The New York Times recently reported -- wrongly, as it turns out -- that Hillary Clinton was the subject of a "criminal" investigation for conducting official State Department business on her private email system. Many of the Times's liberal readers were upset about the paper's handling of the Democratic frontrunner, and so, over the weekend, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan dragged out the sackcloth and ashes to explain the paper's coverage. Sullivan's column on the matter, however, contains a pretty remarkable characterization of the Times's Benghazi coverage:
But I agree with this sentiment from a reader, Evan Hannay, who is troubled by some of the Clinton coverage: “Hillary deserves tough questions when they are warranted. But it is undeniable that she is already facing significantly tougher coverage than any other potential candidate.” He thinks The Times should make “a promise to readers going forward that Hillary is not going to be treated unfairly as she so often is by the media.”
Last Thursday, I handed Mr. Baquet a printed copy of Mr. Hannay’s email and asked him to address it.
To that end, he told me that he has urged reporters and editors to focus anew on issues stories. And he pledged fairness. “I’m happy to make a promise that she’ll be treated fairly,” he said, though he added, “If you look at our body of work, I don’t believe we have been unfair.” One testament to that, he said, was an investigative piece written by David Kirkpatrick shortly after the 2012 Benghazi attacks, with conclusions seen as favorable for Mrs. Clinton, who was then secretary of state. It came under heavy attack from the right.
The "investigative piece" linked by the Times didn't just come "under heavy attack from the right" because its conclusions were "favorable for Mrs. Clinton." It came under attack because it was decisively wrong. Here's the key sentence from Kirkpatrick's piece, which by the way, was not written "shortly after" the 2012 Benghazi attacks, but rather, more than a full year later:
Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.
The Times's incorrect pronouncement aside, this publication -- along with others -- published several pieces pointing out the obvious connections between Al Qaeda and the Benghazi attacks. Despite overwhelming eveidence of al Qaeda's role in the attacks, the media used the claim that there was no connection to shut down Benghazi debate. In fact, the Times editorial board, citing Kirkpatrick's erroneous report, wrote the following in an attempt to discourage further Benghazi investigations and accused Republicans of attempting to derail Hillary's presidential ambitions:
In a rational world, [Kirkpatrick's report] would settle the dispute over Benghazi, which has further poisoned the poisonous political discourse in Washington and kept Republicans and Democrats from working cooperatively on myriad challenges, including how best to help Libyans stabilize their country and build a democracy. But Republicans long ago abandoned common sense and good judgment in pursuit of conspiracy-mongering and an obsessive effort to discredit President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who may run for president in 2016.