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Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • Stop Normalizing Hate: Reactionary White Nationalism Doesn't Equal “Populism”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The process by which the media continue to normalize President-elect Donald Trump and the extreme elements that now define his pending administration is achieved story-by-story, headline-by-headline, and even adjective-by-adjective.

    Language, and the way journalists deploy words during the Trump transition, are a central avenue for downplaying and whitewashing what’s now taking place.

    Just look at some of the recent in-depth, page-one newspaper profiles of Steve Bannon, the former executive who Trump has tapped to be his chief strategist and senior counselor. I’m sure much to Bannon’s delight he’s been awarded the “populist” label. But that description is wildly misguided, completely inadequate, and continues a long-running problem of the press mislabeling extreme right-wing movements and politicians as populist. (See: The Tea Party.)

    Populism is supposed to represent a running struggle on behalf of regular people against powerful and elite economic forces. Bannon and Trump’s pro-corporate, anti-worker politics pretty much represent the opposite of that.

    Plus, “populist” badly downplays the fact Bannon helped run a race-baiting cesspool, while underplaying Bannon’s own alleged history of anti-Semitism.

    How best to accurately describe Bannon? Vox did a pretty good job of it: “He’s a leading light of America’s white nationalist movement accused of using misogynistic, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and barely hidden racist language throughout his professional life.”

    How far is that from feel-good “populism”? Very, very far. “Far from populism, this is Revolutionary-era elitism drawn along racist lines,” noted Laurel Raymond at Think Progress.

    Yet the problem persists.

    New York Times headline, November 27: “Combative, Populist Steve Bannon Found His Man in Donald Trump.”

    Washington Post headline, November 19: “For Trump Adviser Stephen Bannon, Fiery Populism Followed Life In Elite Circles.”

    It’s true that both the Times and Post articles did explore in detail Bannon’s controversial past and the fringe nature of his unseemly politics. The Times even detailed how Bannon once discussed “genetic superiority” with a business colleague and suggested that maybe only property owners be allowed to vote.  

    But “populist”? No. Reactionary white nationalist? Yes.  

    Note that Bannon himself this summer called Breitbart “the platform of the alt-right.” And what is "alt-right" synonymous with? White nationalism. “In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist,” wrote John Daniszewski, the Associated Press’s Vice President for Standards, as he outlined to writers how to employ “alt-right” in AP coverage.

    The weird part is that this week the Times published an article looking at how news organizations, including the Times, are using the phrase “alt-right” to describe the radical movement Trump and Bannon have become the face of, and whether the relatively new moniker sufficiently captures the movement’s rough and often offensive edges. “The term has attracted widespread criticism among those, particularly on the left, who say it euphemizes and legitimizes the ideologies of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacy,” the newspaper reported.

    So, "alt-right" might not properly convey the outlier politics of people like Bannon, but the Times itself this week published a headline labeling Bannon a “populist.”

    Meanwhile, when you thumb through Bannon’s resume it’s nearly impossible to see any threads of “populism” running through it. He is a Harvard Business School graduate who became a Goldman Sachs banker before opening up a boutique investment bank in Beverly Hills, CA, Bannon & Co., which he eventually sold to the French bank, Société Générale. Last decade, Bannon also operated some dubious penny stock ventures, which attracted a number of lawsuits. He has also been a Hollywood movie producer.

    After he exited the world of finance, Bannon became the chairman of Breitbart. Under his leadership, the white nationalist echo chamber called for the hoisting of the Confederate flag (“high and proud”), weeks after shootings at a black Charleston, South Carolina, church. It claimed that political correctness “protects Muslim rape culture.” It has referred to conservative writer Bill Kristol as a "renegade Jew." It ran a piece last year encouraging male readers to tell women that "this isn’t going to suck itself."

    None of that garbage remotely fits under a breezy umbrella of “populism.” 

    Of course, the Bannon “populist” coverage flows from the media’s long-running Trump “populist” campaign coverage, which has been ill-advised for more than year. And it continues to this day.

    Here are highlights of the likely Trump and Republican Party agenda for next year. Good luck finding lots of “populist” proposals aimed at boosting quality of life for regular Americans:

    *Repeal healthcare for 20 million Americans who are insured through Obamacare. 

    *Pass massive new tax cuts for the wealthy. 

    *Drastically cut Medicare.

    *Defund Planned Parenthood.

    *Defund public broadcasting.

    *Vastly expand the Pentagon’s budget.

    *Block overtime pay for workers making less than $47,000 a year.

    *Deport millions of undocumented workers. 

    This is all part of the larger Beltway media failure of playing nice with radical right-wing politics under the auspices of populism.

    Especially during President Obama’s first term, reporters and pundits spent way too much time portraying the Obama-hating Tea Party movement has a "populist" one, when it most certainly was not. Most “populist” movements, as a rule, don’t passionately defend oil companies, insurance conglomerates, and AIG banking executives. And most “populist” movements don’t compare the president to Adolf Hitler and parade around with swastika posters. They don’t claim the president’s a “racist” who wants to put a spike in the heads of babies. And they usually don’t call for a military coup to overthrow the White House.

    But the Tea Party did, and the media rewarded them with the honorary titles of populism.

    And now they’re doing it again with Trump and his white nationalist appointments. 

  • Too Little, Too Late: Weeks After Election, Media See Trump's Conflicts, Potential Self-Dealings, And Corruption

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    New York Times editors and reporters might’ve thought they were going to be congratulated by readers for Sunday’s front-page, six-reporter expose on President-elect Donald Trump’s nearly endless business conflicts. But a chorus of media observers and critics had other ideas.

    Rather than applaud the Times for its report, lots of commentators wondered why the newspaper waited until after the election to wave large red flags about Trump’s obvious conflicts, especially when the Times -- and so much of the campaign press -- spent an extraordinary amount of energy obsessing over potential conflicts of interest, and possible ethical lapses, supposedly surrounding Hillary Clinton.

    Looking back, there certainly seems to be a perception that the political press didn’t really care about Trump’s looming, impossible-to-miss conflicts or the bad “optics” they might produce. And it appears that the press was overly infatuated with conflict questions about Clinton -- questions today that seem quaint compared to Trump’s far-flung business dealings, which represent a possible gateway to corruption.

    That’s not to say the topic wasn’t addressed or that some journalists didn’t tackle it in real time during the campaign season. Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek produced a helpful deep dive back in September. And the business press was urgent and upfront in detailing the unprecedented nature of Trump’s looming problem. Bloomberg in June: “Conflicts of Interest? President Trump's Would Be Amazing.”

