When the story of Hillary Clinton's private email account first broke in March, the Beltway media's response resembled barely controlled hysteria as pundits searched for adjectives to describe the impending political doom in store for Clinton.
Ron Fournier at National Journal immediately announced that perhaps Clinton shouldn't even bother running for president, the damage she faced was so grave. And New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wondered if the revelation meant Clinton had a secret political "death wish."
According to the nattering nabobs of negativism (to borrow a phrase), the revelation that Clinton had used a private email server while secretary of state was possibly the story that would doom Clinton's White House hopes.
As the media firestorm raged, the State Department announced it would release 55,000 pages of former Secretary of State Clinton's emails next January. But a U.S. District Court ordered the department to release portions of the email archive on a monthly basis. The first batch was released in May, and the second round, or roughly 3,000 emails, came late last week. Clinton has always said she welcomed the emails being made public. And now we know why.
Among the "highlights" from the latest email revelations, a story that has at times consumed the Beltway press? She once emailed then-Center for American Progress chief John Podesta to "Please wear socks to bed to keep your feet warm." She on one occasion requested some iced tea. In June 2009, she wrote aides, "I heard on the radio that there is a Cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?"
That October, Clinton sent an email to longtime confidante Sidney Blumenthal, asking in the subject line, "Are you still awake?" The body of the email read, "I will call if you are." (That Clinton emailed with Blumenthal has been treated as very big news, although there's rarely a press explanation as for why it's treated that way.)
More scintillating insights? Clinton emailed an assistant to get the phone number of Judge Sonia Maria Sotomayor so Clinton could congratulate her on being nominated for the Supreme Court. Clinton once sent senior advisor Jake Sullivan an appreciative email, telling him what good work he was doing. And of course, there was the media's never-ending fax-machine coverage, detailing the trivial back-and-forth between Clinton and her aide as they struggled to get a piece of office equipment to work.
So since March, we've gone from breathless claims that Clinton's emails might end her presidential hopes, to reporting about how Clinton's emails revealed she was flummoxed by the office fax machine.
In other words, the story has traveled from scandal to farce in just four months' time.
Media coverage of Texas' restrictive anti-abortion legislation often presents a false equivalence between arguments from proponents of the legislation and women's health advocates, despite medical experts agreement that such measures are dangerous to women.
The Supreme Court temporarily blocked implementation of two provisions of Texas' extreme efforts to restrict abortion through a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law. The provisions in question required all clinics providing abortions "in the state to meet the standards for 'ambulatory surgical centers,' including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing," The New York Times explained, and required doctors who performed the procedure "to have admitting privileges at nearby hospital[s]."
Media coverage of Texas' anti-abortion laws often provides equal coverage to both sides of the debate, at the expense of fact-checking anti-abortion proponents who claim, against the advice of medical experts, that the legislation helps women, as Amanda Marcotte noted in a July 2 post for RH Reality Check. Pointing to a recent article from NPR on the Supreme Court's move to temporarily block the state's restrictions, Marcotte explained that although the piece's efforts to quote both sides "is not, in itself, an issue," a statement from a representative from Texas Right to Life, which claimed the law was simply meant to protect women's health, went unquestioned. "What is frustrating is that there is not a whiff of an effort to provide actual real-world facts to give the audience context," wrote Marcotte. She went on:
NPR framed the story like it was two parties making value claims, with no way to measure their statements against evidence. The problem here is that the debate is not about values. Both sides claim to have the same goal--protecting women's health--and the fight is over who has a better strategy to get there.
Similarly, in their reporting on the Supreme Court's block, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal each included statements from both sides of the debate arguing that they were protecting women's health while failing to note that medical experts don't support the legislation.
Health experts have roundly backed abortion access advocates in their assertion that laws of this nature are both medically unnecessary and dangerous to women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Health Association condemned such measures in a joint amicus brief, writing that the measure to be implemented in Texas "jeopardize[s] the health of women" and "denies them access" to safe abortions. Yet despite the health community's denouncement of the provisions, the media often fails to interrogate anti-abortion proponents' false claims on the law.
