S.E. Cupp is a conservative commentator who unfurls often bareknuckled punditry on various programs across CNN programming. On Friday afternoon she was on “The Lead with Jake Tapper” doing what conservative commentators do, which is to stick it to the New York Times. “I think it’s worth pointing out that we are all talking about it notably because the New York Times changed their headline, their lead and the link to this story…Because Hillary asked them to,” she said in a segment with Tapper and former White House strategist Dan Pfeiffer. “The New York Times re-published the Pentagon papers against the will of Richard Nixon and had to go to the Supreme Court to do it. It is not the New York Times that changed their headline back.”

There won’t be any PunditFact blowback for Cupp based on that assessment; she had her particulars in order. On Thursday night, the New York Times, under the bylines of Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, published an exclusive and thundering story alleging: “Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state, senior government officials said Thursday.” Without attaching any notifications, the New York Times softened the piece not long after publishing it, reporting that the investigation was aimed at “whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state.”

Politico’s Dylan Byers secured a quote from Schmidt on why the newspaper had changed the language: “It was a response to complaints we received from the Clinton camp that we thought were reasonable, and we made them,” Schmidt said.

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Or, as Cupp said, “Hillary asked them to” change the story. And that, conservatives argued, was the scandal. NewsBusters, the conservative watchdog of mainstream media, scolded the newspaper for caving: “[T]he Hillary team had complained to the Times about the initial Thursday night story, and the paper (surprise) complied.” Breitbart sniffed, “New York Times Stealth-Edits Clinton Email Story at Her Command.” Fox News contributor Monica Crowley:

On Fox News Friday afternoon, former George W. Bush press secretary Dana Perino echoed the notion: “I had a chance to work at the White House, too. Do you think for one second, that if I had a complaint about the lead of the New York Times story and I called and complained that the New York Times would have fallen over themselves to change it?”

The sentiment was available on Twitter at going-out-of-business prices:

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As a piece of media criticism, this outburst was a two-story flophouse with termites running amok in the joists. On one level, habitual critics of the New York Times were so blinded by their bias against the newspaper that they couldn’t stand still and appreciate what the paper had done: “Break” a “story” about a criminal probe into Hillary Clinton over her e-mails. It had put its good name on the line for a towering scoop that — if true! — could have seriously hurt her 2016 presidential hopes. It moved aggressively on the story, as well — way too aggressively, as a matter of fact. A Democratic spokesman for the House oversight committee, which is closely involved in Clinton e-mail stuff, told the Erik Wemple Blog: “Unfortunately, the New York Times did not check with us before running its story, even though we have offered to help in the past and could have corrected these errors before they showed up on the front page. We do not know who the New York Times talked to, but we talked to the Inspectors General themselves.”

Given that context, you might suppose that the paper’s conservative critics could have forgiven the paper for scaling back a few words. They didn’t.

On another level, the critique was leaving out something that once mattered in political dialogue: the truth. In response to the Clinton camp’s complaints, the New York Times adjusted its story to squelch the notion that Clinton herself was at the center of a request for a criminal probe. Those alterations brought the story closer to the facts. Not quite close enough, however. Even after eliminating the statement that the request for criminal investigation was directed at Clinton herself, the story was still considerably wrong. This was not a criminal referral in any aspect, and a subsequent correction addressed that not-so-trifling detail. As of Saturday, the corrective tissue on the piece could serve as a banquet tablecloth:

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Correction: July 25, 2015
An article and a headline in some editions on Friday about a request to the Justice Department for an investigation regarding Hillary Clinton’s personal email account while she was secretary of state misstated the nature of the request, using information from senior government officials. It addressed the potential compromise of classified information in connection with that email account. It did not specifically request an investigation into Mrs. Clinton.
In addition, government officials who initially said the request was for a criminal investigation later said it was not a “criminal referral” but a “security referral” pertaining to possible mishandling of classified information.

The point here being that the New York Times wasn’t buckling under to the Clinton campaign. It was undertaking a long and painful walk-back.

On Friday afternoon, the Erik Wemple Blog asked Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill what he thought of complaints that the New York Times was doing the bidding of the Clinton campaign in making those initial, stealth changes. His answer: “You’re not serious are you?”

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