“The ‘Clinton Rules’ Of Journalism”: Why Clinton-Bashing Articles Are A Golden Goose For Her Detractors
We’re beyond corrections now.
The New York Times issued a lengthy editors’ note Tuesday regarding the paper’s tangled, bungled coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails, which, they conceded, “may have left readers with a confused picture.”
That’s a rather gentle gloss on the media tempest that made landfall Thursday night, after an article that purported to break news of a criminal investigation into Clinton, was published on the Times site and front page Friday morning, and was the subject of an email blast.
But then the Times silently amended the story, whittling the headline, and the story’s claims, down from “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email” to “Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account,” and then finally, “Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” where it stands as of this writing.
Of course by then, it had been copied, repeated, and aggregated all over the Web.
The New York Times originally reported that two government inspectors general had asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into Clinton’s use of her private email account
It altered its report on its website overnight without explanation to suggest she personally was not the focus of a criminal referral.
Then, the Justice Department said the inspectors general had requested a criminal investigation into the emails, before backtracking and saying that there was a request for a probe but not a criminal one.
When the crux of the original story — that Clinton was under criminal investigation — was tweaked to indicate that the investigation was not criminal in nature, nor was Clinton the target, the Times editors quietly corrected it on the online edition of the paper, after it had been online for a few hours, with none of the fanfare that attended the original story’s publication: no email blast; no correction.
Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, published a long note outlining exactly how and why Times reporters fouled it up. She concluded that, in the Times’ haste to publish an earth-shattering exposé on the Democratic frontrunner, the paper of record had rushed to print an overly sensationalistic story that relied on dubious sources. She also lamented editors’ decision to discreetly revise the story without first issuing a proper correction. Her prescription: “Less speed. More transparency.”
National Memo editor Joe Conason argued Monday that:
Sullivan lets the Times editors and reporters off a bit too easily, allowing them to blame their anonymous sources and even to claim that the errors “may have been unavoidable.” What she fails to do, as usual, is to examine the deeper bias infecting Times coverage of Hillary and Bill Clinton — a problem that in various manifestations dates back well over two decades.
It seems clear that the Times article was written in accordance with the “Clinton rules” of journalism — which, as articulated by Jonathan Allen, state that “the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family’s political empire” is the primary goal for journalists. Clinton rules endorse the use of tabloid-worthy headlines (“Criminal!”) and dubious sources, presume guilt, and operate under the assumption of a massive Clintonian conspiracy of widespread collusion and ill intent.
The Times finally ran two belated, garrulous corrections — the first on Saturday, the second on Sunday — which together read:
An article and a headline in some editions on Friday about a request to the Justice Department for an investigation regarding Hillary Clinton’s personal email account while she was secretary of state misstated the nature of the request, using information from senior government officials. It addressed the potential compromise of classified information in connection with that email account. It did not specifically request an investigation into Mrs. Clinton.
An article in some editions on Friday about a request to the Justice Department for an investigation regarding Hillary Clinton’s personal email account while she was secretary of state referred incorrectly, using information from senior government officials, to the request. It was a “security referral,” pertaining to possible mishandling of classified information, officials said, not a “criminal referral.”
These are not corrections on the order of “Mr. McDougal’s name is actually MacDougal,” and it’s baffling that they would be treated as such, quietly airbrushed onto the site like fixing a typo. Which, of course, became the next phase of the story.
It didn’t help that the Times reporter who wrote the piece conceded that the corrections were “a response to complaints we received from the Clinton camp that we thought were reasonable.” This is how a Clinton-bashing story evolves from one of sloppy journalism to the way Hillary Clinton muscled a media titan into reporting what she wanted them to report.
Of course this episode is already becoming subsumed into the vast Clinton conspiracy, as when S.E. Cupp accused the Times of altering its headline “because Hillary asked them to.” A Breitbart headline similarly proclaimed: “New York Times Stealth-Edits Clinton Email Story At Her Command.”
As Sullivan said, “you can’t put stories like this back in the bottle – they ripple through the entire news system.”
