Part 4—Blind squirrel locates the nut: Do you believe in a journalistic phenomenon known as “the Clinton rules?”
Most voters don’t, but Michelle Goldberg says she does. At present, the question is extremely important, unless you look forward to eight great years under our President Walker.
When did Goldberg say she believes in the Clinton rules? She said this in two different forums on Thursday, April 23—on the Chris Hayes cable program that evening, and in an earlier essay for The Nation.
Yesterday, we showed you some of what Goldberg said on Hayes’ MSNBC program. Until she slithered away with her host, she made some remarkable statements:
Among other things, she said “there is this kind of long-standing journalistic vendetta against the Clintons.” She said this journalistic vendetta “kind of allows people to exaggerate and follow these sort of right-wing conspiracy theories down all sorts of rabbit holes and blind alleys.”
She also seemed to say this: “Journalists consistently kind of throw out normal evidentiary standards in going after the Clintons.”
Is the world in which we live even slightly rational? If so, those are all remarkable statements, especially with a person named Clinton now in the race for the White House.
As noted, this wasn’t the only time Goldberg described “the Clinton rules” that day. Earlier, she had described this same journalistic vendetta in her piece in The Nation.
The journalistic practice known as “the Clinton rules” is a “real phenomenon,” she said in that 1300-word piece. Her essay ran beneath this headline:
“The Clinton Scandal Rabbit Hole”
Plainly, Goldberg seems to believe in the journalistic vendetta described as the Clinton rules. “Journalists [have] regularly abandoned ordinary standards of evidence to breathlessly pursue Clinton pseudo-scandals, often cooked up by right-wing operatives,” she seemed to say as she started her piece in The Nation.
“The Clintons have been demonized and persecuted to a preposterous degree,” she said in the next paragraph, explicitly describing this as her own belief.
“There’s a lower standard where attacks on the Clintons are concerned,” Goldberg said a bit later. She said this “lower standard” might explain a peculiar factual error the New York Times seemed to have made in the new, sprawling report she was discussing that day.
Rather plainly, Goldberg says she believes in the journalistic phenomenon known as “the Clinton rules.” If our world is even mildly serious, she made a set of remarkable statements on the day in question.
But how strange! On that evening’s Chris Hayes program, Hayes brushed past those remarkable claims as if they weren’t even there. He kept discussing the things which “drive him nuts” about those horrible Clintons!
Tomorrow, we’ll look at what Hayes said and did as he disappeared Goldberg’s claims. For today, might we coin a new expression?
We’d almost say that Hayes was following “the New York Times rules” that night! But then, Goldberg was playing by the same rules by the end of her piece for The Nation.
Let’s be clear. On the surface, Goldberg was less than flattering about the Times’ sprawling report in her piece for The Nation.
“The origin of the piece is suspicious,” she wrote, referring to the Times report. She noted that the Times report was derived from a new book by a “right-wing hack” and “smear merchant” with whom the Times had signed an unusual “exclusive agreement.”
She noted that the piece implied wrongdoing on Hillary Clinton’s part, “but does not clearly allege” such a thing. The piece “appears pretty damning,” she said, but she also said “there are reasons to doubt that the Times account is entirely accurate.”
In the passage which follows, Goldberg described a peculiar apparent mistake. But uh-oh! In the process, we started to wonder if she was obeying “the New York Times rules:”
GOLDBERG (4/23/15): There are reasons to doubt that the Times account is entirely accurate. Take that 2005 trip to Kazakhstan by Clinton and Giustra. The Times first reported on it in 2008, but shortly after, Forbes writer Robert Lenzer found that the two men had not in fact traveled together, citing the flight manifest of Giustra’s plane to prove it. “Clinton arrived in Kazakhstan late in the afternoon Sept. 6, 2005, on billionaire Ron Burkle’s plane, four days after Giustra,” wrote Lenzer. “By then Giustra was well on the road to finalizing a memorandum of understanding to acquire a 30% interest in the Kharassan project for $75 million; the state owned the other 70%.”Goldberg describes a strange apparent mistake in the Times’ reporting.
From the Times story, there’s no way to tell whether the paper is simply repeating an old mistake, or whether Forbes’s debunking has itself been debunked. It’s hard to imagine that the Times could have been so sloppy about facts that have already been aired. But Clinton rules…mean there’s a lower standard where attacks on the Clintons are concerned.
“It’s hard to imagine that the Times could have been so sloppy about facts that have already been aired,” she said, suggesting this may reflect the lower standard which comes with the Clinton rules.
Unfortunately, a lower standard also obtains under the protocol we would describe as “the New York Times rules.” According to this unpublished rule, criticism of the glorious Times can only be taken so far.
Journalists who want their careers to prosper will say that much, no more. It seems to us that Goldberg and Hayes both played by these rules in their discussions this day.
To her credit, Goldberg was stretching the limits of “the Times rules” as she discussed its new bombshell report. But in the passage we’ve shown you above, consider what she did.
Goldberg was writing for The Nation, a major publication. Presumably, she could have called the New York Times to inquire about the apparent mistake it had now apparently made for the second time.
She could have asked the New York Times if it had been that “sloppy.” Instead, she left this apparent peculiar error as a point of speculation.
(Two weeks later, we know of no one in the mainstream press who has attempted to resolve this apparent error. As we’ve constantly told you, the basic facts play almost no role in the work of our “mainstream press.” Also, everyone knows that they must obey the unwritten “New York Times rules.”)
Was Goldberg observing “the New York Times rules?” If so, this constituted a relatively minor point. Much more remarkable was the weird “moral equivalence” she constructed right at the start of her piece.
As we’ve noted, Goldberg believes in the journalistic phenomenon known as “the Clinton rules.” But as she started her report, she discussed a second meaning of that term—and she constructed something resembling a “moral equivalence.”
