According to news accounts, the sequence of events involving the Wall Street Journal report unfolded as follows: Shortly before 4 p.m. on Wednesday, February 4, 1998, Joe Lockhart, the White House deputy press secretary, said a Journal reporter approached him for a reaction to accusations that a White House steward had once seen Clinton and Lewinsky alone in a study next to the Oval Office. The reporter said he needed the information quickly because the paper planned to publish the story on its web site. Lockhart said he and the reporter agreed that Lockhart would get back to the reporter within 30 minutes unless the reporter paged him to say he had less time. A few minutes later, the reporter paged him to say the story had already gone up on the Wall Street Journal Interactive site.
The Journal’s online story reported that Bayani Nelvis, a White House steward, had testified before Starr’s grand jury that he had seen Clinton and Lewinsky alone together. The story claimed the steward “found and disposed of tissues with lipstick and other stains following a meeting between Mr. Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky,” and that he had recounted the episode to the Secret Service because he was “personally offended” by it. The report was attributed to “two individuals familiar with” the steward’s testimony. Within minutes after the story was posted, the paper’s Washington bureau chief appeared on the cable news channel CNBC — the Journal’s new television partner — discussing the scoop. His remarks were later picked up by MSNBC and posted on the MSNBC web site.
Less than 90 minutes after the Journal first posted the story, Nelvis’s attorney issued a statement calling the report “absolutely false and irresponsible.” Late that afternoon, the Washington Post and other news organizations sought to verify the original allegations, but the Post said its sources close to the grand jury strongly denied that Nelvis gave any such testimony.
At 6:40 p.m., the Journal posted a revised version of the story in which it added the strong denials from the steward’s lawyer, who had originally refused to comment when the Journal was preparing its initial report. The softened story contained a second change as well: The steward reportedly spoke to Secret Service personnel, and not necessarily the grand jury, about what he had seen. Meantime, both the original report and revised version had flashed to news outlets across the country.