How did they get it so wrong? …
ProPublica corrects … In February 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated career CIA operative Gina Haspel to be the deputy director of the CIA, a series of articles came out detailing her alleged involvement in the “torture” of two al Qaeda operatives by waterboarding. The articles stated that Haspel was in charge of a Thailand CIA station at the time Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times.
While Haspel was in charge of that station in the same year as the Zubaydah interrogation, she was not in charge of the station at the time of that interrogation. Haspel was at the station when another al Qaeda suspect was waterboarded a reported three times, and her name appeared on an order for the destruction of video recordings of the Zubaydah interrogation. ProPublica also erroneously reported that Haspel “mocked the prisoner’s suffering in a private conversation.”
ProPublica yesterday offered a stunning correction on its original reporting. It was placed right at the top of the original article, which also had its title changed. Many are calling it a model for corrections. Going one step further, ProPublica editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg offered an explanation of what went wrong and closed with the following:
None of this in any way excuses our mistakes. We at ProPublica hold government officials responsible for their missteps, and we must be equally accountable. This error was particularly unfortunate because it muddied an important national debate about Haspel and the CIA’s recent history. To her, and to our readers, we can only apologize, correct the record and make certain that we do better in the future.
Yes, the correction is a model of what should be done, and the self-reflection is important, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that shoddy reporting was overlooked because it pushed a narrative. What other stories about the intelligence community has ProPublica reported on that fall flat on standards? What else have they gotten wrong?
The New York Times finally issued a correction this afternoon … In addition to ProPublica, the NY Times offered original reporting on Haspel on February 2, 2017. In a version of the article accessed just after noon today, the following paragraph still appeared:
The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
The article was updated on Tuesday to note that Haspel was nominated to run the CIA. Also on Tuesday, the Times published a new article by different reporters that included a source from the CIA stating that Haspel was not installed as the station chief until October 2002, after the Zubaydah interrogation. Even after the stunning ProPublica correction, there had not been a correction on the original Times article, almost a full day later. There’s no excuse for that. The Times finally updated its reporting this afternoon.
CNN’s bipolar response … In his daily email last night, CNN media critic/cheerleader Brian Stelter lauded ProPublica’s correction. There’s one big problem: CNN had not corrected its own reporting of the erroneous reports. On Tuesday, CNN reported on the new nomination of Haspel. In a version of the story accessed just after noon today, the CNN piece still had the following paragraph:
The New York Times reported in February 2017 about Haspel's role overseeing the interrogation of two detainees at a prison in Thailand in 2002, including one detainee who was waterboarded 83 times in a single month.
After that assertion had been corrected by ProPublica and BuzzFeed, CNN still had the erroneous information with no editor’s note. Like the New York Times, CNN waited until this afternoon to correct its reporting. Maybe Stelter should look a little more closely at his own organization before throwing stones at others?