Baier’s decision to walk back the explosive claim came after several news organizations, including NBC News, ABC News and CNN rebutted it based on their own sources.
But the anonymously sourced claim had already spread widely as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump raised the specter of “indictment” on the campaign trail and conservative media outlets, along with some nonpartisan news sites, amplified the story.
“No matter how it’s being termed, the voters are hearing it for what it is ― a culture of corruption,” she said.
Trump himself continued to talk about the possibility of an indictment on Friday.
It’s been one week since FBI Director James Comey broke with protocol and injected the agency squarely into the 2016 election. He informed members of Congress on Oct. 28 that the FBI was reviewing emails uncovered in a separate investigation that may be pertinent to its previously completed probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while secretary of state.
Comey’s vague letter sent the media into a frenzy. Several major news organizations were forced to dial back initial reports that Clinton’s case was “reopened” after relying on a Republican congressman’s mischaracterization of the letter. The separate investigation was later revealed to stem from allegations that former Congressman Anthony Weiner ― estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin ― had explicit communications with a minor.
Comey has kept silent since fostering speculation about the Democratic nominee just 10 days before an election. But members of the FBI, which is perceived as being pro-Trump, have not. Former New York City mayor and Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani on Friday acknowledged having been tipped off about the agency’s inquiry concerning Clinton.
With FBI leaks rampant, news organizations bear the responsibility of not jumping the gun and reporting unsubstantiated, potentially damaging claims about a candidate as the election nears. They need to vet information and filter out sources’ motivations before determining if a would-be bombshell meets the threshold for publication.
Baier’s clearly did not.
Baier reported on the FBI’s inquiry into the Clinton Foundation during Wednesday’s 6 p.m. newscast. The next hour, he discussed Fox News’ findings with host Brit Hume and described how “two separate sources with intimate knowledge of what’s going on with the FBI investigations” said an indictment was “likely.”
During the 7 p.m. broadcast, Baier also reported that sources claimed, with “99 percent accuracy,” that “five foreign intelligence agencies” had hacked Clinton’s private email server.
On Friday, Baier walked back the indictment claim and indicated that Fox News couldn’t stand its sources’ hacking claim. Some investigators assume Clinton’s email was hacked, but Baier said there are “no digital fingerprints of a breach.”
“All the time, especially in a heated election, on a topic this explosive, every word matters — no matter how well-sourced,” Baier said.
Describing an indictment as “likely,” he said, “wasn’t just inartful,” but wrong.
“It was a mistake,” he said. “And for that, I’m sorry.”