Home / General / The Media’s War on Clinton and the Partisan FBI Are Serious Problems For American Democracy

The Media’s War on Clinton and the Partisan FBI Are Serious Problems For American Democracy

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Twice in 16 years, a Republican has captured the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. In both cases, the Democratic candidate was relentlessly savaged over inane trivia by mainstream media outlets. This isn’t an accident, either; Republicans have tried very consciously to work the refs, and it works. In 2016, the media amplified the successful attempts of a grossly unethical and partisan FBI to throw the election to Donald Trump. This is an immensely important issue that needs far more discussion, not least to insure that the next Democratic president doesn’t consider appointing someone like James Comey again.

And, yet, too many people want to give the media and the FBI a de facto pass, so we can focus on the irrelevant-going-forward issue that a candidate who will never be the Democratic nominee for president again sucks. So I’m grateful for Paul Krugman using his high-visibility real estate to put the issue so clearly:

Let me explain what I mean by saying that bad guys hacked the election. I’m not talking about some kind of wild conspiracy theory. I’m talking about the obvious effect of two factors on voting: the steady drumbeat of Russia-contrived leaks about Democrats, and only Democrats, and the dramatic, totally unjustified last-minute intervention by the F.B.I., which appears to have become a highly partisan institution, with distinct alt-right sympathies.

Does anyone really doubt that these factors moved swing-state ballots by at least 1 percent? If they did, they made the difference in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and therefore handed Mr. Trump the election, even though he received almost three million fewer total votes. Yes, the election was hacked.

By the way, people who respond to this observation by talking about mistakes in Clinton campaign strategy are missing the point, and continuing their useful idiocy. All campaigns make mistakes. Since when do these mistakes excuse subversion of an election by a foreign power and a rogue domestic law enforcement agency?

[…]

The bigger surprise was the behavior of the news media, and I don’t mean fake news; I mean big, prestigious organizations. Leaked emails, which everyone knew were probably the product of Russian hacking, were breathlessly reported as shocking revelations, even when they mostly revealed nothing more than the fact that Democrats are people.

Meanwhile, the news media dutifully played up the Clinton server story, which never involved any evidence of wrongdoing, but merged in the public mind into the perception of a vast “email” scandal when there was nothing there.

And then there was the Comey letter. The F.B.I. literally found nothing at all. But the letter dominated front pages and TV coverage, and that coverage — by news organizations that surely knew that they were being used as political weapons — was almost certainly decisive on Election Day.

So as I said, there were a lot of useful idiots this year, and they made the election hack a success.

Now what? If we’re going to have any hope of redemption, people will have to stop letting themselves be used the way they were in 2016. And the first step is to admit the awful reality of what just happened.

That means not trying to change the subject to campaign strategy, which is a legitimate topic but has no bearing on the question of electoral subversion. It means not making excuses for news coverage that empowered that subversion.

And it means not acting as if this was a normal election whose result gives the winner any kind of a mandate, or indeed any legitimacy beyond the bare legal requirements. It might be more comfortable to pretend that things are O.K., that American democracy isn’t on the edge. But that would be taking useful idiocy to the next level.

The effect of yadda-yaddaying the media’s malpractice, Wikileaks, and a rogue FBI is both to normalize Trump and to make Trumps more likely in the future. That Clinton’s campaign, like all campaigns, made mistakes is worthy of discussion but is also entirely immaterial to this question.

Incidentally, my favorite move for changing the subject is the literally Trumpian one of labeling the effects of the Comey intervention a “conspiracy theory.” This would be dumb enough if the bottom line of the analysis was “there’s no point trying to explain events as complex as election outcomes.” But of course in 99% of cases the point is to handwave away the effect the of FBI’s intervention and the media’s coverage so that the pundit’s longstanding hobbyhorse can be identified with no evidence whatsoever as the One True Cause of Trump winning. The two step works like this:

A: “Every time Comey inserted himself into the election, this created a demonstrable wave of negative media coverage against Clinton, and Clinton’s poll numbers significantly declined. Given that late-breaking voters broke strongly for Trump and the extremely close margins in the pivotal states, it is overwhelmingly likely that absent Comey’s interventions, Clinton wins.” B:”This nutty CONSPIRACY THEORY is the liberal equivalent of birtherism. And why would anybody on the left give a shit about the national security state acting to throw the election to a cross between George Wallace and Calvin Coolidge anyway? That’s as crazy as thinking anyone on the left should find constitutional provisions that were anti-democratic concessions to white supremacists and continue to function as such objectionable.”

B: “Clinton lost the election solely because of CELEBRITY GLITZ and her NEOLIBERAL campaign [which was significantly to the left of Barack Obama’s two winning campaigns and miles to the left of Bill Clinton’s two winning campaigns.*] This is such an unassailably ironclad empirical fact it can hardly be necessary to cite any evidence.”

Well, we all need dark comedy in these trying times.

*Lest I be willfully misconstrued, I of course do not think that the Democratic Party’s shift to the left was the reason she lost, although I also don’t see any evidence for the claim that marginal voters preferred Trump because Clinton wasn’t left-wing enough. The party’s move to the left is a good thing and should continue. We should remain vigilant against the eternal argument that losing (or, in this case, “losing”) an election means the party should move to the right. The fact that the fight to head the DNC will be between Keith Ellison and Tom Perez — imagine that in 1996! — is a good sign here, and I think Sanders’s success will provide very useful pushback going forward, but it’s important not to let up. And I think it’s better not to pretend you’re arguing campaign tactics when you’re really arguing ideology.

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  • tsam

    By the way, people who respond to this observation by talking about mistakes in Clinton campaign strategy are missing the point, and continuing their useful idiocy. All campaigns make mistakes. Since when do these mistakes excuse subversion of an election by a foreign power and a rogue domestic law enforcement agency?

    YEAH! FUCKING GO PAUL!

  • sibusisodan

    OT: The Guardian is reporting that the Chinese Navy grabbed a US underwater drone and haven’t yet returned it.

