The press corps adores a good "scandal:" Last Friday, in an insightful post, Charlie Pierce stated a basic, important point:
"Information doesn't become a bombshell just because you stole it."
Pierce was referring to the latest underwhelming material from WikiLeaks. His basic point was this:
Just because some piece of information has been "leaked," that doesn't mean that it's "scandalous."
We'll go Charlie one better on that: Just because some information was leaked, that doesn't even make it significant! That's also true of information drawn from a FOIA request.
In the course of his post, Pierce made a sad but accurate point about the modern press corps. If something has been leaked or released through a FOIA request, the small, weak minds of our mainstream press will interpret it as a bombshell:
PIERCE (10/14/16): The problem as I see it is that the provenance of the material is such that newspapers—to say nothing of partisans in and out of the media—cannot help but hype every new release as a Bombshell Secret Revelation (!). If stolen apples taste sweeter, then purloined documents carry a kind of editorial gravitas that very few reporters and editors can resist.The press corps [HEART] bombshells. How bad can this sad silly syndrome become? When the New York Times published its 4400-word nothingburger about the "scary uranium deal," Chris Hayes actually called it a "bombshell report." Michelle Goldberg seemed to agree.
That report may have been the biggest journalistic nothingburger of the entire campaign. To Hayes, the way the turkey had been packaged told him that it was a bombshell.
This morning, the latest non-scandal apparent scandal involves that alleged quid pro quo. This exciting new bombshell didn't result from a leak, or even from a FOIA request.
It did result from the FBI's decision to release previously undisclosed material. For purposes of Pierce's analysis, that's close enough to qualify as a leak.
The FBI had released some unreleased material! As a result, the Washington Post made this its featured news report on its hard-copy front page. One of the paper's youngish reporters started his treatment like this:
ZAPOTOSKY (10/18/16): A top State Department official tried to pressure the FBI to change its determination that at least one of the emails on Hillary Clinton’s private server contained classified content, prompting discussion of a possible trade to resolve the issue, two FBI employees told colleagues investigating Clinton’s use of a private server last year.Matt Zapotosky, a fresh-faced scribe, is eight years out of college. Somehow, he thought he knew that a top State Department official had "tried to pressure the FBI" concerning one of those damned Clinton emails.
The claim sat atop today's hard-copy Post, right at the start of its featured front-page news report.
Oh wait! If you made it all the way to the end of that rambling opening sentence, you saw that Zapotosky wasn't asserting that the FBI actually did get pressured. He was merely saying that that's what two FBI employees once said!
Did two FBI employees really say that? It's very hard to figure that out from reading Zapotosky's full report.
That said, as he continued, Zapotosky continued to jack up the aura of scandal. By paragraph 3, he was even able to cite an alleged "quid pro quo:"
ZAPOTOSKY (continuing directly): One FBI official conceded that he told the State Department employee he would “look into” changing the classification of a Clinton email if the official would lend his authority to an FBI request to increase its personnel in Iraq, according to documents released by the bureau Monday.By now, Sullivan had tried to pressure the FBI about a quid pro quo! Rather, two employees had said that Sullivan tried to pressure the FBI, perhaps about a quid pro quo.
Another bureau official described the arrangement as a “quid pro quo” and said he believed that the State Department official, Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, was interested in “minimizing the classified nature of the Clinton emails in order to protect State interests and those of Clinton,” the documents say.
No tangible swap ever came to pass. The email was classified in accordance with the FBI’s original wishes, and the bureau was not given any additional personnel in Iraq. Both the FBI and the State Department denied that a quid pro quo ever existed.
Can we talk? As of paragraph 2, it sounded like the quid pro quo had actually come from the FBI. But nothing is clear in this hapless report except the aura of scandal.
Go ahead! As you read Zapotosky's report, see if you can find two (2) FBI employees making the alleged assertion. While you're at it, see if you can discern anything at all about what actually happened.
You will be able to discern the thrilling aura/aroma of scandal. As Pierce noted last Friday, "the provenance of the material is such that newspapers cannot help but hype [it] as a Bombshell Secret Revelation."
Zapotosky's report is clear as mud. It does serve the press corps' greatest god, the furious, jealous god Scandal.