Here’s something they don’t tell you in journalism school: The best way to get a story tip is also the easiest—someone accidentally emails you something that was meant for someone else.
On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, did just that, accidentally (maybe?) informing a reporter, Marc Caputo, that the presumptive Republican nominee plans to resurrect criticisms of Hillary Clinton pertaining to the Whitewater scandal of the early ‘90s. She is certainly not the first spokesperson to make this mistake, and she’s likely not the last either.
Here are some of the best times that this has happened before:
The Associated Press – July 2014
The State Department wants to embrace the conclusions of the Senate report and blast the CIA’s past practices, according to the document.
“This report tells a story of which no American is proud,” the document says in a section entitled “Topline Messages (as proposed by State).”
“But it is also part of another story of which we can be proud,” the document adds. “America’s democratic system worked just as it was designed to work in bringing an end to actions inconsistent with our democratic values.”
The Senate report, the State Department proposes to say, “leaves no doubt that the methods used to extract information from some terrorist suspects caused profound pain, suffering and humiliation. It also leaves no doubt that the harm caused by the use of these techniques outweighed any potential benefit.”
BuzzFeed – November 2014
On Tuesday, BuzzFeed reporter Tasneem Nashrulla sent an e-mail to WHO communications officer Laura Bellinger. She wanted to know why the news outlet hadn’t been added to WHO’s Ebola situation e-mail distribution list as requested.
Bellinger then forwarded her request to WHO colleagues, noting, “Fyi, I did not respond.”
Although it was unclear why, Bellinger wrote in a subsequent note, “My understanding is that BuzzFeed is banned.” Presumbably by accident, she included Nashrulla on the e-mail.
The New York Times – May 2015
That time Bill de Blasio was upset at his staff for not knowing about delays on the subway, which made him late for a scheduled appearance amidst ongoing criticism that he was always late for things, and accidentally emailed a Times reporter about it.
Mr. de Blasio, who has been making a concerted effort to repair his reputation for tardiness, copied two senior aides on the email, including his chief of staff. The mayor, by accident, added another recipient as well: a reporter for The New York Times.
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, is not a regular subway rider: Like mayors before him, he is driven most places in a police-issued sport utility vehicle. Still, at times, the mayor’s email resembled a typical rider’s lament. “We waited 20 mins for an express only to hear there were major delays,” Mr. de Blasio wrote. “This was knowable info. Had we had it, we would have avoided a lot of hassles.”
“Let’s cross-check our info with them when I take the subway,” Mr. de Blasio wrote, before concluding: “This is a fixable prob.”
NBC Washington – January 2014
That time the Navy went to great lengths to avoid turning over responsive documents to an NBC News reporter’s FOIA request, and accidentally forwarded emails describing those lengths to that reporter.
The subject line of Patterson’s email suggests it’s “non-9_16_13 specific,” and part of the request seeks imagery from “Building 197.” September 6, 2013, is the date of the Washington Navy Yard shooting that left 13 of the service’s employees and contractors dead; Building 197 is the Navy Yard structure where the massacre took place.
“This request is too broad to tie to the specific event,” Patterson wrote in one section, apparently about a request for photographic records of the interior of Building 197. “Josh can help with crafting the language for ‘fishing expedition,’ or request to [sic] broad.” Federal public affairs officers often decline to fulfill broad requests or nonspecific “fishing expeditions” for information, which reporters often need in order to sharpen their requests and investigative areas of focus—a classic reporting Catch-22.
Boston Globe – June 2015
State government employees regularly keep track of press inquiries, updating colleagues on which reporters are asking for what, how an agency responded, and when certain stories are set to run.
What they usually don’t do is e-mail that list to reporters. But that’s what happened Tuesday when the secretariat’s program and communications coordinator, whose name the Globe is begrudgingly withholding to spare the employee further embarrassment, hit send.
There was an inquiry from the Boston Herald about massage parlor licenses, and one from The Boston Globe about homeless data. The Lowell Sun contacted the bureaucracy about housing authority executive directors, according to the list, and WBUR about transgender health services. The list detailed a WBZ-TV reporter accompanying state investigators and the Revere Journal posing some questions.