Hillary Clinton's campaign has made public a strongly worded letter it sent to the New York Times, expressing “grave concern” about a recent story that wrongly alleged federal officials were seeking a criminal inquiry into Clinton's use of a personal email account when she was the secretary of state.
The letter, sent by Clinton's Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri to the Times' executive editor, Dean Baquet, said the campaign was “perplexed by the Times' slowness to acknowledge its errors after the fact, and some of the shaky justifications that Times' editors have made.”
“I feel obliged to put into context just how egregious an error this story was,” the letter continued. “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.”
The Times' story, first published on July 23, was originally headlined "Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton's Use of Email," and relied on information from unnamed sources. Serious problems with the story became apparent shortly after publication. The inquiry being called for was not a criminal investigation but a “security referral,” and Clinton was not its focus.
On July 24, all of the players in the story -- the Justice Department, the inspectors general and Clinton's campaign -- released public statements saying that the investigation being called for was not criminal. According to Politico's On Media blog, the Times neither removed the word from its headline and its story, nor did it issue a correction, until the following day.
Palmieri's letter lists three other complaints that the campaign has about the story. It stated that the “seriousness of the allegations ... demanded far more care and due diligence,” that the story “relied on questionable sourcing and went ahead without bothering to seek corroborating evidence,” and that “even after the Times' reporting was revealed to be false, the Times incomprehensibly delayed the issuance of a full and true correction.”
The Times' Public Editor Margaret Sullivan tackled the problems with the story in a lengthy blog post, in which she said that competitive pressure had led reporters and editors to move with too much speed and not enough caution.
Sullivan adds that she spoke with the reporters who wrote the story and a top editor who worked on it. While none of those involved in writing and editing the story were willing to reveal their sources to her, she said that she had a sense that the “final confirmation came from the same person more than once.”
Baquet defended his editorial staff to Sullivan. “You had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral,” Baquet said. “I’m not sure what they could have done differently on that.”
Politico reported that a Clinton campaign staffer said that the letter was made public after Baquet refused to publish it in the Times.