint session of congress 22 September. (Photo credit Paul Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton responds 22 September 1993 to applause from a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. after President Bill Clinton saluted her as the 'talented navigator' for the national health plan he is proposing. Standing alongside the first lady is Dr. T. Berry Brazelton (L), a noted pediatrician and author. (Photo credit J. David Ake, AFP/Getty Images)
First Lady Hillary Clinton attends the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. (Photo by Clive Brunskill, Getty Images)
US First Lady Hillary Clinton (L) and Wife of French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, Marie-Josephe Balladur pose at the Hotel Matignon on June 7, 1994. (Photo credit Pascal Pavani, AFP/Getty Images)
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (C) smiles at a friend in the crowd 28 September 1994 as she stands next to Russian First Lady Naina Yeltsin (L) during a ceremony at the Library of Congress. Mrs. Yeltsin was accompanying her husband on his visit to Washington for a summit meeting with US President Bill Clinton. AFP YEARENDER (Photo credit Joshua Roberts, AFP/Getty Images)
US President Bill Clinton (R) and First Lady Hillary Clinton leave the White House for the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, 13 Janaury. President Clinton is waving a copy of the morning pool report on his activities, which was written as a poem. The poem begins ' The president jogged at Fort McNair....of him we saw not hide nor hair,' and ends with the slogan 'Burma Shave.' (Photo credit Paul Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Hillary Clinton laughs as she listens to political humorist Bill Maher address the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association in Washington on March 14, 1995. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Hillary Clinton (L) poses with 'Robo Crook'(R) a character from the television program Sesame Street at the White House in Washington, DC 26 June. Mrs. Clinton moderated a panel discussion on the role of Public Television in educating children. (Photo credit Jamal Wilson, AFP/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, wife of US President Bill Clinton, talks with Britain's Queen Elizabeth 30 November in the Grand Entrance Hall of Buckingham Palace in London. President Clinton and Hillary Clinton arrived 29 November morning for a three-day visit which will be dominated by the Northern Ireland peace process. (Photo credit John Stillwell, AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Hillary Clinton greets guests after speaking at the Women's Leadership Forum at the World Trade Center 20 June in Boston, Massachusetts.The First Lady will be in Washington DC later 20 June for the arrival of the Olympic Torch at the White House. (Photo credit John Mottern, AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton waves from the bullet-proof presidential limousine as she and US President Bill Clinton leave Sydney International Airport on November 19, 1996. The Clintons arrived in Australia from Hawaii at the start of a five-day working and holiday visit. A(Photo credit should read Torsten Blackwood, AFP/Getty Images)
US President Bill Clinton (L)and his wife Hillary listen to speakers at a coalition for America's Children event at the White House in Washington, on March 3, 1997. The Clintons will begin a series of television, radio and newspaper public service annoucements, urging Americans to help improve the lives of children. (Photo credit Joyce Naltchayan, AFP/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton proudly shows the tea-pot which had been a gift from community worker Joyce McCartan on the Clintons' previous visit to Belfast, during her speech at the University of Ulster, in Belfast 31 October. The memorial speech, named after Joyce McCartan, who died last year, called on parties from both sides to make compromises for peace in the country. The American First Lady is on a whistle-stop tour visiting Dublin, Belfast and London in three days. (Photo credit Alan Lewis, AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Hillary Clinton talks with NBC TV anchorwoman Katie Couric (L)10 September during an event in the East Room of the White House promoting colon cancer awareness and prevention. Hillary Clinton announced a new research grant to fight colon cancer and unveiled a new public service announcement to promote prevention. (Photo credit Tim Sloan, AFP/Getty Images)
US President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, and their daughter Chelsea tour the Forbidden City in Beijing, as a Chinese security agent (rear) looks on 28 June during their 9 day official trip to China. The three later toured the Great Wall. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton listens to speakers during ceremonies 11 January to unveil the new Dolley Madison commemorative silver dollar coin at the White House in Washington, DC. The coin, designed by Tiffany and Company is available at the US Mint and celebrates the life, achievements and 150th anniversary of Dolley Madison's death. (Photo credit Tim Sloan, AFP/Getty Images)
First Lady Hillary Clinton works the crowd as she arrives at Prior Aviation Services in Buffalo, New York, 07 February, 2000. Mrs. Clinton, who officially announced her run for US Senate 06 February, 2000, made Buffalo her fisrt campaign stop. ((Photo credit Don Emmert, AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (R) announces the formation of the Millenium Trails Celebration Committee 19 April, 1999 at the Central Park Boathouse in New York, New York. Millenium Trails is a national initiative to create and enhance hiking, cultural and other trails across the country. It partners the White House Millenium Council, the Department of Transportation and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. (Photo credit Stan Honda, AFP/Getty Images)
US President Bill Clinton (L) and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (R) wait on the South Portico for the arrival of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia 23 February 2000 at the White House in Washington, DC. The Clintons hosted an arrival ceremony for their visit. (Photo credit Stephen Jaffe, AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady and New York US Senate candidate Hillary Clinton waves to the crowd as she arrives on the stage at the Democratic National Convention 14 August 2000 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Senate candidate and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton gives a thumbs-up sign to supporters at the Hispanic Day Parade October 8, 2000 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Newsmakers via Getty)
US First Lady Hillary Clinton smiles during a press conference in New York 08 November, 2000. Clinton defeated Congressman Rick Lazio to win the US Senate seat for New York being vacated by Patrick Moynihan. AFP PHOTO Doug KANTER (Photo credit Doug Kanter, AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator-elect, First Lady Hillary Clinton walks through the U.S. Capitol during an orientation day for new senators December 5, 2000 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Newsmakers via Getty)
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton listens during Labor Secretary-designate Elaine Chao's confirmation hearing January 24, 2001 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Newsmakers via Getty)
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New York Senator and former First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, signs copies of her autobiography, 'Living History' at Waterstone?s bookstore on July 3, 2003 in London, England. In her autobiography, Clinton reveals her presidential ambitions and her thoughts on Monica Lewinsky. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
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"We remain perplexed by the Times' slowness to acknowledge its errors after the fact, and some of the shaky justifications that Times' editors have made," the letter continued.

