Part 5—A tale of two tribal approaches: In September 2004, on network TV, Dan Rather made a mistake. In a report on CBS, he overshot what he knew and could prove about President George W. Bush
The conservative world pushed back, quite hard. Basically, Rather’s mistake ended his network career.
That happened in 2004. Consider a second approach to such matters, an approach which is quite standard within a different tribe.
In March 1992, the New York Times published the first in a set of front-page reports which largely created the alleged Whitewater scandal.
Twenty-three years later, the liberal world still hasn’t pushed back against those front-page reports! You might call it a tale of two tribal approaches. It leads us to Chris Hayes.
Good grief! Two weeks ago, the New York Times managed to publish its latest front-page debacle. The multiply-bungled front-page report required a pair of formal corrections by the famous and hapless newspaper.
Twenty-three years later, the target of the front-page debacle was named Candidate Clinton again.
Is the New York Times conducting some sort of “vendetta” against this particular candidate?
The history underlying that question comprises a long and winding road. Last Sunday, in her weekly column, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan seemed to suggest that the suggestion isn’t exactly crazy.
Explicitly, Sullivan said she agreed with a reader who had written this: “it is undeniable that [Candidate Clinton] is already facing significantly tougher coverage than any other potential candidate.”
Sullivan didn’t explicitly challenge other judgments about the Times—judgments which had been expressed by well-known professors and journalists. That included James Fallows’ reference to a “Clinton vendetta” inside the Times.
It also included Jay Rosen’s assessment: “I have resisted this conclusion over the years, but after today’s events it’s fair to say the Times has a problem covering Hillary Clinton.”
Good lord! This front-page debacle was so undisguised that leading liberals even felt free to comment! Over the course of these twenty-three years, that isn’t the way this obedient group has tended to respond.
How has the liberal world tended to act? Consider the way Chris Hayes reacted to the latest front-page debacle. It happened on the All In program of Monday, July 27.
By now, the basic shape of the latest front-page debacle was clear. The Times had published two formal corrections, dragging its feet as it did.
Sullivan had already posted a first report about the latest disaster. Her punishing headline said this: “A Clinton Story Fraught With Inaccuracies: How It Happened and What Next?”
Was this latest debacle part of a pattern at the New York Times? Did it suggest a vendetta, a problem covering Hillary Clinton?
Or was it just a simple mistake, the type of mistake which just happens? There’s no simple way to answer such questions. That said:
Twenty-three years later, Hayes was eager to take the Times’ side.
On Monday evening, July 27, Hayes described the groaning errors the Times had made. He then introduced Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, a liberal press watchdog site.
Boehlert is very experienced and very knowledgeable, which doesn’t mean he’ll always be right in every judgment he makes. That said, Hayes seemed to adopt an adversarial stance toward Boehlert right from the jump:
HAYES (7/27/15): A top editor at The New York Times today explained their reporting, saying, quote, “We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong.”Uncle Boehlert was funnin’ a bit. To watch the whole segment, click this.
The entire episode raises the issue of the strange, fraught, combative, some argue dysfunctional relationship between the Clintons and the Times.
Joining me now, Eric Boehlert, senior fellow at Media Matters, who is one of the people I think who thinks there is dysfunction.
All right, so you guys—you guys won this round.
BOEHLERT: They made it easy.
HAYES: Well, they got the story wrong. At this point, it’s clear that the two key things that made it a bombshell story—criminal inquiry, Hillary Clinton—are not true.
BOEHLERT: Yeah! Other than that, they got it right!
In a slightly odd word choice, Hayes was still referring to the bungled report as “a bombshell story.” More significantly, he seemed to frame this latest event as a battle between two warring parties—Media Matters and the Times—with Media Matters winning the most recent round.
So far, nothing was necessarily “wrong” with Hayes’ approach. But soon, he was stating his theory of the case—and lavishly praising the Times:
HAYES: So this is where I want to get. So you guys have a theory that the New York Times has it out for the Clintons.Before allowing his guest to opine, Hayes offered his own “theory of the case.” When he did, a PR firm couldn’t have pushed the New York Times’ greatness much harder.
HAYES: In this case, you have got two reporters. I think it’s Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, if I’m not mistaken, both of who are fantastic reporters, in my humble opinion, great reporters. This time, it seems, they got this wrong.
What is your evidence that there is some sort of larger pattern or practice? Here’s—
Let me give you my theory of the case. They write a lot about the Clintons.
BOEHLERT: No, that’s not it.
HAYES: And, like anyone does, because they’re the paper of record, and these are two of the most important, powerful, famous people in all of American and American politics, sometimes they write stuff you guys don’t like. But largely they don’t.
BOEHLERT: It’s not that we don’t like it. It’s not accurate...
