Slate forced to correct report of unverified 'theory' on James Comey memos: 'Mea culpa'

Slate senior editor Jeremy Stahl was forced to issue a correction after he was called out on social media for floating a theory that Fox News made an error in reporting related to former FBI Director James Comey's leaked memos.  

Comey is under fire for leaking documents to his friend, Columbia University professor Daniel Richman. President Trump has attacked Comey over the leak and the memos have subsequently been handed over to Congress and obtained by the media. The liberal media scrambled to figure out why House Republicans were so enthusiastic about publicizing the memos, which inevitably resulted in convoluted conspiracy theories.

Stahl tweeted his “theory” last Thursday, which was a piece headlined, “Why Were Republicans so Desperate to Release the Embarrassing Comey Memos? Here’s One Explanation.” The piece openly pondered if Fox News misreported the number of memos that Comey leaked to the media in a piece published in July 2017. Stahl was ultimately trying to prove that Republicans in Congress wanted to use the memos to show Comey had leaked classified documents.

Stahl widely speculated that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley meant to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein it was “four pages rather than four memos,” because four of the pages among two documents released to the press were marked unclassified. Grassley seemingly used the 2017 Fox News story as his evidence when explaining the situation to Rosenstein, according to Stahl.

Fox News political reporter Brooke Singman, who contributed to the 2017 report, told Stahl via Twitter that she asked Richman directly how many memos he was given by Comey and “he explicitly said four” memos. Stahl attempted to salvage his piece in a Twitter exchange, responding that there are multiple possibilities, one of them being that Singman was lied to by a source.

Shortly later, Stahl tweeted a link to the updated article, along with a new post, and admitted he was wrong. “Mea culpa,” he wrote.

“This post advanced the theory that Fox News might have mischaracterized the number of memos James Comey gave professor Daniel Richman. According to subsequent reporting in the Wall Street Journal along with Slate’s own reporting, Fox News’ reporting appears to be correct,” Stahl’s update stated.

Stahl also published a new story, headlined, “My Theory About the Number of Memos Comey Gave His Friend Was Wrong.”

“I now believe my speculation about the number of documents handed over was incorrect and that Singman was right,” Stahl wrote.

Stahl explained that a source told him "Comey gave Richman two memos that later were deemed to contain classified information,” but the source also said that nothing was classified at the time.

“Regardless of whether the material Comey gave Richman was classified at the time, or was classified later, the fact remains that Singman’s reporting about the number of documents Comey handed over to Richman was correct and my theory about that was wrong,” Stahl concluded.

Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.