"We feel it important to outline these concerns with you directly so that they may be properly addressed and so our campaign can continue to have a productive working relationship with the Times."

After the Times received mass backlash over the story, which reported the State Department had sent a referral to the DOJ for a criminal investigation into Clinton's email use as Secretary of State, it issued a correction, followed by an editor's note.

The full letter below.

July 28, 2015

Dear Mr. Baquet:

I am writing to officially register our campaign's grave concern with the Times' publication of an inaccurate report related to Hillary Clinton and her email use.

I appreciate the fact that both you and the Public Editor have sought to publicly explain how this error could have been made. But we remain perplexed by the Times' slowness to acknowledge its errors after the fact, and some of the shaky justifications that Times' editors have made. We feel it important to outline these concerns with you directly so that they may be properly addressed and so our campaign can continue to have a productive working relationship with the Times.

I feel obliged to put into context just how egregious an error this story was. The New York Times is arguably the most important news outlet in the world and it rushed to put an erroneous story on the front page charging that a major candidate for President of the United States was the target of a criminal referral to federal law enforcement. Literally hundreds of outlets followed your story, creating a firestorm that had a deep impact that cannot be unwound. This problem was compounded by the fact that the Times took an inexplicable, let alone indefensible, delay in correcting the story and removing "criminal" from the headline and text of the story.

To review the facts, as the Times itself has acknowledged through multiple corrections, the paper's reporting was false in several key respects: first, contrary to what the Times stated, Mrs. Clinton is not the target of a criminal referral made by the State Department's and Intelligence Community's Inspectors General, and second, the referral in question was not of a criminal nature at all.

