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“Lapdog Role”: Benghazi, Emails, Planned Parenthood; How D.C. Press Keeps Enabling The GOP’s Orchestrated Distractions

Within the span of just twelve hours this week, multiple Republican-sponsored political pursuits partially unraveled in plain sight.

The long-running investigations were the Benghazi select committee and the related probe into Hillary Clinton’s private emails, and Republicans’ crusade targeting Planned Parenthood. Journalists would be wise to take note of the pattern of plain deception and ask themselves if they want to keep sponsoring these planned distractions.

The first to crumble was the right-wing smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, which was launched this summer and sponsored by Fox News and the Republican Party. Creating a whirlwind of controversy and endless media attention, the undercover sting operation by anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress was even elevated by some to be pressing enough to shut down the federal government.

Tuesday’s Congressional hearing about defunding Planned Parenthood was to be the centerpiece of the right wing’s orchestrated attack campaign. The problem was that in recent weeks we’ve learned the gotcha videos at the center of the campaign were deceptively edited. And so far six statewide investigations have found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. That meant the Congressional production was likely destined for failure.

“The entire hearing was premised on a series of mischaracterizations,” reported The New Yorker. Republicans were left with little but bouts of bullying in an effort to intimidate Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards as she testified.

It didn’t work. So after ten weeks, the sustained attack against Planned Parenthood produced no tangible evidence of wrongdoing and no serious damage to the organization. (Of course, despite their failures so far, Republicans are now reportedly considering creating “a special panel to investigate Planned Parenthood.”)

Then just hours after the hearing completed, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who’s now in line to become the next Republican Speaker of the House, brazenly bragged on Sean Hannity’s Fox program about how the Benghazi select committee was responsible for damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. To which Hannity responded, “That’s something good, I give you credit for that.”

With one brief Fox appearance, McCarthy laid bare the facts about both the never-ending Benghazi investigation and the related, still-churning email witch hunt: They’re both built on politics, plain and simple. The Republicans created a Benghazi select committee in order to try to take out the Democratic frontrunner for president. Period. That’s the story.

Sadly, the busted Planned Parenthood, Benghazi and email diversions simply represent the latest creations from the GOP distraction model. Conservatives have been using it, on and off, for two decades — and the model works best when the Beltway press plays along. It works best if the Beltway press pretends virtually every other Republican-produced scandal pursuit hasn’t been a  bust.

Many of the same Republicans who have spearheaded the dishonest Planned Parenthood probe are the same ones leading the charge on Benghazi and the email story. And the press continues to breathlessly quote them as they try to hype these supposed scandals.

So yes, much of the press has been culpable in the latest Republican distractions since day one. In fact, the press has been playing the same lapdog role for well over twenty years when it comes to endlessly hyping and even marketing orchestrated Republican distractions. These self-contained circus productions that suggest all kinds of Democratic wrongdoing are long on conspiracy theories but short on facts, and leave pundits and reporters breathlessly chronicling the possible downside for Democrats.

One reason these Groundhog Day scenes keeping play out, again and again and again, is due to the fact too many journalists are absolutely wed to the very simple definition of what constitutes news: What are conservatives angry about?

Given that kind of carte blanche to create news cycles, Republicans and conservatives in the media have taken full advantage and have settled into a predictable pattern: Manufacture distractions designed to make life miserable for Democratic leaders; force Democrats to use up energy and resources to swat down endless unproven allegations, and spawn waves of media “gotcha” hysteria fueled by disingenuous leaks.

But here’s the thing: it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. And it’s a colossal waste of time and energy. But this is how the right wing plays politics in America and the D.C. press has shown an unbridled enthusiasm to want to play along; to want to abandon common sense in order to chase GOP-designated shiny objects for weeks, months or sometimes years on end. And then do it all over again when the current distraction disintegrates.

The pattern began in earnest during the 1990s when Republicans became obsessed with personally pursuing the Clintons. Remember the dubious Clinton pardon distraction, the parting gifts distraction, and of course Ken Starr’s $80 million Inspector Javert routine.

Charles Pierce at Esquire recently detailed that decade’s signature string of orchestrated GOP obfuscations:

To use a more relevant, example, TravelGate was a distraction. FileGate was a distraction. The disgusting use of Vince Foster’s suicide was a distraction. Castle Grande was a distraction. The cattle futures were a distraction. The billing records were a distraction. Webster Hubbell’s billing practices were a distraction. Hell, the entire Whitewater part of the Whitewater affair was basically a distraction, as was the pursuit of Bill Clinton’s extracurricular love life. Kathleen Willey was a distraction. The monkeywrenching of a settlement in the Paula Jones case was to make sure that the distraction that was that case survived. All of these were distractions created to make it difficult for a Democratic president to govern, and the reason I know that is because the people creating distractions were not shy about admitting what they were all about to each other.