    But in general, the political press seemed less engaged with this issue and appeared reluctant to tag the obvious Trump storyline as a campaign priority. There didn’t seem to be an institutional commitment to pursuing and documenting that storyline, even though the potential problems for Trump were obvious and the story might have disqualified him.

    Even today, the story isn’t being treated with the urgency it deserves. Yes, more new organizations are tepidly acknowledging the colossal conflicts and looming inside deals, but so much of the coverage still lacks resolve. Question for journalists: If Clinton arrived at the White House with open and boundless business conflicts, how would you cover that story? What kind of outraged, lecturing tone would you take? Now treat the Trump story the same way.

    Newsrooms need to learn from their lackluster campaign coverage and treat the unfolding Trump controversy as a permanent beat inside newsrooms for the next four years. It certainly demands that kind of attention and focus.

    Note that aside from the Times’ big Sunday Trump conflict piece, the newspaper also published detailed articles on the topic November 21 and 14, and before the election on November 5. But aside from a few exceptions, in the months prior to Election Day, when voters were assessing the candidates, the intense focus on Trump’s conflicts just wasn’t there. (As Media Matters reported, the same trend played out on network newscasts, which devoted scant time to Trump’s conflicts of interest before the election only to ramp up coverage after Trump’s victory.)

    Where was there lots of media campaign interest? (And also lots of bad journalism?) Trying to detail Clinton’s possible conflicts, a storyline forever deemed by the press to be a Very Big Deal.

    Recall that the Times and The Washington Post considered potential Clinton conflicts stemming from the family charity to be so pressing that both newspapers entered into unusual exclusive editorial agreements with Peter Schweizer, the partisan Republican author who wrote the Breitbart-backed book Clinton Cash. (The Times also breathlessly hyped the book in its news pages.)

    And that was 18 months before Election Day. The topic remained a media priority throughout the campaign.

    Clinton Cash, a hodgepodge of innuendo and connect-the-dot allegations, was riddled with errorsU.S. News & World Report described the book as a "somewhat problematic" look at the Clintons' financial dealings, while Time noted that one of the book’s central claims was "based on little evidence.”

    Yet Clinton’s alleged conflicts were considered to be so important inside newsrooms -- and it was deemed so crucial for the Beltway press to suss out every conceivable detail -- that the Times and the Post were willing to make dubious alliances with GOP operatives.

    Needless to say, no such partisan unions were formed to report out Trump’s massive business conflicts. Indeed, most news consumers would be hard-pressed to suggest Trump’s obvious business conflicts constituted a centerpiece of his campaign coverage for the previous 18 months.

    Meanwhile, recall that lots of media elites demanded Clinton take action before the election in order to eliminate the supposed conflicts surrounding the Clinton Foundation. During August and September, that topic created yet another wave of frenzied Clinton coverage, fueled by the media’s “optics” obsession

    At the time, NBC’s Chuck Todd perfectly summed up the media’s weird pursuit when he announced, “Let’s be clear, this is all innuendo at this point. No pay for play has been proven. No smoking gun has been found.” Todd then quickly added, “But like many of these Clinton scandals, it looks bad.”

    From NPR:

    There's no question the optics are bad for Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. But no proof has emerged that any official favors -- regulations, government contracts, international deals -- were curried in exchange for donations or pledges.

    And from Time:

    If she didn’t do anything wrong, why won’t she defend herself? By avoiding taking responsibility, Clinton only exacerbates the perception she is dishonest and untrustworthy, the primary hurdle on her path to the White House. Optics matter when the issue is transparency.

    According to the media mantra, Clinton’s possible big-money conflicts looked really, really bad. Reporters hammered the theme for weeks and months, while only occasionally glancing over in the direction of Trump’s concrete conflicts.

    Today, coverage of Trump’s conflicts and self-dealing has belatedly arrived. But it often comes with an odd sense of delayed wonder, as if journalists are just now realizing the epic size of the pay-for-play problem at hand for the country, while still hedging their bets. 

    For instance, the headline for the Post’s November 25 article announced, “Trump’s Presidency, Overseas Business Deals And Relations With Foreign Governments Could All Become Intertwined.”

    Could? The president-elect’s business dealing could be a conflict for U.S. foreign policy? That Post framing seems to dramatically underplay what’s currently unfolding. As the Post itself has reported, “Trump has done little to set boundaries between his personal and official business since winning the presidency.”

    Indeed, Trump’s refusal to divest himself from a sprawling array of business interests is certain to create an ethical morass that even Republican attorneys insist will produce endless, possibly debilitating, conflicts for Trump.

    The media mostly missed this pressing story once during the campaign. They can’t afford to overlook it a second time. 

  • NY Times Public Editor Says Problem With Paper’s Election Coverage Is It Was Too Mean To Trump Supporters

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    In a strange move that bodes ill for the paper’s future coverage, The New York Times’ public editor devoted her review of the paper’s election work almost entirely to detailing ways in which she thought the paper hadn’t been understanding enough of Donald Trump’s supporters.

    Throughout the column, public editor Liz Spayd detailed how readers were upset about the newspaper’s election work and she quoted several of them to prove the point. She stressed that reader outpouring from “around the country” was extremely high (“five times the normal level”), and that there was a “searing level of dissatisfaction out there with many aspects of the coverage.”  

    But Spayd’s hand-selected readers led inexorably to her point that the Times had not been sufficiently charitable to Trump voters. “Few could deny that if Trump’s more moderate supporters are feeling bruised right now, the blame lies partly with their candidate and his penchant for inflammatory rhetoric,” she wrote. “But the media is at fault too, for turning his remarks into a grim caricature that it applied to those who backed him.” At every turn, the readers with whom Spayd chooses to engage criticize the purported liberalism of the Times’ coverage. The message the public editor sends is clear: the paper should move to the right to quell reader concerns.

    Yet not a single reader whom Spayd chose to include in her post-campaign analysis expressed any concern about the daily’s Clinton coverage. Nor did she feature any complaints that the paper’s coverage of Trump may have been insufficiently rigorous. Instead, criticism from the left of the paper’s general election coverage was entirely absent.

    The omission and complete lack of introspection is also strange simply because the Times’ treatment of Clinton has been the topic of an ongoing media debate, as a wide array of writers have detailed what they viewed as the paper’s patently unfair treatment of the Democratic nominee. Even the Times’ former executive editor, Jill Abramson, agreed that the newspaper gives Clinton “an unfair” level of scrutiny.

    She was hardly alone this campaign, as numerous media observers and readers alike criticized the paper’s treatment of the Democratic nominee, calling the coverage a "biased train wreck" that indicated "a problem covering Hillary Clinton," who was "always going to be presumed guilty of something."

