Did you catch the important news story about Hillary Clinton the other day? I’m guessing you missed it, because it was buried beneath the latest bombshells about the Russia-abetted grifter who barely beat her. Indeed, if you happened to see the print version of The New York Times, the story was inexplicably consigned to page 16:
“A years-long State Department investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server found that ... there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information.”
Let’s repeat that conclusion, this time by quoting the report released by Trump’s State Department:
“There was no persuasive evidence of systematic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”
Gee, whattaya know. The fake scandal ginned up by candidate Trump and amplified by a complicit mainstream media turns out to be a nutrition-free nothingburger. Too bad the hyperbolic brouhaha about her private server tilted the 2016 election to an aspiring authoritarian who vandalizes the Constitution and sells out America to its enemies. Compared to Trump’s impeachable acts, what Hillary did was tantamount to jay-walking in traffic.
The lesson for the mainstream media, a lesson that by now should be obvious, is that false equivalence is a crime against fact.
Candidate Trump’s sordid past — his mob ties, his multiple bankruptcies, his financial dependence on Russia, his stiffing of small contractors — got a fraction of the media coverage that Hillary’s emails received. By the late summer of 2016, that’s basically what most Americans “knew” about her — the vague unfounded suspicion that she might be a risk to national security.
That suspicion, preposterous back then, looks especially so now thanks to a new report by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. The report documents the Kremlin’s systematic 2016 campaign to get Trump elected, a campaign so successful that Russian operatives literally drank champagne on election night. And they’re still celebrating. Trump’s military retreat from Syria is a boost for Russia, according to Russia. As one Moscow commentator wrote this week, “Putin won the lottery!”
It’s weird that Trump assails reporters as “enemies of the people,” because he arguably owes his ascent to their obsession with Hillary’s emails. For most of 2015 and 2016, they covered the “story” relentlessly, despite the dearth of actual evidence she’d breached national security. Most of the time, the nothingburger was stuffed with fillers like “Questions are being raised.” This was a typical New York Times paragraph in August 2015: “But the email account and its confusing reverberations have become a significant early chapter in the 2016 presidential race and a new stroke in the portrait of the Democrats’ leading candidate.”
Even last Friday, while reporting on Hillary’s exoneration (and burying the story), The Times wrote that the State Department report “appears to bookend a controversy that dogged Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.” Oh please. She was “dogged” by the “controversy” precisely because the press saw it as “a new stroke in the portrait.”
One commentator, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin of CNN, has at least copped to his complicity. Bravo to him. On the air Monday, he discussed the exoneration and said: “This is also a story about the news media, about how much time we spent on (Hillary’s emails) and that’s something that I have felt a great deal of responsibility for, because I talked about the emails here at CNN. I wrote about it in The New Yorker, and I think I paid too much attention to them, and I regret that, and I hope a lesson is learned.”
We’ll see about that. Eying 2020, Trump is already running the same false-equivalence playbook. He’s trying to sucker the media and citizenry into believing that the Biden family’s so-called “corruption” is worse or no worse than his own.
Hillary’s exoneration should be a wake-up call. Shame on this benighted nation if we sanction a second con.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia and a “writer in residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at email@example.com.