    Your move, Mr Trump.

    • rea

      Logically, he will call for more fossil fuel use.

      • BigHank53

        Also, nuking Azerbaijan.

      • tsam

        I’m sure his tweets will be most persuasive.

        • KeithB

          “The Chinese are losers. Have you seen the reports on their economy? It’s dropping like a stone. Sad!” — Donald J. Trump

          Hope that helped.

          • tsam

            HAHA! Wait–is that real?

            • Ahuitzotl

              too many verbs, too coherent

      • ColBatGuano

        And tax cuts for the rich. That’ll show em!

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      the sad thing is all Terry Branstad is going to have is, “would you like another corn dog?”

    • postpartisandepression

      It is not Trumps move actually it is Obama’s – will he just roll as usual?

  • Crusty

    One frustrating aspect of attempts to do something about, or at least call attention to the issue of Russian hackery and influence is that the Orange One frames everything about himself and his ego. The idea that Russians meddled is undercut as an attempt to undermine his victory. Well, first, it does undermine his victory (which is also undermined by his loss of the popular vote by millions). Second, the objection to Russian influence and its hacking is not that the Russians hacked voting machines and switched votes from Clinton to Trump. No, Trump got the most votes in the places where it mattered (whole ‘nuther topic), we accept that. But foreign powers meddling in our election is an issue that goes to the hear of democratic rule, whether the purpose was to favor one candidate or just give the US a big hey fuck you, look what we can do.

    Meanwhile, as outrage over Russian meddling grows, part of Trump’s reaction is to say that’s not true, and there’s also a reflex where he lurches closer to Russia as some kind of middle figure to those upset or something. The result will not be good.

    One more point- right now, the NY Times website headline reads “Clinton Calls Russian Hacking ‘Attack Against Our Country.'” Personally, from a strategy point of view, I don’t think HRC should be leading the charge on this. It will appear as sour grapes to those looking for reasons to dismiss the charge. Yes, people will want to dismiss it no matter what, but I think there may be more effective messengers.

    • tsam

      One frustrating aspect of attempts to do something about, or at least call attention to the issue of Russian hackery and influence is that the Orange One frames everything about himself and his ego

      Well, it also makes him awfully error prone:

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/12/16/trump-has-been-lying-about-the-russian-hack-he-just-accidentally-admitted-it-himself/?utm_term=.a8159289210a

    • Derelict

      On your last point, I rather think it might go the other way. Clinton (and every Democrat) should be fighting this tooth and nail, shouting it from the rooftops at every possible instance. If Clinton isn’t willing to fight this fight, why should anyone else fight it for her? If Democrats aren’t willing to fight against a foreign power taking over out government (or at least pointing out constantly that a foreign power has taken over our government), how can they expect average voters to take their side?

      Clinton needs to be out in the streets on this. So does Obama. And Schumer. And Pelosi. And Sanders. And most especially, Patrick fucking Leahy.

      • RonC

        That’s something I’ve been wondering about. The allegations of the hacking were out there well before election day. So why weren’t the Democrats doing something immediately after election day to contest this? You can be sure the Republicans would have been.

        • Crusty

          That outsiders did funny business to influence people to freely exercise their vote a certain way or to stay home is not a basis to contest the election. It stinks, but it is not a basis to contest the election. There are no do-overs to be had, only recounts.

          • RonC

            So why no recounts? It is close enough in each of those states that it might change the result. It might not, but then it does seem to be important enough to see.

            • Crusty

              Each state conducts the election according to its own rules and there are rules for when a recount can and can’t occur. Russian meddling is not a basis for a recount unless the nature of the meddling has something to do with voting machines and changing votes, which would be a counting issue.

              And there were recounts in some places.

              • RonC

                It was possible to have recounts in all three of the states I’d mentioned, yet the Democrats did nothing. This is just deteriorating into more: “You just don’t understand how the really bright Democrats do things.”

                Or more excuses for the party elite and blame on everyone other than those who ran the campaign. Hey the Republicans are able to do it.

                • Crusty

                  Actually, you have no understanding of election law.

                • so-in-so

                  Recounts do not capture voters who stayed home because “Hillary’s emails”, or voted third party, or even voted Trump because we heard NOTHING about his shit during those two weeks over the drone of EMAILZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!

                  Nor can they rectify voter suppression, broken voting machines, etc.

                • There was already a recount in Wisconsin. Didn’t move the needle. The recount in PA was stopped by the courts, and it wouldn’t be sufficient to flip the election in any case.

        • Hogan

          So the Russians hacked into DNC emails and published some. What kind of recount would correct for that?

          • Crusty

            Exactly.

          • RonC

            Oh for Christ sake, without a recount you do not know if there were problems with the count. It was close enough and the exit polls seemed to indicate a different outcome that one would think it would be wroth while. But let’s not we are going to lose any way.

            • Crusty

              You are dumb and ignorant.

            • Hogan

              So because we knew about the hacking we should ask for recounts, but the hacking has nothing to do with the recounts. Got it.

            • The exit polls did not indicate a different outcome.

      • Crusty

        “If Clinton isn’t willing to fight this fight, why should anyone else fight it for her?”

        Because it is an attack on democracy, not a particular candidate. When it is the particular candidate leading the charge, it becomes about Clinton vs. Trump, but it is about whether our democracy is undermined by the Russians or not.

      • tsam

        If Clinton isn’t willing to fight this fight, why should anyone else fight it for her?

        No–this is EVERYONE’S fight. I would venture to guess that there is all kinds of non-public stuff going on with the Clinton team, and it’s non-public to avoid inviting a sore-loser moniker, which I’m sure the MSM would handle responsibly.

      • efgoldman

        And most especially, Patrick fucking Leahy.

        I agree on every single Dem. But why especially Leahy?

  • Hogan
    • Dilan Esper

      That op ed really pissed me off.

      No American is more responsibile for the Russian hack than Podesta, who like the complete imbecile that he is, GAVE the hackers his password.

