Accuracy in Media

ProPublica issued a major correction yesterday on its report on CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel which originally accused her of overseeing waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah.

Editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg published a lengthy explanation of how and why the website erred:

The story said that Haspel, a career CIA officer who President Trump has nominated to be the next director of central intelligence, oversaw the clandestine base where Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding and other coercive interrogation methods that are widely seen as torture. The story also said she mocked the prisoner’s suffering in a private conversation. Neither of these assertions is correct and we retract them. It is now clear that Haspel did not take charge of the base until after the interrogation of Zubaydah ended.

Engelberg then walks through the reporting process and the incorrect assumptions that they made and apologized for their mistakes.

The awkward communications between officials barred from disclosing classified information and reporters trying to reveal secrets in which there is legitimate public interest can sometimes end in miscommunication. In this instance, we failed to understand the message the CIA’s press office was trying to convey in its statement.

None of this in any way excuses our mistakes. We at ProPublica hold government officials responsible for their missteps, and we must be equally accountable. This error was particularly unfortunate because it muddied an important national debate about Haspel and the CIA’s recent history. To her, and to our readers, we can only apologize, correct the record and make certain that we do better in the future.

The original report was used by critics of the CIA as well as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who announced that he would oppose Haspel’s nomination.





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