Page 16 and 649 words. That’s how The New York Times treated the recent news that a years-long State Department investigation concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information via emails sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private server while she was secretary of state. The Times covered that story regarding a seminal event from the 2016 campaign by publishing a single, brief article buried deep inside its A-section last Saturday. It was almost like the Times newsroom was telling readers, “Nothing to see here, folks.”
The Times was hardly alone in aggressively downplaying the State Department’s conclusion. Most of the press treated the latest Clinton absolution as nothing more than a passing footnote, giving the news little or no coverage (the word “emails,” for instance, was never mentioned on Sunday’s Meet the Press, or ABC’s This Week. Recall however, that during the final stretch before the 2016 campaign, the Times famously crammed three separate Clinton email stories onto its front page on the same day, signaling to readers that the story had reached epic, blockbuster proportions.
Today the topic, and the clearing of Clinton, is of little concern to the New York daily that likely churned out hundreds of thousands of words on the email topic in 2015 and 2016. Indeed, when the email story first broke in March 2015, the Beltway media’s response resembled barely controlled hysteria. For example, Times columnist Frank Bruni wondered if the revelation meant Clinton had a secret political “death wish.”
Just as important today is how the press is washing its hands of the media malpractice from 2016 and pretending news outlets played no role in helping the GOP market its email smear campaign for 18 months. That campaign consisted of phony Republican allegations that have now been relegated to the trashcan of history.
But before the trash gets taken out, it’s worth reflecting on what happened, especially as the 2020 campaign season ramps up and the GOP readies its next round of smear campaigns. The sustained attacks that will only work if the Beltway press signs on as a co-sponsor, the way it did with the bogus email charade in 2016.