A Washington Post fact-check debunks the right-wing media myth that ending controversial stop-and-frisk policies that allow police officers to stop and search pedestrians they consider to be suspicious, has led to an increase in crime, a claim frequently made on Fox News.
Several months into the 2016 presidential campaign, the media is frequently failing to fact-check statements by presidential candidates denying the science of climate change. Seven major newspapers and wire services surveyed by Media Matters have thus far failed to indicate that candidates' statements conflict with the scientific consensus in approximately 43 percent of their coverage, while the major broadcast and cable news outlets other than MSNBC have failed to do so 75 percent of the time.
Fox News downplayed a recent report on questionable business dealings made by Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush after having ignored the story in the days after it broke.
On June 28, The Washington Post reported on Bush's business dealings in the years before and after he was governor of Florida and said Bush "often benefited from his family connections and repeatedly put himself in situations that raised questions about his judgment and exposed him to reputational risk." As The Post also noted:
Five of his business associates have been convicted of crimes; one remains an international fugitive on fraud charges. In each case, Bush said he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing and said some of the people he met as a businessman in Florida took advantage of his naiveté.
On the June 30 edition of Fox & Friends, correspondent Carl Cameron downplayed The Post's reporting, saying Bush, "like any kind of businessman," has had "some ups and some downs" and "some of the downs have been in the press lately." Cameron claimed Bush's decision to release 33 years of tax returns could be a response to reporting on his business dealings:
CAMERON: 33 years of tax returns, that's a lot.
STEVE DOOCY: I'm sure it's just a coincidence it's coming out today, not raining on anybody's parade, just a coincidence, right, Carl?
CAMERON: Wouldn't dream of it. And it's also worth noting, you know, that his business career, he made a lot of money, but, you know, like any kind of businessman, there were some ups and some downs, and some of the downs have been in the press lately, so this may be answering a little bit of that, but it's also sending a message to Chris Christie ... Look out, Hillary Clinton, when it comes to transparency.
Prior to Cameron's remarks, Fox had ignored The Post's reporting completely in its primetime coverage since the story broke.
Evening news programs on cable and broadcast news channels were completely silent in the immediate aftermath of a Washington Post story about business dealings by Jeb Bush "that raised questions about his judgment and exposed him to reputational risk." Their complete lack of coverage stands in stark contrast to the nearly three hours of coverage by cable and broadcast evening news programs devoted to The New York Times' faulty allegation that Hillary Clinton's State Department was influenced by Clinton Foundation donors when it signed off on the purchase of Uranium One the same day the story came out.
Chris Christie "reduces me to a 14-year-old girl at a Beatles concert." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, December 20, 2010.
"Chris Christie is someone who is magical in the way politicians can be magical." Mark Halperin appearing on Meet The Press, November 10 2013.
It's hard to miss the aura of a letdown that surrounds the news coverage of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's long-awaited announcement of his presidential candidacy. Set to address supporters today at his alma mater of Livingston High School in New Jersey, Christie enters a very crowded Republican field of White House hopefuls and does so with some extraordinary baggage, which explains the Hail Mary flavor of the coverage, which comes with almost a tinge of sadness, or what-could-have-been regret.
Detailing his "long-shot presidential bid," Politico noted it now revolves around a "bank-shot strategy, a narrowly tailored approach that leaves Christie with little room for error." The Associated Press headlined its article, "As He Launches 2016 Bid, Christie Embraces Underdog Role."
Starting with the Bridgegate revelations in January 2014, Christie has been riding a year-and-a-half worth of bad news that has translated into his lowest approval ratings ever in New Jersey. Christie hasn't just drifted off course. His political standing has completely collapsed to the point where it's not clear whether he will even qualify to be among the 10 candidates on the stage of the first Fox News-sponsored debate.