    Yet gazing over all of that commentary and all those detailed complaints, Spayd saw no reason to address progressive criticism of the paper. It really does appear that the Times-wide denial is complete.

    But so what about the Clinton treatment, some might say. What’s done is done and Trump is the pressing media issue moving forward. I agree. But I also see a direct connection between the Times’ unfair and accusatory Clinton coverage, and what appears to be its increasingly passive reporting on President-elect Trump.

    And it stands to reason: If the main lesson the Times newsroom is being taught from the election is that the paper was too tough on Trump, too mean to his supporters, and that readers think the paper’s “liberal” bias is evident, guess what kind of coverage that produces?

    It produces the kind of coverage where, one day after Trump’s attorney announced the newly elected president was settling a huge $25 million consumer fraud lawsuit filed against him (an unheard-of development in American politics), the Times published a mostly-upbeat, front-page Trump piece that portrayed him as “confident,” “focused,” “proud,” and “freewheeling.” (To date, the Times has published exactly one news article about the Trump University fraud settlement.)

    Right below that article on the front page the same day appeared another puff piece, this one an admiring look at Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, described by the Times as a “steadying hand” with “driving confidence” who might serve as a “moderating influence” with Trump. This, just days after Trump appointed a white nationalist as his top advisor.

    Meanwhile, the Times’ response to the kerfuffle that recently broke out when Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed by audience members while attending “Hamilton” on Broadway was oddly passive and defensive. At least two Times staffers, including one reporter currently covering Trump for the newsroom, seemed to denounce the boos as being disrespectful. And in its news report on the incident, the Times noted Trump tweeted about the booing, but failed to inform readers that Trump’s tweet was completely inaccurate: Cast members were not “very rude” to Pence. (It was audience members who booed, not the performers, who thanked Pence for attending and asked that he work on behalf of all Americans.)

    That’s not to say the Times hasn’t published any worthy news articles during the early stages of the Trump transition. On November 19, the newspaper reported on the morass of looming conflicts for the new president:

    President-elect Donald J. Trump met in the last week in his office at Trump Tower with three Indian business partners who are building a Trump-branded luxury apartment complex south of Mumbai, raising new questions about how he will separate his business dealings from the work of the government once he is in the White House.

    Where did the potentially damaging piece appear? On page 20.

    The Times did follow up two days laterwith a front-page examination of Trump’s pending conflicts. But the question still lingers: Did the newsroom learn the wrong lessons from the 2016 campaign?

  • The Trump White House Will Be Gunning For The Press; It’s Time To Finally Fight Back

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The press doesn’t know where President-elect Donald Trump is. Well, not always.

    On Monday night, reporters camped outside Trump Tower in New York City were told there would be no more Trump-related news or events that day. Then hours later, they spotted a large caravan of vehicles leaving his residence. Turns out Trump ditched the press and headed out to dinner.

    This has already become commonplace since Trump’s election victory: He travels without the press and his team doesn’t always bother informing journalists about his schedule. The situation became so absurd that on Wednesday there were reports Trump had flown, unannounced, to Washington, D.C., which his spokesperson then denied.

    By immediately signaling that he has no interest in providing journalists with even the most basic amount of access, and thumbing his nose at the long-standing American tradition of a presidential press pool, Trump has ignited fears about how his administration will deal with reporters, and concerns about whether game-changing restrictions will emerge.

    The good news is there are common sense, collective solutions for the looming press crisis. The bad news, based on their performance during the campaign and in the days since Trump’s victory, is there’s little indication news organizations are willing to stand up to Trump’s bullying behavior.

    The truth is, nobody knows exactly how the Trump White House will function in terms of dealing with the press. “The operating theory among those of us who have covered him is a Trump White House will be no different than a Trump campaign,” one anonymous reporter told Politico.

    He seems to be confirming as much. “Trump’s flouting of press access was one of his first public decisions since his election Tuesday,” the Associated Press recently reported.

    Question: Will there even be daily briefings for reporters at the new Republican White House?

    As The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone pointed out, there’s no requirement that an administration has to hold briefings and answer questions from journalists on a nearly daily basis. Instead, it’s a tradition. It’s a goodwill gesture in the name of transparency and keeping the public informed.

    But if Trump doesn’t have to, why would he? Because you know what else was a long-standing tradition done in the name of transparency? Releasing your tax returns when you ran for president, releasing relevant health information, and answering questions from reporters on the campaign trail during the general election. Trump ignored all of those. He also banned certain news outlets from his events while his campaign herded reporters into restricted press pens at his rallies where he routinely mocked and smeared journalists ("disgusting" and "horrible people”) in front of his fervent supporters.

    When Trump gleefully ignored all sorts of media norms on the campaign trail, he was met with modest resistance from the press, and he won the election. So why would he suddenly feel pressure to follow previous White House media traditions?

    I’m not trying to belittle the media pushback we’ve seen since Election Day. It’s an important first step. I’m just stressing that journalists could soon be facing an unparalleled effort to silence them. If so, that requires an unprecedented response. Specifically, it demands a sweeping, collective response from the country’s largest, most powerful news organizations.

    Because if those outlets are afraid to stand up to President Trump, if they instead try to nibble around the edges and attempt to beg and plead their way toward Trump access, they’re doomed. And so are news consumers.

    Meanwhile, Trump has at his disposal an array of dishonest “alt-right” media outlets that will proudly serve as propaganda arms for the federal government. They’ll be willing to help create the illusion of information being released by a Trump White House.

    Journalists recognize a crisis may be looming with Trump. But do they comprehend the potential magnitude? Peering over the horizon, The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg stressed, “I’ve said it before, but the solution will be what it has always been — good, tough reporting.”

    But how do you produce good, tough reporting, for instance, if no senior officials from the Trump White House will return your calls and there are no useful press briefings? And what if the same thing happens with the departments of Treasury, or Education, or Justice? What if there’s a complete and total lockdown on information and denial of access? If the spigot gets turned off, no amount of rah-rah newsroom cheering (“better journalism!”) is going to fix that.

    Moving forward, news organizations face a stark, and possibly defining choice in terms of how they respond to any radical efforts to curb the media’s White House access.

    First, journalists cannot underestimate what's at stake or the depths to which Trump will go to nullify a free press. (They already made that mistake once in 2016.) 

