Columbia Journalism Review

The Press vs. HRC (Habitually Peeved)

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, June 14, 2015. (Detail of photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Failed Republican congressional candidate Charles S. Faddis is apparently a former CIA officer with no real talent for observation.

It wasn’t until much later in the day that the pneumonia diagnosis was released by the campaign. But, even that information doesn’t completely answer all questions. Clinton and her supporters have dismissed such questions about her health and her stamina as the stuff of conspiracy theorists for years. That cover story may have just gone up in smoke.

One of the under-… er … ah … underappreciated? undernoticed? underdiscussesd? … ―you know, skip underwhatnot; how about seemingly necessarily utterly ignored?―aspects of the 2016 cycle is the overturning of political norms in general. While we all marvel at Donald Trump’s political incontinence, it is easy enough to miss.

Steve Benen considered a question of transparency:

The criticisms of the campaign’s handling of this matter have merit. Clinton and her team learned of the pneumonia diagnosis on Friday, and rather than sharing that information, they kept it under wraps. Had the Democratic candidate not been seen struggling in New York yesterday, it’s hard to say when, if ever, the campaign would have disclosed the infection.

Indeed, keep in mind that Clinton travels with pool reporters who cover her every move in public. Journalists were understandably peeved yesterday when Clinton and her team left yesterday morning’s event yesterday, leaving these reporters behind without explanation.

Trump, however, is so secretive, he’s the first presidential nominee in recent memory not to travel with any pool reporters at all.

We must bear in mind that part of the reason it is understandable that the Clinton press corps―which, being the press, already loathes her generally out of habit after a quarter-century of hounding her for the sake of right-wing conspiracy theories―is peeved at being left behind without explanation is that, being the press, they are accustomed to being handed the story in easily regurgitated bites. But for actually being noticed, the campaign would not have disclosed the infection, and there is exactly nothing extraordinary about this, regardless of the press corps’ hissy fits.

Nigh on a quarter century after the national media’s hate affair with the Clinton family began, it’s weird to think that the Fourth Estate needs to report around what the rest of us can see quite clearly: Much of what we are to consider the strange way the Clintons deal with the press has to do with the press itself; the appearance of statements calculated to a strange, unreal for representing an average, line of best fit is just about the only way to navigate the not entirely arbitraryα obstacle course established by when and how the press decides what is or not its jobβ. In the end, it seems odd that the press should pretend to be peeved that Hillary Clinton’s political operation isn’t going out of their way to fawn over reporters.

We might, then, turn to an actual doctor, such as Jen Gunter, who summarized:

Mrs. Clinton felt faint. It was dealt with appropriately. It looked dramatic, but it’s ok.

And so is she.

The crude joke to express Mr. Faddis’ argument is that a blind man will, if he throws enough darts, eventually hit the bull’s eye. After a quarter century, it’s likely that someone might suggest something about someone else’s health, and that other happen to be ill. All told, Mr. Faddis’ credulity suggests he was as bad a CIA agent as he was a Republican congressional candidate.

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α That is to say, petulant, self-centered, and vicious.

β As the estimable Jim Lehrer once answered the question of fact-checking during an interview, “I would never do that. That’s not my function to do that.” Or, as Rob Corddry explained over a decade ago: “Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.”

Image note: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, June 14, 2015. (Detail of photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “Clinton camp ‘could have done better’ disclosing pneumonia”. msnbc. 12 September 2016.

Corddry Rob and Jon Stewart. “Kerry Controversy”. The Daily Show. 23 August 2004.

Cox Barrett, Liz. “Jim Lehrer on Billy Bob, Reports of Rain and Stenography As Journalism”. Columbia Journalism Review. 2 June 2006.

Faddis, Charles S. “Hillary: The pneumonia diagnosis doesn’t answer everything”. The Hill. 12 September 2016.

Gunter, Jen. “Yes, Hillary almost fainted: I’m a doctor and it’s really OK”. The Hill. 12 September 2016.

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Cowardice, Hypocrisy, and Lies, or, Your Republican Party

Dr. Vivek Murthy, nominated by President Obama to serve as Surgeon General, cannot get a vote in the Senate.

Congress knows more than doctors can about the healthful ways of man?

It’s the old joke, again: How do you know when a Congressman is lying? His lips are moving.

Follow the bouncing Benen:

Last week, as public anxiety over Ebola grew, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) issued a statement demanding that the White House withdraw Dr. Vivek Murthy’s nomination to be Surgeon General. “Now more than ever, our nation needs to have an experienced and effective Surgeon General to help coordinate the government’s Ebola strategy,” the GOP senator argued. “It has been clear for almost a year that the president’s nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is not the right person for this consequential job.

