Last week the Associated Press published a story based on Hillary Clinton’s meetings while Secretary of State. What the AP found was that more than half of the individuals Clinton met with from private interests were Clinton Foundation donors:
At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.
Friday, CNN’s Dylan Byers wrote a story titled, “Associated Press botches Hillary Clinton report and response.” Given that headline you’d expect the story to offer a pretty thorough argument that the AP botched the report. But that’s not the case. Byers focuses most of his attention on a tweet put out by the AP about the story:
BREAKING: AP analysis: More than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation.
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 23, 2016
This tweet is misleading because it doesn’t tell readers that we’re only talking about a subset of Clinton’s meetings while Secretary, those from outside interests. That might have been okay if the tweet had included a link to the full story but it didn’t. Byers quotes a journalism professor saying the tweet was in error:
“The AP’s social-media take on the story was seriously flawed,” David Boardman, the Dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University and former editor of the Seattle Times, told CNNMoney. “It’s sloppy, click-grabbing shorthand that is a disservice to the reporting to which it refers.”
Fair enough. The tweet was a problem. So what about the story itself? Well, here again, Byers suggests the AP really blew it:
Meanwhile, other news organizations pilloried the AP’s report.
The Washington Post Fact-Checker wrote that there were “many more nuanced and important details in the story that are being misrepresented — by the AP’s own promotional tweet, and by Trump.”
The way this is written most readers would assume the Post’s Fact-Checker is exhibit A of news organizations who “pilloried the AP’s report.” But that’s not the case at all. If you follow the link and actually read the Post’s story you’ll see it’s a fact check of Donald Trump, not of the AP’s story. Even the line Byers quotes is critical of the AP’s tweet but not of the story it was based on. But most people won’t follow the link or read the story they’ll probably just assume the Post pilloried the AP.
Keep in mind, Byers is blasting the AP for putting out a misleading tweet which didn’t give readers a clear understanding of what the story actually said. And yet here he is not giving his own readers a clear understanding of what the the Post’s Fact-Checker said. It’s the same mistake. Byers continues:
Vox’s Matthew Yglesias was more direct: “The AP’s big exposé on Hillary meeting with Clinton Foundation donors is a mess,” his headline read.
And that’s all the evidence Byers offers that the AP botched its report, one link to a progressive news site. Even the expert Byers quoted earlier in the piece says Yglesias is overplaying his hand:
Boardman argued that the story itself “was not nearly so flawed as Yglesias and others have charged.”
Byers deserves credit for including the quote undercutting Vox in his piece but, looking at the material he assembled for this story, the entire piece could just as easily have been framed as ‘the AP botched a tweet but not the underlying report.’ It’s what the journalism dean told him. It’s what the Post’s Fact-Checker seemed to say. I understand reporters often don’t write their own headlines but then they probably don’t write their own tweets either. The headline of Byers’ piece is every bit as bad as the AP tweet he is blasting for inaccuracy.