      He should literally never work in politics again. Instead, he gets to write an op ed in the Post blaming other people. Must be nice to be a completely incompetent Washington insider who let the Russians hack his email.

      If someone else wants to make that argument, fine. But not Podesta. He needs to go away.

      • ASV

        This is literally victim-blaming. How many 67-year-olds whose aides told them a phishing email was legitimate wouldn’t be similarly taken in?

        • This is Dilan “Hillary owes her political career to Monica Lewinsky” Esper we’re talking about here. Sometimes he likes to mix it up and say ridiculous bullshit about people the Clintons know.

      • SNF

        I think the bigger person to blame is the IT guy who specifically told Podesta it was “a legitimate email” (even if it might have been a typo).

        • I don’t believe that guy about the “typo” excuse. It’s hard to accidentally type (or tap) “a legitimate” versus “an illegitimate” because of the change in the article. In addition, I would expect any reasonably competent IT professional to urge users not to click any links in the email.

          The email was a fairly convincing mimic of the email Google actually sends to notify users of suspicious activity. It also included a “CHANGE PASSWORD” link, which the real email would not have had. My guess is that the helpdesk guy skimmed the email, thought it looked like the real thing, but missed the phishing link. Someone on Podesta’s staff, on the other hand, didn’t miss the link and decided to use it.

          I think that’s the crux: Podesta forwarded it to an assistant, who forwarded it to the helpdesk guy. The helpdesk guy responded with a link, but at that point the thread didn’t include Podesta. Someone is trying to figure out how to change the password, notices that the “legitimate” email has a link, and taps it. Of course, everyone is probably anxious to change the password because they’re worried about a successful attack. There’s a reason so many successful phishing attempts are based around warning users of fake security issues.

  • The MSM wants to blame reduced subscriptions on social media, but the real problem, imho, is the the fact that the MSM is being seen less and less as a legitimate source of reporting and increasingly like hired guns for the establishment that merely parrot talking points. The problem is, in a sea of fake news where even the traditional news outlets are seen as illegitimate, where do you go to get legitimate reporting? Who do you trust?

    • TopsyJane

      That’s pretty much what the wingnuts say.

      I am no fan of the NY Times’ election reporting from this year, but the paper is pretty much the last big one standing (the Washington Post has never had the Times’ reach or influence and it’s never been as good, although it’s competitive on Washington stuff) and the Times is under constant attack from left and right, sometimes for good reason. While I disagree with a lot of what I read in the Times and other MSM outlets, I do not see them as illegitimate. (I also find that a lot of internet discussions are still fueled by people talking about what they read in the Times or the MSM today as opposed to pure online journalism.)

      People are canceling their subscriptions because they can get the same stuff for free on the internet.

      • Thom

        I agree. The Times makes some stupid editorial choices, and its relentless focus on the email things was awful and probably costly. But they also do some really good work and we do need them (or the equivalent) around.

        • I agree that we need a newspaper of record, and the NYT does at least try to live up to that. But you still have to put the waders on sometimes, even with the NYT.

          • liberalrob

            Sometimes the snorkel.

      • BartletForGallifrey

        I also find that a lot of internet discussions are still fueled by people talking about what they read in the Times or the MSM today as opposed to pure online journalism.

        Which is why the argument that “low-info voters don’t read the Times and therefore their obsession with EMAILZ and FOUNDATION is irrelevant” is both wrong and stupid.

        • efgoldman

          Which is why the argument that “low-info voters don’t read the Times and therefore their obsession with EMAILZ and FOUNDATION is irrelevant” is both wrong and stupid.

          Actually, it’s true and stupid at the same time. They don’t read the NYT – but their local papers subscribe to the NYT syndicated service for local and national news.

          • Plus TV news takes cues from the NYT and their reporting trickles down to low-info voters in other ways. Even if people don’t read the NYT themselves, they’re still influenced by its coverage.

            That said, the Washington Post‘s coverage this cycle was better and it wasn’t even close. (Though they still weren’t anywhere near perfect.)

  • NewishLawyer

    A lot of people use TV including the 24-hour news channels as background noise. They are not sitting down and paying rapt attention but they use them to have some chatter in the background while going about with other tasks.

    24-hour news channels also seem to be the most popular things that doctor’s offices, airplane lounges, gyms, etc have on in the background as clients are waiting.

    I wonder if the channels know this and program their stories to be stuff that you can just hear bits and pieces of. A policy debate is hard to have because it requires people paying attention. The whole e-mail thing can be repeated in bits and pieces.

    Also a lot of 24-hour news seems to repeat stories every hour or two.

    The rogue FBI agents is more concerning to me because of how right-wing law enforcement seems to swing. I worry about local law enforcement in blue cities deciding to go rogue and declare themselves with the Sessions DOJ instead of with their local communities.

    • CrunchyFrog

      Also a lot of 24-hour news seems to repeat stories every hour or two.

      Or more frequently.

      You may not know this, but when CNN created their second channel – Headline News – it was designed to be a full news cast every half an hour, with sports at the 20 minute mark. At the time it was the only way you could get a quick update on everything that was going on in the world. Eventually the internet provided that kind of immediacy, and mobile internet devices meant that everyone could get immediate news updates anytime, any where, so CNN HN became just another 24 hour news channel.

      During the HN heyday they couldn’t cover every story in depth during the half hour so they developed a routine. They key stories always were covered, although if they had video there would be as many as 4 slightly different version of the story so that repeat viewers wouldn’t tune out. Secondary stories would be put into rotations of between once-per-hour to 4-times-per day.

      Today, even though the HN format (same TV program every half an hour) has been abandoned for the standard cable news format the cycling of stories is still basically the same. The difference is that they intersperse a lot of interviews of guests talking about the stories of the moment to a) add variety and b) ideally add viewers via conflict.

      • MyNameIsZweig

        I remember those days. I found HN to be a very useful addition to my media diet back in college.

        • ASV

          Headline Sports was especially useful — back then, ESPN didn’t have a ticker and Sportscenter wasn’t on all day like it is now. HLN was the only way to get score updates in the evenings.