Yet of all the announced Republican candidates -- and those still queuing up this summer -- Christie without question enjoyed the most unique and encouraging relationship with the Beltway press corps. For years there was an almost tribal affection for Christie and his bullying personality among the Acela media class. (aka The "liberal" media.)
It was a strange, cozy relationship that's worth recalling on the eve of his candidacy. Rarely has the political pundit class bet so heavily on a particular politician. And rarely has a bet paid off as poorly as the media's wager on Christie.
The Washington Post is allowing George Will to engage in an "out-and-out conflict of interest" by promoting the work of a conservative advocacy group that's connected to him through financial grants.
Will wrote a June 25 Post piece attacking Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court's recent decision on the Affordable Care Act. For support, Will cited a lawyer for the Institute for Justice (IJ), who claimed that the United States is becoming "a country in which all the branches of government work in tandem to achieve policy outcomes, instead of checking one another to protect individual rights. Besides violating the separation of powers, this approach raises serious issues about whether litigants before the courts are receiving the process that is due to them under the Constitution."
Will and the Post did not disclose that the Institute for Justice is funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, where Will is a member of the board of directors. The foundation notes on its website that it "substantially supports IJ." The Bradley Foundation directly gave IJ over $500,000 from 2011-2013 (the most recent year available), according to its annual reports. It awarded IJ's president, William H. "Chip" Mellor, a 2012 "Bradley Prize" along with a stipend of $250,000. The foundation states that board members are responsible for grant-making decisions.
The lack of disclosure is perplexing given that the Post previously noted Will's financial connections to IJ. A Nexis search for "Institute for Justice" and "Bradley Foundation" in the Post did not return any results except for an August 21, 2009, correction about Will's ties ("he is a board member of the Bradley Foundation, which has contributed funding to the Institute for Justice").
Washington Post writer Erik Wemple has criticized his colleague's "out-and-out conflict of interest" in previously promoting Bradley Foundation recipients, explaining:
Here, Will touted an outlet funded generously by a group he helps to lead. And thanks to the columnist's kind words, WILL [Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty] may have an easier time finding funders outside of the Bradley Foundation. All very cozy, synergistic and, as media critics might say, an out-and-out conflict of interest -- an offense of which Will has been accused before.
Will defended himself regarding his lack of disclosure last year, claiming, in part, that "I see no reason -- no service to readers -- to disclose my several degrees of separation from the program: My tenuous connection has no bearing on what I think about what they do. There comes a point when disclosure of this and that becomes clutter, leaving readers to wonder what the disclosed information has to do with anything."
Media ethicists and journalism veterans have criticized Will for the practice, calling it a breach of journalistic ethics. As Media Matters has documented, Will has a long history of ethical misfires despite being long employed by a leading national newspaper.
Only one Republican presidential candidate reportedly made an appearance at the 32nd annual National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) convention, despite Republican National Committee and several GOP presidential hopefuls committing to reach out to Hispanic Americans. The snub comes after years of right-wing media's demonizing Hispanics and urging the GOP to take extreme positions on immigration.
The Washington Post reported on June 17 that of the more than one dozen announced and likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates, "only one -- retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson -- showed" up to the convention of elected federal, state, and local Latino leaders.
According the Post, many of the campaigns blamed "scheduling conflicts" for their absence, while "at least 13 GOP candidates plan to be in Washington this week to address the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to the Majority' conference, the latest in a busy series of presidential cattle-call events for social conservatives." The article continued:
"All I can say is that schedules reflect priorities," said Arturo Vargas, NALEO's executive director. "Of course they should be here."
Made up of federal, state and local elected officials, including mayors, law enforcement officers and school board members, NALEO is nonpartisan, although many of its members are Democrats. Prominent Republicans have addressed the conference in past years, including Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and the last two GOP presidential nominees, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
GOP leaders have urged the need to engage the Latino community for years, arguing that Latinos will be key to winning the presidency in 2016. After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election to President Obama, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told The New Yorker that "if Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community ... in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state." Cruz also asserted that "the Republican Party would cease to exist" if it did not do more to reach out to Hispanics.
