Part 3—A familiar old insider con: Could it be true that the national media are “primed to take Hillary Clinton down?”
That’s what Dylan Byers has said. Can Dylan Byers say such things? Is he crazy out of his head?
Byers covers media issues for Politico. He made the comment in question in a column last week.
For us, Byers’ remarks raise a set of questions:
Is it possible that Byers is actually right in some way? Is it possible that the New York Times is part of some such syndrome?
Is it possible that the syndrome in question dates all the way to the New York Times’ invention of the Whitewater pseudo-scandal in 1992? Is it possible that this syndrome explains the mainstream press corps’ two-year war against Candidate Gore, President Clinton’s defender and chosen successor?
We’d be inclined to answer all those questions with some version of yes. We’d also note an obvious fact—mainstream and liberal journalists have been avoiding these questions for decades.
Very rarely, someone like Byers will get a snootful and emit some version of a fairly obvious truth. When this happens, the rest of the insider press corps quickly scrambles its jets.
Consider Christina Bellantoni’s performance on last Sunday’s MediaBuzz. Also, consider Michael Tomasky’s performance on that same program. But for today, let’s start with Bellantoni.
MediaBuzz is Howard Kurtz’s new weekly vehicle on the Fox News Channel. Each weekend, Kurtz spends an hour critiquing the press corps, as he did at CNN for many years.
Each week, Kurtz asks journalists to come on his show and evaluate their colleagues and friends. On its face, this seems like a peculiar practice. But this was Kurtz’s introduction of last Sunday’s panel:
“Joining us now to analyze the coverage, Matt Lewis, senior contributor at the Daily Caller; Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call; and Michael Tomasky, columnist for the Daily Beast.”
Lewis was the conservative in this group; Tomasky was the liberal. Bellantoni was the non-aligned professional journalist—the reporter, not the opinion writer.
With that in mind, we offered the following gendered remarks about our highly gendered “press”/entertainment system:
Bellantoni’s manners are perfect. She’s in the running to fill a role the pundit world has long been seeking to cast—the role of the next Cokie Roberts, the well-mannered, well-bred lady who comes on the air to cement the official view of the guild on whatever issue is current.
Roberts has been cast in that role forever. With her impeccable manners and perfect script-reading, Bellantoni has moved to the front of the pack as her likely successor.
Who is Christina Bellantoni? You’re asking an excellent question.
Bellantoni grew up in San Jose. She graduated from Cal in 2001.
After working for Bay Area newspapers, she moved to the Washington Times in 2003. Starting in 2009, she spent a year at TPM, creating a hint of liberal cred.
From there, she moved to Roll Call, an insider publication which covers the doings of Congress. Starting in 2012, she spent two years as political director at the PBS NewsHour.
Last year, she returned to Roll Call in her current position as editor in chief.
In our view, it’s all good! What isn’t good is the way the well-bred people who hold such positions are willing to mislead the public in service to their standing within this guild.
Good lord! On Sunday, Kurtz devoted his opening ten-minute segment to the press corps’ coverage of the new book, Clinton Cash. If you want to understand the way the insider press corps works, we’ll suggest that you review Bellantoni’s ridiculous comments.
Now that Kurtz gets his cash from Fox, his work has taken on a new, Fox-friendlier line. As the segment began, Bellantoni proved up to the task of matching his snide, unsupported remarks about two recent TV interviews involving Bill Clinton.
To watch the whole segment, click this.
Already, the analysts were rolling their eyes at Bellantoni’s well-mannered work. They began to wail when they saw the way Kurtz and his guests reviewed the work of Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash.
By the time Kurtz sat with his guests, Schweizer had been tramping the nation for weeks, spreading disinformation. How bad had his disinformation become?
So bad that it even got left for dead on the May 6 O’Reilly Factor! See yesterday's report.
Schweizer had been making bogus statements all across the land. But how strange! When Kurtz discussed him with his guests, no such problems were mentioned!
Kurtz had a different approach in mind. As he started the segment, he seemed annoyed by the fact that Bill Clinton had challenged Schweizer’s journalistic greatness.
Can a former president do that? Not on MediaBuzz!
Kurtz played tape of Clinton challenging Schweizer's work. His first Q-and-A was with the conservative pundit, Lewis.
Lewis’ presentation begged for a challenge. That challenge would never come:
KURTZ (5/10/15): What do you make of Bill Clinton saying that the author of Clinton Cash, Peter Schweizer, “admitted he had no evidence?” What do you make of that shot?There are a lot of things in Schweizer’s book that lead you to believe that something unseemly is happening? The same can be said of every misleading presentation down through the annals of time!
LEWIS: This is right out of the Clinton Playbook 101. What did James Carville say? You drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you're going to come up with. That’s how they handled the bimbo eruptions and that's how they handle scandals. It's to attack the attacker, the messenger, in this case the author. I think that Peter Schweizer has been very clear that there are a lot of things in this book that lead you to believe that something unseemly, untoward is happening. There is no smoking gun and the Clintons are great at not leaving smoking guns behind.
The Clintons are great at not leaving smoking guns behind? Every innocent party in history has committed the same offense!
In that exchange, Lewis complained that the Clintons have been “attacking the author.” But what if the author in question deserves to be criticized?