Clinton-bashing articles are the gifts that keep on giving, a veritable golden goose of insinuation, innuendo, and dishonesty: Even once the initial specious recriminations have crumbled, the storm of media attention and confusion that follows creates a feedback loop that reinforces Clinton’s detractors’ view of her as a media-manipulating mastermind. And for voters — even those who support Clinton — it’s a reminder that this kind of thing is just going to happen again and again.
By: Sam Reisman, The National Memo, July 29, 2015
“Being A Jerk Is A Feature Of His Candidacy”: The Media Created Donald Trump — And Now He Can’t Be Stopped
Time for some straight talk: We in the media love Donald Trump.
Even when we’re criticizing him — and boy, has he gotten plenty of criticism from people in the media over the last few days — we still love him. There’s just something magical about the guy. I think it resides in the contrast between his transcendent boorishness and his unflagging insistence that everything about him is the height of class and sophistication. And the details — the spectacular comb-over, the downscale New York accent, the wife regularly turned in for a younger model — all combine to make him a truly glorious character, so easy to mock and yet so unfazed by the mockery of millions.
It’s hard to think of too many people who have sustained the kind of celebrity Trump has for as long as he has. After all, he first started appearing in newspapers and magazines in the 1980s. Nothing takes him down, not bankrupcy, not the failure of his political endeavors (remember how he was going to prove that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States?), nothing. He just keeps coming.
So while the Republican Party is hoping desperately that somehow Trump will just go away, he’s not going anywhere until he’s good and ready. And as long as he can turn on the news and see his face, he’s a happy man.
After he seemed to belittle John McCain’s status as a war hero over the weekend (“He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, I hate to tell you”), you could almost hear the collective whoops from GOP headquarters, not to mention from Trump’s primary opponents.
“There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably,” said an RNC spokesman, which might be news to John Kerry, since disparaging his service was pretty much the centerpiece of the campaign against him in 2004. After weeks of trying not to say anything impolite about Trump lest they offend his supporters, the candidates finally mustered themselves to a round of condemnation.
It provided a perfect moment for the media, which is why this episode has gotten such enormous coverage. On one hand, it’s Trump, who’s always good for a story. And on the other hand, Trump could have been discovered to have a lab in his penthouse where puppies and kittens are tortured to make cologne from their tears, and it wouldn’t have offended journalists as much as an insult to John McCain.
There isn’t time to go into the details now, but suffice it to say that no politician in at least half a century has benefited from the kind of media adulation that John McCain has enjoyed, and his suffering as a POW is always presented as the justification for that worship. In striking contrast to the way they treat every other politician, McCain’s motives are assumed to be pure, his sins are excused, and his coverage focuses on his best moments rather than his flaws and mistakes. (Even his 2008 presidential campaign was reported with more gentle affection than most losing candidates get.) So even if the presidential candidates were not saying a word, McCain’s admirers in the media would be covering this story with all their might.
Which doesn’t make it much different from what’s been happening with Trump’s candidacy from the outset. As John Sides notes, Trump got much more coverage from his entry into the race than any other candidate, and the coverage sustained its high level even after that initial period. It’s interesting to contemplate whether Trump will still be news if and when he’s falling in the polls instead of rising, but chances are that before long he’ll say something else outrageous, which will lead to a new round of breathless coverage.
I suspect that Trump’s supporters aren’t going to desert him because he insulted John McCain — after all, McCain isn’t much liked among the Republican base, and this actually fits in with Trump’s political brand as the guy who tells it like it is. The fact that he’s getting universal condemnation could even convince the base that he’s exactly the kind of no-nonsense, shake-up-the-system candidate they’ve been hoping for. When he said Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers, his support leaped among Republican primary voters, and they love the fact that he tosses around insults at anyone and everyone. And we in the media love it too.