In 2013, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus stressed that the party must reach out to minority voters. And in March of this year, presidential candidate Jeb Bush told a gathering of Tennessee Republicans that "the next Republican president that will win will reach out to the Latino community."
Similarly, in April, GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio told NPR that reaching out to "people from minority communities," like Latinos, is imperative for the Republican party because "if you think someone doesn't care or understand people like you, no matter what your policies are, it's going to be difficult to get them to listen to you, much less vote for you."
And in May, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), another Republican presidential candidate, appeared on Fox to push the importance of minority outreach, saying that he is "willing to show up" for minority communities.
Fox News contributor and radio host Laura Ingraham has repeatedly attacked Republicans for supporting immigration reform by threatening to blame them for terrorist attacks and suggesting such support could be "the end of the road" for their political careers. Rush Limbaugh explicitly urged the GOP to ignore the Hispanic vote while mocking candidates who do reach out to the Latino community. Limbaugh's idea of connecting with Latino voters includes playing "Feliz Navidad" on the radio, while Fox host Andrea Tantaros mocked Hillary Clinton's dinner at Chipotle as her attempts as "Hispanic outreach."
In 2013, The Week's Joe Gandelman outlined right-wing media's deep influence on the GOP, explaining that "[t]o truly rebrand, the GOP must extricate itself from a talk radio political culture that glorifies and rewards confrontation, brinksmanship, snarkiness, over-the-top verbal demonization and division -- and considers consensus oh, so 20th century, and compromise as something akin to treason." Gandelman continued:
The goals of the conservative media and conservative politicians don't always mesh. And herein lies the GOP's problem.
Limbaugh rapidly became less funny and more partisan. He impacted elections and created the model for partisan talk radio. When Fox News debuted in 1996, it grafted talk radio onto news. Talk radio is today as important in keeping the 21st century's divisive incarnation of conservatism intact as Republicans redistricting in many states is in ensuring a Republican House and convincing House GOPers to reject compromise if they want to avoid right-wing primary challenges.
So what can we expect? Some slight tempering of official rhetoric, maybe. But nothing more.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made news on his first official day as a GOP presidential candidate by suggesting that Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change could inappropriately push religion "into the political realm" and declaring: "I don't get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope." But the media should be covering Bush's remarks in the context of a closed-door meeting he held with coal industry CEOs earlier this month -- an important piece of information that could shed some light on who Bush is actually getting his "economic policy" from when it comes to climate change.
Bush's June 1 appearance at the Coal & Investment Leadership Forum was first revealed in a May 29 report by The Guardian, based on materials the newspaper received from the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit watchdog group. As The Guardian reported at the time:
The former Florida governor is appearing at the invitation of six coalmining company owners and executives: Joe Craft III of Alliance Resource Partners, Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources, Nick DeIuliis of Consol Energy, Garry Drummond of Drummond Company, John Eaves of Arch Coal, and Jim McGlothlin of United Coal Company.
Between them, the six companies have spent more than $17.4m on campaigns and lobbying since the last presidential elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets website.
The Guardian further noted that the meeting occurred "at a critical time for the energy industry and for Bush's political ambitions," with the Environmental Protection Agency "expected to finalize new rules for carbon pollution from power plants this summer" and Bush "relatively free of fundraising disclosure requirements until the official launch of his presidential campaign."
Several media outlets parroted Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's economic message after he claimed his administration would oversee 4 percent economic growth and the creation of up to 19 million new jobs. But economists argue that his goals are unrealistic, and question the impact any single president can have on "decades-long trends."
A poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 20 percent of women who attended college in the past four years were sexually assaulted, contrary to claims in the right-wing media that the problem of campus sexual assault is overblown.
The poll of 1,053 men and women, conducted by phone between January and March, found that 20 percent of women and five percent of men reported being sexually assaulted either by force or while incapacitated. A further 11 percent of women reported an attempted assault.
