UPDATE: NY Times shows same level of professionalism as the Detroit News. That's not a compliment.

So, late last night the New York Times posted another story about Hillary Clinton's email which included this headline...

Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email

...and this lede passage:

"...into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state."

An hour or so later, they changed the headline to this...

Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account

..and the wording of the passage was changed to this:

"...into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state."

However, according to Politico (as well as a whole mess of reporters via Twitter), as of this morning...

As of early Friday morning, the Times article contained no update, notification, clarification or correction regarding the changes made to the article.

After a lot of criticism, the NY Times finally added this correction notice around 3pm:

OK, except that...

The Justice Department said Friday it has been asked to investigate the “potential compromise of classified information” in connection with the private e-mail account that Hillary Rodham Clinton used while serving as secretary of state.

A statement issued by the Department said it had received a “referral” on the matter, although it did not say who originated it.

“It is not a criminal referral,” the statement said.

Huh. Well, that's kind of important as well, yes?

Unfortunately, as of 8:20pm EST the next day, the NY Times headline still reads...

This is just the start of the mess, however. Over at Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald has done an amazing job of systematically tearing apart the rest of the NY Times story, piece by piece. It's pretty jaw-dropping.

So had the Times mixed up a criminal referral—a major news event—with a notification to the department responsible for overseeing FOIA errors that might affect some documents’ release? It’s impossible to tell, because theTimes story—complete with its lack of identification of any possible criminal activity—continues to mention a criminal referral.

But based on a review of documents from the inspectors general, the problems with the story may be worse than that—much, much worse. The reason my last sentence says may is this: There is a possibility—however unlikely—that theTimes cited documents in its article that have the same dates and the same quotes but are different from the records I have reviewed. I emailed Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor, to ask if there are some other records the paper has and a series of other questions, but received no response. (Full disclosure: I’m a former senior writer for the Times and have worked with Baquet in the past.)

This story is still playing out, and no doubt there will be more revelations, but it sure reminds me an awful lot of this much smaller-scale incident at the Detroit News a couple of months ago:

One week ago I posted en entry titled "Color me shocked: Michigan GOP State Senator spewing nonsense", which documented an appallingly erroneous Op-Ed by Republican State Senator Patrick Colbeck riddled with basic mathematical errors about the Affordable Care Act.

Among the many factual errors included in Colbeck's essay were such gems as:

  • He claimed that the ACA is costing $1.35 trillion per year. It's actually priced at less than 1/10th that price ($120 billion per year).
  • He claimed that the ACA has insured an additional 19 million people, which is oddly generous as compared with my own estimate of 14 million or even the Obama administration's estimate of 16.1 million.
  • He claimed that the ACA is "still leaving 36 million people" without insurance, while failing to acknowledge that 4 million of those are stuck in the Medicaid Gap created by Republican-run states, while another 6.3 million are undocumented immigrants who aren't legally eligible for coverage under the law.
  • He claimed that the ACA is costing over $71,000 per enrollee per year, when the actual number is closer to $5,000 per person.
  • He claimed that a "high quality policy" can be purchased on the non-ACA market for $6,000/year, which may or may not be true depending on the person.
  • He claimed that "159 organizations" which stand "between a patient and a doctor" were created by the ACA, which is utter nonsense.
  • He claimed that the state of Washington launched a program which magically cut both costs and hospitalization rates in half, without citing any source or providing any information about what this mystery program might be.

As you may recall, after I wrote about this pack of lies on this site, I also submitted my own Op-Ed rebuttal to the Detroit News, but never heard back from them about it.

Then, a few days later, it turned out that the News went back in and made (partial) corrections to (some) of the more glaring errors...without including any sort of correction notice (not to mention scrubbing all of the comments from the original version).

Then, after further criticism by myself and others, the News finally posted a correction notice...which itself was still misleading (and without correcting some of the factual errors which had been pointed out earlier).

Now, there are, of course, many differences between the two situations. The Detroit News let Sen. Colbeck's BS Op-Ed sit for 10 days before making any corrections, while the NY Times made at least a partial correction within an hour or so of the story being published.

The problem is that the Times "error" is an infinitely bigger deal on a lot of levels:

  • the New York Times receives several magnitudes more traffic and attention than the Detroit News.
  • the New York Times is supposedly the "paper of record" for a large portion of the U.S. population (and a decent chunk of the international scene)
  • the subject of the News piece was about how much the ACA might impact the federal budget. The subject of the Times piece was whether or not a former First Lady, former U.S. Senator, former U.S. Secretary of State and current frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States is the subject of a criminal investigation.
  • the headline in the News piece wasn't particularly inflammatory and didn't really need to be corrected, whereas the Times headline is extremely inflammatory...and is still there.

I've obviously made factual errors myself from time to time, but I generally try to correct them ASAP when they're brought to my attention and I have no problem with admitting a screw-up. Just this morning I originally thought that BCBS of Texas was the only one offering PPO policies anywhere in the state, when it turns out that Cigna does offer them in some areas. In that case, I only had to change "will have to" to "may have to" in the headline....and noted the correction a few moments afterwards via Twitter

I'm obviously not trying to compare myself to a real journalist like Eichenwald. At the same time, I've spent the past nearly two years doing my best to provide accurate, real-time enrollment and related data for the Affordable Care Act, debunking mountains of bullsh*t along the way. Usually I do a pretty good job, sometimes I mess up. But I'm an unpaid blogger. This is the New York Friggin' Times. Depressing.

My larger point is that the news is often hard enough to understand and interpret when journalists, editors and outlets are trying to do their jobs properly, much less when people gum up the works on purpose.*

*(my own correction 8:54pm: I have no proof that the Times story was messed up on purpose)

UPDATE: 12:54pm 7/25: Well there you go: 34 hours or so (and millions of page views) later, the Times has finally removed "Criminal" from the headline (h/t to nycsouthpaw):