Over time, the vast majority of those endless Clinton allegations were proven to be hollow. Yet aided by some regrettable journalism, the relentless scandal culture took hold and managed to damage to the Clinton administration. Indeed, the whole point of the GOP’s Clinton distraction model was to create the infrastructure to hound the Democrats.

With President Obama’s inauguration, the old model was unpacked, but this time with Fox News playing a much more aggressive role. The results have been an endless parade of diversions and hoaxes designed, in various shapes and sizes, to hamstring a Democratic administration and, more recently, to damage the leading Democratic candidate for 2016.

Here’s just a handful of manufactured distractions:

*ACORN

*Benghazi stand down order

*”Climategate

*Clinton Cash

*Department of Education official Kevin Jennings

*Economist Jonathan Gruber’s Obamacare comment

*Food stamps

*Gibson Guitar raid

*New Black Panthers

*Shirley Sherrod

*Voter fraud

As Media Matters can attest, virtually none of the often-hysterical allegations attached to those distractions were ever proven to be true. Instead, the pursuits imploded under their own weight. Yet too often, these supposed scandals broke out of the Fox News bubble and became mainstream “news.”

So when’s the press going to get the message and stop enabling these charades?

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, October 1, 2015

October 4, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hillary Clinton Is Still The Candidate To Beat”: Her Biggest Task Is Clear; Get Out Of Her Own Way

She keeps putting obstacles in her own path, but Hillary Clinton remains the odds-on favorite to become our next president.

The headlines screaming “Clinton’s Support Erodes” are true, but only in a relative sense. In the contest for the Democratic nomination, according to the polls, she has slid all the way from “prohibitive favorite” to something like “strong favorite” — not bad, given the way she has hobbled herself with the e-mail scandal.

A new Post-ABC News poll gives a clear view of Clinton’s status. Among registered voters who are Democrats or lean toward that party, Clinton is at 42 percent while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is at 24 percent and Vice President Joe Biden at 21 percent. Since July, according to the poll, Clinton’s support has fallen 21 points. So yes, her campaign has reason to be concerned. But not alarmed.

The saving grace for Clinton is that only half of that lost support has gone to Sanders, who is running a smart and effective campaign, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. The other half has gone to Biden, who is not running a campaign at all — and may never do so.

In his recent media appearances, Biden has revealed his profound grief over the death of his son Beau. No one who watched him last week on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” could come away thinking that Biden is eager to run.

“I don’t think any man or woman should run for president unless, number one, they know exactly why they would want to be president and, two, they can look at folks out there and say, ‘I promise you, you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy and my passion to do this,’ ” he told Colbert. “And I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there.”

If you take Biden at his word and leave him out of the equation, Clinton’s support leaps to 56 percent, according to the Post-ABC News poll, while Sanders’s increases only slightly to 28 percent.

The challenge for Sanders is that while he is hugely popular with young voters and progressives, he has not connected with other key segments of the Democratic Party coalition. In August, a Gallup survey found that Clinton had a favorable rating of 80 percent among African Americans compared to just 23 percent for Sanders. This doesn’t reflect any particular antipathy toward the Vermont senator. Rather, it’s because just 33 percent of African Americans told Gallup they were familiar with him.

Am I ignoring the big picture? Have I somehow missed the fact that the major themes of the campaign thus far have been disgust with politics as usual and rejection of establishment candidates?

No, it’s just that I believe the internal dynamics of the two parties are quite different. Clinton fatigue among Democrats is one thing, but the total anarchy in the Republican Party is quite another.

Back to the Post-ABC News poll: A full 33 percent of Republican or GOP-leaning registered voters support billionaire Donald Trump for their party’s nomination and another 20 percent support retired surgeon Ben Carson. That’s more than half the party rejecting not only the establishment’s favored choices but any contender who has held political office.

Indeed, when asked what kind of person they would like to see as the next president, more than 70 percent of Democratic-leaning voters said they want “someone with experience in how the political system works.” But more than half of GOP-leaning voters, and a stunning 64 percent of self-described “conservative” Republicans, want “someone from outside the existing political establishment.”

This is terrible news for Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and the other current or former officeholders in the GOP race. It’s good news for Clinton, because if she gets the nomination she will likely face either a novice whose qualifications and temperament are in question or a veteran politician struggling to consolidate his own fractious party’s support.

All of this assumes that Clinton doesn’t find a way to defeat herself. And yes, I realize this is a dangerous year for making assumptions.

I’m hard-pressed to imagine how Clinton and her team could have done a worse job of handling the controversy over her State Department e-mails. Instead of getting the whole truth out at once, they have let it emerge ever so slowly — and kept a damaging story alive.

Clinton’s biggest task is clear: Get out of her own way.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 16, 2015

September 17, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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.

Per Reuters:

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

August 1, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Media, The New York Times | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Hunt For Clinton ‘Scandals'”: Newly Released Emails Reveal The Hillary You (Still) Don’t Know

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

July 5, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Media, Press | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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