Part 1—The roar of the Clinton rules: Do you believe in a journalistic phenomenon known as “the Clinton rules?”
On April 24, Paul Krugman discussed the alleged “Clinton rules” in a New York Times blog post. A few days later, Gene Lyons discussed the same topic in his nationally syndicated column.
Do you believe in the Clinton rules? Do you believe this alleged journalistic phenomenon really exists in the world?
Rather plainly, it’s long past time for the liberal world to form a decision about this. Let’s recall the way Krugman described the journalistic phenomenon he described as “the Clinton rules.”
According to Krugman, “the Clinton rules” are defined by the historical pattern we describe below. To read his full post, click this.According to Krugman, “right-wing operatives” created a “parade of alleged scandals” involving the Clintons during Bill Clinton’s two terms in the White House. According to Krugman, “mainstream news outlets” responded by “eagerly hyping” these supposed scandals.
According to Krugman, normal journalistic standards “didn’t seem to apply” during the age of these alleged scandals. According to Krugman, “innuendo and guilt by association were considered perfectly OK.”
According to Krugman, “the initial suggestion of lawbreaking received front-page headlines” during this era. But alas! “The subsequent discovery that there was nothing there was buried in the back pages if it was reported at all.”
According to Krugman, that’s the kind of journalistic behavior which came to be known as “the Clinton rules.” In the wake of his own newspaper’s recent “bombshell report” about a scary uranium deal, Krugman offered this advice:
KRUGMAN (4/24/15): Is this time different? First indications are not encouraging; it’s already apparent that the author of the anti-Clinton book that’s driving the latest stuff is a real piece of work.In our view, Krugman was giving good sound advice. That said, how did other liberal journalists and pundits react to the recent bombshell report in the glorious Times?
Again, maybe there’s something there. But given the history here, we’d all be well advised to follow our own Clinton rules, and be highly suspicious of any reports of supposed scandals unless there’s hard proof rather than mere innuendo.
We’ll be discussing that question all week. We think the reactions were weak, soft, poor, unbalanced, craven, but also completely familiar.
Alas! Liberal pundits ran and hid in these same ways all through the pseudo-scandals which defined the Clinton White House years. Starting in March 1999, they also ran and hid for twenty months as the mainstream press invented a series of claims about Candidate Gore, sending George Bush to the White House.
Our favorite “liberals” have run and hid every step of the way in this process. In our view, it’s time for us pseudo-liberals to decide how we feel about this familiar pattern of conduct.
How did our favorite liberals react to the New York Times’ bombshell report? Krugman responded by urging skepticism. But how did others react?
For today, let’s consider a brief exchange between Chris Hayes of MSNBC and Michelle Goldberg of The Nation.
Their exchange occurred on April 23, on Hayes’ cable news program. In their exchange, the fiery progressives almost seemed to describe the same process Krugman described the next day.
That morning, the New York Times had posted its bombshell report about the scary Cold War uranium deal which was so scary and frightening. The exchange shown below came at the end of a ten-minute segment about the report on Hayes’ fiery program.
Hayes was speaking extremely fast, the way he’s been trained to do by the suits. We’ve transcribed his words as best we can. To watch the full segment, click here:
HAYES (4/23/15): I mean, the other thing about it that I think is interesting is—Hayes and Goldberg almost seem to be describing the same behavior which Krugman called “the Clinton rules.” Indeed, Goldberg explicitly used that term on this program, as we’ll see tomorrow.
We’ve been going through all this archival tape of the Clintons and you know with this, Hillary Clinton from the White House, is like—
At a certain point, there becomes a sort of background din during the Clintons in the 90s, of like, you know, “scandal,” quote unquote—some somewhat real, a lot of it not—that it’s almost like, it’s like living next to a train station, where like, you get like—
Seriously, it’s just like it ends up becoming this sort of atmospheric thing.
GOLDBERG: And now we’re kind of remembering like, “Oh, this is what’s coming.”
HAYES: Right! But then, it’s just like, “Oh yeah!” Like someone comes to your house and like, you live above somebody. They’re like, “God, that’s loud!” It’s like, “Oh yeah! I forgot about that.”
Michelle Goldberg, Eric Boehlert, thanks for being here.
According to Hayes, he and his staff had apparently responded to the bombshell report by “going through all this archival tape of the Clintons” from the 1990s.
It’s unclear why they’d do that. At any rate:
According to Hayes, allegations of quote unquote “scandal” had formed “a kind of background din” during the Clinton White House years.
According to Hayes, some of the quote unquote “scandal” allegations were somewhat real during those years. But he said “a lot of” the allegations were not—didn’t even rise to that rather modest level.
According to Hayes, this background din became so loud in the Clinton years that it could be compared to the experience of living above a train station. Goldberg agreed with her host, adding this:
“And now we’re kind of remembering like, ‘Oh, this is what’s coming.’ ”
Apparently, Goldberg had forgotten this part of the Clinton years. Now, it was all coming back!
In some ways, Hayes and Goldberg said the same things Krugman would say the next day. But in one major way, they did not.
How odd! Hayes and Goldberg didn’t specifically mention the role the press corps played in this age of deafening pseudo-scandal! From these remarks, they might have been discussing “the right-wing noise machine,” no one else.
The distinction here is quite familiar. Krugman specifically described “the Clinton rules” as a matter of journalistic misconduct. In a familiar bit of behavior, Hayes and Goldberg did not.
Alas! By this time, Hayes had specifically vouched for the quality of the scary Times report. He had even described it, two separate times, as “a bombshell report.”
In a piece that day for The Nation, Goldberg had offered a second definition of the term “Clinton rules.” She had also authored one of the strangest examples of so-called “moral equivalence” we’ve ever seen in print.
This is the way our favorite liberals behaved all through the Clinton White House years. This is the way our favorites behaved all through the twenty months in which the mainstream press invented lies by Candidate Gore, thus sending George Bush to the White House.
Our favorite liberals have behaved this way again and again and again. For twenty-three years, we in the pseudo-liberal world have been willing to sit here and take it.
Hayes vouched for the journalistic quality of a pitiful “bombshell report.” Goldberg seemed to play all ends against the middle as she and Hayes conducted a very familiar discussion.
That said, many liberal journalists reacted to the bombshell report in this very familiar way. In closing, we’ll recommend a very safe bet:
We in the pseudo-liberal world will accept this slippery conduct again. It’s the way we’ve always rolled. Most likely, we always will.
Tomorrow: Boehlert against the world