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“The Clinton Rules Are Back”: Big Holes In AP Report On Hillary’s ‘Homebrew’ Email System

Have you heard about that mysterious, vaguely sinister “homebrew” email server located in the Clinton family’s suburban New York home? That was yesterday’s big revelation by the Associated Press, repeated everywhere, evidently without further reporting or checking by outlets both here and abroad. The headline: “Clinton Ran Own Computer System for Her Official Emails.”

Now that’s a very hot story — but is it true? Several very large holes have now appeared in that tale – and the usually reliable AP seems to have quietly abandoned the most incriminating assertions in a rewritten version.

Today’s Daily Banteran online publication I would recommend, by the way – carries a sharp post by Bob Cesca dismantling the AP story. As Cesca points out, the AP’s original lede indicated that Clinton was “physically running her own email” via a “computer server” located in “her family’s home” in Chappaqua, NY. But by the fourth graf, the AP story conceded: “It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton ran that computer system.”

Moreover, Cesca reports, the AP seems to have misinterpreted the registration documents that formed the basis of its story – and the location of the Clinton email server is most likely to be found at Optimum Online, an Internet service provider owned by Cablevision in nearby Stamford, Connecticut. Not as sexy as that secretive basement setup in Chappaqua, but a lot more plausible. The Banter post names all the eager beavers, at outlets ranging from Gizmodo to Breitbart and the Washington Post, who broke out with indignant riffs on the AP’s “scoop.”

Cesca’s full post is well worth reading, and serves as fresh warning of what we ought to have learned from all the previous cycles of “Clinton scandal”: Withhold judgment until all the facts are available, and don’t immediately believe everything you read, even in news sources that normally appear trustworthy. The Clinton Rules are back — which in journalism means there are no rules at all.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, March 5, 2015

March 6, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, State Department | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sorry, Republicans, Nobody’s Getting Impeached”: GOP Can’t Resist Elaborately Feigned Theater That Blows Up In Their Face

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when every jackleg news organization in Washington — that is, virtually all of them — was feeding out of Kenneth Starr’s soft little hand like a Shetland pony.

Having recently left the country for a few weeks of media deprivation therapy, I returned to find excited pundits comparing President Obama to Richard M. Nixon on the basis of three transparently bogus White House “scandals” that make Starr’s fabled “Whitewater” investigation look like the crime of the century.

Once again, the word “impeachment” is in the air, as excited GOP congressmen dream of driving a Democratic president from office. Once again, the nation appears to be headed for a fun-filled summer of televised hearings, elaborately feigned indignation, and predictions of dramatic revelations that either never materialize or blow up in their sponsor’s faces.

With luck we might even see something as funny as the day in 1995 when a partisan S&L regulator who’d planned to market Hillary Clinton-themed “Presidential BITCH” t-shirts from her government office fainted dead away under cross-examination. The witness had to be carried from a Senate hearing room, never to be heard from again.

Deeply committed to Whitewater humbug, the New York Times, Washington Post and TV networks contrived not to notice.

The good news is that couldn’t happen again. Today, the ill-fated L. Jean Lewis’s swoon would be all over YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Sure, she’d get her own Fox News talk show, but rationally consequent citizens wouldn’t have to watch. The Internet has lessened the ability of scandal entrepreneurs in the Washington media to control the flow of information to the rabble.

Sure, the Internet empowers crackpots. But it also enables in-house bloggers like Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein to bring facts and arguments into the online pages of the high-dollar press that could be censored out of the “mainstream” as recently as the Clinton administration.

So nobody’s getting impeached on this tripartite nonsense, OK?

Anyway, let’s take them one at a time:

One: Regarding IRS “targeting” of right-wingers, I’m planning to rename my little one-man cattle operation “Tea Party Patriot Farm.” With that on my Schedule C, the IRS won’t dare to audit my tax returns. I’ll be free to deduct not only feed bills and veterinary expenses, but pizzas, movie tickets, six-packs, whatever. My recent train ride across France? Studying French cattle husbandry techniques at 180 mph.

But see that’s the thing. Contrary to a thousand indignant screeds and editorial cartoons, no aggrieved Tea Partiers got audited, fined, or jailed. Instead, they saw their applications to turn their political hobbies into tax-free scams — oops, charities — delayed for a few months, on the quite reasonable assumption (from an IRS functionary’s point of view) that an organization named for a political party might actually be one. Boo hoo hoo.

