Here’s the headline on the original version of The Washington Post’s story on former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton’s e-mail troubles:
State Department reviewing whether Clinton e-mails violated security rules
This is now the current headline:
Clinton e-mail review could find security issues
Quite a difference lies between those two versions. The first asserts a purpose behind the review — namely, that the State Department wants to see whether Clinton did something improper or perhaps illegal. The second suggests that any such finding would be incidental.
Or, as State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told the Erik Wemple Blog this afternoon, “There’s a big difference between reviewing something for public release and reviewing whether regulations are broken.” Indeed, says Harf, the review will examine which of the more than 50,000 pages of e-mails handed over by Clinton last fall from her personal e-mail archives are suitable for release to the public. A review will consider whether sensitive or classified information should preclude their issuance.
Here’s a side-by-side of the story’s lead paragraph. Initial lead:
The State Department is reviewing whether Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of private e-mail during her four years leading the agency violated policies designed to protect sensitive information, a senior department official said Thursday night.
A State Department review of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s e-mails from her time leading the agency could reveal whether she violated security policies with her use of a private e-mail server, a senior department official said Thursday night.
Those changes came after Harf raised objections with The Post. Asked if she was happy with the fix, Harf said yes.
Atop the story now is a note that reads as follows:
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the State Department’s explanation of the review’s initial purpose.
Mistaking the “initial purpose” of the review qualifies for a correction, not the milder clarification. But with such cryptic language, it’s a bit difficult to suss out exactly what The Post got wrong. A more complete picture emerges from the step-by-step history of the story available at NewsDiffs.org, which highlights the language that replaced the newspaper’s original formulation.
Scott Wilson, The Post’s deputy national editor, told this blog in a statement, “The State Department felt our original lead suggested that the sole purpose of its review was to determine whether Hillary Clinton violated agency policies concerning personal e-mail use. That is one issue the review will address, but not the only issue. We agreed that our lead placed too much emphasis on that element, and so adjusted it accordingly.”
What’s a bit crazy about this back-and-forth is precisely the State Department’s heated insistence that this review isn’t, in fact, aimed at determining wrongdoing by the former secretary. Shouldn’t it be?
We asked Harf whether a document existed that outlined the mission of the review. She said there wasn’t. We’ll try FOIA!
Updated 6:00 p.m. to add line about NewsDiffs.org.