By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

New York Times under fire for San Bernardino screw-up


Tashfeen Malik (photo via Wikipedia)

The New York Times has walked back an explosive claim: that San Bernardino terrorist Tashfeen Malik had “talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad.” As Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple reports, FBI Director James Comey said earlier this week that there was no evidence for that particular morsel, which the Republican presidential candidates chewed over at Tuesday night’s debate.

Wemple also notes that the Times‘ revised story now makes it clear that Malik had actually discussed her views on violent jihadism privately. The result is a story about social media that’s not really about social media, with the Times “attempting to preserve the structure and feel of a story about federal government misfeasance” even though there is zero reason to believe federal officials should have been aware of her private communications.

An earlier Wemple post provides more details about what went wrong at the Times, as well as some less-than-adroit handling of the information by the Los Angeles Times and by CNN debate moderator Wolf Blitzer. Blitzer allowed the candidates to trash the Obama administration on the basis of the Times story even though it had already been contradicted by CNN’s own reporting. (#slatepitches: “Wolf Blitzer Actually Did a Good Job Moderating the Debate. Good Job, Wolf!”)

And as Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum notes, two of the three Times reporters, Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt, “were also the authors of July’s epic fail claiming that Hillary Clinton was the target of a criminal probe over the mishandling of classified information in her private email system. In the end, virtually everything about the story turned out to be wrong. Clinton was not a target. The referral was not criminal. The emails in question had not been classified at the time Clinton saw them.”

The Times has a problem. We’ll see how executive editor Dean Baquet handles it in the days ahead.

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  1. I’m curious: what’s the culture among reporters for interviewing (and being interviewed by) their peers. For example, is anyone from the Washington Post (or Boston Globe, or other major outlets) calling Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt to ask questions like “Were any of the sources for your San Bernardino story also sources for your Clinton email story?”? If so, if there any expectation that Apuzzo and Schmidt would answer questions like that?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Luke: Not sure if Wemple tried, since he doesn’t say. I would have. My experience is that when a screw-up is being investigated in-house, you can’t get anything but an official statement. Maybe later?

  2. Thanks.

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