Will hunger for a scoop taint journalism on Clinton Cash?
In the year and a half until Election Day 2016, we’re sure to hear a lot of dirt from the right about Hillary Rodham Clinton. And many media outlets will claim that they have an “exclusive” story about the dirt.
The latest example is a new book coming out May 5 from HarperCollins Publishers by conservative dirt-digger Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. The dirt will be fodder for conservatives, and the author is making sure that he and the book get as much exposure as possible by reaching “exclusive” deals with several news outlets at once.
What’s really happening is that media outlets are once again getting played.
The New York Times reported that it, the Washington Post, and Fox News all had “exclusive arrangements” with Schweizer to “pursue story lines in the book.” Fox retorted that it had “exclusive” television rights — apparently we can expect an hour-long documentary and much more. The Washington Post claimed that, although it had advance access to some material from Schweizer, the paper was pursuing its own reporting.
In all the years I spent working on newspapers, an “exclusive” meant just that: You were the only paper that had the story. It was a journalistic coup. One of the dictionary definitions of “exclusive” is: “a newspaper story at first released to or printed by only one newspaper.” And here we have three “exclusives.” But that’s not all!
Schweizer, who reportedly has a questionable reputation for accuracy, is peddling his dirt in advance to boost book sales. One declared Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, hinted that he had access to the book and that it contains “unseemly” and “troubling revelations” about Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. A story in The New York Times said the book’s “contents have already made their way into several of the Republican presidential candidates’ campaigns” and that “members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee … have been briefed on the book’s findings.”
The Times story gave Schweizer as much advance publicity as he could possibly want. And within a day, the story already needed a correction.
Clinton Cash is being published by HarperCollins, which is owned by NewsCorp, which is headed by Rupert Murdoch and is related to the owners of Fox News. It’s no surprise that the book will be touted on Fox 24/7. No doubt Fox executives think it will be the 2015 version of Swift-boating. We also can expect ads from right-wing super PACs, which no doubt are also the beneficiaries of Schweizer’s charges.
But we expect better of newspapers like The New York Times and the Washington Post. On the same day the Times won three Pulitzer Prizes, it also was using its advance access to Clinton Cash to scrabble together negative stories about the probable Democratic presidential nominee. I guess the tepid story about State Department emails on a personal server — a story that definitely didn’t reach scandal level — wasn’t enough.
People are going to believe or not believe Schweizer’s dirt depending on their preconceived notions of candidate Clinton and their own politics. The liberal media watchdog Media Matters has a preemptive list of how Schweizer, whom it describes as a Republican activist and consultant, has been wrong over the years. With the billions that will be spent on the 2016 election, it will be a question of which side has more money to circle the drain in an attempt to smear a candidate.
We might hope that legitimate media would do a better and more professional job of reporting about these scandals. But we would be wrong in that hope. After all, the Swift-boat charges against Democratic candidate John Kerry really had no basis, but you could never tell that from the reporting. Media outlets were more interested in reporting about the charges — thus giving them lots of publicity — with little context of why those charges were inaccurate.
There are many great lines from the classic film The Princess Bride. Here’s one of my favorites: The evil plans of Vizzini, played by Wallace Shawn, are constantly being thwarted, and he keeps claiming incredulously that the outcome was “Inconceivable!” Inigo Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin, finally tells him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News: You keep saying you have an exclusive. I do not think it means what you think it means.