Sunday, November 06, 2016

"The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign" (Matthew Yglesias)

If we wind up electing a dangerous and manifestly unfit authoritarian xenophobic demagogue—who also happens to be a shameless pathological liar with a flamboyantly corrupt and sleazy record as an entrepreneur and entertainment figure—to be President of the United States, one factor contributing to that outcome will be the impact of an endlessly ramifying pseudo-scandal concerning Hillary Clinton's use of a non-governmental e-mail server while she was Secretary of State.  As Matt Yglesias and others have noted, "In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined."

Although most people have only a vague grasp of what this whole business is supposed to be about, many of them—including otherwise informed and intelligent people who lean both to the right and to the left—have the impression that this is somehow a Very Big Deal.  That is, they think that Clinton didn't just make a politically unfortunate but substantively not very important error of judgment, acting in ways that weren't very different from practices by other public officials in other administrations, but committed an exceptionally serious or even criminal offense.

But people who feel that way are wrong.  They've been conned.  In reality, "Emailgate" is a fundamentally bogus pseudo-scandal that has gotten blown grotesquely out of proportion, cynically and effectively, by a combination of Republican Congressional witch-hunters and the larger right-wing propaganda machinery, abetted by a remarkably gullible and easily manipulated mainstream media.

=>  Since this pseudo-scandal has so thoroughly distorted and poisoned the 2016 presidential election campaign, and since the right-wing attack machine will certainly keep pushing it after November 8 if Clinton is elected president (along with other phony Clinton "scandals"), it is important to understand that this is, indeed, a bogus and over-hyped pseudo-scandal.  If you're not sure whether "emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit", and even if you are, I strongly recommend reading this usefully clarifying—and justifiably irate—analysis by Matthew Yglesias.  Titles and headlines are sometimes misleading, but this one is very much on-target:

"The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign"

Some highlights:
[E]mail-related talk has dogged Clinton throughout the election and it has influenced public perceptions of her in an overwhelmingly negative way. July polling showed 56 percent of Americans believed Clinton broke the law by relying on a personal email address with another 36 percent piling on to say the episode showed “bad judgments” albeit not criminality.

Because Clinton herself apologized for it and because it does not appear to be in any way important, Clinton allies, surrogates, and co-partisans have largely not familiarized themselves with the details of the matter, instead saying vaguely that it was an error of judgment and she apologized and America has bigger fish to fry.

This has had the effect of further inscribing and reinscribing the notion that Clinton did something wrong, meaning that every bit of micro-news that puts the scandal back on cable amounts to reminding people of something bad that Clinton did. In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined.

This is unfortunate because emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit. The real scandal here is the way a story that was at best of modest significance came to dominate the US presidential election — overwhelming stories of much more importance, giving the American people a completely skewed impression of one of the two nominees, and creating space for the FBI to intervene in the election in favor of its apparently preferred candidate in a dangerous way. [....]
The following point is so bizarre, and so telling, that Yglesias reiterates it at the beginning of his concluding section:
Network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined. Cable news has been, if anything, worse, and many prestige outlets have joined the pileup. One malign result of obsessive email coverage is that the public is left totally unaware of the policy stakes in the election. Another is that the constant vague recitations of the phrase ‘‘Clinton email scandal’’ have firmly implanted the notion that there is something scandalous about anything involving Hillary Clinton and email, including her campaign manager getting hacked or the revelation that one of her aides sometimes checked mail on her husband’s computer.

But none of this is true. Clinton broke no laws according to the FBI itself. Her setup gave her no power to evade federal transparency laws beyond what anyone who has a personal email account of any kind has. Her stated explanation for her conduct is entirely believable, fits the facts perfectly, and is entirely plausible to anyone who doesn't simply start with the assumption that she's guilty of something.

Given [Colin] Powell’s conduct, Clinton wasn't even breaking with an informal precedent. The very worst you can say is that, faced with an annoying government IT policy, she used her stature to find a personal workaround rather than a systemic fix that would work for everyone. To spend so much time on such a trivial matter would be absurd in a city council race, much less a presidential election. To do so in circumstances when it advances the electoral prospects of a rival who has shattered all precedents in terms of lacking transparency or basic honesty is infinitely more scandalous than anything related to the server itself.
But read the whole thing.  And if you read just one piece about "Emailgate", be sure to read this one.

—Jeff Weintraub

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