Trump being a jerk is a feature of his candidacy, not a bug — and we just can’t get enough.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Week, July 21, 2015
“A Blatant Double Standard”: FLASHBACK; When Mitt Romney Avoided The Media — And The Media Didn’t Freak Out
Does anyone remember the rope line kerfuffle that broke out between reporters and Mitt Romney’s campaign team in May 2012? After the Republican nominee addressed supporters in St. Petersburg, Florida, campaign aides tried to restrict reporters from getting to the rope line where the candidate was greeting audience members.
As the incident unfolded, Kasie Hunt from the Associated Press tweeted, “Campaign staff and volunteers trying to physically prevent reporters from approaching the rope line to ask questions of Romney.” And from CNN’s Jim Acosta: “Romney campaign and Secret Service attempted to keep press off ropeline so no q’s to candidate on Bain.” (Bain Capital is the investment firm Romney co-founded.)
Contrast that with the media wildfire that broke out over the Fourth of July weekend this summer when Hillary Clinton marched in the Gorham, New Hampshire parade. Surrounded by throngs of reporters who jumped into the parade route to cover the event, Clinton’s aides created a moving roped-off zone around Clinton to give her more space.
The maneuver produced images of journalists temporarily corralled behind a rope, which most observers agreed made for bad campaign optics.
Note that like Romney’s episode on the rope line when reporters objected to being barred from overhearing the candidate interact with voters, journalists in New Hampshire were upset they couldn’t hear Clinton greet parade spectators. But this story was hardly a minor one. It created an avalanche of coverage — nearly two weeks later journalists still reference it as a major event.
It’s interesting to note that during his 2012 campaign, Romney often distanced himself from the campaign press and provided limited access, the same allegations being made against Clinton this year. But the way the press covered the two media strategies stands in stark contrast.
That’s not to suggest Romney’s avoidance of the press wasn’t covered as news four years ago. It clearly was. But looking back, it’s impossible to miss the difference in tone, and the sheer tonnage of the coverage. Four years ago the campaign press calmly detailed Romney’s attempts to sidestep the national press (minus Fox News), versus the very emotional, often angry (“reporters are being penned off like farm animals“), and just weirdly personal dispatches regarding Hillary’s press strategy.
In a 2011 article, The Huffington Post interviewed reporters about how Romney was employing a much more closed-off press strategy compared to his 2008 campaign. The article featured quotes from Beltway journalists like The Washington Post‘s Dan Balz saying that while Romney had been more “open and available” in his 2008 campaign, during the 2012 cycle, “In general, I think they have kept him as much as possible out of the press spotlight … And I think it’s part of what has been their overall strategy, which has been to act like a frontrunner and not do a lot of interviews.”
By contrast, The New York Times, reporting on Clinton’s press relationship, recently described her as a “regal” “freak” who “seems less a presidential candidate than a historical figure, returning to claim what is rightfully hers.” Slate noted “the political press has turned noticeably hostile in the face of her silence.” And the Daily Beast wanted to know why Clinton was so “determined” to “infuriate the press.”
So when Clinton’s standoffish with the press, she’s deliberately trying to “infuriate” journalists. But when Romney was standoffish, he was just employing a frontrunner strategy.
Why the blatant double standard? Why the steeper grading curve for the Democrat?
Are the Romney and Clinton press scenarios identical? Probably not. But they do seem awfully similar. Note that in February 2012, ABC News reported that “Romney last held a press conference in Atlanta on Feb. 8, and has not done so again since. Wednesday is the two week mark.” Two months later, not much had changed: “Reporters yelled questions at Romney yesterday on the rope line after a speech prebutting this summer’s Democratic National Convention — to no avail. Romney has not taken questions from the press since March 16 in Puerto Rico.”
That dispatch came on April 19, which meant at the time Romney hadn’t taken a question from the national press in more than a month, and that was during the heart of the Republican primary season. But where was The Washington Post’s running clock to document the last time Romney fielded a question, and The New York Times special section to feature hypothetical questions to ask Romney if and when he next spoke to the press?
When Romney ignored the national media for more than a month in 2012 the press mostly shrugged. When Hillary did something similar this year, the press went bonkers, sparking “an existential crisis among the national press corps,” according to Slate.