Hayes’ theory denied any animus, or “pattern and practice,” within the New York Times. He advanced a set of ideas which may be right or may be wrong. But he was praising the greatness of the Times more than the Times had itself.
The (youngish) reporters who bungled the front-page report are “fantastic” and “great,” Hayes said. He continued with his dismissive framework, referring to the front-page debacle as a report “you guys don’t like.”
It fell to Boehlert to challenge the framework. “It’s not that we don’t like it,” he said. “It’s not accurate,” Boehlert was forced to note.
So far, Boehlert hadn’t been asked or allowed to state his own theory about the Times. According to Hayes’ theory, the latest debacle had simply been a mistake—the kind of mistake which will occur if a newspaper writes enough reports about a major pol.
We aren’t necessarily saying that Hayes is “wrong” in this view. Such questions are hard to determine.
But Hayes was aggressively defending the Times. No conservative on the face of the earth had supported Dan Rather this way.
That doesn’t mean that Hayes was “wrong” in his views. But good grief! When Boehlert began to discuss the past twenty-three years at the New York Times, Hayes began rolling his eyes:
BOEHLERT: Now, here’s the pattern. Go back to Whitewater, go back to Wen Ho Lee, go back to Loral Satellites, go back to the 90s. They have been trying to criminalize—Boehlert tried to describe the historical pattern in the Times’ reporting. When he did, Hayes interrupted.
HAYES: A massive percent of the people who are like, “I have no idea...”
BOEHLERT: I know. That’s what Google is for, thank God. And you go to Media Matters.
HAYES: Wen Ho Lee, A Block tomorrow! Sorry.
BOEHLERT: And Whitewater, and all that stuff. Look, they have been trying to criminalize the Clintons for 20 years.
HAYES: What is “they?” What does that mean, though? What does that mean?
None of his viewers even know who Wen Ho Lee is, he mockingly said. And yes, that’s almost certainly true! In large part, that’s because of the crappy conduct of people like Hayes all through the past twenty-three years.
It’s a tale of two tribal approaches! When Dan Rather made his mistake, conservative orgs got out the old, yellowed film of Rather challenging Richard Nixon.
Mainstream news orgs ran the tape too! And everyone knew what that old yellowed tape was supposed to prove:
It proved that Rather had always been biased against Republican pols!
That’s what happened when Dan Rather made his fatal mistake. By way of contrast, when the New York Times published its latest debacle, Hayes kept interrupting Boehlert, mocking his theory and his knowledge and swearing that Hayes’ fellow 30-something scribes were the greatest reporters on earth.
Hayes has done this before:
In September 2012, he pimped the conservative attacks on Susan Rice, deferring to the greatness of youngish reporter Eli Lake. (One week later, he flipped.)
In late April of this year, the Times published its ludicrous, sprawling front-page report about the treasonous conduct of the Clintons in the scary uranium deal. On his MSNBC program, Hayes vouched for the Times’ ridiculous work, which the paper had cooked up in coordination with conservative Peter Schweizer.
Hayes batted Boehlert aside on that April program too. Last Monday night, he did it again, heaping praise on his youngish colleagues and ignoring their prior mistakes:
BOEHLERT: It’s institutional...There is a career path in D.C. You take cheap shots at the Clintons, you are going to get the clicks. It was written about—this has been chronicled.The fantastic Schmidt had bungled parts of the first report too. Chastened, Hayes found his way to an accurate claim—Clinton’s use of the private server actually is “a story.”
HAYES: Do you think that’s true about the original email story, which they got right?
BOEHLERT: No, they didn’t get it right, because they hinted at criminality and they had to walk that back. But people sort of forget about that.
HAYES: But that’s a story! You agree that’s a story.
BOEHLERT: That she had a private email, yeah. But they didn’t get it right. Again, they wanted to hint at criminality. It was wrong.
Hayes pimped the good faith of the New York Times all through his session with Boehlert. Eventually, he even told Boehlert that his claim about the Times “starts to sound, it sounds like a little paranoid.”
Twenty-three years later, this is the way one liberal star reacted to the latest debacle. In our final report in this series, we’ll look at the way other top liberals did and didn’t react.
Hayes is sometimes called “The Puppy.” Aggressively, he pimped the good faith of the New York Times all through his session with Boehlert.
Whatever the truth about the Times, we don’t think Hayes was doing good work that night. Twenty-three years later, he suggested that Boehlert was “paranoid” for thinking a pattern exists.
Meanwhile, Wen Ho Lee? You’ve got to be kidding, Hayes said.
We leave you with a long-standing question: Why do our big liberal stars do this? Truth to tell, this important, history-changing question stretches back twenty-three years.
Coming: Top tweets from the rest of the pack