More reporting on mass shooting fails under scrutiny

Not surprisingly, some of the reporting in the aftermath of the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings isn’t standing up to scrutiny.

The latest is the widely-reported assertion that Tashfeen Malik talked openly on social media about violent jihad. That’s led to criticism that the U.S. intelligence services failed to pick up even the most public warnings that she and her husband were a threat. In fact, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized the Department of Homeland Security during Tuesday’s debate that authorities missed the messages.

There appears to be just one problem with the assertion, pinned on the New York Times. There’s no evidence it’s true.

“So far, in this investigation we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them at that period in time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom. I’ve seen some reporting on that, and that’s a garble,” FBI Director James B. Comey said yesterday.

Comey did say that private communication talked of jihad, but not public postings.

Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple calls the discrepancy “a gigantic deal.”

The New York Times, after all, didn’t merely report that Malik had made public Facebook postings about her feelings about jihad; it wrapped that contention into what reads as a condemnation of the U.S. anti-terrorism apparatus.

The thrust of the story comes through with trademarked New York Times precision in its lede: “Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband carried out the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., passed three background checks by American immigration officials as she moved to the United States from Pakistan.

None uncovered what Ms. Malik had made little effort to hide — that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad. She said she supported it.

And she said she wanted to be a part of it.” The balanced investigative piece discusses the “shortcomings” in how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) screens foreigners coming into the United States, as Malik did in July 2014 through a K-1 visa, which allows a foreign national fiance(e) to move to the United States to marry.

President Obama has ordered a review of K-1 visas.

Wemple insists the story needs a retraction.

On Tuesday, I talked about covering stories like this with David Folkenflik of NPR and Bruce Shapiro, the executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University.

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