Regular readers of this blog know that I am not a great fan of Hillary Clinton’s, and certainly not one to leap mechanically to her defense over e-mailgate. But really, this affair is much ado about very little. Yes, Hillary was wrong to use a private e-mail account for public as well as private business. But she was wrong because a secretary of state needs to follow regular procedure, and irregularities tend to attract attention and raise questions. She did nothing illegal, but she used poor judgment. That’s it.
Republicans and media critics have raised questions about Hillary’s lack of “transparency”: How do we know what was in those deleted private e-mails? Did she use her account to e-mail classified information? But there really is only one relevant question to be asked: In what way might Clinton’s irregular e-mail arrangement have facilitated or covered up wrongdoing on her part? If you can’t answer this question with a plausible hypothetical, then you just need to move on. And I haven’t seen anyone ask, much less answer this question. The simple answer, as far as I can see, is that there is no way.
Any impropriety that Clinton might have committed using her one account would have been equally available to her had she used separate accounts for personal and government business. Did some of those deleted “private” e-mails concern government business? Well, if she had kept a separate private e-account, she could have used it for government business if she wanted to. And she could have used it to divulge classified information. No one would have been any the wiser because no one would be asking to see her private account.
Rather than ask the only relevant question and get the disappointing answer, Hillary’s media critics have either been asking irrelevant questions or else been focusing on style and personality. Why this seemingly irresistible tendency to pile up on Hillary? It seems to be a habit developed during the Bill Clinton presidency. The ever insightful Paul Waldman provides some useful historical background:
From the first moments of that presidency, Clinton’s opponents were convinced he was corrupt to the core. They assumed that if they mounted enough investigations and tossed around enough charges, something would stick and Clinton would be brought down…. [I]f Bill Clinton wore the same tie two days in a row, Republicans would hold a week’s worth of hearings to investigate what he was covering up.
[The mainstream media treated] every Republican charge, no matter how ludicrous, as though it was worthy of a full-scale investigation splashed across the front page. Again and again, they reacted to the most thinly justified accusations as though the next Watergate or Iran-Contra was at hand, and when it turned out that there was no corruption or illegality to be found, they simply moved on to the next faux-scandal, presented no less breathlessly.
That past — and journalists’ failures to reckon with it — are still affecting coverage today. When this email story broke, how many journalists said it was important because it “plays into a narrative” of Hillary Clinton as scandal-tainted? I must have heard it a dozen times just in the past week.
Unintentionally illustrating Waldman’s point, Frank Bruni writes a snarky, substance-free op-ed in which his main complaint about Hillary’s Tuesday news conference is that “It was all so very yesterday…. On Tuesday she didn’t look as if she was leaning into the future. She looked as if she was getting sucked into the past.” Maybe it’s Bruni and his fellow journalists who need to worry about getting sucked into the past. Unfortunately, I think we may be hearing that sucking sound for quite a long time–possibly until November 2016 if not beyond.