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Responding to critics of the New York Times’ halting, timid coverage of the unfolding story of how Trump smuggled top secret documents out of the White House and stashed them at Mar-a-Lago for a year, the Times’ top Trump chronicler, Maggie Haberman, claimed it wasn’t for the newspaper to suggest whether Trump broke any laws. “Many are awaiting [Attorney General] Merrick Garland’s view on what’s against the law, which law enforcement and not reporters dictate,” she tweeted.
Haberman’s rationale was stunning — journalists are clearly in a position to determine whether public figures like Trump have broken laws by absconding with 15 boxes of documents when the Presidential Records Act requires that all records created by presidents be turned over at the end of their administrations. The idea that the Times newsroom has to wait for law enforcement to officially make determinations of lawbreaking is a new approach.
That’s certainly not how the Times covered the manufactured Hillary Clinton email scandal for two years, commonly referred to as the media’s But Her Emails fiasco. In the first Times article about the Clinton email story in March 2015, and in the first paragraph of that story, the daily openly suggested the presumptive Democratic nominee had broken the law [emphasis added]:
Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.
It wasn’t until August 2015 that the FBI began investigating the Clinton server and whether it involved transmission of classified material. By then, the press had spent five months leaning into the idea that possible criminality was fueling the endless coverage .
The media’s chronic and dishonest But Her Emails coverage, framed as nonstop horse race updates, changed the course of American history by denying Clinton the chance to become the first woman president. By helping elect Trump, it also hastened a political unraveling at home, as he unleashed a new brand of criminal and authoritarian rule. To date, the D.C. press has never acknowledged its sins of 2016; made no serious attempt to grapple with what went so wrong.
Now with the Trump document story, the press is being forced to confront the obvious hypocrisy. One year after the Clinton story broke in March 2015, But Her Emails was still be being covered like the Moon Landing. Yet just five days after the Trump story about smuggling out top secret documents (and reportedly flushing others down the toilet), the same D.C. press corps has already lost interest. On this Sunday’s “ABC This Week,” a panel of pundits had an extended debate about Trump’s impact on the Republican Party — there was no mention of the fact he stole top secret documents from the White House.
Appearing on MSNBC, the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker stressed that stealing documents might not raise to the level of being “nefarious,” and that because Trump wasn’t a “traditional” president and because his aides were “frenzied” during the month of January 2021, the theft of the documents made sense. Why is there still a driving media need to normalize Trump’s criminality?
News outlets such as CNN and CBS News even downgraded Trump’s stealing (and flushing) White House files, insisting documents had merely been “mishandled.” CNN wasn’t even sure “if” Trump had “mishandled” documents. And this was after CNN reported Trump often ripped up presidential papers.
If the press had taken that same hands-off view regarding But Her Emails, Clinton would have been the 45th president. Instead, the press lost its mind and But Her Emails became a meandering genre of overexcited journalism that lost sight of what the Clinton wrongdoing was supposed to be.
Harassing her with endless email coverage was a way to make sure Clinton’s possible historic victory didn't taste very sweet, and that she limped across the finish line. Part of that sprang from a never-ending attempt to criminalize the Clintons and the Beltway media’s long running distrust of them.
Addressing the But Her Emails coverage in the Post last week, Phillip Bump refused to concede that a massive newsroom failure had occurred. Instead, he offered up reasons for why the Clinton coverage was so intense. These four are especially revealing:
• “Journalists looking to hold power to account often approached her with skepticism about her intent.”
• “She was “a member of a family that had a rocky relationship with the news media.”
• “It was natural to suspect that the situation was again one in which a Clinton was trying to hide something from the public.”
• “Clinton’s team at first treated the story dismissively, in a way that often antagonized reporters whose job it is to challenge those in power.”
Bump doesn’t realize it, but he’s explicitly detailing why Trump should be drawing intense scrutiny for the document smuggling story today — he’s the one with a long history of hiding things from public, of treating troubling stories dismissively, whose family has a rocky relationship with the press, and he’s the one whose denials should draw skepticism from a press corps looking to hold power to account.
But those rules only applied to Clinton. That’s why in just a six-month span in 2015, the Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote 50 different But Her Email columns. (50!) In September 2015, the Post averaged more than two Clinton email dispatches every day of the month — six months after the controversy first broke. And during a four-week window in the summer of 2016, 17 percent of CNN’s The Situation Room Clinton coverage was about her emails.
Trump’s decision to smuggle classified documents out of the White House can’t help but reminds us of the media’s But Her Emails debacle. The press today would prefer everyone look away.
The mainstream media can’t stop chronicling inflation, but seem to be far less interested in detailing how corporations are using the trend as a cover to spike their own prices.
From the American Prospect’s “Inflation and Price-Gouging”:
On an earnings call with Wall Street analysts this morning, the meat giant Tyson reported earnings per share up by 50 percent over last year, driven by price increases of 32 percent in beef, 20 percent in chicken, and 13 percent in pork. These price hikes to consumers go neither to farmers nor to supermarkets but to giant monopoly middlemen like Tyson.
Ocean shippers have quintupled their rates, and booked astronomical returns of $150 billion in 2021, up from $25 billion in 2020. This price-gouging reflects the extreme economic concentration that has resulted from deregulation coupled with a four-decade failure to enforce the antitrust laws. All of this comes at the expense of consumers and of workers whose nominal pay is up but in most cases lags behind price hikes.
FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Punch Brothers, “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
Nobody can surpass Gordon Lightfoot’s classic original folk tale that detailed a maritime disaster. The song became a surprise radio staple in the summer of 1976, just one year after the deadly tragedy on Lake Superior.
But the Punch Brothers, a raucous folks/bluegrass band that sprang from Brooklyn over a decade ago, deliver a captivating new version.
This lyric below has always struck me as among the most chilling in pop history:
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'
"Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya"
At seven PM, a main hatchway caved in, he said
"Fellas, it's been good to know ya"
🎙 Click here to listen to the music that’s been featured on PRESS RUN, via Apple Music.
The missing word in your excellent column: misogyny.
Someone please write the definitive book about why the press decided - starting in 1992 - that the Clintons were not their kind of people. That seems to be the underlying theme of the way the press treated them from day one.