"When we're wrong, we must say so as soon as possible." Associated Press guidelines.
Somebody inside the Associated Press should hide the shovels so editors there will stop digging.
The hole they've dug in recent days just keeps getting bigger as the wire service refuses to admit obvious mistakes in the lengthy investigation they published last week about Clinton Foundation donors, and the implication they were able to buy access at Hillary Clinton's State Department.
Not only was the AP article itself deeply flawed and lacking crucial context, the news organization also tweeted out this categorically false announcement to its 8.4 million followers to promote its investigation: "BREAKING: AP analysis: More than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation."
That tweet immediately ignited a media firestorm. It has since been retweeted or liked more than 13,000 times, and the claim is now widely repeated as fact. But it's completely inaccurate. The AP investigation only looked at a small portion of Clinton's meetings or conversations -- only 154 people met the parameters of the AP's study, of which 85 donated or pledged commitments to the Clinton Foundation. There's no way 85 represents "more than half" of the people Clinton met with while serving as secretary of state between 2009 and 2013.
"Clinton actually participated in over 1,700 meetings as secretary of state during that time period," notes Judd Legum at ThinkProgress. "That means, in truth, fewer than 5% of Clinton's meetings as Secretary of State were with Clinton Foundation donors."
The AP's reckless social media hyping of the donor story represented "sloppy, click-grabbing shorthand that is a disservice to the reporting to which it refers," David Boardman, the Dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University, told CNNMoney.
And yet there was Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, on CNN's Reliable Sources insisting the AP's tweeted claim didn't need to be corrected or deleted. "If we felt it was wrong we would have taken it down right away," Carroll announced, despite the fact that, to date, only the AP thinks its tweeted declaration is accurate. Pressed by host Brian Stelter, Carroll conceded the tweet was "sloppy," but the organization clearly has no intention of deleting it.
As the AP investigation began to crumble last week, I noted that the wire service joined a dubious list of news outlets that have gotten burned chasing bogus Clinton "scandal" stories over the years. And now we're seeing the postscript to that sad tradition: News outlets which then refuse to admit they botched their Clinton "scandal" stories. There's a stubborn refusal to clean up their own mess.
For years, The New York Times has refused to acknowledge its rampantly misleading Whitewater coverage from the 1990s, as well as its overall breathless pursuit of Clinton "scandal" stories back then.
Meanwhile, when CBS' Lara Logan reported a botched Benghazi investigation on 60 Minutes, featuring a bogus "eyewitness" to the terror attack, the network never released a full explanation for how such an obviously flawed report was ever allowed to air. Instead, the network ordered a minimal internal review, released a two-page summary and Logan and a producer took a leave of absence from the program.
By contrast, when CBS faced conservative outrage after airing a flawed report about President Bush's Vietnam War record in 2004, the network appointed former Republican attorney general Richard Thornburgh, to investigate. Thornburgh's review panel worked for three months, interviewed 66 people, and issued an-often scathing 224-page report.
And now we have the AP's stumble-a-thon. Carroll's attempted defense on Reliable Sources was just the latest defensive misfire for the news outlet. Last week, the AP released a statement defending the article, but didn't really address the specific complaints that were mounting. "The initial article was bad," wrote Matthew Yglesias at Vox, "and while the defense of the article usefully clarifies a key point, it is also bad."
The reason this newsroom misfire is generating so much attention and so much anger is that it's as if the Associated Press set out to create a textbook example of how the Beltway press plays loose with Clinton "scandal" facts and then refuses to admit a mistake, even when there's virtually no debate about the falsehoods.
But it wasn't just the tweet. It was the entire premise of the AP article that was botched and requires a correction or at least a fuller explaining.
From the AP's investigation [emphasis added]:
More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money -- either personally or through companies or groups -- to the Clinton Foundation. It's an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.
Right in the first paragraph the AP announced it was "extraordinary" that Clinton met with 85 foundation donors during her nearly 50 months as secretary of state. But extraordinary compared to what? In order to prove that point, the AP needed to provide context to show how the figure was remarkable and out of the ordinary. But the AP never even tried.
Simple question: How many of those same foundation donors who met with Clinton also met with secretaries of state under the previous Republican administration?
The clear implication from the AP report was that Clinton donors bought access and favors. But if lots of those same donors gained access to President Bush's State Department, the AP implication falls apart. Indeed, its entire investigation collapses. (Vox's Yglesias posted several examples where a Clinton donor featured by the AP met with key Republican officials over the years.)
Working hard to avoid crucial context, the AP presented almost laughably non-controversial examples to highlight what reporters suggested were key instances of how Clinton Foundation donors received special treatment at the State Department.
From the Washington Monthly's Nancy LeTourneau on how "the AP blew their story" [emphasis added]:
In an attempt to provide an example of how this becomes an "optics" problem for Hillary Clinton, they focused much of the article on the fact that she met several times with Muhammad Yunus, a Clinton Foundation donor. In case you don't recognize that name, he is an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as a way to fight poverty, and founded Grameen Bank. For those efforts, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.
The connection the AP tries to make is that SoS Clinton met with Yunus because he was a Clinton Foundation donor. What they didn't mention is that their relationship goes back over 30 years to the time Hillary (as first lady of Arkansas) heard about his work and brought him to her state to explore the possibility of implementing microfinance programs to assist the poor.
What a mess. And to think how many editors at the AP saw the donor investigation article before it was published and were unconcerned -- or unaware -- that they were deceiving their readers.
And now those same bosses don't want the AP to be held accountable.
Crossposted at Media Matters for America.