    Second, the most obvious fix is to shame Trump into doing the right thing; to use the collective weight of the Fourth Estate to shine a relentless spotlight on what could be the new president’s radical attempt to undercut the free press; to make that a running news story that defines his presidency. Note that earlier this year The Washington Post instituted a running clock to taunt Hillary Clinton for her lack of media availability on the campaign trail. If Trump cuts off White House access to the press, every major news outlet in America should put up a running clock to highlight that fact.

    The political press’ survival may be at stake.

  • Of Course The Press Played A Major Role In Trump’s Victory 

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. … The money’s rolling in and this is fun.” -- CBS CEO Les Moonves discussing Donald Trump, February 2016. 

    While reporters and pundits sift through their harassing and sometimes anti-Semitic letters and emails from Trump supporters -- and contemplate what the future holds if radio show host Laura Ingraham becomes the next White House press secretary -- few seem to be in the mood to reflect on their just-concluded campaign effort. And even fewer scribes seem willing to accept that the media made serious missteps in their election coverage -- and that those mistakes helped elect Donald Trump president.

    Any implications drawn from the media’s broken performance in 2016, a year when Trump’s former campaign manager was hired by CNN while still cashing Trump campaign paychecks, have been largely waved off. Much of the media's message today is that the press simply played no significant role in tipping the election to Trump.

    Detailing “The Democratic Coalition’s Epic Fail,” The New York Times’ Thomas Edsall cataloged what he saw as the many shortcomings of the Hillary Clinton campaign. What was notably absent from the list of hurdles that Clinton and Democrats failed to clear? The press. It’s not even worth discussing, apparently.

    There seems to be little interest in acknowledging that the press virtually extinguished policy and issue coverage this campaign cycle. That journalists were bullied by Trump yet often held him to a lower, softer standard than Clinton (see Clinton Foundation vs. Trump Foundation coverage). That the press somehow managed to help normalize a bigoted Republican nominee who openly embraces white nationalism, while showering him with nonstop attention. Or that the press’s relentlessly caustic Clinton coverage became a hallmark of the campaign.  

    Immediately following the election, New York Times Editor Dean Baquet and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. assured readers that “We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign.” So no, journalists don’t seem interested in self-examination, and they certainly don’t seem open to admitting that their occasionally colossal blunders helped tip the scales in Trump’s favor.

    In fact, quite the contrary. “The press succeeded in exposing Trump for what he was. Voters just decided they didn’t care,” Politico announced.

    Question: How well did the press succeed in getting Trump to release his tax returns? In getting him to release relevant health information about himself? In getting him to hold a press conference during the final months of the campaign?

    Answer: The press failed, categorically, in all those routine pursuits. But many journalists today remain certain everything was fine in 2016.

    From CNN reporter Maeve Reston: 

    Reston claims it’s just “lazy” for people to blame the press in the wake of Trump’s victory, but there is solid data to back up a lot of complaints about lopsided election coverage.  

    As Media Matters pointed out, in the week after FBI Director James Comey announced that the bureau would be assessing newly discovered emails to find out if they were relevant to its investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server, five of the country’s top newspaper published a total of 100 (100!) stories about or mentioning the emails, 46 of them on the front page. Additionally, the three network evening newscasts devoted a total of 25 minutes to the FBI email story during two crucial weeks late in the campaign, compared to just three minutes of policy coverage.  

    Meanwhile, NBC’s Katy Tur also seemed to dismiss post-campaign press criticism: 

    Was the press, in fact, “hostile” to the Clinton campaign? Is Podesta’s point a legitimate one? The answer to that question actually isn’t even in doubt. Study after study demonstrated that Clinton was the recipient of overwhelmingly negative press coverage.  

    On Twitter, Patrick LaForge, senior editor at The New York Times, suggested it was the FBI that made the Clinton emails such a big issue late in the campaign, and that the paper simply followed the bureau’s lead. But it was Times newsroom bosses, not the FBI director, who decided to run seven front-page email stories in three days late last month while millions of Americans were casting early ballots. 

    It was Times editors who decided to publish 22 articles mentioning Clinton’s email server in the week after the FBI announcement -- over-the-top coverage that at times looked like man-landing-on-the-moon reporting. Just like it was cable news producers who cultivated a manic, hothouse environment in which the term “email” or “emails” was mentioned thousands of times on air in the days following the FBI’s email announcement.

    All of this for a vague statement regarding, at the time, unseen emails that may or may not prove significant to any investigation. (They ended up not being significant.)

    What are some of the consequences of the media’s failed campaign coverage? And specifically, its failure to hold Trump to the same transparency and disclosure standard as Clinton?

    From The Guardian, November 12 (emphasis added):

    When President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House next year he will bring with him potential conflicts of interest across all areas of government that are unprecedented in American history.

    Trump, who manages a sprawling, international network of businesses, has thus far refused to put his businesses into a blind trust the way his predecessors in the nation’s highest office have traditionally done. Instead he has said his businesses will be run by his own adult children.

    The prospect of the president of the United States becoming deeply entangled in business conflicts while trying to lead the world’s most powerful nation is stunning.

    But here’s the thing: Journalists knew that many, many months ago. They all knew that if Trump won the presidency he would be wallowing in unprecedented conflicts of interest and that Americans likely wouldn’t be able to tell where Trump’s foreign policy priorities ended and his business goals began.

    The looming conflicts were an open secret. So why did that unprecedented threat to transparency generate so little political press attention before the election?

    Short answer: Media were too busy hyperventilating about Clinton’s emails. And that’s when they weren’t utterly devoted to undercutting the landmark Clinton charity by hyping supposed conflicts of interest.

    Remember when editorial boards lectured Clinton about the need to banish the family’s charity in order to placate the always lurking optics police?

    • “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort.” (The Boston Globe)
    • “[T]he only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs.” (USA Today)
    • “Impressions such as these are corrosive to national institutions.” (The Washington Post)

    By contrast, the press basically gave Trump a pass regarding the land mine of concrete, for-profit conflicts he’d have as president.

    Looking back, large, ranging portions of the 2016 campaign coverage were wildly irresponsible. It’s equally negligent now for journalists to pretend they played no role in Trump’s victory.

  • The Media’s Final Email Flop, A Fitting End To Journalism’s Troubled Campaign Season

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “Whatever message Hillary Clinton is putting out, all people hear is 'email'” --Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza

    And just like that, the latest Clinton email controversy evaporated on Sunday. FBI Director James Comey announced that recently discovered emails that “appear[ed] to be pertinent” to the bureau's investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server turned out to not be significant enough to alter the bureau’s decision in July that nothing Clinton had done constituted criminal wrongdoing.