We’d have to call it a very strange type of equivalence. That said, it helped bring her work into line with the guild’s standard perspectives:
GOLDBERG: The phrase “Clinton rules” has two very distinct meanings. Bill and Hillary Clinton’s enemies use it to mean that the couple flout rules that apply to everyone else. (See, for example, the recent anti-Clinton Wall Street Journal editorial “The Clinton Rules.”) In the early years of the blogosphere, however, liberals used “Clinton rules” as shorthand for the way journalists regularly abandoned ordinary standards of evidence to breathlessly pursue Clinton pseudo-scandals, often cooked up by right-wing operatives. As the Daily Howler wrote in 2007, “Under ‘the Clinton rules of journalism,’ you can say any goddamn thing you want—as long as you say it about the Clintons.”In that passage, Goldberg seems to describe a strange apparent equivalence.
Both versions of ‘Clinton rules’ describe real phenomena, and with any given Clinton story, it can be extremely difficult to figure out which Clinton rules are at work. Things are easier if you start off with a strong stance on the couple, always assuming the worst of either the Clintons or of anyone who criticizes them. But if you believe, as I do, that the Clintons have been demonized and persecuted to a preposterous degree and that they have cut ethical corners, if you delight in the idea of a female president but dread the return of the Clinton circus, it’s not easy to sort out who the real wrongdoers are in each new Clinton investigation. You find yourself plunged into rabbit holes, arguing about minutia, wishing for some sort of ideological heuristic to make sense of it all.
On the one hand, “the Clintons have been demonized and persecuted [by journalists] to a preposterous degree.” On the other hand, “they have cut ethical corners” in some unspecified ways.
Let us assume that both claims are accurate. The first claim is a description of sweeping journalistic misconduct. Absent amplification, the second claim means virtually nothing at all.
For what it’s worth, Goldberg repeated this strange equivalence on the Hayes program that night, as we’ll show you tomorrow. In terms of her piece in The Nation, the die was cast at the end of the piece, after she’d finished noting the problems with the Times report.
In fairness, Goldberg was playing with fire in her piece for The Nation. For at least twenty years, professional journalists have refused to discuss the journalistic vendetta she described in that piece.
For that reason, very few voters have ever heard any suggestion that any such phenomenon might exist. Unless you long for a President Walker, that’s a dangerous state of affairs.
Uh-oh! Goldberg had also criticized the New York Times more than a professional journalist normally would. But sure enough! As she ended her essay, she performed a miraculous service, one which essentially validated the Times’ new report.
Good lord! The newspaper’s sprawling report was 4400 words long. The vast bulk of the sprawling report created a nasty insinuation concerning Hillary Clinton's implied approval of a scary uranium deal.
As Goldberg noted, the Times only implied that Hillary Clinton had sold out the national interest in that scary uranium deal; it made no “clear allegations.” But beyond that, the Times report was an ungodly rolling mess on a journalistic basis.
Goldberg barely scratched the surface of the journalistic problems with the Times’ sprawling report. She even made a few factual errors herself, apparently having been misled by the Times’ slippery conduct!
The Times report was a giant mess—but as she closed her piece in The Nation, Goldberg came to the Grey Lady's rescue. She found one paragraph in the sprawling report which seemed to make a clear allegation.
This is what the report’s all about, the New York Times’ savior now said.
Good grief! In a sprawling, error-strewn Times report which spans some 75 paragraphs, Goldberg found the one paragraph which saved the New York Times’ bacon! As she closed her piece in The Nation, she was thus able to announce the latest Clinton “scandal:”
GOLDBERG: So if the Times is building on the work of a right-wing smear merchant, and is in fact wrong about Clinton traveling with Giustra, does that mean we can dismiss the piece? Well, not unless someone in the Clinton camp can explain away this paragraph:As she closed, she took the Times off the hook. She had located one paragraph—out of 75!—which housed “a minor scandal.”
“As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.”
Beneath all the allegations about influence-peddling, this is the single clearest charge in the whole Times story. There is, as of yet, no evidence that Bill Clinton intervened with Kazakhstan’s dictator on behalf of Giustra. And there is no evidence that Hillary Clinton did anything inappropriate as secretary of state to enable Russia to take over the company that Giustra helped build. But this failure of disclosure by the Clinton Foundation is itself a minor scandal, whether or not Hillary Clinton bears any direct responsibility for it. For now, the broader story remains murky, but here, at least, is one rule that seems to have clearly been broken.
You may know what happened that evening. Hayes focused on this alleged “minor scandal” and on nothing else. He skillfully obeyed the rules which say that an upper-end journalist must never attack the glorious Times or discuss the larger ways of the guild.
He kept complaining about the Clintons and about nothing else. The New York Times' horrible conduct was all disappeared. So was that larger vendetta.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at what was said as Hayes and Goldberg pounded away at this troubling “minor scandal.” For now, let’s get clear on what had occurred by the end of Goldberg’s piece in The Nation:
Folklore describes the blind squirrel who’s able to find the one nut. In this case, Goldberg performed a somewhat similar function.
She managed to find the one paragraph in the endless report which seemed to contain “a minor scandal.” On his cable program that night, Hayes used her discovery to ignore everything else she had said.
Do you believe in “the Clinton rules?” Does the “journalistic vendetta” Goldberg described actually exist?
Have journalists “regularly abandoned ordinary standards of evidence to breathlessly pursue Clinton pseudo-scandals?” Do journalists “consistently kind of throw out normal evidentiary standards in going after the Clintons?”
In a world which wasn’t completely faux, a fellow like Hayes would want to find out. In our world, Hayes played by the Clinton rules that night—and by the Times rules as well.
Tomorrow: “This does seem a legitimate piece of journalism and I don’t think they got anything wrong”