CNN's Rick Lazio: Clinton's "Issue" Is "Whether She Can Show Some Warmth" And "Smile A Little Bit" During The Debate
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For years, right-wing media have baselessly speculated on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s health, claiming she has suffered various illnesses ranging from “stroke” to “Parkinson’s disease,” and guessing she’ll be “dead in six months.” Here are some of right-wing media’s various Clinton diagnoses.
Why Treating Every Campaign Controversy Equally Is A Recipe For Bad Reporting
The New York Times’ public editor defended the paper’s coverage of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton from criticism by arguing journalists should try to treat controversies involving Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump equally. It’s a defense that highlights the real danger posed by “false balance” in campaign journalism during the 2016 election.
In a September 10 piece titled “The Truth About ‘False Balance,’” New York Times public editor Liz Spayd defended her paper’s extensive reporting on the controversies surrounding the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Critics say the Times’ coverage has hyped minor scandals and contributed to a perception that Clinton and Trump are equally flawed candidates. That coverage, critics argue, perpetuates a “false balance” that fails to reflect the uniquely dangerous and divisive nature of Trump's campaign.
In her response, Spayd accused critics of trying to force newspapers to insert “moral and ideological judgments” into their campaign coverage, warning of a “slippery slope” if journalists are asked to decide which campaign controversies are worth prioritizing:
The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking. What the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates. Take one example. Suppose journalists deem Clinton’s use of private email servers a minor offense compared with Trump inciting Russia to influence an American election by hacking into computers — remember that? Is the next step for a paternalistic media to barely cover Clinton’s email so that the public isn’t confused about what’s more important? Should her email saga be covered at all? It’s a slippery slope. [emphasis added]
The problem with Spayd’s argument is that one of the basic functions of a newsroom is to make judgment calls about which stories deserve attention and which don’t.
When a local TV station interrupts a weather report to cover a deadly terrorist attack, it’s making a judgment about which story should be more important to the public. When a newspaper puts a major oil spill on the front page rather than a story about a low-level crime, it’s making a similar judgment.
Conversely, if CNN spent the same amount of time covering a celebrity’s stint in rehab as it did on a terrorist attack, it would be rightly mocked. Not because the celebrity rehab story isn’t true, but because one story obviously deserves more attention than the other.
Those types of editorial decisions don’t create a “slippery slope” -- they define the actions of respectable news sources. Even the Times’ masthead -- “All The News That’s Fit To Print” -- asks the reader to trust the paper’s editorial judgment when deciding what news qualifies as “fit to print.”
Every journalist in every newsroom in America already makes those decisions. They’re not machines, and they’re not blank slates. Part of their job is exercising their judgment to figure out which stories are worth telling, and how to tell them.
But Spayd’s argument suggests that journalists should withhold judgment and pretend voters should fixate just as much on emails as they do on mass deportations, or a Muslim ban, or any of the dozens of other unprecedented controversies that would have ended a normal candidate’s campaign but haven’t derailed Trump.
Spayd suggests that critics of “false balance” are likely liberals hoping to pass off “partisan” judgments as objective facts:
I can’t help wondering about the ideological motives of those crying false balance, given that they are using the argument mostly in support of liberal causes and candidates. CNN’s Brian Stelter focused his show, “Reliable Sources,” on this subject last weekend. He asked a guest, Jacob Weisberg of Slate magazine, to frame the idea of false balance. Weisberg used an analogy, saying journalists are accustomed to covering candidates who may be apples and oranges, but at least are still both fruits. In Trump, he said, we have not fruit but rancid meat. That sounds like a partisan’s explanation passed off as a factual judgment.
That Spayd can’t bring herself to admit that Trump and Clinton are categorically different, that Trump is a uniquely dangerous and unqualified candidate, should make any reader wary of the Times’ coverage.
Listing all of the reasons that Trump deserves to be treated differently -- his ties to white nationalists, his ties to Russia, his calls for an unconstitutional Muslim ban, his racist attacks on Mexican immigrants -- feels silly at this point. The differences between the two candidates are not merely “partisan,” which is why so many high-profile Republicans have come out against their party’s candidate.
Spayd acknowledges that Trump’s behavior has led many Republicans to reject Trump, but she claims that “If Trump is unequivocally more flawed than his opponent, that should be plenty evident to the voting public come November. But it should be evident from the kinds of facts that bold and dogged reporting unearths, not from journalists being encouraged to impose their own values to tip the scale.”
This argument ignores how the editorial judgments that journalists make help shape how the voting public weighs those facts and reports. If the Times publishes 16 front page articles on the Clinton Foundation before it gets around to reporting on the Trump Foundation, readers will be left with the impression that the former is more important, no matter how damning the latter story may be.
Spayd points to the fact that neither candidate is well-liked or trusted, arguing that “if ever there was a time to shine light in all directions, this is it.” It’s a bizarrely self-fulfilling argument. Breathless media coverage about Clinton’s email server and ties to the Clinton Foundation have undoubtedly contributed to voters’ perceptions that Clinton isn’t trustworthy. But Spayd cites that perception to justify yet more breathless media coverage of those controversies, even as she acknowledges it was “not good journalism” when some of the paper’s reports have “revealed relatively little bad behavior, yet were written as if they did.”
