Complicit NYT Scolds Clinton and Supporters to Get Over It

During the lead-up to the 2016 election, many commentators critiqued the mainstream media's tendency to frame Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as equally-bad candidates. Given Trump's negatives, such a framing was wildly inaccurate.

At Media Matters, for instance, Carloz Maza, Dayanita Ramesh, and John Kerr warned in October 2016 that while such framing might have been appropriate in more conventional elections, it was inappropriate in this one. While noting that Clinton was not a flawless candidate, they observed that:
"Trump, on the other hand, represents a dramatic break from mainstream American politics. He threatens the First Amendment, demonizes minority groups, cozies up to white supremacists, championed the birther movement, invites Russian interference in the election, promises to arrest his political opponent, lies constantly, lacks the most basic interest in and knowledge of public policy, says he may not accept the results of the election because he believes it to be 'rigged' -- the list goes on and on."
One of the key means through which the media constructed the false equivalence between a walking Breitbart comment section and an experienced, competent public servant was through its singular obsession with reporting on Hillary Clinton's email server. In a piece published at Shareblue on October 28, 2016, Peter Daou observed:
"Our team went back and looked at coverage since the story broke in March, 2015. We found that the emails have been mentioned in the major news media virtually every single day since then, 600 in total. This exceeds coverage of Watergate, Mitt Romney’s 47% comment, Kerry’s swiftboating, Donald Trump’s countless transgressions, and every other major political story of the modern era."
Even for voters who might have approached the election with good faith open-mindedness, the sheer frequency with which the media covered "the server" implied that the issue was comparable in severity to, if not worse than, Trump's many flaws. For those already primed by misogyny or decades of smears against Hillary Clinton, it confirmed their already-held biases and suspicions about her. In their eyes, Clinton was no better than Trump.

Flash forward to May 3, 2017. Trump has been in office for almost four months. Nate Silver has laid out a cogent case for what helped him get there:
"Hillary Clinton would probably be president if FBI Director James Comey had not sent a letter to Congress on Oct. 28. The letter, which said the FBI had 'learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation' into the private email server that Clinton used as secretary of state, upended the news cycle and soon halved Clinton’s lead in the polls, imperiling her position in the Electoral College."
Acknowledging that Comey's letter isn't the only reason for the election outcome, Silver further observed, "Few news organizations gave the story more velocity than The New York Times." Although the contents of the Comey letter were a big nothing-burger, Silver noted that the following was the newspaper of record's front page the day after its release:

All three articles above the fold were dedicated to the Comey letter, one of which included a headline quote of Trump claiming that the "revelation" "changes everything." This "revelation," mind you, came less than two weeks before the general election.

So, it wasn't just the release of the letter that was likely, in part, responsible for the election outcome, it was also the media hype about the letter.

And now? "The emails" have, with the benefit hindsight, become a meme. Usually, it's some variation on how Trump is now in a position to do very bad things in large part because of the media's non-stop, breathless reports about Hillary Clinton's email server. Yet, although they're memes, more than a tinge of weariness and justified anger drives them.

For one, investigations have found Clinton guilty of no criminal wrongdoing regarding this matter that the press kept jamming in our faces. Two, despite Trump still regularly leading rallies at which his supporters chant "lock her up," a chant partly based on "the emails," his own team's handling of sensitive information has been questioned multiple times already in his brief tenure, with no comparable level of media coverage.

Three, despite it being conceivable that the NYT saw a national security interest in running so many stories about Clinton's email server and Comey's letter, we must also remember that this same publication acted, by its own journalists' admission, as a "de facto instrument of Russian intelligence" during the 2016 election by uncritically citing emails that Russian agents had hacked from the DNC and John Podesta.

With that backdrop in mind,  you can imagine my lack of surprise that a NYT editorial this past weekend continued the both-sides-are-just-as-bad framing. I'm not linking to it, but it's easy enough to find. It ran on May 6, 2017, and is entitled, "Two Presidential Candidates Stuck In Time." It begins with a scold:
"Six months on, both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are still waging last year's campaign, undermining their promises to help America heal."
After noting Trump's past four months of pathetic incompetence and need to keep re-living his big win, they note that last week at a women's event, Clinton referred to Trump as "my opponent," suggested that setting foreign policy via tweet was not a great strategy, and referenced the investigation Trump is under for potentially colluding with foreign agents in the 2016 election.

In these activities, the implicit conclusion is that Trump and Clinton are equally at fault for large segments of the populace being unable to get over the results of the election. And then, a grand finale:
"As Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton bait each other, their supporters light up social media, re-litigating old disputes and attacking one another, too. What's the point?"
I find this editorial deeply suspect and alarming.

I imagine the NYT Editorial Board would now very much like us to get over the election. I imagine they might also very much like it if they could successfully frame an ongoing investigation into election interference as a "re-litigation" of "old disputes," and have us overlook the pesky fact that something first has to have been litigated in the first place to have been re-litigated.

One year ago, Melissa wrote a warning that the future of the nation depended on the media changing its approach to covering Trump, as the corporate media regularly engaged in misogynistic tropes with respect to Clinton while treating Trump like an entertaining "character."  Even as its members repeatedly command Clinton supporters to have empathy for Trump supporters, the white male liberal bubble lacks empathy for Clinton supporters. And because of that, they fail to comprehend that the driving forces of the anti-Trump resistance are disillusionment with white-male-dominated establishments, including a media system that consistently fails women and people of color.

You see, I do not have the privilege of naive trust that the systems, media companies, and processes established centuries ago by flawed white men will somehow not fail us in this moment. As our nation's opinion-makers continue to be predominately white and male, it is incontestable that a small segment of the population's limited perspectives, implicit and explicit biases, and "givens" about the world continue to shape national narratives far beyond what their competence warrants, having untold, far-reaching consequences.

I refuse to "get over" the election because, like Melissa, "I manifestly refuse to indulge the corporate media's urge to whitewash what happened during the election; to participate in the institutional forgetting that is central to normalizing the Trump presidency." One does not simply "get over" a racist, incompetent, unqualified, admitted sexual predator who "won" under questionable circumstances over a qualified woman.

Our refusal to "get over it" is a rational response to a dangerous situation. Our ongoing critiques of the establishment press are a rational response to its consistent failures and abdication of all responsibility for helping to usher in this dangerous situation.

I push back hard on this NYT editorial because I refuse to normalize this continued false equivalence between Trump and Clinton, because normalizing it ensures that it will happen again, albeit perhaps next time with a new cast of characters.

Donald Trump is a head of state, part of whose job is to the heal the nation, but instead he incessantly brags about his win in a deeply painful election, continues to advocate for the imprisonment of the only woman in our nation's history to have come so close, and who repeatedly calls established publications—including the NYT—"fake news."

That the NYT would suggest it is Hillary Clinton's responsibility, as a private citizen, to now take on the emotional labor of helping to heal the nation under this set of monstrously-fucked up circumstances is a hellacious way for the newspaper of record to use its platform.

In light of this situation, here is my urgent plea to the media establishment: Keep your eye on the fucking ball. It would behoove us all if you finally learned to appreciate the finer distinctions between a woman recounting facts and a head of state talking like a despot.

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