    For those who have closely followed the email saga for the last 18 months, the FBI’s findings probably weren’t surprising; there’s never been any compelling evidence that Clinton did anything to warrant the type of five-alarm mega-scandal coverage we’ve seen from the media. (See here and here for detailed analysis supporting that conclusion.)

    But boy, did the campaign press go all in on the latest email mirage, just like they’ve done every time the Republican Party screams “Clinton scandal!” The press gorged senselessly on the story.

    The latest data from television news analyst Andrew Tyndall confirms that broadcast network evening newscasts this year devoted nearly four times as much airtime to covering Hillary Clinton’s emails as they have spent covering all campaign policy initiatives from all candidates for the entire year: 125 minutes for emails, and 35 minutes for in-depth policy discussions on issues like terrorism, immigration, policing.

    Specifically in the last two weeks, which include the media's meltdown over Comey’s unprecedented decision to insert the bureau into the election process, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News set aside a total of 25 minutes to cover the emails. That compares to their grand total of three minutes for covering policy during that span.

    For the entire year, however, the networks have devoted zero minutes to in-depth policy discussions of climate change, drugs, poverty, guns, infrastructure, social injustice, or the deficit. But they dedicated 125 minutes to Clinton emails.

    The updated network evening news numbers continue to spotlight the extraordinary newsroom disconnect that has at times defined this campaign: The press cannot stop covering a D.C. process story, and that obsession is crowding out actual campaign news (important news such as this).

    “When Gallup recently asked Americans to say what they recall reading or hearing about her, one word -- 'email' -- drowned out everything else,” according to Gallup’s Lydia Saad and Frank Newport.

    The Comey letter was the subject of more than a week of breathless coverage across the cable news channels.

    In the nine days following Comey’s announcement, “email” or “emails” was mentioned thousands of times on the three cable news channels, according to TVEyes. 

    And following Comey’s surprise announcement, five of the country’s largest newspapers also went completely overboard with their email coverage. Media Matters found that in the week following’s Comey’s announcement, The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post published 100 stories about or mentioning the emails, 46 of which appeared on the front page.

    Does that seem overly obsessive to anyone? Does that seem like a press corps blindly in search of a crime? Does that seem like a press corps that simply doesn’t like Hillary Clinton and applies different standards to covering "scandal" stories about her? 

    Obviously, the press treated the Comey announcement as an “October surprise,” which meant it was Very Big News -- a “bombshell” and potential game-changer. But note that during the final weekend of the 2000 campaign, during an extremely close race, it was revealed that George W. Bush had previously been arrested for drunk driving and had hidden that fact from voters. The Times ran a single news story that focused on it on page 25. The following day, the Times ran a media piece, on page 14, about how the drunk driving story had been covered and noted that some journalists weren’t sure voters cared about the revelation.

    Compare the Times' reserved coverage to the FBI email onslaught and gaze in wide wonder at the double standard that’s been at the center of this campaign season.

    Insult to injury? A lot of the email coverage hasn’t even been very good because it has constantly lacked context.

    From Harvard University professor Thomas Patterson, who helped oversee a study this year of media campaign coverage:

    For example, although Clinton’s email issue was clearly deemed important by the media, relatively few stories provided background to help news consumers make sense of the issue—what harm was caused by her actions, or how common these actions are among elected officials.

    It’s safe to say much of the press has not covered itself in glory this campaign season. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that the press has failed on perhaps an unprecedented scale. “The media have never performed less responsibly in a modern-era presidential election,” wrote Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik.

    While fact-checkers deserve credit for doggedly cataloging Trump’s torrent of casual lies this year, the day-to-day campaign coverage itself, often adrift in mindless narratives and gotcha Clinton fantasies, was at times completely detached from reality. And at the center of that newsroom crisis was the Clinton email saga and the press's decision to essentially treat that one process story as a placeholder for the first female nominee’s entire campaign.

    Think about how so much of Clinton’s political resume and her years worth of service were virtually whitewashed during the election season. “Her many accomplishments as first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of State barely surfaced in the news coverage of her candidacy at any point in the campaign,” noted Harvard’s Patterson: “[I]t has been Clinton who has suffered substantially more negative news coverage throughout nearly the whole campaign.”

    Why did Clinton receive so little coverage about her past accomplishments and about the policies of her campaign platform? Because the press created an entire news category just for her (“Clinton emails”), which then devoured time and attention, leaving little room for substance.

    Over the years, after having watched countless previous Clinton “scandals” evaporate into nothing, I never thought there was much substance to the latest email kerfuffle. Nor did I think the original revelation of her private email server deserved to be treated as a never-ending blockbuster news story. But if the media wanted to cover the story, that’s their right -- and their obligation if they thought it constituted news.

    What’s been utterly depressing is the collective decision to relentlessly cover a story that had already been beaten to death nine different times and from every conceivable angle. That and the fact that lazy email mania bumped aside actual, important news that Americans deserve to know about.

  • White Racist Kills Two Cops In Iowa Ambush And Fox News Goes Quiet

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    We can almost pinpoint the exact moment on Wednesday when Fox News mostly lost interest in the tragic breaking news out of Des Moines, IA, about two police officers who were killed in separate ambush attacks.

    Previously, news of ambush attacks on law enforcement was often treated as a top priority at Fox News, which typically shifted into overdrive in not only devoting time and attention to the senseless killings, but also to instantly assigning political blame, with President Obama often starring as the main villain.

    Recall that in July, there were two high-profile attacks on law enforcement: one in Dallas, TX, where five officers were killed when a gunman opened fired on a peaceful protest, and one in Baton Rouge, LA, where three officers were killed.

    In both instances, the gunmen were black, and in both instances, Fox News worked overtime assigning partisan blame.

    At the time, Fox's Tucker Carlson immediately, and falsely, claimed Obama had routinely labeled police “racist” (he never did) and said that the president had created “an environment where something like this is absolutely inevitable.” The rest of the right-wing media piled on as well: Someone must have radicalized the gunmen, the line of thinking went, and that someone was Obama.

    The exact same finger-pointing pattern of relentless politicization played out 10 days later in Louisiana. Following the ambush, “conservative media immediately blamed President Obama, claiming that he has added ‘fuel to the flame of racism,’” Media Matters reported.

    And when not casting collective blame on Obama, Fox talkers and other right-wing media commentators targeted Black Lives Matter activists for supposedly cultivating ambush shootings -- shootings that had been denounced by Black Lives Matter leaders.

    That’s the background. Now back to the deadly news from Iowa on Wednesday. Fox News appeared to lose interest in the story the moment that law enforcement announced that Scott Michael Greene had been arrested and charged with the deaths of the policemen. Fox News' enthusiasm for the breaking news seems to have flagged not only because Greene is a white man who lives in a house with a Trump-Pence sign out front, but also because the gunman is a racist whose behavior had previously gotten him in trouble with the law.