          • CrunchyFrog

            I remember being in Madrid on a Sunday in 1988 waiting desperately every half an hour for international headline news to give me football score updates – only to discover that 2 of every 3 half hours the US feed was interrupted with a UK sports feed which informed me in detail about whatever thrilling 0-0 tie Arsenal had just completed. ARGH! And while Germany and Switzerland had an internet precursor, Tele Text, to get current stories using a European standard (PAL) TV and a remote control Spain at that time did not – at least in that hotel. Germany, being an occupied country at that time, also had an AFN radio station within range anywhere so at least once per hour you could get news and sports updates.

    • witlesschum

      Also, local TV news sticks little packages covering national politics in among the weather and murders. Those packages tend to be the most pablum Clinton campaign says this, Trump campaigns says this coverage possible, so I think that’s a huge factor, too.

    • efgoldman

      I wonder if the channels know this and program their stories to be stuff that you can just hear bits and pieces of.
      [snip]
      Also a lot of 24-hour news seems to repeat stories every hour or two.

      These things are connected. It’s the old radio news & info model, which assumes (correctly) that nobody actually sits down and watches/listens for any significant length of time.

  • Alex.S

    What the Dems need to do is to convince a foreign government (or private entity) that is friendly to their causes to start hacking Republicans.

    Just make sure it is foreign and launder it through a third party. There’s no penalty and they’ll be rewarded by the media and potentially the voters.

    • tsam

      HAHA–yes, because the rules are the same for the Democrats in media portrayals…

      • CrunchyFrog

        As I’ve said before, if Wikileaks had published hacked RNC emails instead of the DNC emails Fox would have immediately come out with a term like “Smeargate” or “Hackgate” and made the story entirely about why the Obama administration wasn’t doing a sufficient job cracking down on computer hacking. They also would have accused any reporter who wrote about the content of the emails as being unpatriotic or worse. The MSM wouldn’t have adopted the Fox viewpoint in total, but certainly would have adjusted accordingly. The majority of their coverage would have dutifully followed the Fox lead and brought in security experts to explain why Obama had done a poor job with cyber security. Perhaps a few email stories would have been allowed for some of the more extreme emails that were found, but they would have been drowned out by the rest.

        • Wamba

          This is exactly right

        • They would have accused Clinton of personally sanctioning the hacking.

  • Srsly Dad Y

    DLC DNC

  • howard

    the question is whether we hit a tipping point towards kleptocracy and influence-peddling becoming the out-in-the-open norm, at which point there isn’t much hope for progressive policies ever surviving the gauntlet.

    i’d say the odds remain pretty damn high that trump will push us a long way towards that state; the one thing i am monitoring is his lousy approval ratings.

    i still don’t know what to tell the 12-year-old, although “evil sometimes wins but we need to continue to fight for good” is the working solution.

    • petesh

      We have to be careful with Trump polling, it’s unusually polarized. There’s relatively little mushy middle; in the recent Fox poll about 11% love him and 31% hate him, but you could interpret that poll as 52% think he’ll be OK or better, and 43% think not. Or, 36% think he will be above average, while 59% think he won’t. Numbers lie almost as flagrantly as he does.

    • Crusty

      I’d say we’ve passed that tipping point. Trump’s sons in the room with business leaders- that makes Trump smart, like paying no income tax. The rest of you are just losers and haters.

    • Murc

      the question is whether we hit a tipping point towards kleptocracy and influence-peddling becoming the out-in-the-open norm

      That might happen come inauguration day. This morning the WSJ, which say what you will about them has excellent financial reporting, was saying that Trump may have decided “fuck it, I’m not divesting.”

      Digby currently has a rather enraging piece up about Democrats who have been forced to withdraw their cabinet nominations because of bullshit non-scandals, because cabinet secretaries are supposed to be squeaky clean. But those rules don’t apply to Trump.

    • liberalrob

      From memory:

      “It’s been my experience that evil wins unless good is very, very careful.” – Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Star Trek

      “Evil wins because good is dumb!” – Dark Helmet, Spaceballs

  • KeithB

    Sigh. Can we perhaps get some deeper analysis here? It’s not new that the media routinely savages Democratic candidates over trivial issues. Every ridiculous accusation against the Clintons in the 1990s was breathlessly and extensively reported by the most prestigious news organizations in the land, including the New York Times. The media harped endlessly on Al Gore’s “earth tones” and his alleged claim to have invented the internet. So why does Paul Krugman find the behavior of the news media a surprise?

    If the problem is that the Republicans are “working the refs,” why can’t the Democrats do the same? Are they doing it wrong? Not trying hard enough? Or does it for some reason just not work in the other direction? If there’s nothing the Democrats can do to change the way the media reports them, they will just have to accept that news coverage will cost them X percent of the vote in every election, and move on from there. But it would be nice to know why the media is what it is, and then just maybe, possibly, you could work on a plan to change things.

    As for the FBI, the Democrats were able to win a few elections while J. Edgar Hoover was director, and even pass some legislation what Hoover must have strongly opposed, such as the Civil Rights Act. Is Comey’s FBI worse than Hoover’s? It’s hard to believe.

    People are blaming Clinton because it was her job to win the election. Leftists in particular put up with many disappointments from Clinton (such as her support for the Iraq invasion and her general hawkishness) because they thought she could win, and then she lost. So there’s bound to be recriminations. I thought Clinton was the strongest candidate the Democrats had available this year, and she ran a good campaign and didn’t make any serious mistakes. But people ought to ask what’s wrong with the Democratic party that a candidate as unpopular as Clinton was the best they had on offer? And who are the Democrats who can seriously challenge Trump in 2020? Andrew Cuomo? Give me a break. The lack of good candidates is a real problem for the Democrats, and it’s a sign of their general weakness down to the State level.

    • Scott Lemieux

      The effect of yadda-yaddaying the media’s malpractice, Wikileaks, and a rogue FBI is both to normalize Trump and to make Trumps more likely in the future. That Clinton’s campaign, like all campaigns, made mistakes is worthy of discussion but is also entirely immaterial to this question.

