A Disastrous Failure of the Press
Perlstein puts all of the pieces of the puzzle in place:
America’s media establishment endlessly repeated Republican claims that Hillary Clinton was a threat to the security and good order of the republic, because she stored official emails on her own server, and erased about 33,000 of them she said were private. The New York Times ran three front-page stories about FBI director James Comey’s surprise review of another set of emails found on the computer of Anthony Weiner’s wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin. This second review, however, like the first, ended up showing no wrongdoing.
It’s worth pausing here to observe how astounding this is. The Times ran three front page stories about the FBI director having found some emails that very predictably revealed no relevant information about a trivial pseudoscandal that involved no significant misconduct by Hillary Clinton. Three. To choose at random from the countless things Donald Trump did that were far worse than legally using a private email server, Donald Trump called for innocent African-Americans to be lynched. A search of nytimes.com of “Donald Trump Central Park five” and “Donald Trump Central Park jogger” reveals no news stories and one op-ed about it. Perhaps the search is failing to pick up something, but we can safely conclude it received far less coverage.
The elite gatekeepers of our public discourse never bothered with context: that every Secretary of State since the invention of the internet had done the same thing, because the State Department’s computer systems have always been awful; that at the end of the administration of the nation’s 41st president a corrupt national archivist appointed by Ronald Reagan upon the recommendation of Dick Cheney signed a secret document giving George H.W. Bush personal, physical custody of the White House’s email backup tapes so they would never enter the public record. (A federal judge voided the document as “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.”) The White House of his son George W. Bush erased 22 million of its official emails, including those under subpoena from Congress. Newspapers archived by the Lexis-Nexis database mentioned Hillary R. Clinton’s 33,000 erased private emails 785 times in 2016. I found six references to George W. Bush’s 22 million erased public ones: four in letters to the editor, one in a London Independent op-ed, another in a guide to the U.S. election for Australians, and one a quotation from a citizen in the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun.
And now we have Donald Trump, elected in part because of his alleged tender concern for the secure handling of intelligence, making calls to world leaders from Trump Tower’s unsecured telephones.
Trump boogied his way to Pennsylvania Avenue to the tune of the extraordinary finding by a Washington Post-ABC News poll that “corruption in government” was listed by 17 percent of voters as the most important issue in the presidential election, second only to the economy, and ahead of terrorism and health care—and that voters trusted Trump over Clinton to be better on the issue by a margin of 48 to 39 percent, her worst deficit on any issue. This is the part of my article where rhetorical conventions demand I provide a thumbnail sketch of all the reasons why it’s factually absurd that anyone would believe that Donald Trump is less corrupt than Hillary Clinton. I have better things to do with my time than belabor the obvious.
Yet somehow, the great mass of Americans believed Clinton was the crook. Might it have something to do with the myriad articles like, say, “Smoke Surrounds the Clinton Foundation,” by The Los Angeles Times’s top pundit Doyle McManus? This piece, all too typically, despite endeavoring to debunk Trump claims of Clinton corruption, repeated charges like “Doug Band, who helped create the Clinton Global Initiative, sought access to State Department officials for Clinton Foundation donors”—even though donors did not get that access). And that donors harbored the “assumption” that they would “move to the head of the line”—even though they never did.
Investigating the Clinton Foundation for corruption was entirely appropriate. It was done, none was found, and...many lengthy stories were written suggesting that innocuous behavior RAISED QUESTIONS and presented TROUBLING OPTICS anyway. And, hence, an election that resulted in the election of a president whose financial interests are opaque and is openly planning to run the White House as a massive grift operation featured corruption as a major issue…and Trump’s opponent was portrayed as the corrupt candidate, and the public got the message. Heckuva job, really.