The IRS was politically idiotic, no doubt. But until somebody tracks this to the White House, it’s a big nothingburger.

Meanwhile, my man Charles Pierce quotes the Nixon White House tapes to remind us how a real crook uses the IRS: “Now here’s the point, Bob: please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats,” Nixon said. “Could we please investigate some of the [unprintables]?”

Two: Then there’s The Great Benghazi Cover-Up. As this column pointed out last December, it’s largely a matter of selective quotation. Nobody at the CIA or State Department who had a hand in preparing Susan Rice’s “talking points” on the Sunday shows knew with any certainty who organized the attack.

And it’s worthwhile pointing out that they still don’t know.

However, if “extremist elements with heavy weapons” doesn’t say “terrorist” to you, Rice got more specific on CBS’s Face the Nation: “Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself,” she said, “…is one of the things we’ll have to determine.”

In the interest of keeping this phony scandal alive, everybody’s pretended for months that Rice never said that. Meanwhile, CBS News’ Major Garrett has reported that partial CIA emails leaked to him by Republican sources turned out — after the originals were released — to have been doctored to cast suspicion upon the State Department and Hillary Clinton. He didn’t identify the leakers.

But when people resort to faking documents it’s a good clue that no real evidence of wrongdoing exists. The end.

Three: As for the Associated Press flap, the Los Angeles Times reports that its “disclosure of a counter-terrorism operation in Yemen last year compromised…an informant who had earned the trust of hardened terrorists.”

If true, that’s perilously close to treason. In which case the Justice Department had every reason to subpoena AP phone records after other means of finding the leaker’s identity failed. Sorry, but journalists have no rights that trump those of ordinary citizens in a serious criminal investigation.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 22, 2013

May 23, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Massive Media Deflection”: There Is No Scandal in Tracking Down Leaks

In the middle of the other “scandals,” i.e. Benghazi and the Internal Revenue Service, that the Obama Administration has to deal with – and which may change the general direction of politics in America at the next general election – there is also the Department of Justice going after the Associated Press in a criminal investigation into leaks of classified information.

The real “news” for us on this last one is that it is no scandal, even though the media are spinning it that way.

Why? Simple: They want to continue getting – from “leakers” inside government – classified information and then publishing it. To them,  it’s just another “hot story,” while for the people actually involved in the situation, it may mean risking their lives or the failure of an operation that could jeopardize our national security. In short, it sells us all out.

This is also why, in our Constitutional form of government, there is absolutely no right or protection for anyone to publish national security information – and “anyone” includes the media and press. Not only that, let’s say that a classified document is stolen or taken from an authorized government facility and given to a reporter. In this situation, the government clearly has the right – and even the obligation – to investigate the disappearance of the document and retrieve it by any legal means. This includes getting warrants for telephone records, wiretaps and even carrying out physical searches. And this same logic applies in the digital world.

Is it “legal” for the Justice Department to go after the AP as part of a criminal investigation into the loss or unauthorized disclosure of classified information? Absolutely, and the suggestion of a “scandal” is a massive deflection by the media. Again, the First Amendment simply does not “allow” the publication of national security information – never has, never will.

For some international perspective: We may be the only democracy in the world not to have what is called an “official secrets act,” a law that makes it a crime to publish national security information. This explains why we rarely – if ever – see similar situations arise, for example, in Canada, the United Kingdom or most other European countries. In these countries, their media simply do not – under penalty of criminal law – publish their classified information, much less actively seek it out, as they do here.

Do we need such a law here? Again, it is simply impossible to get an objective discussion of this question because of the emotional “freedom of the press” arguments, which begin from the false premise that there is somehow a constitutional right to publish government secrets. There is no such “right.”

On the other hand, does the government classify way too much information and keep it classified way too long? Yes. However, this problem has been addressed and readdressed over the years by rules that limit the number of “classification authorities,” by periodic reviews of classified information and by limitations on the number of years information can be classified. Of course, because of the immense damage some information could cause if it were released, there have to be exceptions – but this is the very nature of national security related information.

Ultimately, it is the president, as commander in chief, who is responsible for establishing, protecting and eventually releasing this kind of information – not the media.