For whatever reason, the Beltway press signaled a long time ago that the press was going to be a central topic during the Clinton campaign and the press was going to write a lot about how the press felt about Clinton’s relationship with the press. (Media critic Jay Rosen has dismissed some of the media’s campaign complaints as being nonsensical.)
We’ve certainly never seen anything like this in modern campaigns. And it certainly did not happen with Romney four years ago.
By: Eric Boehlert, Senior Fellow, Media Matters for America; The Blog, The Huffington Post, July 16, 2015
With the release of the first batch of the thousands of emails that Hillary Clinton turned over to the State Department, what has America learned about the former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate?
Nothing voyeuristic or venal to thrill journalists ever on the hunt for Clinton “scandals” — but just a few things that voters might be learning for the first time, if all they know about her is what the mainstream media always tell them.
According to the New York Times – a “liberal” newspaper that no longer attempts to conceal its longstanding animus against the Clintons – this initial batch of 3,000-plus emails is “striking” in its “banality,” because so many of the messages from her early months as the nation’s third-ranking official deal with daily problems like scheduling, fax machines, and snow days at Foggy Bottom. Seeking to embarrass her whenever possible, the Times account leads with her apparent concern over possible press comment on a 2009 joint interview with her most notorious predecessor.
Evidently she fretted, for a few minutes at least, that her “distant” relationship with President Obama might be compared invidiously to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s leech-like fastening upon his old boss, Richard M. Nixon.
“In thinking about the Kissinger interview, the only issue I think that might be raised is that I see POTUS at least once a week while K saw Nixon every day,” noted Clinton in an email to aides, using the abbreviation for President of the United States. Then the woman who helped to impeach Nixon snarked: “Of course, if I were dealing w that POTUS I’d probably camp in his office to prevent him from doing something problematic.”
Like so many matters dredged up in her old emails, that fleeting anxiety has faded into oblivion. As for weightier decisions, declares Times reporter Peter Baker, those must have been discussed and debated on the telephone rather than via email, where she seemed “acutely aware that anything she wrote could someday be read by a wider audience.” (A strange observation in a newspaper where the working assumption is that she schemed to conceal her emails from public scrutiny forever, but never mind.)
Still, if these emails offer no hint of titillating scandal or slander, they cannot be said to offer no insight into America’s best-known female leader. While the Times grudgingly concedes that these messages reveal “hints of personality,” Time magazine found a woman in full – and someone whose very existence may surprise voters more familiar with the secretive, imperious, self-centered figure so often caricatured in American media over the past 25 years.
Time informs us that the “complex portrait” of Clinton emerging from the emails shows “a management style that is efficient under pressure and reflective in the late hours of the day,” with “bursts of thinking” that sometimes erupted during “sleepless nights circling the globe.” Nothing new there: Everyone knows she is sharp, thoughtful, and driven to get stuff done. But Time describes her with adjectives rarely used in conventional profiles: “humble,” “self-deprecating,” “concerned,” “generous,” and “one of the best bosses” that members of her staff have ever had.
Humble? She usually went out of her way to meet with friends and colleagues, rather than insisting they come to her. Self-deprecating? She joked constantly about herself and her foibles. Concerned? She repeatedly sought ways to help a young girl she had met in Yemen — and she admonished John Podesta, an old friend who now serves as her campaign chair, to “wear socks to bed to keep your feet warm.” Generous? She often expressed gratitude to staff and kept close track of births, illnesses, and other milestones affecting friends, acquaintances, and employees.
Does any of that sound familiar? Not unless you’ve spoken with people who know Hillary Clinton well. The point isn’t that she is any kind of paragon. She is simply a human being, whose friends and former staffers might also mention her flashes of impatience and temper, her wariness toward the press, her efforts to protect family privacy that can sometimes seem excessively secretive.
