Former Prosecutors Criticize Media’s “Uninformed Speculation” On FBI
Several former prosecutors are criticizing the wildly speculative and overblown media coverage of FBI Director James Comey’s Friday letter announcing that the bureau plans to review additional emails that “appear to be pertinent” to its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Comey’s letter has been criticized by figures across the political spectrum due to its vagueness and apparent defiance of Justice Department precedent. This weekend, the Clinton campaign distributed a letter featuring several dozen former federal prosecutors and officials at the Department of Justice “expressing serious concerns over FBI Director Comey's departure from long-standing department protocols.”
In interviews with Media Matters, several signatories of the letter were critical of the “firestorm of misinformation” and baseless speculation that has dominated media coverage of Comey’s actions since Friday.
“It’s a predictable result of what happens when you depart from well-settled DOJ practice regarding criminal investigations,” said Tony West, a former U.S. Associate Attorney General from 2012 to 2014. “Oftentimes it’s uninformed speculation. It created a firestorm of misinformation and misinterpretation and speculation from the media and political commentators.”
He later added, “There’s a tension between trying to be first and fast and trying to be accurate. I find that with stories like this, it’s not unlike what I experienced in the Justice Department – you would have an incident and early intelligence on that incident and oftentimes the early intelligence is incorrect. You see that play out with stories like this. It is very difficult to correct first impressions.”
Stuart M. Gerson, former acting U.S. Attorney General and a former Assistant Attorney General from 1989 to 1993, agreed.
“The problem with it is we are in an age of scoop journalism. Finding an accurate picture requires a lot more experience, judgment and perception,” Gerson said in an interview. “There is nothing in that letter that suggests there is a single culpable email, there is not even an indication of that. They should have dug further. There should have been tougher interviews of sources. There needed to be something more from the Justice Department itself. More real reporting.”
For Donald B. Ayer, a former deputy U.S. Attorney General from 1989 to 1990, there was “a lot of confusion surrounding” Comey’s letter that should have sparked caution.
“Who knew what?” he said. “The media is running around trying to pick up the story and examine it. The letter he wrote wasn’t a masterpiece of clarity.”