Accordingly, when I was bi-partisan General Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), I drafted this rather innocuous provision for inclusion in the fiscal 2001 Intelligence Authorization Act:

Whoever, being an officer or employee of the United States, a former or retired officer or employee of the United States, any other person with authorized access to classified information, or any other person formerly with authorized access to classified information, knowingly and willfully discloses, or attempts to disclose, any classified information acquired as a result of such person’s authorized access to classified information to a person (other than an officer or employee of the United States) who is not authorized access to such classified information, knowing that the person is not authorized access to such classified information, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Was there “method to my madness”? Sure, however, it was also surprisingly easy for me to get bipartisan agreement to the language in both Houses of Congress – and also agreement from the White House in a “SAP,” a “Statement of Administration Policy.” And, after all, who could possibly disagree with it? It was “motherhood and apple pie,” as they say in Washington. I held my breath.

Then some media lobbyist must have actually read the legislation and the whole media industry came unglued and went to “general quarters” to defeat actual enactment of the law. So, notwithstanding that the law had already passed both Houses of Congress with bipartisan support, they got to Bill Clinton with an enormous and personal effort: And, Clinton vetoed the law in his final days as president.

At least the Washington Post – one of the world class publishers in this country, along with the New York Times, of leaked U.S. classified information – showed  its “true colors” in this vapid editorial about the legislation:

“We don’t pretend to be neutral on this subject. Newspapers publish leaked material; our reporters solicit leaks. And some of the leaked material we publish is classified. But it is a mistake to imagine that all leaks of classified information are bad.” Editorial, The Washington Post, Aug. 24, 2001

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any newspaper editor deciding whether to declassify presumptively sensitive national security information – they simply have no business doing it, regardless of how “hot” the story is or how well connected their “leaker” source is.

Hopefully, it’s this sad fact of political life in Washington that has the Obama Administration actively going after classified “leakers” – more than any administration has ever done. But far more effective would be some form of an “official secrets act” to better protect our nation.

Stated simply: It should be against the law to publish national security secrets – the First Amendment does not protect such irresponsible “journalism,” no matter how salacious the story might be. And, in this respect, we should be no different than our Canadian or British friends – no one there dares publish their national security secrets and no one here should dare publish ours.


By: Daniel J. Gallington, U. S. News and World Report, May 20, 2013

May 22, 2013 Posted by | Media, Press | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Resonance Resistant”: Republicans Racing Off The Cliff In Their Supercharged Outrage Machine

Whether one thinks the demiscandals being howled about in Washington should or should not resonate more widely, they don’t.

According to a Gallup report released Thursday, “The amount of attention Americans are paying to the I.R.S. and the Benghazi situations is well below the average for news stories Gallup has tracked over the years.” (The Associated Press phone records case wasn’t mentioned.) Why might this be? I have a few theories:

CREDIBILITY People know that the Internal Revenue Service is the conservatives’ bogeyman. It’s the agency that collects the taxes that Republicans hate so much. Some Americans see taxes as, at worst, a necessary nuisance; Republicans see them as an absolute evil. The I.R.S. is the agency that collects the wealth from “us” for the government to redistribute to “them.” As National Journal pointed out Friday, “The agency also implements much of the country’s social policy through the tax code.” We all know that anything with “social” in its name activates the conservative gag reflex.

And on the Associated Press front, it just doesn’t ring true to have Republicans standing up as defenders of the “lame-stream media.” It’s like the person with the club feigning common cause with the baby seal. People just don’t buy it.

Furthermore, Republicans have exhibited a near-pathological need to say anything, no matter how outlandish, that would invalidate the Obama presidency. This has left them with little credibility now that there may be legitimate problems. This is the story of the political party that cried “Kenyan.”

COMPLEXITY Where is Benghazi? Seriously, folks, quickly point it out on a map. Thought so. Now, to the controversy: the talking points — what they said, and the machination of how that was altered, and whether Al Qaeda should have been immediately blamed, and whether the word “terror” should have had an “-ist” or an “-ism.” Seeking to find the killers of four dead Americans is honorable; endless testimony about a fussed-over script used to explain the tragedy is mind-numbing.

UNPOPULARITY It is clear that the Justice Department overreached on the Associated Press scandal and that its strong-arm tactics are likely to have a chilling effect. But Americans are not big fans of mass media. A November Gallup poll found that only a fourth of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of journalists highly. Even bankers ranked higher.

As for Tea Party groups that received extra scrutiny from the I.R.S., an Associated Press-GfK poll released last month found that fewer than a fourth of Americans say they support the group. The Tea Party may well be passé.