The poll also underlined the problem of under-reporting in sexual assault cases, with three-quarters of victims saying they told someone else, but only 11 percent saying they told the police or college authorities. 89 percent said no one was held responsible or punished for the incident.
Men and women in the poll were sharply divided on what they perceive to be the rate of campus sexual assault, too: "58 percent of men believe the share of women sexually assaulted at their school is less than 1 in 5. An identical majority of women believe the share assaulted is 1 in 5 or greater."
The Post story highlighted the stories of some of the women who were given follow-up interviews:
A 21-year-old at a public university in the Southeast who participated in the poll said she was raped by a male student who escorted her out of a nightclub after she suddenly became woozy and separated from a group of friends. Someone, she suspects, had slipped a drug into her rum drink.
"In the morning, I woke up and my lip was so swollen," the woman said. "I just remember sobbing and sobbing and sobbing the next day. You learn a lot of lessons."
Like most who said they had been assaulted, the woman did not report the incident to university officials or police. She said she worried about whether she would ruin the man's future and wondered what to make of what had happened: Had there been a misunderstanding? Should she have been more vehement in saying no? She remembers clearly crying during the attack. She knew it was rape. But how would others see it?
Many in the right-wing media have downplayed concerns about college sexual assault. Previous studies with similar findings caused widespread outrage among right-wing media figures when the White House cited them in its campus sexual assault strategy launch, with the Daily Caller describing a Centers for Disease Control study that found one in five women is sexually assaulted in college as "bizarre and wholly false." On an NRA News show, The Washington Examiner's Ashe Schow claimed that the "one in five myth" was driving "hysteria" on campuses. And Rush Limbaugh went so far as to call the issue of college sexual assault "fake" and "made up."
Last year, the Post's own George Will described efforts to combat such assaults as an attempt to "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege," calling a 20 percent assault rate "preposterous." Not long after the poll's publication, the Post's fact-checker Glenn Kessler tweeted that he was removing the single "Pinocchio" that he had given President Obama for his citation of the one-in-five statistic.
The raucous political warfare of the 1990s returned into view late last week with the stunning news that former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is under indictment for allegedly agreeing to pay more than $3 million in hush money to cover up sexual abuse involving a male student at a high school where Hastert taught decades ago.
Hastert's unsettling case doesn't have anything to do with partisan politics, per se. But his rise to the speakership back in 1998 sure did. Like virtually everything else inside the Beltway at the time, Hastert's promotion revolved around the Republicans' relentless impeachment pursuit against President Bill Clinton. And today, Hastert's alleged crime once again throws into focus what a strange and hypocritical spectacle it was for GOP men to play sex cop and crusade for impeachment.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton defined American politics in the 1990s. It also defined the Beltway press, which still clings to many of the bad Clinton-related habits it formed that decade. The impeachment farce, where the press teamed up with Republicans to wage war on a Democrat, could also explain why the Clintons today might not fully trust the media as Hillary Clinton expands her presidential run and the press stands "primed" to take her down.
Why won't Hillary Clinton open up to the press? Why can't Bill and Hillary handle the media? Why has she "withdrawn into a gilded shell"? Why does she wear media "armor"? Those questions have been rehashed in recent months as journalists focus on themselves and what role they'll play in the unfolding nomination contest.
A suggestion: Follow the path back to Dennis Hastert's impeachment era for clues to those Clinton press questions.
During the 1990s, Hastert remained a firm advocate of impeachment, at one point condemning the president for his "inability to abide by the law." Hastert stressed, "The evidence in President Clinton's case is overwhelming that he has abused and violated the public trust."
Of course it was the impeachment imbroglio that elevated Hastert, indirectly, to his lofty position of speaker of the House; a position he later leveraged into millions by becoming a very wealthy lobbyist.
