Part 2—Classic press corps behavior: Let’s return to yesterday’s question:
Can President Clinton say that?
For yesterday’s post, click here.
The former president’s slanderous comments were apparently made in late April. Two weeks ago, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza repeated the vile things he said:
CILLIZZA (9/25/14): “If a policymaker is a political leader and is covered primarily by the political press, there is a craving that borders on addictive to have a storyline," Bill Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University back in April. “And then once people settle on the storyline, there is a craving that borders on blindness to shoehorn every fact, every development, everything that happens into the story line, even if it’s not the story.”Can President Clinton say that? As we noted yesterday, he was describing gross journalistic misconduct when he made those remarks.
To state the obvious, journalists aren’t supposed to adopt a “story line,” then “shoehorn every fact” into that preferred narrative. In that statement, Clinton was describing grotesque misconduct.
That said, here’s a dirty little secret:
Clinton was describing the way our upper-end “journalism” works! He was describing the way our press corps has worked for quite a few years—and this has been especially true in the coverage of White House campaigns.
As E. R. Shipp described in March 2000, the coverage of Campaign 2000 was dominated by the types of “story lines” Clinton seems to have been describing. This occurred over a twenty-month period, to a degree which can only be called astounding.
No subsequent presidential campaign has been dominated by “narrative” to such an astounding degree. But in Campaign 2008, the coverage of Candidate Hillary Clinton almost began to come close.
If Hillary Clinton runs again, could negative “story line” reporting send a Republican to the White House, as plainly occurred in Campaign 2000? As he continued, Cillizza quoted Thrush and Haberman saying this:
CILLIZZA (continuing directly): That view, according to a terrific story by Politico's Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman over the summer, informs and impacts the Clintons' thinking on a 2016 bid. Write the duo: "As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, [Clinton sources] told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right.”Wow! According to Cillizza, President Clinton accused the upper-end press corps of outrageous misconduct. And not only that! The fear of such continued misconduct could affect Hillary Clinton’s decision about getting in the next race!
Cillizza reported remarkable charges by Bill Clinton—charges of gross journalistic misconduct. On-line at the Washington Post, he built a 970-word post around those charges.
Here we reach the next part of our story—Cillizza’s response to those remarkable charges. This part of our story is remarkable too, although it was wholly predictable:
Breaking! In his 970 words, Cillizza made absolutely no attempt to evaluate Clinton’s charges. He offered a standard non-response response to the things Clinton said.
Does the national press corps really behave in the astounding way Clinton described?
As Kevin Drum noted in this blog post, Cillizza made no attempt to say if Clinton’s charges were accurate, sensible, true!
Check that! As Drum noted, Cillizza managed to offer one very small and tiny response to Clinton’s remarkable charges. We highlight that response below:
CILLIZZA: [A]ny objective analysis of the 2008 primary campaign would conclude that the remarkably adversarial relationship between the Clinton campaign and the media hurt her chances. To be clear: The media and its relationship with Clinton was far from determinative in the nomination fight. Barack Obama's superior understanding of delegate allocation was the determining factor. But, it's hard to deny that the friction between Clinton, her campaign and the media didn't help. Access to the candidate was nonexistent. Simple questions were routinely ignored or, on the other extreme, treated as adversarial. That is not to say that reporters were entirely innocent in the whole thing; Clinton was the story and as the story she had far more reporters poking and prodding her campaign than anyone else—including Barack Obama—in the race. And, even in 2008, the world of online news and social media was beginning to kick into high gear—leaving the Clinton campaign hopelessly unable to handle the sheer volume of incoming they were receiving every day and deeply cynical about reporters' true motives.That highlighted sentence represents Cillizza’s only attempt to evaluate the conduct of the press in light of Clinton’s charges.
Regardless of who was to blame, by the end of the campaign, reporters—including me—and the Clinton operation were at each others' throats daily and often more than daily.
In his overall response, Cillizza restricts himself to Campaign 2008. More specifically, he restricts himself to what he calls “the remarkably adversarial relationship between the Clinton campaign and the media” in that campaign.
As Cillizza evaluates that relationship, he starts in a wholly predictable way—directing several criticisms at the Clinton campaign. He also says that the media’s conduct didn’t affect the outcome.
Only then does he offer these tiny words about his own sacred guild, the most baldly corrupt of all our major elites:
“That is not to say that reporters were entirely innocent in the whole thing; Clinton was the story and as the story she had far more reporters poking and prodding her campaign than anyone else...in the race.”
That is a very soft critique of the national press corps. Here’s why:
Duh! According to every civics text, the nation’s reporters are supposed to “poke and prod” presidential campaigns! In his one attempt to critique his own guild, Cillizza pictures his colleagues doing the very things they’re supposed to do.
What’s the only problem Cillizza can find? He and his colleagues may have done their jobs a bit too much! They may have poked at Clinton’s campaign a bit more than they prodded Obama’s. Comically but predictably, that’s the only fault Cillizza can find in the work of the national press!
Whatever happened to President Clinton’s very serious charges? At the start of Cillizza’s essay, he quoted a very important person charging the national press with egregious misconduct. The Washington Post’s ombudsman, E. R. Shipp, had made identical charges back in Campaign 2000.
A famous person had charged the press corps with egregious misconduct! But as he continued to type, Cillizza made no attempt to evaluate what Clinton had said. The charges vanished into thin air, as always happens when serious charges are lodged against the press.
We’ve told you this for sixteen years—the national press corps will not discuss the work of the national press. Simply put, its members never discuss their own practices, conduct, attitudes, outlook and behavior.
Before the week is done, we’ll recall what Cokie Roberts said near the end of Campaign 2000 when she made a clownish attempt to deny that a “story line” had guided the coverage of Candidate Gore. But as we approach Campaign 2016, liberals should ponder a basic thought:
The press corps’ astonishing use of “story lines” sent a Republican, George W. Bush, to the White House in January 2001. Especially if Hillary Clinton enters the race, the press corps’ use of negative “story lines” could very easily send a Republican to the White House again.
We offer a final point, at the risk of sounding un-tribal:
If liberals want pushback against such misconduct, we’ll have to provide it ourselves. Meanwhile, just ask Susan Rice, who was left for dead in the “story lines” of the fall of 2012:
If we wait for Maddow and Hayes to push back, we may wait a very long time.
Tomorrow: The endless sounds of silence