Bombshells! An abridged list of the year's worst political journalism


As I recently wrote in the New York Observer, this year’s disgraceful political campaign has been outdone in awfulness only by the political coverage of it. We’re used to cable news networks being surrogates for their preferred candidates so it’s no surprise to see Sean Hannity of Fox lying on behalf of Trump or Rachel Maddow reading off the latest Clinton campaign press release. But this year the print media has been just as bad, with mainstream outlets turning themselves into propaganda vehicles as well.

It’s been apparent during the general election that most media outlets are openly in the Hillary camp — she’s been endorsed by 57 newspapers and he only two — and the vast majority of reporters clearly are as well. Trump certainly deserves a lot of the negative coverage he has received, but he and his supporters are right to be furious about the campaign reporting (which became especially demented during the past month, when it looked like he might actually win).

In one of many bogus stories — and a rare one that was at least corrected, after it became accepted as fact — the media mob savaged Trump for days because he reportedly said veterans suffering from PTSD were “weak” and “can’t handle” military service. He said nothing of the sort.

Meanwhile, the Trump Foundation has been properly savaged while the Clinton Foundation — which is larger by orders of magnitude, has a global scope, and received huge donations from contributors with business before the federal government when Hillary was secretary of state — has gotten off relatively lightly.

Anyway, I am sick to death of this election and can’t wait for it to end, but at this point there’s really nothing to do but drink copiously and await for the results. So today I’m going to run a very unscientific list of the campaign’s five worst political stories.

5/ “Hillary Clinton’s Emailgate Is an Attack on Women,” by Robin Lakoff in Time.

“Can you imagine this happening to a man? Clinton is guilty of SWF (Speaking While Female), and emailgate is just a reminder to us all that she has no business doing what she’s doing and must be punished, for the sake of all decent women everywhere,” says this piece. “If the candidate were male, there would be no scolding and no scandal.’ Those very ideas would be absurd. Men have a nearly absolute right to freedom of speech. In theory, so do women, but that, as the creationists like to say, is only a theory.”

Is there sexism in our society that has hurt Hillary Clinton? Obviously. Is “Emailgate” a serious matter? I think so, but I’m open to discussion. Is Emailgate only a story because Hillary is a woman? Two words: John Podesta.

4/ “Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism,” by Jim Rutenberg, the New York Times. The Times is as historically pro-Democratic as the AFL-CIO, so their pro-Hillary slant was not surprising, but I didn’t expect they’d announce it. “If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that,” Rutenberg decreed. “You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional.” No, you move closer than ever to becoming a print version of Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity.

3/ “How Donald Trump’s Company Violated the United States Embargo Against Cuba,” by Kurt Eichenwald, NewsweekNewsweek has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Clinton campaign the past few months and Eichenwald has led the charge with a series of red baiting stories that have all the gravitas of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Eichenwald’s stories about Trump’s ties to the Kremlin are straight out of the Clinton oppo research camp but this piece on Cuba (no doubt of the same origin) is perhaps his most dishonest and unintentionally funny. In it, Eichenwald purports to show that the Trump company spent at least $68,000 on a consulting firm back in 1998 “at a time when the corporate expenditure of even a penny in the Caribbean country was prohibited without U.S. government approval.” Is this story true? It’s by Eichenwald so probably not, but even if it is, who cares?

(Note: Some serious people insist to me that Trump really is being run by Putin and it will soon be proven but I would have thought the evidence, if solid, would have emerged by now.)

2/ “Against transparency, Government officials’ email should be private, just like their phone calls,” by Matthew Yglesias, Vox. This is a story in which Yglesias, who along with Vox was recently demolished in Current Affairs, says that “the worst possible reply to an email” is when a source wants to call him. Yeah, why should Matt go to all the trouble of writing down notes when he could just cut and paste from a source’s emails or press releases to ensure accuracy?

The broader point was that government officials should be able to communicate via without fear of reporters finding out. “A private conversation to facilitate a frank exchange of ideas is not the same as a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia,” he writes. “We need to let public officials talk to each other — and to their professional contacts outside the government — in ways that are both honest and technologically modern.” Yeah, but what if government officials are having a frank exchange by email about a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia?

1/ “Understanding Hillary,” by Ezra Klein, Vox. Klein has written a lot of tripe during the campaign —  and a lot of his observations seem to match up with themes being promoted by the Clinton camp. But this story is arguable the worst.

“This is not a profile of Hillary Clinton. It is not a review of her career or an assessment of her campaign. You won’t find any shocking revelations on her emails, on Benghazi, on Whitewater, or even on her health care plan. This is an effort to answer a question I’ve been struggling with since at least 2008: Why is the Hillary Clinton described to me by her staff, her colleagues, and even her foes so different from the one I see on the campaign trail?”

In other words, this isn’t journalism, it’s puppetry. Or in Vox-speak, it’s a “Media Storytelling Studio collaboration” and there are nearly three dozen people listed in the credits.


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