In an article Thursday about U.S. terrorism strategy and the schoolgirl-kidnapping Nigerian group Boko Haram, The New York Times’s Michael E. Gordon referred to Hillary Clinton as a “likely presidential candidate.”
The phrase can’t be wrong—"likely" is loosely defined—and most journalists probably wouldn’t disagree with it. But it’s notable nonetheless because of where it appears: The Times has never called Clinton a "likely presidential candidate" in reference to the 2016 election, according to an exhaustive search of their website and LexisNexis. In the past, the paper has referred to the former Secretary of State as a “possible” or “potential” 2016 candidate. Last year, the Times noted that she is “frequently mentioned as a likely 2016 presidential candidate.”
The Gray Lady has no specific policy on describing Clinton’s potential run, according to Phil Corbett, associate managing editor for standards. “I would strongly advise against reading anything into a passing reference like that,” he said in an email.
The usage of "likely" over "potential" might be attributable to the reporter’s beat.
“I cover the State Department, not politics,” said Gordon. “But I think it is pretty obvious that she is a likely candidate."