Most people don’t know who Jo Moore is.
In the grand scheme of things, she’s a minor cog in a big machine who rose to prominence, or notoriety, right after 9/11. She’s the British government aide who sent this email to her colleagues after both World Trade Center towers had been hit but hadn’t yet collapsed: “It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury.”
When the email was made public a few weeks later, there was an outcry in Britain and Moore had to make a public apology. But it stands to reason that people in the spin business were not nearly as outraged as the wider public. After all, governments like to reveal potentially damaging information right before the weekend, and especially on “Black Friday,” when the country cares more about a 20% discount on TVs than the latest scandal.
The bottom line is this: It’s a longstanding tradition that anybody with bad news will try to pick the perfect time to release it.
Timed to Disappear?
That brings us to the front page story The New York Times ran on its website late on Monday, March 2, and in its print edition on Tuesday, March 3. It detailed how Hillary Clinton used only a private email account to conduct official business.
Now, if you’re Clinton and you know that it will come out eventually that you’ve exclusively used your private email account for all official business as Secretary of State, there could hardly have been a better day for this “revelation.” While it’s normally not easy to predict which day would be a busy news day (and therefore a good day for a news dump), that wasn’t true for March 3.
After all, the brouhaha over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress had been on the front pages of all major newspapers for a while, and that was all coming to a head that day with his actual address. March 3 also was the day before opening statements for the Boston Marathon Bombing trial, after more than a month of jury selection.
In other words, the Clinton email story appeared on the one day in which the country’s attention was conveniently focused on two previously scheduled major events.
Now that’s just fortunate … unless it wasn’t.
The Secrets of the Sourcing
Let’s look at the sourcing of the piece in The New York Times:
“Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.”
That certainly makes it appear as though this became a story after “State Department officials” just went ahead and gave this information to The New York Times. In addition to “State Department officials,” the piece also quotes a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration, a Clinton spokesman, the director of a government transparency group and a State Department spokeswoman.
It’s impossible to know for sure, but the writing and the sourcing make it appear unlikely that this article is the result of an unplanned leak. After all, how this information made its way to The New York Times is not mentioned beyond that opening paragraph.
As a journalist with more than a decade of experience in Washington, I can assure you that if this were brilliant investigative work involving sources betraying the trust of the former first lady, the author of the article likely would have managed to sneak in sentences like: “An extensive investigation has revealed …” or “…, according to a highly placed source who asked not to be named.”
But that didn’t happen. So judge for yourself if this was a controlled leak, scheduled for the perfect day to release the bad news. If it is a perfectly timed emission, Jo Moore would certainly be proud.