Accuracy in Media

Hillary Clinton MSNBC NH debateIf there has ever been any doubt about the favoritism the media show to liberals, a new set of emails should dispel that doubt. The emails reveal that Hillary Clinton was able to dictate coverage of a 2009 policy speech, right down to the words they would use.

The emails were obtained by Gawker as part of a Freedom of Information Act request they filed in 2012. They show an exchange between Marc Ambinder, then-politics editor of The Atlantic, and Philippe Reines, who Gawker described as Clinton’s notoriously combative spokesman and consigliere.

On July 15, 2009, Ambinder sent Reines an email asking for an advance copy of the speech that Clinton was scheduled to give later in the day to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Instead of approving what was a fairly routine request, Reines told Ambinder that he would “on two conditions.”

Ambiner agreed and Reines then sent him a list of the conditions:

From: [Philippe Reines]
Sent: Wednesday, July 15 2009 10:06 AM
To: Ambinder, Marc
Subject: Re: Do you have a copy of HRC’s speech to share?

3 [conditions] actually

1) You in your own voice describe them as “muscular”

2) You note that a look at the CFR seating plan shows that all the envoys — from Holbrooke to Mitchell to Ross — will be arrayed in front of her, which in your own clever way you can say certainly not a coincidence and meant to convey something

3) You don’t say you were blackmailed!

Ambinder responded immediately:

From: Ambinder, Marc
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 10:07 AM
To: Philippe Reines
Subject: RE: Do you have a copy of HRC’s speech to share?

got it

The end result was a Reines influenced first paragraph in Ambinder’s “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Smart Power’ Breaks Through” article:

When you think of President Obama’s foreign policy, think of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That’s the message behind a muscular speech that Clinton is set to deliver today to the Council on Foreign Relations. The staging gives a clue to its purpose: seated in front of Clinton, subordinate to Clinton, in the first row, will be three potentially rival power centers: envoys Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, and National Security Council senior director Dennis Ross.

Ambinder now says he regrets his actions:

It made me uncomfortable then, and it makes me uncomfortable today. And when I look at that email record, it is a reminder to me of why I moved away from all that. The Atlantic, to their credit, never pushed me to do that, to turn into a scoop factory. In the fullness of time, any journalist or writer who is confronted by the prospect, or gets in the situation where their journalism begins to feel transactional, should listen to their gut feeling and push away from that.

Being scrupulous at all times will not help you get all the scoops, but it will help you sleep at night. At no point at The Atlantic did I ever feel the pressure to make transactional journalism the norm.

Scruples seem to be in short supply in the media. Gawker reported last week about Politico Playbook author Mike Allen allowing Reines to ghostwrite a Playbook item on the State Department in 2010. Gawker also reported in November 2015 that Allen offered a “no-risk” interview to Chelsea Clinton that would only include questions he and Reines “would agree on … precisely in advance.” That interview never took place.

It’s impossible to tell how much transactional journalism actually occurs, but the fact that it is taking place at all is disturbing and is certainly not going to help the media’s already tarnished reputation with the public.

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