    Just weeks before the killings, Greene was removed by officers from a local high school football game after he started waving around a confederate flag in front of a group of African-American fans.

    Following the confrontation, Greene posted a YouTube video depicting the altercation, including his run-in with local police officers who demanded that he leave the game. In a comment below his video, Green wrote that he “was offended by the blacks sitting through our anthem. Thousands more whites fought and died for their freedom.”

    Note that social justice activists who have recently begun sitting or kneeling through the national anthem have become the target of withering criticism from Fox News hosts and guests. (Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has also attacked activists for their national anthem protests.)

    Two years earlier, Greene was also arrested after he allegedly threatened to a kill a man and called him the N-word in the parking lot of a local apartment complex.

    From The Des Moines Register:

    In that incident, Greene was accused of approaching a man in the parking lot and shining a flashlight in his eyes.

    Greene, who lived in the apartments, called the man the N-word and told the man “I will kill you, (expletive) kill you,” according to the complaint. Greene pleaded guilty to a lesser harassment charge on June 30, 2014, and was sentenced to one year of probation.

    So yes, Fox News quickly lost interest in the cop-killing story and covered it only in passing.

    Hosting Special Report, Bret Baier gave the ambush story a few sentences on Wednesday night. He provided a skeletal outline and reported that the gunman had “a history of confrontation with police and others.” But Baier didn’t show Greene’s picture, identify him as white, or report on his racist past.      

    As for the channel’s prime-time lineup of hosts who previously devoted hours and hours to covering ambush police attacks, denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement as a terrorist organization, and blaming Obama for supporting anti-police rhetoric? Those Fox hosts on Wednesday didn’t care about the Iowa ambush story.

    The killings actually join the list of other high-profile police attacks that Fox News has had to look away from, for political reasons.

    The Associated Press reported that on June 8, 2014, a "man and a woman ambushed two police officers eating lunch at a Las Vegas restaurant, fatally shooting them at point-blank range before fleeing to a nearby Wal-Mart where they killed a third person and then themselves in an apparent suicide pact.” Two months earlier, the killers had traveled to Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch to join the militia protests against the federal government.

    Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity both ignored the cop-killer story the night after it happened; Megyn Kelly devoted four sentences to the ambush attack. 

    Back on September 16, 2014"survivalist" Eric Frein shot two Pennsylvania state troopers outside their barracks and then disappeared into the Pocono Mountains for weeks. The shooter had a "long-standing grudge against law enforcement and government in general," according to one law enforcement official. And one friend told CNN that the gunman “was obviously a big critic of the federal government."

    Again, Fox feigned interest. As Media Matters noted at the time, “In general, Fox has provided almost no commentary, no context, and certainly no collective blame for the [trooper] execution.”

    Let’s state the obvious: If a black activist had ambushed and killed two police officers this week, and if it was reported that the gunman had a Hillary-Kaine sign outside his house, Fox News would have to add more hours to the day to fit in all the guttural outrage.

    But a white cop killer with racist leanings and an apparent affinity for Trump? Fox doesn’t think that’s news at the height of this campaign season.

  • How The Media’s Email Obsession Obliterated Clinton Policy Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    With the horse race portion of the Democratic primary contest behind them, party members gathered in Philadelphia last July to nominate Hillary Clinton and to hammer out the party platform. In speech after speech, including detailed primetime addresses by Michelle Obama, President Obama, and of course the nominee herself, Democrats laid out the party’s vision for the future. If ever there was a window of the campaign year when issues and policies were clearly at the forefront, it was the summer convention season.

    So, how much of the news coverage from the four weeks surrounding the conventions centered on policy? For Clinton, just four percent, according to a study by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

    “Not a single one of Clinton’s policy proposals accounted for even 1% of her convention-period coverage; collectively, her policy stands accounted for a mere 4% of it,” wrote Harvard professor Tom Patterson.

    And this is key: During that same summertime period, Trump received three times as much policy coverage as Clinton. Why the large disparity? “A major difference between Trump and Clinton’s coverage was that she had a news category entirely of her own—the emails that she sent and received as secretary of state,” Patterson explained. And as he noted, the vast majority of Clinton email coverage was negative.

    So, during the convention weeks, the press spent eight percent of its time covering Clinton emails and half that amount of time covering all of Clinton’s policy positions. CNN’s The Situation Room seemed especially obsessed: Clinton emails represented 17 percent of the program’s Clinton coverage during the four-week summertime span.

    Those numbers certainly suggest that the press spends so much time and attention covering Clinton emails that there isn’t room left for policy and issues.

    And that imbalance was before the FBI email “bombshell” late last week, which produced an almost comical spasm of media hysteria, punctuated by an avalanche of man-on-the-moon type of coverage. “Email” has been mentioned more than two thousand times on the three cable news channels since last Friday’s FBI announcement, according to

    “Over the last few days, I've watched the best journalistic minds of my generation devolve into madness, frothing at the mouth over a story that neither they nor the voters they're successfully mis-educating seem to understand,” wrote Will Bunch at 

    And let's be honest, endless email coverage, most of which revolves around pure speculation, is just another excuse not to cover policy.

    Last week, I highlighted the shocking revelation from Andrew Tyndall that the three network evening newscasts this year had aired just 32 minutes of in-depth campaign policy reporting. By comparison, ABC World NewsCBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News devoted nearly three times as much coverage to the Clinton email story (100 minutes).

    Would serious policy coverage have withered and died this election cycle even without the media’s email obsession? It’s certainly possible. But I think the email fixation quickened the demise.

    As I suggested in August, Clinton emails are the new Whitewater. Meaning, it’s a “scandal” in search of a crime and it’s a scandal production staged by Republicans with the eager help of the press. And yes you can substitute “Clinton Foundation” for “emails” and you get pretty much get similar results.

    Part of that is because journalists are heavily invested in the emails storyline and have been since March 2015. Journalists want there to be a blockbuster story, just like it seemed clear so many journalists wanted the FBI to “reopen” its investigation last week. (They’re not.)

    Part of that stems from a never-ending attempt to criminalize the Clintons. And part of that’s because the campaign press wants more spectacle to cover during the closing days of the election. (Especially anti-Clinton spectacle.)

    “The media’s urgency to maintain drama in an election that was increasingly looking like a blowout” made the return of the email storyline “inevitable,” according to professors Matthew Baum and Phil Gussin, writing in The Washington Post. “A dramatic horse race in which the outcome is uncertain and continually fluctuating is perpetually novel. Additional stories about the candidates’ long-standing policy positions? Not so much.”