Except, it’s not “clear” at all.” Congressional Republicans seem to agree that it’s in the nation’s interests to have a Surgeon General, but they don’t want to take responsibility for derailing a qualified nominee. On the contrary, they now seem eager to blame President Obama for their knee-jerk obstructionism.

It really is this simple: The NRA does not like Dr. Vivek Murthy because he is among an overwhelming majority of doctors over 90%—who believe firearm violence presents a public health issue. Therefore, because the NRA disdains Dr. Murthy, he must not be properly qualified.

The Republican response has been about as predicted: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has a hold against Murthy’s nomination.

This weekend, Chuck Todd even went so far as to inquire of Sen. Roy Blunt about the holds. Benen notes the Missouri Republican’s attempt to blame President Obama:

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, for example, Chuck Todd asked Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) about the vacancy in the Surgeon General’s office. “This seems to be politics,” the host noted. “The NRA said they were going to score the vote, and suddenly everybody’s frozen. That seems a little petty in hindsight, does it not?”

Blunt replied, “Well, you know, if the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly, then we should confirm them.”

See what he did, there? If only President Obama would nominate a qualified nominee ....

Except, of course, for the obvious. He already has.

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The Journalistic Effort to Draft Mitt

The media effort to draft Mitt Romney for a third presidential campaign continues, with Steve Holland of Reuters undertaking the latest effort to argue that the former Massachusetts governor will run because, well, we just can’t believe the words coming out of his mouth:

Romney associates say he is flattered by the attention and believes he would have done a better job if he had defeated the Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama in 2012 when he was the Republican nominee.

ReutersBut Romney typically insists in public that he is not going to run for a third time after losses in 2008 and 2012.

“I’m not running and I’m not planning on running. I’ve got nothing to add to that story,” he told supporters during a stop this week at Atlanta’s Varsity restaurant, where he had a hot dog and onion rings, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.

Still, friends and former aides say, he could seek the nomination if a series of events plays out in his favor, chiefly that no single powerhouse emerges from what is expected to be a crowded field of Republicans vying for the party’s nod.

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A Reminder: Beltway Scandal IRS Edition

Lois Lerner

Bearing in mind that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, or any number of other proverbs suggesting at once the merit of and annoyance caused by speaking out, and recalling that in normal cases the question is not so much liberal or conservative news media bias as it is a preference toward advert revenues, one might not be surprised, then, to learn how much of the bluster and noise coming from Congress is actually nothing more than hot, rancid vapor.

Or perhaps that is the wrong way to express it; even those who presume the national political discourse so broken as to hold themselves aloof generally also presuppose a tremendous amount of putrid hot air in the Beltway chatter.

Still, though, something seems amiss. It is one thing for pundits and bloggers to argue about the editorial points of a story, but the number of times some find themselves wondering about the alleged factual coverage is itself striking. Consider Steve Benen’s note on the Scandal of the Week:

It started with an Associated Press headline that wasn’t true: “Emails: IRS Official Sought Audit of GOP Senator.” From there, conservative and mainstream media outlets went berserk on Wednesday, reporting that former IRS official Lois Lerner tried to audit Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as part of some kind of partisan vendetta.

“Lerner Asked IRS to Audit Republican Senator,” one headline read. “Lerner Set IRS Sights on Sen. Grassley,” said another. A third abandoned subtlety altogether: “Lois Lerner’s Threats To Investigate Grassley Should Terrify You.”

All of this, it turns out, wasn’t true. The reality is unambiguous: “[Grassley] wasn’t ‘targeted’ at all. Instead, Lerner asked a colleague if it made sense to examine whether an outside group had made Grassley an inappropriate offer. Her colleague dismissed the idea, and that was the end of it.”

At least in theory, reporters, Republican officials, and conservative activists who ran with this story on Wednesday had a decision to make: they could either correct their mistake or pretend they hadn’t made the mistake.

Of course, this is the IRS “scandal,” which naturally led conservatives to choose Door #3: keep repeating the inaccuracy as if it were true.

But it is also important to remember that in reporting these merry tales of politics, it is not the journalists’ job to actually consider whether the facts they are reporting are true. As such, it is occasionally worth a moment to actually pause and sniff the excrement, tally up the morbid score, and figure out just where the political discourse actually is compared to reality.

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As the estimable Jim Lehrer once expressed, “I would never do that. That’s not my function to do that.” Or, as Rob Corddry explained nearly a decade ago: “Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.”

Benen, Steve. “Repeating a falsehood doesn’t make it true”. msnbc. 27 June 2014.

Cox Barrett, Liz. “Jim Lehrer on Billy Bob, Reports of Rain and Stenography As Journalism”. Columbia Journalism Review. 2 June 2006

Corddry Rob and Jon Stewart. “Kerry Controversy”. The Daily Show. 23 August 2004.