But the more important point is that voters’ biases or perceptions of the candidates shouldn’t dictate what stories news organizations prioritize. If voters are equally suspicious of both candidates, but one is dramatically more dangerous or untrustworthy than the other, good editorial judgment should challenge that suspicion, not merely echo it.
The truth is no candidate, Clinton or otherwise, can run a campaign without controversies. Journalists will always be able to find a gaffe on which to fixate. But not all campaign controversies are created equally. Part of a journalist’s job is to help readers cut through the noise of a presidential campaign and focus on what really matters.
And that’s the real problem with Spayd’s argument: Refusing to treat campaign stories differently is a judgment call. It communicates to readers that Clinton’s email server is as shocking and newsworthy as, for example, Trump’s pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country.
And any newspaper that’s afraid to make that judgment call -- that’s afraid of telling readers what’s really at stake in November -- is shirking one of the most basic and important functions of a free press during election season.
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MSNBC host Chuck Todd criticized Hillary Clinton’s failure to “pivot off of” the topic of her private email server during her time as Secretary of State, ignoring that Clinton has taken responsibility for her actions and undergone multiple investigations.
During a Meet the Press Daily panel discussion about NBC’s commander-in-chief forum, host Chuck Todd expressed concern that Clinton has “never figured out a pivot off” the email scandal:
CHUCK TODD (HOST): When you have your own microphone, you can do what you want with it. And, you know, ultimately she's never figured out a pivot off of it. Normally when there is a controversial thing you have to deal with -- look at Trump, say what you want about him, sometimes he is all pivot. But she has not developed the pivot. "You know I'm glad you asked about that, but let me tell you about the larger issue when it comes to X" -- you know she never figured out how to do that. Why?
In the past week alone, NBC has written numerous articles concerning Hillary Clinton’s email server, and NBC’s presidential forum questioned Clinton on her emails in the first 8 of 9 questions. And yet, in response to Hillary Clinton’s attempt to give detailed, thorough answers to the press about her emails, Todd criticized her failure to change the subject.
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Recently released FBI notes pertaining to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server reveal that Fox News’ interview and subsequent hyping of claims made by imprisoned Romanian hacker Marcel Lehel Lazar were all based on a lie. The FBI report states that “analysis” showed no “evidence that Lazar hacked the server,” and also notes that Lazar “admitted to lying to FOX News.” Fox’s willingness to report an imprisoned hacker’s claims as fact doesn’t represent the first time the network has been burned by sources in an attempt to scandalize Clinton’s use of a private email server.
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Veteran political consultant and commentator James Carville says the media assumes false equivalence when covering major policy disagreements, allowing right-wing misinformation to overshadow clear evidence that Democratic policies on issues like the economy and health care have been successful.
Carville, who is a guest contributor to Media Matters, recently released We’re Still Right, They’re Still Wrong, a sequel to his 1996 book We’re Right, They’re Wrong. In an interview with Media Matters, Carville explained that he wrote the book because “the Democratic Party does a very poor job of tootin’ our own horn” while “right-wing blowhards” successfully push misinformation about Democratic policies into mainstream media coverage.
“The economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans -- there’s no debate there,” Carville explained. “You don’t even have to be an expert to go look up unemployment data. Look up growth. The deficit is remarkably lower under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents.” But Carville argues that reporters’ obsession with presenting “both sides” of policy disagreements -- rather than focusing on evidence -- ends up lending credibility to right-wing misinformation. Conservatives "don’t ever cite any facts for anything that they say. And they just move on.”
Carville highlighted conservative fearmongering on issues like Obamacare, the Ebola virus -- which some warned was going to “kill us all” -- and climate change as notable examples. “It’s not a disputable fact. The earth is getting warmer; get over it. There‘s not another side of the argument.”
Carville sees evidence of that same false equivalence in reporting about the presidential election. “I do interviews and they say, ‘Well, we have two unpopular candidates.’ Yes, that’s sort of true, but one is twice as unpopular as the other.”
In Carville’s view, Republican nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy is the natural product of years of fact-free right-wing fearmongering. “I think Trump is the perfect nominee of a party that hates facts. Because he doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know the nuclear triad from the federal triangle. And he is just exactly what they deserve. They’ve been a fact-denying party from evolution to global warming to economic policy to foreign policy, so why should they be surprised if they have a fact-denying nominee? He fits in perfectly for them.”
At the same time, Carville sees a double standard in the way reporters handle each candidate's respective controversies. In a March piece for Media Matters, Carville laid out what he dubbed “The Clinton Rule” based on the Beltway media’s obsession with supposed Clinton “scandals”: “There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons.”
As a recent example, Carville pointed to the media’s recent scrutiny of the Clinton Foundation and the growing calls for the Clintons to shut it down. He urged Democrats to be blunt in their defense of the foundation: “People are going to die. Yes, people will die when you shut it down.” He dismissed potential hand-wringing over his proclamation: “‘Oh gee, do you think you should you really say that?’ Well it’s a fact.”