    Obviously, the campaign press isn’t supposed to be in the business of trying to craft compelling storylines. Yet here we are. And so when journalists feel the need, they just lean on the email storyline.

    What gets overlooked in the process? Substance.

    “[E]nough is enough,” wrote Isaac Chotiner at Slate, while lamenting the media’s wildly disproportionate email attention. “We are extremely close to the most important American election since God knows when, an election whose reverberations are almost impossible to imagine, let alone measure. Let’s focus on that for a change.”

    But sadly it’s too late for this campaign. The press picked its campaign priorities a long time ago and has rarely strayed from that agreed-upon narrative: Clinton = emails. Note that in eight of the ten weeks between July 11 and September 18, “email” was the word most Americans associated with the Clinton campaign coverage, according to Gallup.

    The first woman to be nominated by a major party for president is defined, almost completely, by the electronic communication platform she used several years ago while serving as secretary of state. She’s defined by that and by the Republicans’ Ahab-like attempt to turn that story into a career-defining scandal.

    Please note that Colin Powell isn’t defined by the private emails he used as secretary of state. (And then deleted.) Jeb Bush isn’t defined by the private email he used as governor of Florida. President George W. Bush’s administration wasn’t defined by the fact that nearly two dozen White House aides used private email accounts controlled by the Republican National Committee. And Mitt Romney wasn’t defined by the fact that his staff wiped away all the emails from the Republican’s years as Massachusetts governor.

    It’s only Clinton who gets defined by emails. Because the press, reading off the GOP song sheet, says so. And because the press, alongside the GOP, has been trying to criminalize the Clintons for 20-plus years.

    Issues be damned.

  • Right-Wing Media's Vise Grip On The GOP Is Only Going To Get Tighter

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The day after Mitt Romney suffered a lopsided defeat to President Obama in 2012, right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham announced that the Republican Party’s problem wasn’t that the hard-edged message of the GOP was out of step with American voters. The problem was that Romney was too “moderate,” and that if Republicans would nominate a candidate who reflected AM talk radio’s view of America, the party could once again flourish.

    “The fact is talk radio continues to thrive while moderate Republicans like John McCain and to some extent Mitt Romney continue to lose presidential elections," Ingraham declared.

    Fast-forward to 2016 and Republican voters took Ingraham’s advice. The result? Trump’s in line to suffer a bigger loss than Romney’s, according to current polling estimates.

    More and more Republicans and conservatives concede that the GOP is facing an urgent crisis as the party teeters on a full-fledged crackup. Finding it increasingly difficult to field competitive presidential candidates, the GOP, after having handed over its identity to right-wing media voices for years, now struggles with how to move forward, and with how to repair the likely damage the Trump campaign will do to the party. 

    In other words, the party’s trying to figure out what to do when its public face resembles a rodeo clown like Sean Hannity, and when so many Republican voters live inside the right-wing, fact-free, Rush Limbaugh bubble that Trump so firmly embraced.

    “Rush, [Bill] O’Reilly and Breitbart” have paved “the way for the ruination of the Republican Party,” lamented conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Brooks’ conservative ally, Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post, agreed: “Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric is an extension of the crackpot right-wing media, his appearance paved by years of conspiracy theories, dog-whistles, paranoia and, yes, appeals to racism and ridicule of women.”

    Obama himself recently diagnosed the Republican predicament: “Trump didn't come out of nowhere now. For years, Republican politicians and far-right media outlets had just been pumping out all kinds of toxic, crazy stuff."

    This problem isn’t new. Conservative commentators were so detached from reality in 2012 that one week before Election Day, they were sure Obama would lose his re-election bid in a “landslide” defeat. 

    He did not.

    Following that stinging loss, Republican strategist Mike Murphy urged Republicans to embrace a view of America that wasn’t lifted from "Rush Limbaugh's dream journal."

    They have not.

    And now the 2016 mess looms larger than the 2012 defeat. "There is no autopsy this year that does not include dealing with the right-wing media," Charlie Sykes, an influential conservative radio host in Wisconsin who came out against Trump, recently told Business Insider.

    He’s exactly right. I also think it’s now nearly impossible for the GOP to rid itself of the cancer that’s metastasized around the party and inside the conservative movement. Together, the Republican Party and the conservative media have gleefully built a base that’s allergic to facts and common sense. They’re both to blame.

    But here’s what is unique about the GOP’s current crisis: Electorally, the party’s in desperate need of an overhaul. Parties on downswings have pulled off those kinds of rebranding efforts in the past. But the GOP has to try to remake itself while large and influential portions of the conservative media, including the conspiratorial "alt-right" media, fight the party at every step.

    Fixing political parties is hard, arduous work that takes years of cooperative labor to pull off. Fixing political parties that are weighed down by an egomaniac-driven, multi-million dollar media industry that’s committed to spouting paranoid gobbledygook? That’s virtually impossible.

    And that’s the bind the GOP now finds itself in. Even if it wanted to, the party simply cannot extricate itself from this poisonous parasite that has attached itself to the GOP’s vital organs.

    When Democrats lost badly in the 1970’s and 1980’s to Richard Nixon and to Ronald Reagan, for instance, they immediately set out to fix the party’s message in order to appeal to a wide audience of voters and to recruit more appealing candidates. And it worked. (See Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.) 

    That’s the daunting task the GOP faces. But it has to not only rebuild its party but battle an unrepentant conservative media machine, portions of which remain professionally unhinged. That in turn makes it virtually impossible for Republicans to improve their image. (If that’s the goal.) So they’re facing a two-front battle.

    A party that wants to win White House campaigns, and a media movement that thinks votes are being stolen by “crooked” Democrats, simply are not compatible. At this point, it might be easier for the GOP to file for divorce than it would be to fashion reconciliation.

    Here’s the central problem: Once you devalue facts and worship the currency of misinformation, there’s no going back. It’s nearly impossible to re-establish a factual base. Why would conservative news consumers want to be bothered with details and specifics and intellectual conflict when they can be fed a fantasy where their side is always winning and if they’re not, the whole thing’s rigged? If that’s the case, there’s nothing wrong with today’s "alt-right" tinged message of bigotry and mistrust, there’s simply a problem with ballot box enforcement.

    So the zombie lies live on. Was there a Benghazi cover-up? Yes! Is the FBI was in on the Clinton email caper? Yes! Is the entire election “rigged” against Trump? Of course!

    Here’s another key reason why change is nearly impossible, at least in the short term: Fact-free, paranoia content generates piles of revenue.

