For the last twenty years the mainstream media and the Clinton’s political adversaries have tried to discredit and criminalize them. In the process it has not only failed but done a disservice to the public just to get a “scoop” or score political points. The latest fiasco at The New York Times involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server for her correspondence, has exposed the use of unreliable anonymous sources to create a story that was blatantly false. It exposed a pattern of toxic reporting on the Clinton’s, as Jonathan Allen at Vox called the “Clinton Rules”
The reporter’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” – a credo that, humorously, was originally written as a smear of the self-righteous nature of journalists. And so the justification for going after a public figure increases in proportion to his or her stature. The bigger the figure, the looser the restraints.
After a quarter of a century on the national stage, there’s no more comfortable political figure to afflict than Hillary Clinton. And she’s in for a lot of affliction over the next year and half.
That’s generally a good way for reporters to go about their business. After all, the more power a person wants in our republic, the more voters should know about her or him. But it’s also an essential frame for thinking about the long-toxic relationship between the Clintons and the media, why the coverage of Hillary Clinton differs from coverage of other candidates for the presidency, and whether that difference encourages distortions that will ultimately affect the presidential race.
The Clinton rules are driven by reporters’ and editors’ desire to score the ultimate prize in contemporary journalism: the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family’s political empire. At least in that way, Republicans and the media have a common interest.
As Eric Boehler at Media Matters points out, if you’re surprised by this that you haven’t been paying attention. From Whitewater to Benghazi the pattern has been very clear:
(T)he Times remains the country’s most influential news outlet and the daily has been carrying around an unmistakable Clinton grudge for nearly 20 years. And it’s a collective disdain for the Clintons that stretches from the opinion pages to the newsroom that arguably leads to spectacular blunders like the one we saw last week.
There seems to be a world view within the Times that taking cheap shots at the Clintons is not only allowed, it’s preferred; it’s a way for Times journalists to raise their profiles and generate buzz. But not only is the practice unfair and unethical, it carries with it profound political implications.
Apparently making no effort to check with the lead Democrat on the panel about the anonymous claims of a criminal referral — Rep. Elijah Cummings would have demolished the entire premise of the gotcha story — the Times essentially acted as stenographer for sources who either manufactured the claim about a criminal referral or unknowingly botched the facts.
The Times‘ oddly personal crusade against Hillary Clinton is also a crusade against the Democratic frontrunner for president, so the Republican Party benefits. The stakes really could not be higher, which makes the Times‘ behavior all the more disturbing.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow weighed in on the misreporting and clumsy handling of the story and makes note of the similar excuses the Times used about Judith Miller’s sources on her bad Iraq WMD reporting.
Kurk Eichenwald at Newsweek puts it bluntly in his analysis of the Times debacle:
Democracy is not a game. It is not a means of getting our names on the front page or setting the world abuzz about our latest scoop. It is about providing information so that an electorate can make decisions based on reality. It is about being fair and being accurate. This despicable Times story was neither.