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Yes, Hillary, The Media Did Help Trump Win. So Did You


Former Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is back doing what she does best: selling books. “What Happened,” her newest, doesn’t feature a question mark. It has answers. Hillary blames the FBI. She blames sexism and fake news. She blames the “godforsaken” Electoral College and the “deep currents of resentment” running through society.

She also, ironically, blames Bernie Sanders for out-promising her at every turn. She probably blames clandestine Russian mind-control laser beams for persuading tens of millions of Americans that she was nothing more than a calculating, deceptive, and insipid career politician.

And she blames the media. Political journalists, writes Hillary, “can’t bear to face their own role in helping elect Trump.” Now, hearing a Democrat argue that the institutional media wasn’t accommodating enough in helping her win an election is, I admit, a bit jarring. Support from journalists is so embedded in the Democratic Party’s strategy that any negative coverage — even something as unavoidable as writing about an unprecedented FBI investigation into a leading presidential candidate — must be quashed.

Yet Clinton’s claim happens to contain a morsel of truth, if not in the way she intended. When supporting Trump seemed advantageous, the media — not only left-leaning outlets like CNN or the Washington Post, but ratings-chasers like Joe Scarborough — did much help lift the fortunes of the soon-to-be president. This was obvious to anyone observing coverage of the primaries, but for those who need confirmation, The Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy conducted a study that found that during the year 2015, major news outlets covered Donald Trump “in a way that was unusual given his low initial polling numbers — a high volume of media coverage preceded Trump’s rise in the polls.”

A big chunk of this coverage, the report found, was positive in tone. Of course, as soon as Trump won, that tone would drastically change. It was curious happenstance, but somehow the preponderance of ugly stories regarding Trump’s past only began pouring forth after he captured the nomination. The man hadn’t changed at all. The coverage did.

While all this is true, the problem is that Hillary and her advisers were part of the same effort. “The variety of candidates is a positive here, and many of the lesser known can serve as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right,” one Clinton campaign agenda item noted. “In this scenario, we don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates, but make them more ‘Pied Piper’ candidates who actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party.” The “Pied Piper candidates” included Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump.

In fairness, some were worried that the strategy would backfire. “Right now I am petrified that Hillary is almost totally dependent on Republicans nominating Trump,” Brent Budowsky emailed John Podesta. Most, however, liked the plan. “How do we prevent [Jeb!] Bush from bettering himself/how do we maximize Trump and others?” another agenda item asked. “Bush sucked,” Neera Tanden emailed Podesta. “I’m glad Hillary is obsessed with the one candidate who would be easiest to beat : ) Besides Trump, of course.” Of course. : )

Although Jeb was a concern, most Democrats seemed to fear a candidate Marco Rubio. Not that their takes would sway many conservative voters, but it’s worth remembering that left-wing pundits played the same cynical game, which makes their histrionics today unconvincing. “Why I’m more worried about Marco Rubio than Donald Trump,” explained Vox’s Matt Yglesias. “Donald Trump Is Actually a Moderate Republican,” wrote Slate’s Jamelle Bouie. “Why Cruz is worse than Trump,” asserted The New York Times’ Paul Krugman.  “Why Liberals Should Support a Trump Republican Nomination,” was New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait’s contribution to this genre.

The major media outlets, the Clinton campaign, and liberal punditry all got what they wanted: Trump. The problem was they also got Hillary. The media did cover the FBI email and server investigation. “It was a dumb mistake,” Clinton now says. “I think it was a dumber scandal, but it hurt.” This kind of attitude speaks to the entitlement Hillary carried around with her.

Revisionists may try, but they will never alter the fact that it was Hillary, not Vlad Putin, who initially set up a secret server to circumvent transparency — most likely to conceal favor-trading related to her foundation. It was Hillary, not the media, who sent unsecured classified documents through that server, although she almost surely knew it was wrong (and almost surely intercepted by foreign powers.) It was Hillary who attempted to destroy evidence related to the server. It was her people who had “cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” Former FBI director James Comey did Hillary a huge favor by clearing her of criminal charges — something he seemed intent on doing before he had even finished looking at the evidence.

Attempting to bolster the chances of an opposing candidate who is perceived to be the weakest isn’t a unique strategy. The problem is — and I understand that many people disagree with me — that Hillary would probably have lost to virtually any Republican candidate, and probably by even larger margins. But the bigger question now is: Why did Hillary’s campaign prop up “the most dangerous White House candidate in modern history?” Seems irresponsible and selfish to put Americans is such a precarious position for personal gain. Maybe someone with access will take break from sitting Shiva and ask her.