    Full stop.

    Somewhat overshadowed by the chatter of a possible TrumpTV launch (an additional media megaphone that would make any GOP rebranding more difficult), came the right-wing media announcement last week about the birth of Conservative Review TV. Anchored by Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin and “Top Five jazz recording artist” Mark Steyn, the new media platform pretty much promises to make the GOP’s bubble problem even worse. (All three hosts traffic in liesbigotry, and phony outrage for a living.)

    “We know people have rejected liberal media bias and there is an enormous demand for straight, bold, conservative talk and they will get it here from a wide variety of talent,” Levin announced. “Viewers will have the freedom to consume straightforward, candid, unfiltered, commercial-free, content whenever and wherever they want."

    Viewers will also have the freedom of paying $99 for an annual subscription to watch CRTV.

    For now, there’s no easy escape for the GOP or for conservatives who see the far-right media machine ruining the party. Conservative radio host John Ziegler has been sounding the alarm for years and only sees the movement sinking into a fact-free morass. "It's almost like it's a disease, and it's taken over people. I don't remember this being the case four years ago. But something has happened. Something snapped,” he told Business Insider, “I think that people are very lost, and they don't know what to do at this point."

    The same goes for the GOP.

  • And People Wonder Why Hillary Clinton Might Not Trust The Media?

    Botched FBI Email Coverage May Give Her Additional Pause

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    If you listen closely you might be able to still hear distant rumblings of the media’s four-alarm fire drill that first rang out last Friday afternoon after FBI Director James Comey announced the bureau had found new emails that “appear” related to its Clinton email investigation, and that the FBI needed to take a closer look in coming weeks to determine if the emails were significant.

    The press' initial reaction was instantly GOP-friendly, and often way off base. (The story's focus has shifted slightly in recent days to Comey's questionable behavior.) Most memorably, though, it has bordered on the hysterical, with the clear implication being that the projection of the entire election has possibly been altered; that a “potential turnabout rarely if ever seen at this late stage of a presidential race” was unfolding, as The New York Times announced on page one.

    The Times also stressed, “The presidential campaign was rocked on Friday,” and that the development had “set off a frantic and alarmed scramble inside Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.” (The Times flooded its front page with emails stories Saturday, Sunday and Monday.)

    The Associated Press declared “a new shock hit Hillary Clinton's campaign Friday,” and marveled at “the drama of the stunning revelation.” Bloomberg touted the story as “a politically explosive development,” while an avalanche of inaccurate tweets from news organizations soon flooded the Internet. (No, the FBI did not “reopen” the Clinton email investigation.)

    On Friday, CNN reporter Jim Sciutto tweeted that Clinton had not offered a “new apology” for the FBI email story during a Friday public appearance. But apologizing for what? (Shouldn’t Comey be the one apologizing?)

    And around the same time, reported Obama had “doubled down” on his support of Clinton “despite [the] FBI review.” Despite? CNN thought maybe after the FBI chief released a nebulous letter about possibly innocuous emails now under review that Obama would suddenly withdraw his support of the Democratic nominee?

    “There is an appalling disconnect on cable news between what has actually been said and what is being implied or perceived, and it is doubling back on itself and expanding,” wrote Variety television critic Sonia Saraiya, lamenting the recent FBI email coverage.

    On Saturday, newspapers across the country ran with banner headlines, many of them inaccurate. On Sunday, Face the Nation host John Dickerson insisted the email news had “sent shockwaves across the country.”

    The breathless press corps has embraced a cauldron of speculation and doomsday scenarios for an oddly vague FBI announcement. This, for an on-going email story that, as The Washington Post editorial board noted in September, “has vastly exceeded the boundaries of the facts.”

    The completely frenzied coverage might have been appropriate if the FBI had announced something truly jaw-dropping, like a criminal indictment. But good grief, why the hysterical DEFCON 1 “rocked” “frantic,” “shocked” coverage based on a vague announcement by the FBI that it was going to look at some emails, and they might all end up being nothing?

    Overall, think about how irresponsibly the press has handled the truly never-ending Clinton email saga, and then ask yourself this: If the Democratic nominee already had lingering doubts about the press’ fairness, would the media’s performance in recent days have done anything to allay those fears?

    The press for years has fixated on Hillary Clinton’s relationship with the press, and specifically the idea that Hillary Clinton doesn’t like the press or trust the press, and that’s what accounts for the “famous Clinton secrecy.” As I’ve noted in the past, reporters can rarely point to any concrete evidence that Clinton disdains journalists. And with the arrival of Donald Trump’s campaign, in which the Republican regularly smears, taunts, and attacks journalists, the anti-press claim about Clinton came to be viewed as rather quaint in comparison.

    But it’s possible that over her 20-plus years on the national stage and having seen out-of-control “scandal” coverage up close, she maintains a certain level of well-earned distrust.

    The media’s ongoing email coverage since 2015 has likely done little to alter that, and especially the off-kilter and overblown Comey coverage in recent days.

    Having invested thousands of hours covering the email story over the last year-and-a-half, a story that has produced no criminal charges (but has produced hollow congressional hearings), the press still remains fully committed to pretending it’s a Very Big Scandal, which explained the unfettered caterwauling following the FBI news.

    So yes, maybe that’s one reason Clinton might distrust the press.

    The FBI story seemed to be a perfect example of reporters automatically, and at times ferociously, insisting that new Clinton revelations instantly meant bad news for Clinton, even when the facts don’t necessarily support it.

    So maybe Clinton mistrusts the press because it has shown a pattern of not being able to accurately report on new information about her, especially when her foes are insisting the new information equals Very Bad News her.

    Note that during much of 2016, the press hectored Clinton about releasing transcripts to the paid speeches she had given over the years. At the time, I argued it wasn’t fair that Clinton be held to a separate, higher standard regarding speech transcript disclosures; that if lots and lots of Republicans had made lots and lots of money giving paid speeches prior to their campaigns (and some even during their campaigns), and yet they were never told to release transcripts, why should she have to?

    But another argument I often heard at the time was maybe Clinton didn’t want to release the transcripts because she feared that the press, working alongside her opponents, would glom onto innocuous passages of her speeches, rip them out of context, and turn them into Very Bad News for her. In other words, the fear was that the press would weaponize non-controversial speech transcripts against her, the way some in the press have tried to weaponize voluntary disclosures from Clinton in the past.

    Any general fear Clinton might have that reporters tend to gorge on GOP talking points while presenting a slanted view of breaking news about her was certainly confirmed by the initial wave of wild and irresponsible Comey email coverage last week.