NYT Creating Talking Points for Republicans

James ComeyKevin 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:

It’s not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks. It is political correctness. We didn’t monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn’t target it.

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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

7 thoughts on “NYT Creating Talking Points for Republicans

  1. The media has been in favor of Republicans for a long time. They don’t seem to want to be truly fair and balanced and of course, the Newspaper of Record hates the Clintons so if there is any possible way to smear Hillary, they will take it.

    • I think it is more that reporters treat Democrats the way that reporters should treat all politicians. I don’t mind them screwing up like this if they did it with equal fervor to everyone. But they don’t. They walk on eggshells with regard to the Republican Party because conservatives have been amazingly good at “working the refs.” There is another aspect of it, however: elite reporters are upper-middle and upper class. It’s like Dean Baker on Out of Touch Reporters.

      • There is something to be said about how they are not people who deal with the reality that the rest of us deal with. If they lose their home it is because they are bad at money management, not because they had to pick between feeding their kids and rent. They simply don’t know what it is like, when they are at the top of the media market, what it is to be poor since even living to paycheck to paycheck-those zeros keep them doing very well.

        • Actually, this reminds me of something about libertarians. As a group, they are made up of people who are at the top of their professions — or think they are. By and large it is about convincing themselves that they really do deserve it all.

            • Pretty much. Of course, they will never have enough because they are chasing a false god that doesn’t lead to fulfillment.

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