The background: Former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to resign in 1998 after the impeachment-obsessed GOP faced disastrous midterm losses. (Gingrich later admitted he was engaged in an affair with a Congressional aide at the time.) Up next was Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. "One of the loudest of those calling for the House to impeach Clinton over an extra-marital affair," noted the National Journal, Livingston was soon ousted after he was forced to publicly confess to committing adultery "on occasion."
Into that void stepped Hastert.
That means all three Republican House leaders who pursued Clinton's impeachment have now confessed or been accused of sexual and moral transgressions themselves. Those were the people the D.C press took its cues from during the impeachment charade?
As Orin Kerr noted in the Washington Post following the Hastert indictment:
If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.
While some in the press have conceded that the '90s impeachment was a strange circus, the truth is the Beltway press basically served as executive producers for the GOP's doomed theatrical run. It was the media elite who legitimized for years the right-wing's Javert-like pursuit of all things Clinton. "So much of the media was invested in breathless, often uncritical coverage of Clinton's impeachment," wrote Josh Marshall at Salon in 2002, while detailing the final release of the independent prosecutor's $70 million Clinton investigation.
Put another way, the same D.C. press corps that openly taunted the Clintons for years in the '90s, culminating with impeachment, is the same D.C. press corps that's now openly taunting them, for instance, regarding the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton's emails, and anything/everything else that can be presented as a Clinton "scandal" story.
That's why when the New York Times story about Hillary Clinton's email account first broke in March, "The media and politicos and Twitterati immediately responded with all the measured cautious skepticism we've come to expect in response to any implication of a Clinton Scandal," noted Wonkette. "That is to say, none." And that's why Times columnist and chief Clinton sex chronicler Maureen Dowd has, to date, published 100 columns mentioning "Lewinsky."
More than twenty years ago, the Clintons understood that the so-called liberal media was working with conservative activists and Republican prosecutors to try to destroy Bill's presidency. For the GOP, the motivation was purely partisan. For the press, it seemed to be a mix of careerism (Clinton bashing proved to be good for business), combined with a genuine dislike of the Clintons.
Today, it's often difficult to recapture just how completely bonkers the D.C. media establishment went during the impeachment saga, and how on some days it seemed journalists were more pruriently obsessed with the Clintons than their tireless Republican tormentors. The recent Hastert sexual abuse allegation helps bring into focus the absurdity of the era, and reminds us why, as a new campaign season unfolds, the Clintons might not fully trust the Beltway media.
Some conservative media pundits suggested 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) may have disqualified himself from the presidency after his opposition to the National Security Agency's bulk phone collections program caused parts of the PATRIOT Act to lapse.
On May 26, Sen. Bernie Sanders hosted his first major campaign rally since announcing his presidential candidacy last month. Staged on the banks of Lake Champlain in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, the Sanders rally reportedly drew more than five thousand people, making it one of the largest campaign events of 2015, hosted by either a Democrat or a Republican.
But the sprawling rally didn't cause much of a media stir. Rather than cover it as a major news event, the Washington Post ignored the rally in its print edition the next day, as did the New York Times, according to a search of the Nexis database. The network news programs that night covered the event in just a few sentences.
At a time when it seems any movement on the Republican side of the candidate field produces instant and extensive press coverage, more and more observers are suggesting there's something out of whack with Sanders' press treatment.
And they're right.
As the Vermont liberal spreads his income equality campaign message, the press corps seems unsure of how to cover him. In the month since he announced his bid, Sanders' coverage seems to pale in comparison to comparable Republican candidates who face an arduous task of obtaining their party's nomination. The reluctance is ironic, since the D.C. press corps for months brayed loudly about how Hillary Clinton must face a primary challenger. Now she has one and the press can barely feign interest?
As for the media attention Sanders does receive, a lot of it attempts to place him and his liberal policies outside the mainstream of American politics. Yes, he's a proud socialist, but note that most of the GOP's White House hopefuls are adamant climate deniers. No matter, the Beltway press doesn't portray them as political outliers.