Just as disturbing as the errors themselves is the Times' apparent abandonment of standard journalistic practices in the course of its reporting on this story.

First, the seriousness of the allegations that the Times rushed to report last Thursday evening demanded far more care and due diligence than the Times exhibited prior to this article's publication.

The Times' readers rightfully expect the paper to adhere to the most rigorous journalistic standards. To state the obvious, it is hard to imagine a situation more fitting for those standards to be applied than when a newspaper is preparing to allege that a major party candidate for President of the United States is the target of a criminal referral received by federal law enforcement.

This allegation, however, was reported hastily and without affording the campaign adequate opportunity to respond. It was not even mentioned by your reporter when our campaign was first contacted late Thursday afternoon. Initially, it was stated as reporting only on a memo – provided to Congress by the Inspectors General from the State Department and Intelligence Community – that raised the possibility of classified material traversing Secretary Clinton's email system. This memo — which was subsequently released publicly — did not reference a criminal referral at all. It was not until late Thursday night – at 8:36 pm – that your paper hurriedly followed up with our staff to explain that it had received a separate tip that the Inspectors General had additionally made a criminal referral to the Justice Department concerning Clinton's email use. Our staff indicated that we had no knowledge of any such referral – understandably, of course, since none actually existed – and further indicated that, for a variety of reasons, the reporter's allegation seemed implausible. Our campaign declined any immediate comment, but asked for additional time to attempt to investigate the allegation raised. In response, it was indicated that the campaign "had time," suggesting the publication of the report was not imminent.

Despite the late hour, our campaign quickly conferred and confirmed that we had no knowledge whatsoever of any criminal referral involving the Secretary. At 10:36 pm, our staff attempted to reach your reporters on the phone to reiterate this fact and ensure the paper would not be going forward with any such report. There was no answer. At 10:54 pm, our staff again attempted calling. Again, no answer. Minutes later, we received a call back. We sought to confirm that no story was imminent and were shocked at the reply: the story had just published on the Times' website.

This was, to put it mildly, an egregious breach of the process that should occur when a major newspaper like the Times is pursuing a story of this magnitude. Not only did the Times fail to engage in a proper discussion with the campaign ahead of publication; given the exceedingly short window of time between when the Times received the tip and rushed to publish, it hardly seems possible that the Times conducted sufficient deliberations within its own ranks before going ahead with the story.

Second, in its rush to publish what it clearly viewed as a major scoop, the Times relied on questionable sourcing and went ahead without bothering to seek corroborating evidence that could have supported its allegation.

In our conversations with the Times reporters, it was clear that they had not personally reviewed the IG's referral that they falsely described as both criminal and focused on Hillary Clinton. Instead, they relied on unnamed sources that characterized the referral as such. However, it is not at all clear that those sources had directly seen the referral, either. This should have represented too many "degrees of separation" for any newspaper to consider it reliable sourcing, least of all The New York Times.

Times' editors have attempted to explain these errors by claiming the fault for the misreporting resided with a Justice Department official whom other news outlets cited as confirming the Times' report after the fact. This suggestion does not add up. It is our understanding that this Justice Department official was not the original source of the Times' tip. Moreover, notwithstanding the official's inaccurate characterization of the referral as criminal in nature, this official does not appear to have told the Times that Mrs. Clinton was the target of that referral, as the paper falsely reported in its original story.

This raises the question of what other sources the Times may have relied on for its initial report. It clearly was not either of the referring officials – that is, the Inspectors General of either the State Department or intelligence agencies – since the Times' sources apparently lacked firsthand knowledge of the referral documents. It also seems unlikely the source could have been anyone affiliated with those offices, as it defies logic that anyone so closely involved could have so severely garbled the description of the referral.