      • KeithB

        I thought I was trying to rebut that point, but maybe I just didn’t understand you.

        • Mike Toreno

          Trying and failing. If Clinton had gotten X more voters to vote for her in particular states than she got, the fact that the DNC emails were hacked and leaked in an act of war against the United States by a foreign power to install their desired candidate in the office of president, wouldn’t matter. If she had gotten X more voters, that would have overcome the vote suppression that reduced the votes that she got by obstructing her voters. If she had gotten X more voters, the criminal and corrupt use of law enforcement authority wouldn’t have mattered. If she had gotten X more vote, the smearing of her in the press wouldn’t have mattered.

          There is always some number X large enough to overcome criminal acts, acts done in the service of a foreign power, and unethical acts, directed against a candidate, but the fact that the candidate didn’t amass enough votes to win in a blowout doesn’t render the various crimes and acts of war irrelevant.

        • liberalrob

          Scott has a laser-like focus on the premise that the election was decided by the Comey letter and the media’s malpractice in its coverage of that act. While I disagree that the Comey letter in isolation can definitively be declared the primary culprit in the debacle, I think when combined with the media’s “coverage” of it it can certainly be called a relevant factor.

          What Scott is doing in that passage is arguing that those who minimize or disappear that factor and instead want to navel-gaze about campaign mistakes or launch into extended vilifications of Hillary Clinton as a candidate are only providing cover for Comey and the media, distracting from the more important issue: Clinton’s excellence or incompetence as a candidate may be important, but it’s a one-time effect. The media’s now many-times-over proven inability to cover political campaigns without becoming enraptured by trivial but “sexy” stories, stories that may not have any substance or basis in fact at all, is something that is an ongoing and existential threat to our democracy as we know it.

          But people ought to ask what’s wrong with the Democratic party that a candidate as unpopular as Clinton was the best they had on offer?

          I say this is the wrong question. People ought to ask why is Hillary Clinton, one of the most qualified and accomplished politicians in our nation, so unpopular? Is that unpopularity based on anything she has actually done, or is there some other reason?

          Ultimately, I think the question should be not what was wrong with Hillary Clinton, but what is wrong with our nation that it could elect someone eminently unqualified for the position as President over someone as clearly qualified as Hillary simply because they didn’t like her personally. And really, since Clinton actually won the popular vote (with a majority, no less), she can’t have lost simply due to “unpopularity”. There is something wrong with the electoral system.

          • Mike Toreno

            Press. Political reporters are lazy and dumb. That’s why they didn’t like Gore. There are “clouds” and “controversy” surrounding Clinton and have been for decades. Not anything real. “Clouds” and “controversy.” They mocked her for saying there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” because they were too lazy and dumb to look into the fact that there WAS a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and many of the people who were in on it were KNOWN and the way it operated (including feeding anonymous smears to the press) was KNOWN.

            • Brad Nailer

              “Press.” “Political reporters.” I want names and then I want these people beaten and driven from the public square. I think we let these “lazy and dumb” reporters off the hook way too easily by not naming them specifically. This has been a frustration of mine for years. Why are we still putting up with reporters who don’t do their fucking job?

              • Mike Toreno

                Amy Chozick. Plenty more, of course. Just remembered her immediately because of the first of the links below.

                Tapper

                Dana Milbank

                Many many more.

                • BartletForGallifrey

                  Maggie Haberman, who was defending the Clinton Foundation coverage as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

                • XTPD

                  Patrick Healy.
                  Andrea Mitchell.
                  Liz Spayd.
                  My nilla Chuck Todd.
                  Sparkling Glibturd.
                  99% of CNN.
                  Cillizza.

                  The list goes on

          • SNF

            Democrats underestimated how much of a drag on the ticket it would be to nominate a woman in this country. It’s not a coincidence that no woman has ever gotten closer to becoming president than Hillary.

            • I believe this, and I think it’s bizarre how little discussion there is of this possibility. A few outlets like Vox did have some coverage before the election of pretty convincing research suggesting that Trump support was strongly correlated with antagonistic views on gender relations, and that men can react to a perceived threat to traditional gender roles by temporarily having a more authoritarian/reactionary bias.

              There was also a yawning gender gap this year, mostly driven by men voting even more strongly for Trump than they usually vote for GOP presidential candidates. My guess is that people were expecting the gender story of this election to be “Women vote for first woman president, reject pussy-grabbing orangutan”.

              The media seems more comfortable talking about women’s voting preferences being driven by their gender than men. (I wonder why… /s) So when the actual story was “Men swing GOP in record numbers to Trump That Bitch”, suddenly the discussion became about whether “Trump voters” were motivated by racism, or economic malaise, or liberal smugness, or trans people being able to poop and pee in peace, etc. Anything but misogyny.

    • CaptainBringdown

      Scott and Krugman both make it clear that the efficacy or lack thereof of the Clinton campaign is a distinct and separate issue from the rolls of the media, the FBI and of Russia, which deserve distinct and separate attention of their own.

    • witlesschum

      Second paragraph is a good question.

      Third paragraph is just irrelevant to anything happening today.

      Fourth is also true, as far as it goes. I think it’s fair to blame Clinton for losing because she lost. And made a number of blunders during her political career that still make me shake my head. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also blame the fact that the Russians or someone like them was trying to throw the election to Trump for lolz, Republicans making it harder for some Democrats to vote, idiotic media behavior and etc. And I’m not sure we should worry about candidates so much as one thing I take from this election was that a lengthy record is actually a hindrance to winning the presidency.

      The sky isn’t falling as far as candidates, it’s falling because I’m afraid too many Democrats won’t be able to vote in 2020. The Republican brazenness in North Carolina will be taken by most of them as a model and that’s what the Dems and others committed to democracy are going to have to fight.

    • FlipYrWhig

      If the problem is that the Republicans are “working the refs,” why can’t the Democrats do the same?

