Members Only | October 21, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s Official: the Press Failed Hillary Clinton and America in 2016

New State Department report implicitly indicts media behavior.

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There’s only one thing in my mind that captures the absurdity and exhaustion of our present moment more than the dustup last weekend between Hillary Clinton and Tulsi Gabbard. It’s that the story about the biggest story of 2016—“but her emails!”—got none of the attention it deserved. The people who are supposed to care about getting the story right don’t care about getting the story right, because if they did care, they’d see that they got it wrong, and that everyone now shoulders the burden of the error.

In an interview Thursday, Clinton said that the Kremlin continues to violate US sovereignty. She said Vladimir Putin likely has kompromat on Donald Trump, and that his operatives are going to elevate the visibility of a third-party candidate in 2020, just as they did in 2016. Last time, it was the Green Party’s Jill Stein who helped Trump take a plurality of votes in three decisive states. Next time around, Clinton implied the Russians are already “grooming” someone like the anti-liberal Tulsi Gabbard. 

I’m going to assume you don’t know who Tulsi Gabbard is. That’s how well she’s doing in the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination. She’s a zombie candidate. She has been for months. The only way she’ll get considered attention is to do what Clinton said she would do: run as a third-party candidate against the “Democratic establishment” with Putin’s blessing, thus abetting the incumbent by splitting the anti-Trump vote. Gabbard seemed to be preparing for that over the weekend, positioning herself as the anti-war antidote to the “the queen of the warmongers.” 

Seriously, Gabbard is not worth taking seriously. The Hawaii Democrat stands with the world’s authoritarians, including India’s Narendra Modi and Syria’s war criminal Bashar al-Assad. But we are forced to pay attention in a media climate in which one remark by a person who isn’t running for president can trigger a pissing match all weekend long between Democratic normies and “the left.” Only it’s not even “a left” in any coherent or honorable sense as much as it is a clot of self-hating anti-American cranks who deny the US is a force of good, much to the liking of our enemies, who amplify this cranky incoherence by orders of magnitude, thus sabotaging our public discourse. There isn’t a circle in Dante’s Inferno in which you are trapped forever in debate with a thousand raging morons—imagine gangs of Glenn Greenwalds and mobs of Matt Taibbis—but there should be. That Fresh Hell is right here on Earth.

The story about the biggest story of 2016—“but her emails!”—got none of the attention it deserved.

While journalists reported the “dustup” (though that gives Gabbard too much credit), while normies and lefties argued over the dustup, and while Russian bots sent the dustup trending all weekend long, nearly everyone ignored the most important story related to Hillary Clinton, the story that can teach us the most about what happened in 2016 and what we the people can do to avoid sending another weak-ass strongman to the White House. More importantly, the story is a lesson to the Washington press corps, which is a class of people reputed to care about getting the story right, but given how much they are paying attention to trivialities, like Gabbard picking a fight with a woman who is not running for president, I fear the lesson isn’t being learned.

The story I’m talking about was about the biggest story of the whole 2016 election being a fiction, a myth, a cipher, a blank space—all of it breathed to life by people who knew better but pretended not to. The story about 2016’s biggest story establishes forever that the Clinton email scandal was based on nothing more than Republican accusations against and conspiracy theories about the Democratic candidate that raised vicious sexist suspicions of a woman seeking power to the level of high treason, an accomplishment so successful that it emblazoned Clinton’s “criminality” on the minds of millions of Americans who to this day chant “Lock her up!” That story about the biggest story of 2016 was buried on A16 of Saturday’s Times while the story about Clinton emails a week before the last election earned no fewer than five mentions in the same elite newspaper of record, four on the front page and one in the editorial. 

“Quiet Ending for Inquiry into Emails and Server” was the Times print headline. After three years of exhaustive investigation, the US State Department concluded that “there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information” while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. She didn’t do anything criminal, endanger Americans or undermine security. The Post was more accurate about the greater significance, though. “The report appears to represent a final and anticlimactic chapter in a controversy that overshadowed the 2016 presidential campaign and exposed Clinton to fierce criticism that she later cited as a major factor in her loss to President Trump.” 

I said the story about the biggest story of 2016 should be a lesson to the Washington press corps, a lesson that isn’t being learned, but I think it’s much more than that. Saturday’s story is an indictment, and one that’s being proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the press corps’ silence. I’ll be happy to be shown wrong when someone like the Times’ Maggie Haberman asks someone like US Senator Chuck Grassley if he and the Republicans regret weaponizing a lie in order to serve the candidacy of a president who has since 2017 lied more than 13,000 times. I won’t, however, hold my breath.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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