Of course, the identity of the Times' sources would be deserving of far less scrutiny if the underlying information had been confirmed as true. However, the Times appears to have performed little, if any, work to corroborate the accuracy of its sources' characterizations of the IG's referral. Key details went uninvestigated in the Times' race to publish these erroneous allegations against Mrs. Clinton. For instance, high in the Times' initial story, the reporters acknowledged they had no knowledge of whether or not the documents that the Times claimed were mishandled by Mrs. Clinton contained any classified markings. In Mrs. Clinton's case, none of the emails at issue were marked. This fact was quickly acknowledged by the IC inspector general's office within hours of the Times' report, but it was somehow left unaddressed in the initial story.

Even after the Times' reporting was revealed to be false, the Times incomprehensibly delayed the issuance of a full and true correction.

Our campaign first sought changes from the Times as soon as the initial story was published. Recognizing the implausibility that Mrs. Clinton herself could be the subject of any criminal probe, we immediately challenged the story's opening line, which said the referral sought an investigation into Mrs. Clinton specifically for the mishandling of classified materials. In response, the Times' reporters admitted that they themselves had never seen the IG's referral, and so acknowledged the possibility that the paper was overstating what it directly knew when it portrayed the potential investigation as centering on Mrs. Clinton. It corrected the lead sentence accordingly.

The speed with which the Times conceded that it could not defend its lead citing Mrs. Clinton as the referral's target raises questions about what inspired its confidence in the first place to frame the story that way. More importantly, the Times' change was not denoted in the form of a correction. Rather, it was performed quietly, overnight, without any accompanying note to readers. This was troubling in its lack of transparency and risks causing the Times to appear like it is trying to whitewash its misreporting. A correction should have been posted promptly that night.

Regardless, even after this change, a second error remained in the story: the characterization of the referral as criminal at all. By Friday morning, multiple members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (who had been briefed by the Inspectors General) challenged this portrayal–and ultimately, so did the Department of Justice itself. Only then did the Times finally print a correction acknowledging its misstatement of the nature of the referral to the Justice Department.

Of course, the correction, coming as it did on a Friday afternoon, was destined to reach a fraction of those who read the Times' original, erroneous report. As the Huffington Post observed:

"...it's unlikely that the same audience will see the updated version unless the paper were to send out a second breaking news email with its latest revisions. The Clinton story also appeared [on] the front page of Friday's print edition."

Most maddening of all, even after the correction fixed the description of the referral within the story, a headline remained on the front page of the Times' website that read, "Criminal Inquiry is Sought in Clinton Email Account." It was not until even later in the evening that the word "criminal" was finally dropped from the headline and an updated correction was issued to the story. The lateness of this second correction, however, prevented it from appearing in the paper the following morning. We simply do not understand how that was allowed to occur.

Lastly, the Times' official explanations for the misreporting is profoundly unsettling.

In a statement to the Times' public editor, you said that the errors in the Times' story Thursday night were "unavoidable." This is hard to accept. As noted above, the Justice Department official that incorrectly confirmed the Times' initial reports for other outlets does not appear to have been the initial source for the Times. Moreover, it is precisely because some individuals may provide erroneous information that it is important for the Times to sift the good information from the bad, and where there is doubt, insist on additional evidence. The Times was under no obligation to go forward on a story containing such explosive allegations coming only from sources who refused to be named. If nothing else, the Times could have allowed the campaign more time to understand the allegation being engaged. Unfortunately, the Times chose to take none of these steps.

In closing, I wish to emphasize our genuine wish to have a constructive relationship with The New York Times. But we also are extremely troubled by the events that went into this erroneous report, and will be looking forward to discussing our concerns related to this incident so we can have confidence that it is not repeated in the future.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Palmieri
Communications Director
Hillary for America

Cc: Margaret Sullivan,
Public Editor
New York Times

Read original story Hillary Clinton's Scathing Letter to NY Times: Email Story 'Abandonment of Standard Journalistic Practices' At TheWrap


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