      Because the fundamental ref-working strategy arises from journalists’ senses of two things:

      1. That they know themselves to be highly-educated, un-churched, and relatively privileged, so they’re easy to embarrass with the idea that they’re missing out on How Things Are In The Heartland, so they hyper-correct to prove that they’re listening to John Q. Public rather than being snobby and dismissive about him.

      2. That they are cynical and ironically detached about politics, so they respect Republicans’ scorched-earth tactics as badass expert game-playing, while disrespecting Democrats as squishy, effort-ful, and over-earnest.

      • liberalrob

        3. The corporatization of the MSM has led to ratings having an inordinate influence on coverage, at the expense of accuracy and substance. Also, the political preferences of corporate executives exert a pernicious influence.

    • Wamba

      If the problem is that the Republicans are “working the refs,” why can’t the Democrats do the same? Are they doing it wrong? Not trying hard enough? Or does it for some reason just not work in the other direction?

      I think there is an asymmetry AKA a double standard. For many people, the Republicans are the dominant daddy party and the Democrats are the subordinate mommy party. Different rules are in effect. All too many people in the media share this view or at least take it for granted as the way things are.

      Democrats need to get off their knees, NAME the monster, and start fighting back like they really mean it.

  • XTPD

    OT: Substituting Pieter Willem Botha/Slobodan Milošević for George Wallace and Joseph-Desiré Mobutu/Suharto for Calvin Coolidge works just as well.

  • Nick056

    Josh at TPM is excellent on this issue. There’s abundant evidence that the Comey letter mattered and was indeed a probable “but for” disruption at the time it occured. But as Marshall says, the election saw a steep swing toward Trump relative to Obama’s margins, and emphasizing Comey to the exclusion of the other causes of the margin shift is not terribly helpful for a variety of reasons.

    I also have what is probably a deeply unpopular view around here that Clinton should have not set up the server in the first place and bears non-trivial responsibility for the EMAILS controversy; the assumption that it’s just something that happened to her, not related to her own conduct and its foreseeable consequences, is both totally understandable in light of how partisan the attacks on her were and the awful consequences of those attacks, but also sort of feeble in that the entire damn thing could have been avoided if she had just followed standard procedures and not contracted out a private server to be managed at home.

    • witlesschum

      Maybe it’s only me, but the premature climbing onto a cross about being unpopular is more of a bother than the actual opinion. I mean, yeah, Clinton should have known she might well run for president and she’d have to be purer than pure. Or more accurately, Clinton’s people should have said “Hey, I know you want this all on one phone, boss, but it’s a bad idea to violate the IT regulations, even in a meaningless way. Carry a second phone.”

      I think it’s a mistake, but it’s a minor one and not one any reasonable person would let affect their vote.

      I think it speaks to main issue that, maybe if Clinton had been a truly, extraordinary and excellent candidate, rather than merely good, (quibble with my adjectives, but you get the point) she might have overcome the tripwires the FBI and the Russians tried to throw in front of her, along with the Benghazi bullshit, a small amount of alleged leftist howling and stuff I’m forgetting. But my first thought is that’s not really a standard any political party can meet every four years. The Republicans surely don’t meet that standard and they seem to be getting the presidency half the time.

    • Crusty

      I share that deeply unpopular view. Clinton should take some blame for giving everyone the fodder in the first place, maybe 5%. But Clinton is not the one who made Comey breathlessly announce that he may or may not have found something which may or may not be something, stay tuned, oh, its nothing.

      • Alex.S

        The differences in the arguments the FBI were making on how to handle Russian hacking of a political party’s emails (try not to make announcements, really avoid it so close to the election to avoid being partisan) and their conduct with their email investigation is really striking.

        To put it another way — Comey’s letter was given extra importance when it was released, because there’s no way the FBI would be making an announcement like that if it wasn’t hugely important. I mean, look at all the rules and regulations and norms that they violated to make that announcement!

        • FlipYrWhig

          Yup.

    • Joe Bob the III

      If there never were a private server would it have made a difference? I doubt it, because if there weren’t EMAILS there would have been something else. Republicans would have kept flogging Benghazi. Or there would have been more and varied stories about impropriety, or the theoretical appearance thereof, at the Clinton Foundation. If EMAILS hadn’t sucked all the air out of the room there would have been oxygen for some other pseudoscandal to thrive on.

      Republicans and the media developed a symbiosis around the Clintons. Republicans have scandalmongering down to a science and have managed to cement a ‘corrupt/dishonest’ narrative around the Clintons. In the media, taking down the Clintons has become a journalistic prize everyone wants to vie for. Ergo, Republicans gin up something and, however inconsequential it may be, it will reliably dominate the news cycle.

      • Crusty

        Sure, there would have been something else. But the e-mail thing played into an already existing narrative, I think.

        There were two competing views- Clinton is a corrupt snake out for herself vs. that’s all baloney. (I fall in the baloney camp). The private server became more consistent with the former view. What, she didn’t want everyone to see what she was doing? She’s hiding stuff, I told you, crooked snake. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, etc.

        • FlipYrWhig

          That would be consistent with the view that the phrase “private server” was itself an incriminating proposition, regardless of anything the private server was or wasn’t used to do.

        • ColBatGuano

          But the e-mail thing played into an already existing narrative, I think.

          Anything could have been squeezed into that pre-existing narrative though. That’s the beauty of the “The Clinton’s are secretive and shady” story. All you have to do is throw an accusation out and unless it can be instantly rebutted, then the headline is “Clouds surround Clinton due to X”.

      • FlipYrWhig

        If there had been no email server there would have been no FBI investigation, which was the thing that killed the Clinton campaign: “FBI investigates politician for $ANYTHING” is a devastating story. But like you I think if there hadn’t been an email server we would have had a wall to wall BENGHAZI! campaign, with the mother from the RNC recording ad after ad about how Hillary Clinton let her son get killed by radical Muslims and if we let her become president she’ll get all of our children killed by radical Muslims too.