The question is whether major media outlets, often hostile and suspicious toward Clinton, can yet draw a fuller portrait of a candidate who is so well known; a candidate whose true character, in all its complexity, has been obscured by negative coverage for so many years; a candidate who, despite those persistent distortions, may yet make history again.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Featured Post, Editors Blog, The National Memo, July 3, 2015
Whenever a transgression against transparency is charged to the Clintons, whether real, alleged or invented, America’s political media rise up in sustained outrage. From the offices of the New York Times Washington bureau to the Manhattan studio of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, journalists bitterly protest Hillary Clinton’s erased emails and her family foundation’s fundraising methods. And they will surely snap and snark about her “scandals” from now until Election Day.
Which under present circumstances might be justified, since she happens to be running for president — except for one glaring problem. Very few in the press corps apply the same standards to any Republican politician.
Nobody will ever get to see the thousands of messages erased from the private email account used by former Secretary of State Colin Powell when he held that high office. He got rid of them and got away with it (as most likely did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who implausibly claimed not to have used email, when the State Department asked for hers).
Or at least such is the attitude of the press and punditry, who seem to believe that the dumping of Powell’s emails is somehow “different” from what Clinton did. And it is, of course – because she turned over more than 30,000 emails, while he turned over zero. But there is no sound of furious buzzing within the Beltway over the Powell emails; instead there is absolute silence.
Do readers and viewers want to know what Powell and Rice’s emails said about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, a topic of political and historic interest? Don’t they have a right to know? Well, Washington journalists who claim to represent the public interest don’t care.
And the double standard protecting Republicans extends well beyond the email “scandal.”
Consider the Clinton Foundation, whose critics complain that its fundraising has been opaque and suspect. The names of all of its donors have been posted on its website for years (except for a tiny 0.3 percent who gave to a related Canadian foundation and went unreported for arcane legal reasons).
To this day, however, George W. Bush’s foundation, which collected $500 million to build and endow his presidential library in Texas, has refused to disclose the name of every donor. The names that have been disclosed are difficult to find, unless you visit the library itself.
Like Bill Clinton, Bush began to raise money for his library from undisclosed donors while still in office, which raised ethical concerns. Bush told reporters that he might well raise money from foreign donors (which he did) and might not disclose any of their names (he disclosed some, years later). He hosted White House dinners and meetings around the country for potential library contributors, also unnamed.
Only after the London Sunday Times caught a lobbyist pal of Bush on videotape in July 2008 — soliciting $200,000 for the library from someone who claimed to represent a Central Asian dictator — did the Bush White House promise not to raise money from abroad while he was still president.
Yet this little scandal provoked no more than a few days of press coverage, a flurry of denials, and one or two tut-tutting editorials. And now that brother Jeb is running for president, nobody thinks to demand all the names of all the Bush library donors, so the press and public can gauge their potential influence on the candidate.
No, that kind of obsessive inspection is reserved for one political family. Their name is not Bush.
Those Clinton Foundation critics have gone so far as to claim that it isn’t a charity at all, despite top ratings by Guidestar and Charity Watch. A Wall Street Journal editorial snarled that any good done by the foundation is merely “incidental to its bigger role as a fund-raising network and a jobs program for Clinton political operatives.” Actually, the foundation has employed thousands of people, few of whom had any political ties, to bring vital services to the poor around the world.
But there is at least one tax-exempt entity that serves no charitable purpose, existing only to employ political aides and family members: the “Campaign for Liberty,” dubiously subsidized by campaign funds left over from Ron Paul’s political accounts.
Its employees, which include most adult members of the Paul family and most of Ron and Rand Paul’s top operatives, move between “charity” and campaign. It reimbursed Ron Paul’s expenses, even after taxpayers had already paid those same travel bills. Its current leadership is entangled in a festering scandal in Iowa, where prosecutors are investigating the alleged bribery of a local GOP official who shifted from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in 2012.
Which other presidential candidates are involved in such non-profit nastiness? How many used private email accounts and conveniently lost the archives? Voters will probably never find out – because nobody named Clinton is involved.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, The National Memo, May 26, 2015