With no definitive evidence, the New York Times appears to have reported as fact an inference it made about the Trump administration's approach towards affirmative action policies based on a personnel posting leaked from the Department of Justice.
The original article, published on Tuesday, specifically said the leaked document showed DOJ resources were being redirected towards "investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants." But three paragraphs later, reporter Charlie Savage wrote, "The document does not explicitly identify whom the Justice Department considers at risk of discrimination because of affirmative action admissions policies."
As I asked yesterday, why is the Times presenting the presumption this policy will target discrimination against whites as settled fact when the document upon which its report is based does not convey that?
A Washington Post report on the matter also claimed the DOJ was preparing to target schools that discriminate against white applicants, but its story attributed that claim to a government source. The Times attributes its claim to a document that, per the story's own admission, does not contain that information.
The administration, for its part, maintains the reports are false. DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores issued a statement explaining, "Press reports regarding the personnel posting in the Civil Rights Division have been inaccurate. The posting sought volunteers to investigate one administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in May 2015 that the prior Administration left unresolved."
In Wednesday's press briefing, Sarah Sanders responded to a question about the report by saying, "The New York Times article is based entirely on uncorroborated inferences from a leaked internal personnel posting in violation of Department of Justice policy. And while the White House does not confirm or deny the existence of potential investigations, the Department of Justice will always review credible allegations of discrimination on the basis of any race."
After his initial report sparked outrage from liberal proponents of affirmative action programs and drew significant media attention, Savage followed up on Wednesday with a story headlined, "Asian-Americans' Complaint Prompted Justice Inquiry of College Admissions." Curiously, he buries a concession in the follow-up that the original report framed the project "as apparently being about hunting for practices deemed to discriminate against white people."
Again, the original story reported (1) that a leaked document showed the DOJ was concerned about discrimination against white applicants and (2) that same document contained no indication of against whom, specifically, the DOJ was concerned about discrimination.
In fact, the problem of Asians being discriminated against is sufficiently well-known that probably no journalistic outfit should have failed to consider the possibility that this is what it was all about. And it may seem like hairsplitting, but that original, apparently misleading report had a serious impact on the news cycle. With many people increasingly concerned about decaying trust in media institutions, they should be aware that stories like this only fuel that fire.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.