    • rea

      And a huge part of the problem was that people like Nick056 above bought into the “email scandal” nonsense and acted as enablers to the pseudoscandals

      • liberalrob

        He didn’t “buy into it.” He said there wouldn’t have been an “email scandal” if there hadn’t have been a private email server. Which is true. And I agree, it was a bad decision to have such a server handle any government-related communications no matter how mundane. If the government system sucks, get the government system fixed.

        The huge part of the problem was the media treating the story as if Hillary had exposed the nuclear codes or the secret access tunnel to Fort Knox.

        • We’ll never be able to know for sure, but I’m curious how much the private server actually contributed to the story. Without the server, we’d still have the Benghazi hearings, and we know the GOP was intentionally going after her to weaken her eventual presidential run (based on their own admission). We would still have the actual “emails” that the media built story after story on: Clinton’s own emails (which were super boring), the State Department emails Judicial Watch FOIA’d (which were used as part of the Clinton Foundation story), the DNC emails (hacked by Russia, released by Wikileaks, used to sow discord in the Democratic ranks), the Podesta emails (same).

    • efgoldman

      emphasizing Comey to the exclusion of the other causes of the margin shift is not terribly helpful for a variety of reasons.

      Neither Paul nor Scott has ever said that.

    • Mike Toreno

      I have what is probably a less unpopular view around here that your argument that “if only Clinton had done X, the criminal acts directed against her wouldn’t have mattered” makes no sense at all.

      Your argument makes even less sense when it is (justifiably) extended as follows:

      Clinton should not have done X innocuous act in the first place and bears non-trivial responsibility for the (made-up controversy ginned up around X innocuous act).

      There weren’t “other causes” of “the” margin shift. Any “but-for” cause can be designated as sufficient for the cause that the margin passed the threshold, and Comey’s criminal intervention was a “but for” cause. Anybody is free to examine whatever cause they like, but blaming things on Clinton at this point takes focus away from the attacks on democracy and advocates for a rule that “every Democratic candidate has to win in a blowout big enough to overcome criminal abuse of power, vote suppression, and acts of war.”

  • pianomover

    FBI, Russia, emails, even that the Dems nominated Hillary Clinton is beside the point.

    That anybody voted for him is crazy. That he got the number of votes he did is nuts. That he won is insane.

    • petesh

      This is true, but are you surprised? We have spent nearly 50 years as a society believing that certain things about certain people are just not said; and yet anyone with their eyes open has been able to see simmering racism the whole time. Has the pustule burst? Yes. Will that cure the disease? Doesn’t look like it.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Really? This country’s full of assholes.

  • medrawt

    Haven’t we learned that we can’t discuss the election because at any moment when you’re discussing one impact on the election you’re not discussing other impacts, and therefore being simplistic and disingenuous.

  • catbirdman

    After posting, I see this is following on what KeithB wrote, but I’ll just keep it here. What the Russians, FBI, and BENGHAZI!!! (and before that “Al Gore invented the internet” and “John Kerry’s purple heart”) point out is that a vast number of Americans are actively looking for an excuse to elect someone like Trump (or W, or Ray Gun). They are convinced that the Dems are corrupt, which in many cases is true, and that they would prefer their own brand of corruption — the Republican type. Which we see as a worse type, because objectively it is, but that’s not really the point. Arnold Schwartzenegger won in California, Jesse Ventura won in Minnesota, W won, Reagan won. You present Americans with a strong man talking about shaking things up and you’re going to get a big percentage going along for the ride.

    My point isn’t that Russia and the FBI and the media complicity didn’t add up to a Trump victory — they certainly did. What I’m saying is that a great number of Americans want to believe in the strong man. They are predisposed to choose Conan the Barbarian over Gray Davis. They will happily, lustily suspend disbelief to chant things like “Lock Her Up!” over something silly like an email server. They will wear stupid purple heart band-aids on their faces. This is what we’re dealing with — people who WANT to believe fake things.

    So my point is that Democrats need to become a LOT more savvy about what we’re up against. In national elections, and in red and purple states, the deck is stacked against us, every time. If it’s not the Russians and the FBI and emails and Jill Stein it’s going to be something else. Our candidate and our campaign must be more than a little better than the competition or we lose, most of the time. BECAUSE MANY, MANY AMERICANS RESPOND STRONGLY TO FAKE THINGS AND THE SUPPLY OF FAKE THINGS IS INFINITE. We simply need kick-ass candidates running kick-ass campaigns or we’re going to mysteriously lose the great majority of these toss-up elections.

    • pianomover

      Electing Schwarzenegger was not the worst person California has elected.
      Don’t get me started on Prop 13 though.

    • FlipYrWhig

      I think this is mostly quite correct, but the problem is that “kick-ass candidates” are hard to come by. I’d rather see Democrats build strategies that don’t rely on the kick-ass-ness of the candidate. Terry McAuliffe and Roy Cooper and John Bel Edwards aren’t kick-ass candidates, and they still won.

      • catbirdman

        They are definitely hard to come by, but it’s also a big country with lots of citizens. We can point to exceptions to the rule all we want, but that doesn’t change the rule. I am not happy with the conclusion that we need to be much, much better than the Republicans simply to compete with them, but that’s what my experience tells me. Either we figure out how to kick their asses soundly, beyond the polls’ margins of error, or we will usually lose in national elections.

  • Crusty

    Unfortunately there seems to be something serendipitous about the collision of all these issues.

    I imagine there is a non-trivial number of people out there who believe 1) Hacking of Clinton’s vulnerable private server led to American death’s at benghazi, 2) the DNC was hacked because Clinton kept her server at the house in Chappaqua, 3) Russians were able to do all this hacking because Clinton kept her server at home, 4) Trump is right, we do need to do better on the Cyber, how could we possibly pick Hillary to do that. After all, its her own conduct that led to all of this.

    In case it isn’t clear, all of the above are false, except for the part about me believing that a non-trivial number of people don’t recognize that those statements are false.

