2016 election, ABC News, Bernie Sanders, CBS News, CNN, Donald Trump, Establishment Media, Hillary Clinton, Im-Politic, Mainstream Media, media, MSNBC, NBC News, NPR, PBS, The Intercept, The New York Times, Washington Post, Wikileaks
The word “surrogate” is defined in dictionaries as “a substitute, especially a person deputizing for another in a specific role or office.” Now thanks to the Wikileaks disclosures of internal emails and other strategy documents from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, we know that the Democratic candidate and her operatives believed that many members of the Mainstream Media fit that description for her upcoming White House race as well.
According to a memo released by Wikileaks on Friday, and first reported (to my knowledge) on The Intercept website, the list of journalists viewed by the Clinton-ites as reliable conveyors of her message included numerous opinion journalists whose liberal leanings are no secret. Examples include E.J. Dionne, Ruth Marcus, Dana Milbank, and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post; and David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, and Gail Collins of The New York Times.
There’s nothing wrong in principle with their presence. There’s no evidence so far that any of them offered their services to the campaign either voluntarily or in response to a request. And unless material comes out indicating active collusion, although surely most are bristling at the suggestion that they’ve been in the tank for anyone in politics, none of these pundits has any control over how they’re viewed by politicians.
But the Clinton characterization of other list members is much more troubling. Dan Balz of the Post isn’t exactly a pure-play columnist – presumably that’s why his employer doesn’t place his pieces on the op-ed page. But his “news analyses” are supposed to occupy some middle ground between opinion and hard news. That concept isn’t necessarily illegitimate. But maybe the Post could clue its readers in on how it views the relevant distinctions, so they could make up their own minds as to how to view these articles?
Another category of listees is problematic, too, but maybe a little less so, since Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Mathews host talk shows on a cable network (MSNBC) that doesn’t try very hard to hide its partisanship. (Similar criticisms of course can be leveled at many of their counterparts on Fox News.)
Major problems, however, surround the inclusion of news show hosts and anchors who do style themselves as objective journalists. For reasons, I described yesterday, no one should be surprised that ABC News Sunday talk show host George Stephanopoulos is viewed as a Clinton surrogate. But his CBS counterpart John Dickerson? Wolf Blitzer of CNN? Charlie Rose, who does double duty at CBS and PBS?
And scariest of all is the number of listed journalists who present themselves as completely objective beat reporters, like Jonathan Karl of ABC News, Jon King and Jeff Zeleny of CNN, Mara Liasson of NPR, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, and Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post. Moreover, in another memo, the New York Times‘ Maggie Haberman was described as an especially “friendly journalist” who has “never disappointed” the Clinton team with her performance after their promptings.
Since this material dates from spring, 2015, it’s of course nothing more than speculation (however plausible) to venture that Clinton’s operatives have viewed these same journalists as trusted allies in the campaign against her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. (He didn’t declare his candidacy until June.) But the timing is revealing nonetheless because by April, Clinton’s main rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, had thrown his hat into the ring, and it was clear by then that many voters in the party’s left wing were recoiling at the prospect of Clinton as liberalism’s standard-bearer.
As a result, these memos add to the case that much of the national press corps has seen its real mission not as reporting events as objectively as possible, or even as fronting for Democrats, but as defending a center-left status quo against populist challengers of all stripes. Certainly Sanders and many of his backers count themselves as victims.
Fortunately, the only silver lining in this picture is a bright one: Americans’ trust in the mass media to give them the straight news dope is at an all-time low, at least according to Gallup. Undoubtedly that’s a big reason why the establishment media’s finances show signs of weakening across the board. If money really does talk in the ranks of these profit-seeking enterprises, mounting business pressures could push them back to their more responsible roots. Or the Mainstream Media’s owners could arrogantly decide to go down with their ships – in which case the big question will be whether investors more devoted to quality journalism will recognize the vacuum they’ve left.