The Mirror

Politico Won’t Let Writer Apologize For His Secret Service Story

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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Politico’s arrogance is not a newsflash. They’ve always had a penchant for flamboyant self-praise.

That reputation is on display again today, as Marc Ambinder, a contributing editor for The Atlantic and The Week, felt a need to apologize after a story by him ran in Politico Magazine that he now feels is wrong. His story was an opinion piece about the White House Secret Service having a collective alcohol problem. That, he still believes.

But where he thinks he got it wrong is in his judgments of the two Secret Service agents at the heart of what is now being reported to be a greatly exaggerated story — one that Ambinder says he fell for without doing his own vetting.

Here’s the weird part: Politico stands by his story, but he doesn’t. So he took his ethics and his apology to The Week, where he has written a candid, thoughtful outpouring of how he got his Politico story wrong.

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In his apology story, Ambinder describes how the media has painted this narrative of Secret Service director Joseph Clancy being wildly out of touch with the agency he is expected to control.

“Barely a month into the tenure of the new director, Joseph Clancy, and two of his top guys are getting busted for an alcohol-fueled drunken-driving cover-up. That’s the way the headlines framed the story. It seemed to fit the pattern of misconduct that cast a pall over the storied agency.

“But the original story now seems to be greatly exaggerated and includes information that isn’t correct. In fact, the agents in question deserve an apology from those of us to who repeated the facts without slowing down and bothering to check them out.” 

Ambinder goes on to talk about everything we don’t know about what happened — which is a lot, actually.

“But we don’t even know if alcohol had anything to do with the argument at the scene. We don’t know if the agents, being off-duty, created friction by appearing on-scene during a tense moment. We don’t know whether the agents tried to pull rank, asserting their right to bypass the temporary barricades because of their role. We don’t know if the agents were even drunk, a point that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), an agency critic, made to CNN Tuesday.”

Ambinder impales himself with the following graph, after citing falsities published by other outlets.

“Even worse was this: ‘This latest incident — where two high ranking Secret Service agents, while drunk, allegedly drove themselves into a crash barrier at the White House, disrupting a tense investigation into a suspicious package nearby, is heartbreaking.'” 

He adds: “I wrote that. I’m embarrassed I wrote that sentence.”

But the most telling line of Ambinder’s apology story?

“(POLITICO Magazine stands by the piece and doesn’t think an apology is necessary — but I think I was wrong.)”

Asked to elaborate on this, Ambinder told The Mirror, “This isn’t Politico’s problem.” He said he’ll refer my question — “Did you ask Politico if you could apologize and they said no?” — to them.

He explained how his Politico op-ed came about in the first place: “I had retweeted an earlier post I wrote about alcohol abuse and the Secret Service and they asked me to expand on it. I turned in a very personal essay. I stand by the piece. But we (collectively as the press) got important details wrong about the incident and in doing so, we shamed two guys who didn’t deserve it. I participated in that, and I feel accountable.”

The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald was pretty dismayed by it all this morning. He took to Twitter to say, “Just amazing – but sadly unsurprising for POLITICO.”

I asked Glenn why found this surprising. He replied, “I don’t expect anything more from them – do you?”

When I suggested Politico‘s problem was arrogance and foolishness, Glenn replied, “Right – Politico’s always had some good writers & reporters, but never any institutional standards or integrity.”

I sought comment from Politico editor Susan Glasser. No comment was forthcoming by Mirror press time.