Part 1—So does Matt Yglesias: For decades, the liberal world has almost uniformly agreed. When it comes to the mainstream press corps’ behavior, telling the truth is forbidden.
That said, there seems to be a great deal of truth to what Bill Clinton said.
Clinton spoke this weekend on CNN, a cable news channel. He told a forbidden story again, as he does every few years.
On this occasion, he didn’t tell every part of the forbidden story. On this occasion, he omitted one part of the apparently accurate tale.
That said, there seemed to be a great deal of truth to everything the ex-president said. He was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria, who let the ex-president speak at length, then played a tiny dumb.
What was Bill Clinton talking about? The former president's forbidden story began with this exchange:
ZAKARIA (9/27/15): There will be a new president in 2017, January. You're, some would say, the most skilled student of American politics. Why do you think Hillary Clinton is having a tougher time than many imagined? The lead in the national polls has narrowed. Iowa and New Hampshire seem tough.Oof! That was a slightly rude way to start, with the suggestion that Zakaria was playing it just a bit dumb.
CLINTON: Well, I think you know why. I think you know why.
From there, Clinton proceeded to tell the story—the story we liberals have agreed not to tell. Our view? Because we’ve agreed to bury this story, we now have a very good chance of electing a President Rubio next year.
Clinton started by telling a story—a story he’s told before. It takes us back to 1991—to the start of the journalistic era we liberals have agreed to disappear:
CLINTON (continuing directly): In 1992, I received a call, before—in ’91, before I started running for president—from the Bush White House, from the man on duty. He said, “We’ve looked at the field. You're the only one that can win. The press has to have someone every election, we’re going to give them you. You better not run.”Did that phone call actually happen as described? We can’t tell you that.
So all of a sudden, something nobody thought was an issue, Whitewater, that turned out never to be an issue, went up to being at $70 million investigation. And all the hammering happened and you ask voters, “Do you really believe this, this amounts to anything?”
“But do you trust him as much?”
“No. There must be something.”
So this is just something that has been a regular feature of our presidential campaigns—except 2008, for unique reasons. Ever since Watergate, something like this happens. So, I’d rather it happen now than later, and it was always going to happen.
Has this sort of thing been a regular feature of our presidential campaigns? In some ways, it pretty much has. And uh-oh!
As Clinton continued, he told an unholy story involving the press—an unholy story that rings especially true this year. As he spoke, he chose to omit one basic part of the story:
CLINTON (continuing directly): The other party doesn’t want to run against her and if they do, they'd like her as mangled up as possible. And they know that if they leak things, say things, that that is catnip to the people who get bored talking about what’s your position on student loan relief or dealing with the shortage of mental health care or what to do with the epidemic of prescription drugs and heroin out in America, even in small towns of rural America. Or how are you going to get jobs into coal country, given how much they’ve lost in the last twenty years?According to ex-president Clinton, the GOP wants to see Candidate Clinton get “as mangled up as possible.” For that reason, they’ve ginned up a scandal tale in which he has “never seen so much expended on so little.”
So that just happens. It always happens. We’re seeing history repeat itself. And I actually am amazed that she’s borne up under it as well as she has. But I have never seen so much expended on so little.
In certain basic ways, that part of the story seems obvious. Democrats would like to see Republican candidates get all mangled up too!
In the second part of that story, the former president told a tale which doesn’t derive from common sense and can’t be squared with what it says in civics texts. He said the press corps has pushed this overblown scandal tale because they’re empty, fatuous people—because they “get bored talking about what’s your position on student loan relief or dealing with the shortage of mental health care,” or about any serious issues at all.
According to eighth-grade civics textbooks, that can’t be the way the American press corps functions. But alas! If you’ve ever watched the corps in action, you know that Clinton had just expressed the most obvious fact in the world.
That said, the former president wasn’t yet done with his critique of the press corps. According to Clinton, the press corps has vastly overblown its treatment of the email matter. As he continued, he offered a second reason for their conduct:
CLINTON: You know, at the beginning of the year she was the most admired person in public life and she earned it. Why? Because she was being covered by people who reported on what she was doing. The New START treaty, the Iran sanctions, tripling the number of people on AIDS getting medicine for no more tax money. America was—when she left office, our approval rating was more than twenty points higher than it had previously been.According to Clinton, “people who wanted a race wanted her to drop some.” Presumably, he referred to the press corps itself. Moments later, he said it again, clearing up any uncertainty as to who he meant:
What happened? The presidential campaign happened. And the nature of the coverage shifted from issue-based to political.
And it happened. You can't complain. This is not—this is a contact sport. They're not giving the job away. And people who wanted a race wanted her to drop some. And people in the other party desperately wanted it because she’s already put out more positions on more issues and said how she would pay for them I think based on the others combined, based on the two—the Republicans based on the two debates I saw.
CLINTON: I think that there are lots of people who wanted there to be a race for different reasons. And they thought the only way they could make it a race was a full-scale frontal assault on her. And so this email story became the biggest thing in the world.Would our journalists really tilt their campaign coverage because they “want a race?” According to eighth-grade civics books, that sort of thing could never happen in the American press corps.
But alas! Not infrequently, major journalist have actually said that they tend to cover campaigns that way. In the current circumstance, the trashing of Clinton and the relentless selling of Biden neatly fit the pattern to which these scribes have copped.
The ex-president said some unflattering things about the American press corps. That said, there’s one part of the forbidden story he plainly chose to leave out.
He chose to omit a long-standing claim—the claim that the mainstream press corps has an animus against the Clintons. This brings us to a second person who recently told a version of this forbidden tale.
We refer to Matt Yglesias, a 34-year-old upper-end journalist who currently writes for Vox. Two week ago, he told a slightly different version of the forbidden story.
Has the press corps been conducting journalistic scams in our presidential elections? Has the press corps been doing so on a regular basis, as Bill Clinton said?
Two weeks ago, Yglesias said that one such journalistic scam was “the formative experience of my political life.” He described the war the press corps conducted in 1999 and 2000, the war against Candidate Gore.
Yglesias was telling a forbidden story—an extremely important story the liberal world has widely agreed not to tell. It was a version of President Clinton’s story—a story the American people have rarely been permitted to hear.
Yglesias said the press corps’ misconduct in Campaign 2000 was “the formative experience of my political life.” For us, this raised an obvious question:
Has he ever told this story before? We searched twenty-two pages of Google results. We haven’t found it yet.
Tomorrow: Telling the truth very slowly