“My message to Democrats is, you’ve been right, get over it. You can be nice, you can be polite about it, but you’ve just been right,” Carville said. “I’m sure it’s going to come a day where we’ll get something wrong and we’ll deal with that, too.”
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CNN’s senior media reporter Dylan Byers reported that media outlets criticized an “arguably misleading” story by the Associated Press, where an “inaccurate tweet” promoting the story falsely claimed that “more than half” of the people who met Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state had also donated to the Clinton Foundation.
According to the AP’s original review (the story has since been changed) of State Department calendars released to the organization so far, covering roughly half of Clinton’s tenure at State, “[a]t least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs.” The AP promoted this story on Twitter by proclaiming “[m]ore than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation.”
Byers explained that other journalists “noted that Clinton had held thousands of meetings with government employees, foreign representatives, civil leaders, journalists and others while Secretary of State that were not accounted for in the AP's report,” but the AP “is still standing by its story and has yet to correct its tweet, despite near unanimous agreement among other journalists that the tweet, at least, was false.” The AP’s story was also criticized for characterizing Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who has been a friend of the Clintons for decades, as little more than a donor asking for help. From Byers’ August 26 report:
Hillary Clinton is surrounded by suggestions of controversy. Terms like "Clinton Foundation," "email server," and "Benghazi" hover around her like a faint smoke that hints at the existence of fire.
But finding the fire -- the lie, the misdeed, the unethical act -- is proving to be rather difficult, as evidenced this week by an inaccurate tweet and arguably misleading story from the Associated Press that were quickly rebutted by the Clinton campaign and dismissed by many media outlets.
Three days later, the Associated Press is still standing by its story and has yet to correct its tweet, despite near unanimous agreement among other journalists that the tweet, at least, was false.
"The AP's social-media take on the story was seriously flawed," David Boardman, the Dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University and former editor of the Seattle Times, told CNNMoney. "It's sloppy, click-grabbing shorthand that is a disservice to the reporting to which it refers."
This "extraordinary" finding, as the AP put it, was deemed less extraordinary by other journalists and pundits who noted that Clinton had held thousands of meetings with government employees, foreign representatives, civil leaders, journalists and others while Secretary of State that were not accounted for in the AP's report.
Meanwhile, other news organizations pilloried the AP's report.
The Washington Post Fact-Checker wrote that there were "many more nuanced and important details in the story that are being misrepresented — by the AP's own promotional tweet, and by Trump."
Vox's Matthew Yglesias was more direct: "The AP's big exposé on Hillary meeting with Clinton Foundation donors is a mess," his headline read.
Kelly: “Do You Believe The Information In Your Possession Could Be A Game-Changer In The US Election?"
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly invited Wikileaks’ editor-in-chief Julian Assange to discuss the “significant” material on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton he plans to leak before the election day in order to damage her campaign.
Previously, Fox had repeated Assange’s conspiracy that a DNC staffer was murdered because of association with WikiLeaks, while a report on Fox and Friends cited Assange in a claim that Google buried stories about the “Clinton body count.” For his part, Assange has discussed an “October Surprise” with unofficial Trump adviser Roger Stone, who claims that the Clintons have murdered 40 people, including JFK Jr., for being “in the way.” From the August 24 edition of Fox News’ The Kelly File:
MEGYN KELLY (HOST): Julian, thank you very much for being here. So, let's start with the additional information you have regarding Hillary Clinton. When can we expect this information?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well we're working around the clock. We have received quite a lot of material [INAUDIBLE] electoral process and by a major DNC revelation, which has now led to the resignation of five top officials at the DNC, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the president, the last one, late last week. It's a complex business, what we do. We have to assess the veracity, we have a perfect ten-year record, so far, in never getting it wrong. We want the keep that reputation. Understand how things should be formatted, what media should we be involved in, what is the best way to stage it out, do we accumulate everything, assess it, publish all in one batch or do we do several batches. The approach we have decided to take is that we do several batches.
KELLY: Give us a general sense. Are we going to see it before the November 8th election?
ASSANGE: Yes, absolutely. I mean, in the case of the DNC leaks, for example, we pushed as fast as we could to try to get it in before the Democratic nomination conference because obviously people have a right to understand who it is they're nominating and what sort of process was involved and the same is true here. For the US electoral process, people involved in that election have the right to understand who it is they're electing.
KELLY: Now, you've seen it, right? Can you tell us how significant you believe it is? I mean, compare its significance to what we saw released by WikiLeaks in July.
ASSANGE: I don't want to scoop ourselves. We have a lot of pages of material, thousands of pages of material. So, no I have not read every single page, we’re hard at work in doing that, trying to understand, etc. I didn't want to give the game away but it's a variety of different types of documents from different types of institutions that are associated with the election campaign, some quite unexpected angles that are, you know, quite interesting, some even entertaining.
KELLY: Do you -- you know, right now according to the average of all polls, she's beating Donald Trump by 5.5 points nationwide. She's way ahead of him in most of the swing states, not all. Do you believe the information in your possession could be a game-changer in the US election?
ASSANGE: I think it's significant. You know, it depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.