Kevin Drum had a good catch, Strike Two For Pair of New York Times Reporters. For a while now, we’ve been hearing conservatives going crazy with this story that the San Bernardino shooters had been all over social media about their desire for jihad. What’s more, this is part of the war on political correctness: the reason that the government just stood back and let these people murder 14 was because we didn’t want to profile them or be similarly insensitive. Great talking point for the Republicans! The problem is that according to FBI director James Comey, it isn’t true.
The story came from an article in The New York Times by Matt Apuzzo, Michael Schmidt, and Julia Preston, Visa Screening Missed an Attacker’s Zealotry on Social Media. Reporters get things wrong from time to time. But Apuzzo and Schmidt where also the guys who brought us the completely bogus, Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email. As Drum noted, “In the end, virtually everything about the story turned out to be wrong. Clinton was not a target. The referral was not criminal. The email messages in question had not been classified at the time Clinton saw them.” It’s hard to image that this is just dumb luck.
These two articles both provided the Republicans with major ammunition against the Democrats. One attacked Clinton and the other Obama. But ultimately, as we saw in the Republican debate, “Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton” is now a single thing in conservative parlance. I know better than to think that these reporters have an ax to grind. They’re just looking for that Pulitzer. So either they are very bad at their jobs, which is a stretch, or they have sources that have an ax to grind. Is there any other possibility? Nothing else seems reasonable to me. You have to look at the effect of the false revelations, which include Ted Cruz saying this at the debate:
What seems especially strange is that The New York Times would publish another blockbuster article from the same reporters without being extra careful. But I think this is indicative of a more fundamental problem at the paper of record. Both articles were based on anonymous sources without a lot of justification. In the first article, it was “senior government officials.” In the second, it was “law enforcement officials.” There are fine distinctions here. There was a core of truth in both articles. The government was looking into the Clinton email. And Tashfeen Malik may have sent private messages about jihad. So maybe the Apuzzo-Schmidt sources are just kinda-sorta informed on these things and The Times is just really desperate for a scoop.
But after Judith Miller, you have to wonder. It would seem that reporters for The New York Times are not very good at spotting when they are being used. Of course, in Miller’s case, she was basically a Bush administration mole. She was clearly keen on the war and more than happy to work as a propagandist. I don’t know what’s up with Apuzzo and Schmidt. Apuzzo has won a Pulitzer, but of course, so had Miller. The New York Times only employs people who have good resumes. The question is whether they employ competent people — either as reporters or editors.
The New York Times has not printed a retraction. And it is possible that James Comey is wrong. But it is likely that he isn’t and that the paper will print a retraction. At this point, there has been almost no press on Comey’s statement — unlike the original, apparently false, report.