Last week, the New York Times got caught with its pants down on a nonsensical “scoop” about Marco Rubio and his four driving violations in 17 years. Not only was the story silly, but its provenance appeared to fully originate at American Bridge, as the Washington Free Beacon’s Brent Scher discovered from perusing the public records. Instead of responding to Scher’s request for comment, the New York Times ran to Dylan Byers of Politico to claim that they had gotten the documents on their own, through a document retrieval service. During an interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show on which I guest-hosted, Scher told me that he had re-accessed those records after hearing this story from Byers, and discovered that no other activity had been listed for any of the records on traffic violations from Rubio and his wife since May 26th, which is when American Bridge pulled the records in person. So far, no one at the New York Times seems interested in addressing that point.
Today, Alana Goodman reported on the $100,000 donation to a New York Times charity from the Clintons in 2008, the same year in which the paper endorsed Hillary for president. Goodman tried to get the New York Times to comment, but instead the paper ran once again to Byers rather than answer the Free Beacon:
In an email, Times spokesperson Elieen [sic] Murphy categorically rejected the report: “The Free Beacon story is preposterous from start to finish,” she wrote. Nick Merrill, a spokesperson for the Clinton 2016 campaign, declined to comment.
Still, Byers managed to advance the story a bit:
The Clinton Family Foundation has not given to the Times’ Neediest Cases Fund since 2008.
As I wrote earlier, the context of the donation is important in determining what it means. Clearly, this shows that the value of this particular charity to the Clintons didn’t extend past their annus horribilis in that presidential cycle, with the obvious conclusion that they had something else in mind than just New York City’s “Neediest Cases” with their cash infusion. The NYT told Byers that this assumption was “preposterous,” at least on their part. The newspaper didn’t explain why reporting on this singular connection was somehow “preposterous,” especially from a media outlet that busies itself breaking scoops about traffic tickets from a candidate’s spouse.
Why, though, couldn’t the New York Times simply tell the Free Beacon that the story was “preposterous”? Byers wonders the same thing:
In recent days, the trouble is being caused on the Times’ doorstep. Two Free Beacon reports have called the Times’ integrity into question: One alleged that the Times used opposition research from a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC to publish a negative article about Sen. Marco Rubio; another revealed that the Times accepted a $100,000 donation from the Clinton Family Foundation in 2008, the same year that it endorsed her in the contested Democratic presidential primary.
Yet the Times’ response — or lack thereof — to the Free Beacon’s inquiries suggests that the paper of record holds little regard for Goldfarb and Continetti’s brand of journalism. In both cases, the Times did not respond to Free Beacon reporters when they emailed requesting comment. Then, following publication of the articles, the Times responded to inquiries from the On Media blog while continuing to disregard emails from Free Beacon reporters. …
The two Free Beacon reports on the Times are factually sound: The first shows that American Bridge, the pro-Clinton super PAC, pulled Sen. Rubio and his wife’s traffic citations from the Miami-Dade county court just days before the Times’ report on the Rubios’ record of traffic violations. The second shows that the Clinton Family Foundation made a $100,000 donation to the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund in 2008, the same year the paper gave her its endorsement.
As Jake Tapper said after the previous round of forum-shopping by the Gray Lady, this is “unseemly” when campaigns do it, let alone media outlets.
Media organizations that feed rival Reporter B answers to questions from unfriendly Reporter A are acting like political campaigns. Unseemly
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) June 7, 2015
None of us think it's ethical when campaigns do that — cut it out. Unacceptable.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) June 7, 2015
After Byers asked for comment on why the Times ignored the Free Beacon’s request for comment, the Free Beacon finally got a denial about the implication of the donation, but not on the facts Goodman reported. It’s a little late to retrieve credibility on this point now. One cannot help but conclude that the Times has adopted the campaign tactic of forum-shopping because it sees itself as campaigning, rather than reporting. Rather than respond to the audience that reads the Free Beacon, they respond instead to a totally different audience in order to provide them talking points and reassure them of the Times’ allegiance. What other possible reason would the Times have in doing this?
Glenn Reynolds says that was obvious after the Rubio hit piece:
When Scher asked the Times for comment, he got no reply. Instead, the Times went toPolitico’s Dylan Byers to give its side of the story. Byers published its denial that American Bridge was behind the story. (Scher is skeptical.) I’m not sure what’s worse: The possibility that the Times just reprinted opposition research from a partisan source (while crediting two reporters and a researcher), or the Times thinking on its own that this was a big scoop.
Oh, well. I’m inclined to agree with Jeff Greenfield that this is a parody of a political gotcha story. But if you think that the Rubios are a menace on the road, perhaps you should vote for the senator for president, so that he and his wife will have drivers. Look at Hillary Clinton: Her husband got elected to the White House, and she hasn’t driven a car herself since 1996.
And if Times journalists wonder why so many people think they bend over backward for gotcha stories involving politicians they disfavor, well, perhaps they should ponder this example. Everybody else is.
Give Byers credit for calling the Times out on this practice. He could have a high profile as the go-to person for media orgs’ spin for the next seventeen months, but he’s sticking to his guns as a media analyst. It does make one wonder where these media outlets will turn next to get out their spin.