Taranto: ‘How The Media Helped Make Clinton Weak’

Posted on Fri 02/12/2016 by

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TimGrahampicture-13-1409699701By Tim Graham ~

James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal posted a definitive takedown of obsequious pro-Hillary press behavior in his Wednesday “Best of the Web” column.  J.K. Trotter of the website Gawker obtained a treasure trove of e-mails from Hillary’s longtime flack Phillippe Reines, and his newest article is headlined “This is How Hillary Gets the Coverage She Wants.” 

Please recognize that everything below is an excerpt of Taranto, not analysis by the author listed above (who agrees with it wholeheartedly). 

Hillary-Iowa_0Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, Trotter discovered a July 2009 email exchange between Marc Ambinder, then a contributing editor of The Atlantic, and Philippe Reines, Mrs. Clinton’s State Department press secretary. Mrs. Clinton was planning a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Ambinder wondered if he could get an early look. “On two conditions,” Reines responded. “Ok,” said Ambinder. Reines’s reply made clear the conditions were not just about timing or sourcing:

3 [conditions] actually
1) You in your own voice describe them [sic] as “muscular”
2) You note that a look at the CFR seating plan shows that all the envoys-from Holbrooke to Mitchell to Ross-will be arrayed in front of her, which in your own clever way you can say certainly not a coincidence and meant to convey something
3) You don’t say you were blackmailed!

“Got it,” replied Ambinder. Later that day he published a story that complied with the first two conditions right at the top:

When you think of President Obama’s foreign policy, think of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That’s the message behind a muscular speech that [Mrs.] Clinton is set to deliver today to the Council on Foreign Relations. The staging gives a clue to its purpose: seated in front of [Mrs.] Clinton, subordinate to [Mrs.] Clinton, in the first row, will be three potentially rival power centers: envoys Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, and National Security Council senior director Dennis Ross.

In three responses to Trotter, Ambinder tosses up an enormous word salad: “I don’t remember much about anything. . . . The exchange is probably at best an incomplete record of what went down. That said, the transactional nature of such interactions always gave me the willies. . . . At no point at The Atlantic did I ever feel the pressure to make transactional journalism the norm.”

In sum, he complied with the third condition and did not acknowledge that he was “blackmailed” even after being caught out 6½ years later. The Atlantic cooperated, too, appending this cryptic note atop Ambinder’s 2009 piece: “On February 9, 2016, Gawker called the reporting of this post into question. It is The Atlantic‘s policy never to cede to sources editorial control of the content of our stories.”

At least two other journalists covered the speech in ways consistent with the conditions Reines imposed on Ambinder. Mike Allen of Politico:

In a muscular first major address as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton warns adversaries on Wednesday that they “should never see America’s willingness to talk as a sign of weakness to be exploited.” . . .

A look at the CFR’s guest seating chart shows that arrayed in the front row will be top members of her team-the envoys she has called her “force multipliers”: Richard Holbrooke, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross, Philip Goldberg and Stephen Bosworth.

And the New York Times‘s Mark Landler, writing after the speech (credit to former blogger Morgen Richmond for the find):

With its muscular tone and sweeping scope, it was . . . an effort to recapture the limelight after a period in which Mrs. Clinton has nursed both a broken elbow and the perception that the State Department has lost influence to an assertive White House. . . .

She even marshaled a cheering section of special envoys and other senior American diplomats in the first few rows at the Council on Foreign Relations. . . .

A few weeks ago, a senior administration official said, Mr. Obama telephoned Mrs. Clinton to inform her he was moving the State Department’s top Iran adviser, Dennis B. Ross, to a job in the White House.

Mr. Ross will offer advice on a range of issues, from the Middle East to Afghanistan. That, some officials said, could cause him to rub up against George J. Mitchell, the special envoy for the Middle East, and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who report to both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.

We should emphasize that while Ambinder clearly crossed an ethical red line in taking dictation from a source, there is no evidence that Landler or (at least in this case) Allen did anything of the sort. It’s possible they thought of the “muscular” cliché unbidden, and it’s highly plausible that they received talking points from Reines without any strings attached.

But even that latter possibility would illustrate the broader point we’d like to make here-the one that goes to Mrs. Clinton’s weakness as a candidate. She has long been coddled by journalists awed by her proximity to power and her status as a “feminist icon” and bête noire of conservatives. (A 2010 email from Ambinder to Reines, quoted by Trotter in the same piece: “This is an awesome presser . . . She is PITCH f#$*& PERFECT on this stuff.”)

In his much-discussed Politico essay last month on Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson touched on the point:

The main reason Trump could win is because he’s the only candidate hard enough to call Hillary’s bluff. Republicans will say almost anything about Hillary, but almost none challenge her basic competence. She may be evil, but she’s tough and accomplished. This we know, all of us.

But do we? Or is this understanding of Hillary just another piety we repeat out of unthinking habit, the political equivalent of, “you can be whatever you want to be,” or “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? Trump doesn’t think Hillary is impressive and strong. He sees her as brittle and afraid.

Even that now looks like an overestimation of Mrs. Clinton’s strength. Her luxuriant treatment by friendly journalists and other establishment figures has caused a progressive wasting of whatever political muscle she had developed, so that even a 98-pound weakling like Bernie Sanders may prove to be a match for her.

As for Trump, he easily won the Republican primary, matching his polls, possibly exceeding 35%, finishing some 20 points ahead of second-place John Kasich, and leaving the GOP at least as unsettled as the Democrats.

Journalists and political professionals have long regarded Trump as inevitable, like Mrs. Clinton-only in the opposite direction: She was certain to be the nominee; he was certain to fade or self-destruct. (Disclosure: This columnist shared the latter assumption until two or three months ago.) He has proved stronger than expected in part because the expectations were so low-and in part because, again in contrast with Mrs. Clinton, the hostility of the media has afforded him ample opportunity to build his strength.

Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters. He is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.

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