It has become obvious in the era of Trump that mainstream media organizations see themselves as defenders of freedom and decency against the depredations of the White House — a plucky band of present-day Woodward and Bernsteins holding the powerful to account, saving democracy from dying in darkness.
It’s a convenient and flattering narrative, especially after eight years watching the media more or less allow their own partisan biases to dictate what’s newsworthy. It’s not always obvious to readers how this works, but every now and then the veil slips and we find out what reporters really think.
This week, for example, we have hundreds of Department of Justice documents provided to conservative groups Judicial Watch and the American Center for Law and Justice, which have filed lawsuits for records related to a private meeting between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton at a Phoenix airport last summer.
The documents reveal what many conservative observers noted throughout the Obama administration: the media’s reluctance to cover anything that might damage the president or the Democratic Party, to the point of ignoring what would have been considered major scandals in a Republican administration.
In this case, the DOJ documents show that reporters for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and ABC News didn’t want to cover the meeting on the tarmac between Lynch and Clinton, although it happened when Hillary Clinton was under a legal cloud. One reporter for the Times emailed a DOJ official to say he was “pressed into service to write about the questions being raised” by the meeting. A reporter for the Post emailed that although his editors “are still pretty interested” in the story, he wanted to “put it to rest.”
Emails Reveal Reporters’ Shocking Lack Of Curiosity
Can you imagine these reporters wanting to put such a story to rest if had been about Donald Trump or any other GOP leader? Me neither. Recall that at the time the Lynch-Clinton meeting took place, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was under federal investigation for her use of a private email server while serving as Obama’s secretary of State.
It’s not just that mainstream news outlets were reluctant to cover the story after conservative news organizations began reporting on it. They didn’t think twice about it when the subject first came up at a press conference in Phoenix the day after the meeting. Look at the follow-up question to Lynch’s dubious claim that she and Clinton only talked about their grandkids, golf, and Janet Reno:
Are reporters really this credulous? The head of the Justice Department had just held a secret meeting with the husband of the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, who was under FBI investigation, yet the most pressing follow-up question this reporter could come up with was a softball about whether the Phoenix police were doing a good job?
Later, another hard-hitting reporter thanks Lynch for her visit and simply asks if she is “encouraged by some of the things you saw today.” No one brings up the meeting on the tarmac again or asks Lynch if she felt it was inappropriate, coming just months before the presidential election and mere weeks before Clinton’s nomination to be the Democratic candidate.
The Lynch-Clinton Meeting Was A Big Story
Reporters are often skeptical of things Republicans say, with good reason. But here we see them accepting at face value that Lynch just happened to cross paths with her old friend Bill Clinton while his wife was under investigation.
We now know that this was the meeting that prompted former FBI director James Comey to speak publically about the email investigation. He felt that the Justice Department had compromised its credibility in the matter, as indeed it had. Comey said that was why he took the unprecedented step of publicly announcing last July that the FBI had concluded its investigation and, although Clinton had been reckless in her use of a private email server, “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a criminal case against her.
We also know, based on Comey’s testimony before a Senate committee in June, that Lynch had instructed him not to refer to the Clinton email investigation as an investigation but to call it a “matter.” Comey complied, but told senators that the request “concerned me because that language tracked with how the [Clinton] campaign was talking about how the FBI was doing its work.” He said it gave him a “queasy feeling” but concluded that, “This isn’t a hill worth dying on, and so I just said, ‘Okay.’”
Now, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are asking for an investigation of how the Clinton email scandal was handled, including how Comey managed the case. Such an investigation is indeed warranted because it’s probably the only way we’ll ever know what happened, especially since the media is determined not to cover the story.
Media Routinely Ignore Stories That Don’t Confirm Their Biases
We’ve seen this sort of thing before. The media not only didn’t want to cover the Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal back in 2013, but it showed little interest in revelations last summer that the FBI knew the IRS was targeting conservative groups applying for nonprofit status in 2011 — two years before Congress and the public learned of the agency’s misconduct. Obama’s Justice Department simply sat on that information and chose not to act.
After congressional hearings and a vote to censure IRS official Lois Lerner, the head of the tax-exempt division at the heart of the scandal, the Department of Justice announced in 2015 that the administration would not bring charges against Lerner or anyone else, saying it found “no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt or other inappropriate motive.” Throughout the scandal, the media dismissed it as a “scam” and attempted to draw false equivalences to IRS scrutiny of liberal groups.
More recently, we’ve heard almost nothing from national news outlets about the case of Imran Awan, the congressional information technology staffer arrested July 24 while attempting to board a flight to Pakistan. Awan had been in the employ of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as well as other top House Democrats. He was arrested on charges of bank fraud after wiring $283,000 to Pakistan. Wasserman Schultz continued to employ Awan even after police told her he was the target of a criminal investigation into cybersecurity issues.
As a congressional IT staffer, Awan had access to emails and files of dozens of members of Congress, as well as the password to the iPad that Wasserman Schultz used for Democratic National Committee business before she was forced to resign in July 2016. In March, Awan’s wife and children abruptly left the country. She had $12,400 cash in her suitcase.
The media is not interested in any of this. As Kim Strassel noted last week, the story was dismissed by The New York Times as an “overblown Washington story, typical of midsummer.” Slate referred to it last week as a “conservative media story.”
A recent fawning profile of The New York Times and The Washington Post in Vanity Fair captures the media’s mood perfectly: Trump, being a kind of supervillain in the mind of the news media, has supposedly made good old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism great again. But as my colleague Mary Katharine Ham noted last week, “In a business that’s supposed to be driven by the pursuit of knowledge, there is a stunning scarcity of self-awareness.”
So don’t expect a mea culpa from the Post or the Times over this latest batch of emails showing their reporters’ laziness and bias. After all, as far as they’re concerned the whole thing was a non-story. Lynch and Clinton were just two old friends catching up on the tarmac, talking about their grandkids. Nothing to see here, move along.