By now, one of Schweizer’s bogus claims had been torn apart on the O’Reilly program! But no one watching Kurtz’s show would learn such facts this day.
As he continued, Kurtz threw to Bellantoni, his politically unaligned guest. She didn’t note the many problems with Schweizer’s journalistic work. Instead, she also seemed to be annoyed by the things Bill Clinton had said:
KURTZ (continuing directly): I had Peter Schweizer on this program last weekend and he acknowledged as he has in other interviews that he doesn't have a smoking gun, but he lays out a circumstantial case about big money and donors and speaking fees and then you have to connect the dots. It's not the same thing as saying he has no facts.Bellantoni sniffed like a famous predecessor as she said, “No, it’s certainly not.” She signaled distaste with the fact that Clinton had challenged the glorious author.
BELLANTONI: No, it's certainly not. But this is going to be a systematic bit of evidence that you're going to see used against Hillary Clinton from the beginning of this campaign to whenever it ends. You know, if she ends up in the White House, you're going to continue to see people lay out these facts, talk about different relationships that the Clinton Foundation has. It's not just about giving money, it's about the types of interactions that there are. And the Clintons are going to combat that, “Look at all the great things that we did and look at what she did as secretary of state and these things are very separate.” But the point is, we all know it's about perceptions. And if you tell a government in Oman or Saudi Arabia or wherever, “we're not going to take your donations until eight years after she’s in the White House,” that doesn't mean that you might not have influence there.
She never noted the obvious problems which exist with Schweizer’s work. As she ended, she even seemed to suggest that the Clintons may still be working crooked deals with marginal countries, even if they stop accepting donations.
Or something! Her point was quite unclear.
Bellantoni cited no problems with Schweizer’s work. Sadly, neither did Tomasky, a point we’ll consider tomorrow.
That said, Bellantoni defined her ultimate role in this charade toward the end of the segment. At this point, she offered musty, formulaic defenses of the guild’s wonderful work.
By now, Tomasky had cited Byers’ claim that the press corps was “primed to take Clinton down?” Kurtz asked him if he agreed with that statement.
“I sort of do,” he said.
Later, Lewis voiced even stronger agreement with Byers’ remark, comparing the negative coverage of Clinton to the glowing treatment of Candidate Obama. At this point, Bellantoni stepped in, offering praise for the corps’ unassailable work.
For people cast in the Roberts role, a claim like Byers’ can’t stand. Bellantoni started her defense of the guild with some classic formula:
BELLANTONI: And you know, by the way, the Clinton people made that big argument about Obama just getting all this glowing coverage. But don't forget, this is also the same—To this defender of the guild, it doesn’t even make sense to say that the media are trying to take Clinton down. The claim is so crazy it doesn’t even rise to the level of being wrong!
You know, if anybody views the media as trying to take a candidate down, they also say the exact same thing about the media trying to take Republican candidates down. So once we have a general election you know, what? The media’s going to be trying to take them both down? It doesn’t make any sense.
Republicans make the same complaint, Bellantoni said, offering standard formula. Her script came out of this rusty old can:
If the Republicans criticize us, and the Democrats criticize us, then we must be doing it right!
It’s the oldest, most hackish script in the book. In this way, Bellantoni avoided discussing the possible merits of what Byers had said.
Her next remark was worse. The violins began to play as she read from the guild’s civics text, cuing agreement from Kurtz:
LEWIS (continuing directly): No, they’ll turn—they’ll turn on the Republican once Hillary gets the nomination.According to Bellantoni, individual journalists are simply trying to teach the public about the various candidates. Because the Clintons have been around a long time, journalists are simply trying to get new information about them.
BELLANTONI: Individual journalists are looking to teach the American people and American voters about all of the candidates. And with the Clintons, so much has been known about them, they have been in the public eye for now decades, and they are trying to get new information. And you know what? This question about donors and the question about what e-mails, you know, did and did not make it through, you know, what she was supposed to say, those are legitimate questions that should be raised, regardless of what party she's with.
KURTZ: Absolutely legitimate questions.
Full stop! Also, the questions are legitimate.
The questions are legitimate, of course. In various instances, it’s the way those questions have been pursued which has been a good deal less than legitimate.
This would include the way that poor abused author had toured the country in previous weeks spreading disinformation. It would include the ridiculous journalism performed by Jo Becker in her “bombshell report” for the New York Times, the well-known newspaper Byers specifically cited.
But how strange! None of Schweizer’s misstatements were ever mentioned this day! No one said a word about his business partner, the glorious New York Times.
Instead, Bellantoni orated about her guild’s good intentions, to which there seemed to be no exceptions. “Individual journalists are looking to teach the American people,” she gloriously said.
As we watched Bellantoni this day, we were struck by several points. We were struck by her perfect manners, and by her repulsive performance.
Bellantoni does have perfect manners. She also seems to know what it takes, to quote the old Richard Ben Cramer hook.
Your “press corps” is full of climbers of this type. Like their hair, their manners are perfect. On the down side, their ambitions may be vast.
Over the course of the past twenty years, the liberal world has shown amazingly little skill at recognizing these facts. People are dead all over the world because we seem to love getting conned by people who know how to act.
Tomorrow: Tomasky’s silence
Coming next: It’s good being Bellantoni