The New York Times‘ public editor admits that running with a story that starts out saying Hillary Clinton is being investigated for “criminal” behavior in regards to her private e-mail account and classified documents and then updating and revising the account numerous times before admitting there’s no real there there is bad journalism.
First, consider the elements. When you add together the lack of accountability that comes with anonymous sources, along with no ability to examine the referral itself, and then mix in the ever-faster pace of competitive reporting for the web, you’ve got a mistake waiting to happen. Or, in this case, several mistakes.
Reporting a less sensational version of the story, with a headline that did not include the word “criminal,” and continuing to develop it the next day would have been a wise play. Better yet: Waiting until the next day to publish anything at all.
Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome than publishing an unfair story and damaging The Times’s reputation for accuracy.
What’s more, when mistakes inevitably happen, The Times needs to be much more transparent with readers about what is going on. Just revising the story, and figuring out the corrections later, doesn’t cut it.
That’s all well and good, but the lie has already made it halfway around the world. You can bet that we’re going to see GOP attack ads on Hillary Clinton that include the words “criminal investigation” before the end of the week.