“Almost entirely wrong” (3)

One of the most interesting items to emerge from former FBI Director’s James Comey’s testimony at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week was Comey’s description of the key February 15 New York Times Trump/Russia story as “almost entirely wrong.” I took a look at Comey’s testimony and the subsequent Times coverage of it here (Comey’s testimony) and here (the Times’s coverage). In today’s New York Post John Crudele provides a useful look back:

“In the main,” Comey continued, the Times story “was not true.”

Okay, there’s a little wiggle room in there when you say “in the main.” But Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a member of th Senate Intelligence Committee, made sure there was no misunderstanding when he asked Comey: Would it be fair to characterize the story as “almost entirely wrong?”

Comey answered, “Yes.”

We all make mistakes, but this one by the Times was a doozy.

So how did the Times handle its embarrassment? It buried Comey’s statement on Page A21 in last Friday’s paper with an innocuous headline: “Disputing Times Article About Inquiry into Russia.”

The only quote from Comey was that “in the main, [the article] was not true.” The Times then went on to explain in depth that other media outlets had since done their own reporting and come up with pretty much the same conclusion.

Of course, it’s easy to get sources to say things once they’ve read them in the paper. And if Comey had addressed those stories, he’d say they were also wrong. This is a case of journalistic “misery loves company,” and the Times was more than willing to share the blame.

The rest of the article went on to justify how the Times could have come to its conclusions — maybe the communications it was writing about “did not meet the FBI’s black and white standard of who can be considered an ‘intelligence officer.’ ”

What the Times didn’t say was that maybe it was simply the case that they were dead wrong, as Comey said pretty clearly.

What did the “four current and former American officials” who the Times hung the Feb. 15 story on have to say about Comey’s statement? “The original sources [for the Feb. 15 story] could not immediately be reached after Comey’s remarks.”

Well, that’s odd. Comey spoke Thursday morning and there were five reporters on the story. They couldn’t reach any of the four sources in the roughly 12 hours they had before the Times went to press for Friday’s paper!?

How about on Friday? Could the Times reach any of the four sources then? It isn’t surprising that the sources were so hard to reach. For one thing, they gave the Times bad information. And you don’t want to talk to reporters after you’ve screwed them.

Crudele formulates his last point writing from the perspective of a conscientious journalist. The Times draws no conclusion from the disappearance those formerly talkative “sources.” What a coincidence that they’ve all gone to ground at the same time. The Times’s lack of curiosity or concern is striking. You’d think the Times might want to put out an APB on them.

Crudele to the contrary notwithstanding, I’m not sure I’d say the sources screwed (i.e., victimized) the reporters. I think in this case the screwing was consensual, in the service of a shared cause.

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