So it's big news today that the nation's leading newspaper, the New York Times, screwed up big time on a story about a supposed criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails when she was Secretary of State.
Newsweek reports on the story behind the flawed story in "How the New York Times Bungled the Hillary Clinton Emails Story."
In our hyper-partisan world, many people will not care about the truth here. That the Times story is false in almost every particular—down to the level of who wrote what memo—will only lead to accusations that people trying to set the record straight are pro-Hillary. I am not pro-Hillary. I am, however, pro-journalism. And this display of incompetence or malice cannot stand without correction.
And to other reporters: Democracy is not a game. It is not a means of getting our names on the front page or setting the world abuzz about our latest scoop. It is about providing information so that an electorate can make decisions based on reality. It is about being fair and being accurate. This despicable Times story was neither.
The New York Times has taken down the original bungled story, but Media Matters shows the headline in its own critique of the Times, "The Unanswered Questions From The NY Times' Debunked Clinton Emails Report."
Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Use. Except it turns out that a criminal inquiry wasn't sought, and the issue has nothing to do with Clinton.
The new, less prominent online New York Times story has a very different headline: Hillary Clinton Email Said to Contain Classified Information.
However, the information wasn't classified when she was Secretary of State. It became classified after a review of her emails in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The new story says:
The department is now reviewing some 55,000 pages of emails. A first batch of 3,000 pages was made public on June 30.
In the course of the email review, State Department officials determined that some information in the messages should be retroactively classified. In the 3,000 pages that were released, for example, portions of two dozen emails were redacted because they were upgraded to “classified status.” But none of those were marked as classified at the time Mrs. Clinton handled them.
So reporters and editors at the New York Times made some serious journalistic mistakes. At most newspapers, there would be no way for subscribers and others to complain about this to anyone other than... reporters and editors.
Who likely would be inclined to ignore the complaints, since they're the ones being complained about. I have experience in this with our local newspaper, the Salem Statesman Journal, which is part of the Gannett media empire.
After doing my best to get executives at the paper to recognize that several opinion pieces written by editorial page editor Dick Hughes contained significant factual errors that had been pointed out to Hughes (one time before publication), yet Hughes refused to issue corrections, in 2014 I filed an ethics complaint with Gannett.
Remember when the newspaper had a "corrections" feature? And Statesman Journal staff wanted to make stories as accurate and truthful as possible? As a long-time subscriber (37 years), I sure do.
Those days are gone. Below you can read solid evidence for this conclusion.
In May of this year I filed an ethics complaint with Garrett Flynn, an attorney who handles complaints about ethics violations for Gannett.
I did this after getting no response from Statesman Journal executives about my well-documented September 2013 complaint that editorial page editor Dick Hughes had knowingly and willfully published false information about the proposed "land grab" of part of Riverfront Park for an access road to a Pringle Square apartment complex.
...Yet Hughes, executive editor Michael Davis, and other members of the editorial board were utterly uncaring about having this error pointed out to them. I got some dismissive comments back from Dick Hughes, but he didn't offer any evidence that I was wrong and he was right.
Well, I got essentially zero response from my journalistic ethics complaint also. Flynn told me that I wouldn't hear back about how my complaint had been handled by Gannett staff. Thus it went into some corporate black hole.
By contrast, today I complained about the New York Times' handling of the Clinton emails story to somebody in a position to actually do something about this -- the Public Editor at the Times, Margaret Sullivan.
I liked what I read on her web site page:
Margaret Sullivan is the fifth public editor appointed by The New York Times. The public editor works outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper and receives and answers questions or comments from readers and the public, principally about news and other coverage in The Times. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.
Sweet! How refreshing to have criticism of a newspaper's story or opinion piece reviewed by someone other than the people who wrote and edited the story/piece.
Soon after I sent my email, I got a response. Canned, but I appreciated what was said in the reply from Sullivan's office:
Thank you for contacting the public editor. My assistant and I read every message that we receive. Please note that this office deals specifically with issues of journalistic integrity at The New York Times. Due to the number of e-mails that we receive on a daily basis, we are not able to respond personally to everyone who writes.
If a further reply is warranted you will be hearing from us in a timely manner.
Some messages to the public editor may be published in my column or on my blog. Please let me know if you do not want your message published.
Please note that below the break you will find information on the corrections process, submitting an op-ed, contacting The Times, customer service complaints and more.
Very truly yours,
Well, this already is a far more satisfying response than I've gotten from our local newspaper, the above-mentioned Statesman Journal, when I've complained about inaccuracies in stories or opinion pieces. Sullivan responded with something, which is way better than the nothing I've gotten back from Statesman Journal staff.
Every newspaper should have some sort of Public Editor.
This wouldn't have to be a full-time position. Give some independently minded staff person, such as an investigative reporter, the job of responding to subscriber criticisms and complaints about journalistic integrity.
After I travel on an airline, I get an email asking me to comment on how satisfying the flight was. The same thing happens when I stay at a hotel, buy something from Amazon, or take our car to be serviced at a dealership.
Most businesses want to learn how happy their customers are with the service or product they're selling. Newspapers, based on my experience with the Statesman Journal, don't.
This may go a long way toward explaining why circulation at daily newspapers, including our local paper, is dropping rapidly. Subscribers are going elsewhere for news, finding that print newspapers aren't giving them what they want.
Which, in part, is feeling like someone at the newspaper cares about accuracy, facts, and journalistic integrity.
This is the job of a Public Editor like Margaret Sullivan.
I'll be interested to see if she writes a piece about the bungled Clinton email story. I suspect she will. But even if she doesn't, at least I feel like this online subscriber has been heard by someone at the New York Times.