‘Nothing to See Here’ Is Pundit Takeaway on DNC Leaks

Almost like they're all reading from the same script...again

Thu, Oct 20, 2016
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Leaks from Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails have been trickling in for the past week. The leaks—along with previous DNC emails—provide intimate details about the inner workings of the campaign that may well soon elect the most powerful person on Earth.

The response from some journalists has been to analyse, dissect and find the most newsworthy bits. For others, the reaction has been to dismiss and downplay, turning the often cynical meatgrinder of American politics into a snooze barely worthy of discussion.

Call that second group the “are you surprised” crowd:

  • What Hillary Clinton Told Wall Street Bankers in Private, According to Leaked Emails (Vox, 10/11/16):

These remarks aren’t really very new or surprising.

  • What the WikiLeaks Emails Say About Clinton (Russell Berman, The Atlantic, 10/13/16):

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But on the whole, they shouldn’t be surprised by what’s in them. Though anti-Clintonites on the right and left may find their suspicions about Clinton confirmed, there’s nothing in the emails that would provide them new lines of criticism—or provide new sources of worry to her allies.

  • What the WikiLeaks Emails Tell Us About Hillary Clinton (Doyle McManus, LA Times, 10/16/16):

This is a finding that will surprise no one who has watched the Clintons since, say, 1982…. It certainly won’t surprise Bernie Sanders voters.

  • I Read Hillary Clinton’s Speeches to Goldman Sachs. Here’s What Surprised Me the Most (Daniel W. Drezner, Washington Post,10/17/16):

This isn’t terribly surprising, as Clinton’s position on trade policy has easily been the most cynical part of her campaign. But it is worth noting.

What surprised Drezner the most, by the way, was: “After reading all three speeches…I don’t understand why Clinton didn’t make them public back in the spring.” Or possibly, “Clinton’s comfort talking about the subtleties of international relations,” or that “the private Hillary Clinton [is] more assured and less awkward than the public Hillary Clinton”—it’s not quite clear.

But this whole “surprised” line is a complete red herring. Who has ever claimed they were surprising, and what does surprise or lack thereof have to do with anything?

Something doesn’t have to be shocking or surprising to be newsworthy, much less objectionable. Indeed, the routine banality of Clinton and her aidescolluding with the DNC to undermine Sanders, and cozying up to Wall Street, makes it more consequential, not less. The “why is this shocking?” tic is a rhetorical gimmick meant to downplay revelations that, while perhaps assumed, had heretofore not been backed by specific evidence.

This is what we’ve called the Snowden Cycle (FAIR.org, 7/24/16)—a PR trick employed by those attempting to downplay the NSA revelations in 2013. Obviously, this situation is different, but the spin is the same: Claims of illegal surveillance were either ignored or dismissed as conspiracy theories, then, when the NSA leaks documented widespread domestic spying and unconstitutional overreach, the response from the same pundits was, “Yawn, we already knew that.”

But we didn’t really know that, we simply assumed that, and there’s a world of difference between the two. The fact that Clinton is cozy with much of the press,told climate change activists to “get a life,” and touted TPP in front of Goldman Sachs despite going on to oppose it in public may have been assumed, but now it’s something we know to be true. This, on its face, is significant.

As David Dayen (New Republic, 10/14/16) notes, the revelation that a Citigroup employee knew what the makeup of Obama’s cabinet would be weeks before the 2008 election is also noteworthy. But never mind, it’s important we ignore all this, and instead cherry pick a few vague comments that align with what we already know.

The Washington Post’s Drezner, in his obligatory “why is this surprising” clause, casually admits Clinton is lying about her position on trade—one she campaigned on in the primaries—but doesn’t seem to really care. Her embrace of TPP in front of Goldman Sachs, he writes, isn’t terribly surprising, as Clinton’s position on trade policy has easily been the most cynical part of her campaign. But it is worth noting.

Clinton, he says, is clearly lying about her stance on the TPP—in his own piece that he links to, he says “there is no genuine policy motivation for her opposition”—but, meh, what are you gonna do? Any notion that one’s political stances should be the least bit consistent is simply shrugged off by virtue of being boring. This is totally contradicted in his last passage, when Drezner insists “these transcripts mostly reveal a person who says similar things in private that she does in public.” Except about totally trivial things like labor and trade agreements.

Part of the trick is conflating the descriptive (how things are) with the normative (how things ought to be). By asserting that Clinton’s cozy Wall Street relationships and “fluid” positions in and out of the public spotlight are just The Way of Things, Drezner and others never stop to take ethical inventory of any of this. They never bother to ask if what’s revealed in the Podesta emails are the way it should be—or whether, more importantly, it’s the way the primary voters were led to believe they were. It’s the normalization of venality posing as jaded realism. (It’s worth remembering that an AP/National Opinion Research Center report in August found that 86 percent of Americans were angry or dissatisfied with the state of politics in the nation—something that an in-depth look at the inner workings of one of the two major parties might help to explain.)

There are at least two major revelations on foreign policy that are clearly consequential, and both are overlooked by the above op-eds. The first is an admission by Hillary Clinton in June 2013 that a no-fly zone in Syria–something she openly supports–would “kill a lot of Syrians.” This is a crude reality often ignored by liberal interventionalists and certainly newsworthy, though it has been largely overlooked in favor of the more personality-based aspects of the leaks.

Another foreign policy revelation ignored by the “is this shocking?” crowd is one email that seemingly shows Clinton endorsing the idea that Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two of the US’s closest allies–and major Clinton Foundation donors–are funding and supporting ISIS and al-Qaeda. One email she sent—it’s unclear whether this is her language or someone else’s—read:

While this military/paramilitary operation is moving forward, we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.

This is in glaring contradiction to US government’s public line, including Clinton’s, on our Gulf allies. Does Clinton think Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding and backing ISIS? Shouldn’t this be followed up on? Highlighted? No. Instead, those with the most influential column space in the world spend their media capital playing up personality disputes, spinning corporatism as pragmatism, and insisting, above all, there’s nothing “shocking” here.

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