Mother Jones Readers Debate NYT San Bernardino Stumble

FBI director James B. Comey dismisses paper's Dec. 13 bombshell report.

Forget about the comScore U.S. monthly stats rivalry between the Washington Post and The New York Times. A new gauntlet has been thrown, and it is of a much more serious nature.


Following a Dec. 13 A1 New York Times article that quoted law enforcement official claims that San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik had ‘talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad,’ the Post yesterday reported on a news conference during which FBI director James B. Comey denied those claims:

“Those communications are direct, private messages,” Comey said during a news conference here. “So far, in this investigation we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them at that period in time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom. I’ve seen some reporting on that, and that’s a garble.”

Comey’s comments about these private messages contradicted a report in The New York Times saying that one of the attackers “talked openly on social media” about violent jihad. His remarks also undermined assertions made during the Republican presidential debate Tuesday night that the government missed warning signs that could have prevented that same attacker from obtaining a visa.

Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum picked up at his end on this last night as well, noting that two of the three bylined reporters were involved in some erroneous reporting earlier this year about Hillary Clinton. In the comments to his post, readers are discussing the notion of reporters, sources, editors and potential culpability. Here’s just a sampling:

PDXWriter: No, [Michael S.] Schmidt and [Matt] Apuzzo should not be on probation. They should be fired. Period. A lifetime ago I was a young and eager journalist who nailed an internship with columnist Jack Anderson. There was a ton of stuff I didn’t know, but there were several things I knew to my bones. One was that you didn’t ever just “trust” your sources. Everything had to be backed up, either with solid documentary evidence, or with additional sources (ideally, on-the-record sources) who’d confirm what the initial confidential ones told you. And, again, you ALWAYS remembered that all such sources had an agenda. Indeed, that was one stock question: “Why are you telling me this?”

DF_Paul: I would think the Times has to respond to the Wapost story. It IS conceivable that Comey is covering his ass by saying there were no public postings – obviously he looks bad if there were (although immigration authorities look worse). Presumably those Times reporters are busy putting together a story refuting Comey, or getting a serious dressing down by some editor at the Times.

Edit to add: I hope the Times doesn’t do some wimpy cover your ass story saying “experts say this episode shows the government should have access to private messages on Facebook”… But I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if that’s what the reporters are arguing to their editors at this moment.

Update (8:45 p.m.):
The original New York Times headline and article have been updated, with the following Editors’ Note at the bottom:

Editors’ Note: December 17, 2015
The original version of this article, based on accounts from law enforcement officials, reported that Tashfeen Malik had “talked openly on social media” about her support for violent jihad.

On Wednesday, however, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said that online communications about jihad by Ms. Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, involved “direct, private messages.” His remarks indicated that the comments about jihad were not made in widely accessible social media posts.

Law enforcement officials subsequently told The Times that Ms. Malik communicated with her husband in emails and private messages, and on a dating site. Ms. Malik’s comments to Mr. Farook about violent jihad were made on a messaging platform, officials said. Neither Mr. Comey nor other officials identified the specific platforms that were used. (This article and headline have been revised to reflect the new information.)