Months Of Media Speculation About Clinton Criminality All For Naught

Like Benghazi, Email "Scandal" Winds Down

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

First Benghazi, and now Hillary Clinton’s emails.

If critics hoped so-called Clinton scandals were going to derail the Democrat’s White House campaign, they’re going to have to devise a new strategy as the long-running controversies continue to be deflated via official inquiries.

Confirming what many intelligence and legal experts had long suggested to be the case, FBI Director James Comey said the FBI is not recommending criminal charges over Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state, saying that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” The announcement comes in the wake of the eighth and likely final government investigation into the Benghazi terror attacks, which failed to uncover Clinton wrongdoing.

Both cases were obsessively hyped by the conservative media (Clinton would soon be fitted for an orange prison jumpsuit!) and often irresponsibly echoed by the mainstream media. Beltway journalists seemed overly anxious to suggest criminality on the part of Clinton, and focused on the looming political downfall supposedly stemming from her emails.

Remember the media’s complete freakout when the email story first broke last year? Based on the waves of hysteria among journalists at the outset, you would’ve thought Democratic burglars had just been caught breaking into the Republican National Committee’s headquarters.

The “scandal” prompted The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd to liken the Clintons to the Iranian regime, while a Times illustration depicted Clinton as being crushed to death by a smartphone, like the Wicked Witch of the East.

The snide, name-calling mindset of the overboard coverage fit perfectly with a two-decade press pattern where the Clintons are relentlessly convicted in the media, often thanks to misleading GOP allegations and leaks. But then the so-called criminal scandals turn out to be Republican and Fox News creations, apologies are rarely offered up, and there’s virtually no self-reflection while the press just moves on to the next trumped-up drama. 

No politicians in modern history have had to fight their way through as many phony allegations of criminality as the Clintons. Yet the press, incapable or unwilling to change, keeps playing the same Groundhog Day role.

In short, a lot of the email coverage over the last two years has been sloppy, and badly misleading. And some of the largest news organizations in America have produced among the sloppiest and most misleading dispatches.

Just last week, for example, the Associated Press had to revise a report that claimed Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin told investigators that Clinton did not want her State Department emails accessible to “anybody” during her time as secretary of state.

False. Abedin was only referring to Clinton’s emails that were unrelated to work.

And no, The New York Times, Clinton wasn’t the target of a criminal investigation. And no, The Washington Post, the FBI didn’t assign nearly 150 agents to the email case. (Good grief, according to subsequent reports it was more like 12 agents.) Those were two sizable blunders; errors that were largely shrugged off by editors.

Wallowing in selective outrage over missing emails (to this day, former Secretary of State Colin Powell hasn’t turned over any of his private emails from his time in government), the press eagerly championed the so-called email scandal, hyped every tidbit of information as proof of Clinton’s criminal wrongdoing, and often refused to acknowledge common sense explanations when they were applicable.

Did we mention selective outrage? During Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, the press virtually ignored the fact that while he released an archive of emails from his time as governor, the released emails featured “few, if any, emails between Bush and his aides” about pivotal events during his tenure.

And yes, in 2007, when Democrats in Congress demanded White House emails in connection with its investigation into the partisan firing of eight U.S. attorneys, the Bush White House announced that as many as five million emails, covering a two-year span, had been lost. The emails had been run through private accounts controlled by the Republican National Committee and used by 22 White House staffers, including then-Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who reportedly used the RNC account for “about 95 percent” of his communications.

The media’s response to that email story? Meh. Ponder that non-reaction in the wake of the media’s 16-month parade of Clinton email coverage.

Unlike the petered-out Benghazi controversy, which much of the mainstream press has largely framed as a partisan charade recently, a lot of the Beltway media to this day remains firmly attached to the heated GOP narrative about Clinton’s email criminality and the idea Clinton’s campaign could be gravely injured by it. 

The problem was that the specifics of the email saga never actually suggested any of that. Instead, we witnessed a wide lens example of the press projecting its misgiving and disdain for a candidate onto an unfolding news story and then treating it as something it clearly was not: a game changer.

For the press, the email kerfuffle likely also appealed to the Beltway newsroom love of Clinton process stories, and ones that raise doubts about optics: Who gave Clinton permission to use a private server? Where did she store her correspondence? How many emails did she hand over? Who forwarded her important emails? Which committee would investigate the ‘scandal’? What were the dire consequences for her campaign?

In other words, the story was completely detached from the lives of most everyday Americans. Indeed, if the email story represented such a looming political crisis, as journalists endlessly suggested it did, why does Clinton enjoy such a comfortable lead over Trump in the polls this summer? (Note that Democratic voters certainly don’t care about the email story.)

Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald has been among the few journalists who routinely asked the right questions about the overheated email coverage, as it often careened out of control: “[D]oes anyone really believe voters will base their decisions at the ballot box on whether the documents in question were preserved strictly following the mandated procedures?”

But for Beltway journalists, the turf battle at the center of the email kerfuffle represented a bonanza of news possibilities and months, if not years, of dubious spinning, with the prevailing storyline always being the same: This is really bad for Hillary Clinton.

Now, like the Republicans’ long-running Benghazi charade, the email criminal scandal isn’t ending the way anti-Clinton partisans had hoped.

Will the press note the pattern?

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Elections
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