Predictably, her statements have led to a chorus of pundits arguing that she should just apologize, shut up and go away. But that is both wrong-headed and self-serving: The many flaws of Clinton’s candidacy and campaign are largely irrelevant going forward, since she’s not going to be the nominee again. But some of the unusual factors that led to Trump’s upset victory remain relevant going forward, and Clinton is right to bring attention to them.
In fact, many of the factors that certainly contributed to Clinton’s 2016 loss will still be very relevant in 2020. For instance, unless you’re certain that either Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, or Kamala Harris won’t be the Democratic nominee, the sexist double standards that influenced media coverage of Clinton will still be relevant. The potential for interference by the FBI director — who Trump will likely appoint, having fired Comey — and Russia are still there. Voter suppression by Republicans will likely get worse before it gets better. And Donald Trump would love a media that largely ignores Paul Ryan’s awful and massively unpopular policy agenda and opts to focus on trivial matters again.
The problem isn’t that Clinton is speaking about these critical issues; the problem is that not enough other prominent Democrats are.
What is striking is how many critiques of Clinton’s arguments — for example: see this from Vox‘s Timothy B. Lee — don’t even try to engage with her claims on the merits. Lee, for example, doesn’t deny that the hacks of the DNC, DCCC and John Podesta’s inbox were damaging to her campaign, or that sexism played a role in negative coverage of Clinton; he just implies that Clinton should decline to discuss them.
Lee’s argument isn’t that Clinton is wrong on the merits – it’s that it’s inherently wrong for her to say that any factors but her own mistakes influenced the outcome of the election. But this is silly. As long as what she’s saying is true, there’s nothing wrong with it.
I suspect that one reason so many pundits want Clinton to shut up and go away is that she’s willing to call them out on their own misconduct. Pundits don’t want Clinton to say these things because she’s wrong, but rather because she’s unquestionably right.
Clinton’s use of a private server was indeed a trivial pseudo-scandal that involved no substantial misconduct — let alone illegality — on Clinton’s part, but it got more coverage on broadcast news than all substantive policy issues put together. Mainstream outlets largely failed to inform the public about many literally life-or-death issues — including health care and climate change — to focus on a trivial issue nobody even pretends to care about if it doesn’t involve Hillary Clinton.
It’s true that Clinton has an interest in focusing on factors other than her mistakes, and her comments should be taken with a some skepticism (although on both Comey and the media, she’s on very solid ground). But of course, this cuts both ways. When CNN’s Chris Cillizza — who chose to write more than 50 stories about Clinton’s email server before the first Democratic debate — attacks Clinton for not taking sole responsibility for her loss, he’s also saying that his decision to focus on inane trivia about Clinton, rather than informing his readers about something important, should not be scrutinized.
Clinton’s criticisms of the media are threatening not because they’re wrong but because they’re indisputably accurate. How can you defend devoting more coverage to Clinton’s email server than all policy issues combined on the merits? You can’t. Would the media have similar priorities if Republicans threatened the access of elite journalists to health care? They would not. And while Clinton’s flaws as a candidate are wholly irrelevant going forward because she’s not running again, the media’s gross misconduct certainly is.
To get the bad taste of Timothy Lee’s self-parody out of your mouth, I think Ezra’s take is right in every detail. Clinton’s defense if her buckraking is as unconvincing as ever — even if you (erroneously) think it’s no big deal that America’s overcompensated and underachieving elites shower each other with other people’s money for no-work gigs, it was bad politics and if you’re running for president that matters. And I hope she drops the complaints about the DNC’s data, which really are the “whining” she’s often unfairly accused of. But when she says that whatever her mistakes she was in a position to win until the director of the FBI decided to baselessly call her a crook, she’s not wrong.