Media outlets were quick to follow the lead of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who claimed that a letter from FBI Director James Comey indicated that the FBI had “reopened” its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. However, as the facts started to trickle in, outlets scrambled to walk back their headlines to more accurately portray the information.
This afternoon, Comey released a letter to congressional leaders stating, “In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear pertinent to the investigation” and “I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.” Comey noted that he was not sure how long the review will take and the FBI “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.”
Media outlets were quick to blast out the story mostly running with Chaffetz’s framing, that a new investigation surrounding Clinton was being conducted — with several having to walk back their headlines as it became clear that the story was significantly less dramatic.
The Washington Post’s report was initially headlined “FBI to conduct new investigation of emails from Clinton’s private server.”
The article was subsequently updated with the new headline “FBI to take new ‘investigative steps’ on Clinton emails.”
The Post wasn’t the only media organization fooled. Politico’s initial tweet stated “#BREAKING: FBI reopens @HillaryClinton email server investigation.”
But the current headline on the Politico article states “FBI reviewing new evidence in Clinton email probe.”
CNN.com also sent some mixed signals, with the front page reading “FBI reopens Clinton email probe,” the breaking news banner reading “The FBI is reopening the investigation into Clinton’s personal email server,” and the article headlined “FBI reviewing new emails in classified information probe.”
As Politico’s Hadas Gold noted, because Rep. Chaffetz claimed that the FBI was reopening the case, there was mass confusion in the reporting after the fact, leading outlets to run with headlines that didn’t reflect reality.