    • BartletForGallifrey

      Seen on twitter this very morning, in response to the latest PPEOTUS tweet:

      Hillary is THE REASON THAT ALL OF THE HACKING TOO PLACE TO BEGIN WTIH! UNSECURED SERVER!

      • tsam

        I wonder if the Trump/Putin hacks go back far enough to have been responsible for the deaths of Americans in Benghazi?

        • efgoldman

          I wonder if the Trump/Putin hacks go back far enough to have been responsible for the deaths of Americans in Benghazi?

          Definitely worth asking the question, loudly and publicly, in a headline.
          “Questions Raised….”

      • Redwood Rhiadra

        The fact that her server was never actually hacked (unlike the State Department’s and the DNC’s) is irrelevant, of course.

    • FlipYrWhig

      People think the email server led to deaths at Benghazi? I thought it was a different chain: I thought that it was that Clinton was brazenly deleting evidence of what happened at Benghazi because it was hers instead of the government’s. But then the “hackers” branch of the story was supposed to refute how she had said that having a private server wasn’t a problem because it was secure, but it wasn’t, because of all the hacks, so in your face, Hillary!

      But, yes, in a larger sense, I am POSITIVE that huge numbers of people think the DNC and Podesta emails came from Hillary Clinton’s secret email server which wasn’t so secret amirite lol, and that many of the people who think so are in the media.

      • tsam

        Well, at least Saddam paid for 9/11.

        • efgoldman

          Well, at least Saddam paid for 9/11.

          Didn’t all the flights originate in Baghdad?
          And all the airport security were campaign workers for the Clenis in ’96
          And don’t forget the 10,000 Muslims watching the towers fall from across the river in Jersey City. singing, dancing and cheering.
          And the mooslin terrists what escaped, set up that nasty ring with Hitlery that grabbed up good white ‘Murrican chirren from a DC pizza place and sold ’em in the Muddle East for sex slaves.

    • I have talked to numerous Clinton-voting liberals who thought that (1) was at least an official allegation and the cause of the FBI investigation. It is very hard to explain how Benghazi and the private server scandal are related, because the connection is dumb bullshit cooked up by oozing pustules like Jason Chaffetz.

      I have also talked to an overlapping but not identical group of Clinton-voting liberals who thought some of the emails WikiLeaks released were from the private server.

      I suspect you’d have more trouble finding a non-trivial number of people who don’t have some misconception about this ridiculous clusterfuck.

  • JustRuss

    totally unjustified last-minute intervention by the F.B.I., which appears to have become a highly partisan institution, with distinct alt-right sympathies.

    My brother’s best friend is an FBI agent. I’ve known him since high school, he’s one of the smartest, funniest people I know. I recently asked my brother if they’d talked about the FBI/election kerfuffle. He said they rarely talk politics, because his buddy is a hard-core conservative. I was shocked. This guy spent the better part of a year investigating Benghazi, he knows better than anyone what a nothing-burger that was. If he’s drinking the koolaid, you can bet the whole agency is swimming in it.

  • Joe Bob the III

    When I discuss the Comey/FBI story with people who aren’t steeped in it I like to frame it by not using the names Comey or FBI. Generalizing makes it easier to see what the problem is, i.e.: The director (Comey) of the National Police (FBI) abused their law enforcement powers in order to influence the election. Gee, when you put it that way it sounds like you are talking about a place that doesn’t have a real democracy.

    • Crusty

      Yeah, director and national police have real gestapo-ish rings to them. When I hear director in that context I can’t help but picture it as Herr Direktor.

    • Zack Beauchamp did something along those lines.

  • tonycpsu
    • tsam

      You ever read a statement that’s just so fucking insane that all you can do is stare in amazement at the pure majesty of it’s total and complete fuckery?

      • BartletForGallifrey

        Yes.

        • tsam

          Whew—thought you were linking to one of my comments

        • efgoldman

          Thank you to Time Magazine and Financial Times for naming me “Person of the Year” – a great honor!

          This one struck me as even beyond Orange McRapey Caligula’s usual stupidity. I’m betting that nobody’s told him that Time’s men of the year have included Hitler, Stalin, Kruschev, and Ayatollah Khomenei.
          Fucking idiot.

  • The bestial ignorance & stupidity of the American people (& humanity in general) is the problem here. Until we get better people, we will remain totally screwed.

  • NorthernInvader

    Did anyone else find it interesting that the FBI came out today and supported the CIA’s assertion that the Russians were behind the hack? Comey must be trying to cover his ass.

  • MDrew

    a de facto pass

    What is that? Who is giving it? How?

    yadda-yaddaying the media’s malpractice, Wikileaks, and a rogue FBI

    What are you referring to here? What falls under this? What doesn’t? What can’t be said if this is to be avoided? What must be said?

    my favorite move for changing the subject

    Among what set of who doing it? Do you have a list? Can we see it? Who are we talking about? Especially, who are you most concerned about doing it?

    in 99% of cases

    Cases of what? People enunciating any views about reasons Trump won other than Comey and hacking? Or just ones that reflect poorly on Clinton’s strategy or Democrats’ policy/political performance in the Obama years more generally? Are theories that identify the problem as a hidden army of white supremacists unexpectedly flooding the polls, revealing the True Nature of white Real AmeriKKKa equally unwelcome? What exactly is the offending behavior here?

    I continue to ask, where are your posts focusing specifically and exclusively on the substance of the case against Comey, or on the threatening real-world meanings of Russia’s actions, as opposed to being obsessed with how people are insufficiently figuring those things into their diagnoses of why your party didn’t win the election – if the former topics are of such surpassing importance? All you’re writing about is people writing too many bad things about Hillary Clinton’s or the party’s political performance & not enough about the factors you prefer they talk about. Rather, that is, than actually yourself directly addressing the substance of what you are saying they should be paying greater attention to. That undermines your ostensible position that it’s those issues themselves (federal law enforcement governments or foreign interfering) that matter, rather than how those things play into the debates about the political autopsies that none of us can successfully pretend we’re not primarily interested in.

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