The policy issue is a different story, as The Washington Post pointed out this week: “In 2010, the Supreme Court’s landmark ‘Citizens United’ decision cleared the way for corporations and labor unions to raise and spend unlimited sums of money, and register for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4).”

That decision was extremely unpopular. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released nearly a month after the decision was handed down found that 80 percent of Americans opposed it.

So an unpopular movement applied for tax-exempt status under conditions made possible by an unpopular court decision, in order to influence politics with unfathomable amounts money from unnamed donors? Good luck gaining sympathy for that.

ZEALOTRY The Congressional Tea Party Caucus founder, Michele Bachmann, who never misses a chance to say something asinine, suggested to the conservative site that it was “reasonable” to worry that the I.R.S. might use Obamacare to kill conservatives.

The article reads, in part:

“Since the I.R.S. also is the chief enforcer of Obamacare requirements, she asked whether the I.R.S.’s admission means it ‘will deny or delay access to health care’ for conservatives. At this point, she said, that ‘is a reasonable question to ask.’ ”

“Reasonable” and “Bachmann” don’t even belong in the same conversation, let alone the same sentence, and yet she remains one of the most visible spokeswomen for the movement.

Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned Republicans against overreaching. In an NPR interview that aired Friday, Gingrich, referring to the impeachment of President Clinton, said, “I think we overreached in ’98 — how’s that for a quote you can use?”

He continued, advising his party to be “calm and factual.” Ha! That’s too rich, and too late. Republicans are already invoking the I-word.

Republicans are their own worst enemies at times like these, unable to leave well-enough alone, and missing chances to honestly engage the public as they race off the cliff in the supercharged outrage machine.


By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 17, 2013

May 21, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pick A Narrative And Go With It”: Lazy, Incoherent And Contradictory Political Media Critiques

Regular readers may recall that I’ve long been fascinated by the trouble President Obama’s detractors have had with understanding what it is about him they dislike. The result is a series of rhetorical attacks that are incoherent and contradictory.

He’s a ruthless Chicago thug and a “wuss.” He’s a bystander who goes golfing too much and an activist president who engages too much. He’s sticking to the Bush/Cheney script on national security and he’s putting us at risk by abandoning the Bush/Cheney national security agenda. He’s cutting cherished entitlement programs like Medicare and he refuses to cut entitlement programs like Medicare. He’s waging a class war against the rich and he’s coddling millionaires.

This week, as much of the political world tries to stick to the dubious line that the White House is engulfed in scandals, we’re seeing the same phenomenon once more. Greg Sargent makes a nice catch this afternoon:

One current storyline has it that all of these stories could converge to create a sense that Obama’s embrace of government activism has shaded into Nixonian abuses of power — revealing that Obama personally harbors a far more intrusive, overbearing, and even sinister approach to governing than he previously let on.

But another current storyline has it that the White House’s pushback on these scandals — the claims of a firewall between the Justice Department and the White House, the assertions of no connection to the IRS abuses — reveal a president who is weak and unable to control the government he presides over.

Good point. Just today, the Washington Post reports that the recent uproars “add evidence” to detractors’ claims that President Obama is a power-hungry leader who “has not acted within the constraints of the Constitution.” And also today, the New York Times reports that the controversies that have captured the Beltway’s attention present President Obama as a helpless “onlooker” who seems unable to “use his office.”

Greg added, “Obviously, these narratives can’t both be true at once. The scandals can’t demonstrate that Obama’s true dictatorial streak has finally been revealed while simultaneously supporting the idea that they’ve shown him to be too weak to control a government that has run amok.”

Ordinarily, I give the “pick a narrative and go with it” advice to the president’s Republican detractors, but in this case, it seems more appropriate to remind pundits and the political media establishment that their own preconceived narratives are just as contradictory.

Indeed, in this case, the critiques are especially incoherent since the so-called “scandals” generating so much chatter about “a White House in crisis” don’t actually relate much to the White House. None of the stories — Benghazi, the IRS, AP subpoenas — points to a tyrannical dictator or a hapless onlooker.

To connect three disparate stories of varying degrees of legitimacy and importance into a mega-scandal is lazy. So, too, is the embrace of competing narratives that cancel each other out.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 16, 2013

May 20, 2013 Posted by | Media, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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