Concerning what Kevin Drum said: We were puzzled by something we read in Sunday’s New York Times.
As usual, we were on the front page of the Times. Needless to say, a report about “Bleeding from wherever”-gate sat at the top of the page. But below the fold, we found a lengthy report about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
The report was written by Scott Shane and Michael Schmidt. Because Schmidt is the fellow who created the July 27 front-page debacle concerning this same general topic, we were somewhat puzzled by two parts of this new front-page report.
First, a minor puzzlement. Early on, in paragraph 7, the two reporters offered the highlighted statement:
SHANE AND SCHMIDT (8/9/15): Mrs. Clinton, who has said she now regrets her unorthodox decision to keep private control of her official messages, is not a target in the F.B.I.’s investigation, which is focused on assessing security breaches. Against the backdrop of other current government computer security lapses, notably the large-scale theft of files from the Office of Personnel Management, most specialists believe the occasional appearance of classified information in the Clinton account was probably of marginal consequence.Say what? Most specialists believe the matter is probably of marginal consequence?
Given earlier hoopla at the Times, we were a bit surprised by that statement. But when we reached paragraph 21, we were quite surprised by what we read:
SHANE AND SCHMIDT: When she took office in 2009, with ever more people doing government business through email, the State Department allowed the use of home computers as long as they were secure; nine months later a new policy required that steps be taken to make sure emails were captured in the department’s records. There appears to have been no prohibition on the exclusive use of a private server; it does not appear to be an option anyone had thought about.Say what? We’re fairly sure that we had read all those characterizations before. But a tiny voice in our head was now asking several questions:
A server was set up at Mrs. Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, N.Y., evidently with backup provided in Denver at Platte River Networks. To the surprise of many colleagues, she never had a standard State.gov account.
If the State Department “allowed the use of home computers,” what is this giant fuss all about?
If “there appears to have been no prohibition on the exclusive use of a private server,” why are people so upset about Clinton’s use of same?
Those are questions about the basic substance of this dispute. We also had a bit of a journalistic question:
If home computers were allowed; if there was no prohibition on private servers; why had the New York Times seemed to be pimping scandal so hard just a few weeks earlier? Is this Michael Schmidt the same Michael Schmidt who wrote that earlier, bungled front-page report—the report which had to be formally corrected two separate times?
What exactly is the nature of the email dispute? The question is extremely important for a fairly obvious reason—whatever its merits, this dispute is well on its way to being the new Whitewater.
Here’s what we mean by that:
To this day, no one has the slightest ideas how to explain the Whitewater matter. And yet the episode gave its name to a decade of pseudo-scandal.
Because the issues involved were so complex and so obscure, no one ever had any real idea what was being alleged or charged in the Whitewater matter. But alas! Precisely because of the obscurity and complexity, Whitewater served as a perfect vehicle for years of murky claims and charges—claims and charges which, in the end, washed out with respect to Bill Clinton.
Whatever its actual merits may be, “emailgate” is shaping up in a similar manner. Is it true that the State Department “allowed the use of home computers?” Is it true that there was “no prohibition on the exclusive use of a private server?” Very few people have any idea because, as in all such scandal stampedes, the press corps is dealing in suggestions, insinuations and exciting partisan claims more than in efforts at clarity and elucidation.
Because of the inherent complexity, “emailgate” could serve as the perfect vehicle for long-running scandal or pseudo-scandal over the next fifteen months. For that reason, liberal journalists should be working to produce greater clarity about this tangled set of affairs.
Needless to say, that isn’t occurring on MSNBC. Beyond that, we were puzzled by Kevin Drum’s recent post on this subject.
Drum has one of the clearest minds in the liberal journalistic world. His post ran under this headline:
“The Hillary Clinton Email Saga: Still No There There”
At this point, Drum seems to think that this latest “scandal” is once again fully pseudo. We’ll suggest that you read his whole post. But here are his first and last paragraphs:
DRUM (8/12/15): Is Hillary Clinton starting to get into serious trouble over the personal email account she maintained as Secretary of State? Hard to say. So far there's no evidence that she did anything wrong, just a beef between State and CIA over whether some of the emails she sent and received were classified.We’re slightly puzzled by that. Drum seems to be skipping past two charges which, if justified, would seem to be reasonably serious if, as always, overblown. We refer to these claims:
It may turn out at some point that Clinton did something wrong. So far, her only real sin is looking guilty—and I'll confess I don't understand why she's acting that way. All it does is give Republicans ammunition and give the press corps an excuse to treat her the way they used to in the 90s. But as near as I can tell, there's just nothing here, which is why I haven't bothered writing about it. Aside from the obvious political motivations (for Republicans) and personal animus (among the press), is there any reason this is getting such big play? What am I missing?
The claim that Clinton may have compromised national security by her use of private email. And the claim that Clinton may have done this to shield her emails from Freedom of Information requests.
Is there merit to these claims? It seems to us that Drum is skipping past them. But we’re most concerned by this puzzling, but somewhat familiar, bit of liberal logic:
“As near as I can tell, there's just nothing here, which is why I haven't bothered writing about it.”
Drumster! If there’s “just nothing there,” that is exactly why liberal journalistic should be writing about this burgeoning matter. They should be writing about it in an attempt to make the situation clear.
On balance, Drum is our favorite blogger. But “I haven’t bothered writing about it” explains the approach the liberal world has taken to all such matters over the past twenty or thirty years.
First, liberal journalists didn’t bother writing about the wave of pseudo-scandals which defined the Whitewater era. In 1995, Gene Lyons literally wrote the book on the Whitewater journalism. His book was widely ignored.
Then, liberal journalists didn’t bother writing about the twenty-month war against Candidate Gore, which ended up sending George Bush to the White House.
We were describing these matters from Week One, in March 1999. Liberal journalist didn’t bother explaining, complaining, clarifying, pushing back or speaking truth to mainstream bullroar. That "What us worry" approach didn’t work out real well.
At the New York Times, Maureen Dowd’s clownish Clinton-hating has never ceased—and she is that paper’s most influential columnist. But so what? Even after public editor Clark Hoyt savaged her in 2008 for her anti-Clinton misogyny, liberal journalists haven’t bothered writing about her ridiculous behavior.
Truth to tell, our liberal journalists have never bothered! This isn’t a great way to play the game. But just turn on MSNBC any night of the week. You’ll see this familiar old practice continue—and the controversy about those emails could easily send a Republican to the White House in January 2017.
Did Hillary Clinton do something wrong? At this point, we can’t tell you.
We are able to tell you this: Over the past twenty-three years, liberal journalists have walked away from their responsibilities every step of the way.
We the rubes keep cheering our favorites on. That makes us part of the mess.