Clinton's Email and the Slow Death of Accurate Journalism and Critical Readers

"It's unclear" is being reported in a way that leads readers and other publications to believe "it's certain" and therefore "she's guilty." Mob justice isn't new, nor is the press's complicity in stirring it up. But now more than ever, falsehoods can virally circulate at lightspeed and assumptions become factual reality almost as quickly.
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"It's unclear" is being reported in a way that leads readers and other publications to believe "it's certain" and therefore "she's guilty." Mob justice isn't new, nor is the press's complicity in stirring it up. But now more than ever, falsehoods can virally circulate at lightspeed and assumptions become factual reality almost as quickly.
clinton_handheld

At the risk of making this about me, anyone who's followed my writing since the 2008 Democratic primary fracas knows that I'm far from being a Hillary Clinton superfan. Since then, and due to how she comported herself following Barack Obama's nomination, I've warmed up to Clinton -- slightly -- though I still have reservations. Not so much in terms of another potential dynasty-based president (U.S. politics has always featured dynastic candidates, see also Kennedy, Adams, Roosevelt, Bush, Rockefeller, etc) but I've always been weary about a return to old school, baby-boomer Democratic politics, which, by the way, the Obama presidency has mercifully sidestepped for the most part.

Put another way: I don't have skin in the Clinton game. I'm neither an activist nor a Democratic Party apparatchik. For personal reasons, and to be perfectly frank, I hope a Democratic candidate wins in 2016, but my job isn't to campaign or shill for whomever the nominee happens to be.

My reporting surrounding the Clinton email story so far isn't intended to be a defense of her email practices or her veracity one way or another. Not unlike my coverage of the Ed Snowden saga, I have grave concerns about the lack of quality in the journalism and the kneejerk assumptions that follow it, both in terms of secondary reporting and the conventional wisdom that grows out of the muck.

This is where we are with this story. Based upon two very flawed articles, one from The New York Times and another from the Associated Press, the reaction among talkers, analysts, writers and observers is reflective of bad or absent information. Neither bombshell revealed any laws that were broken, and the AP article about Clinton's alleged "homebrew" email server explicitly stated, "It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton ran that computer system," but only after stating in both its headline and its text that Clinton was "running her own email server."

Then there's an AP story published on Friday, titled "'HOMEBREW' EMAIL SERVERS: GENIUS AS WELL AS SNEAKY?" The second line of the article:

The personal email server used by Hillary Rodham Clinton during her time as secretary of state was most likely about the size of your office desktop computer and could have been tucked quietly in a corner somewhere.

Again, the original source article stated: "It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton ran that computer system." Yet this Friday article is written as if the "not immediately clear" line never existed. Furthermore, the Friday article goes on to describe just how difficult it is to run a homebrew server, suggesting: "This is what makes what Clinton did both sneaky and, some might say, genius." What's becoming abundantly clear here is that the news media is cultivating an Evil Supervillain caricature of Clinton and her computer practices. It can't possibly be that Clinton was looking for a more expedient and more secure way to transact via email, it has to be that she was sneaky and secretive, plotting to keep her email records from falling into the hands of the great unwashed.

But there's no evidence of illegal activity -- or of a server insider her house -- presented anywhere. As we discussed last week, evidence might very well come to light any day now that proves all of it, but based on what's been reported so far the only thing Clinton failed to do was to routinely back-up her emails on a State Department server -- a server, by the way, that was repeatedly hacked during her time as secretary. This constitutes a violation of National Archives and State Department guidance, but not the law itself, which only barred personal email usage as of November, 2014 (as reported by the liberals at The Wall Street Journal, among others).

Did Clinton actually use a homebrew system? Possibly. We heard from an IT expert who analysed her static IP addresses registered with Optimum, a Stamford, CT internet service provider, and the expert observed that the static addresses could point to a homebrew email set-up. Again, it's possible. But did the AP article, upon which nearly everyone is basing their unsubstantiated assumptions, cite such an analysis? No. The analysis came to The Daily Banter via a third party systems administrator. But until there's hard documentary evidence, it should all be taken as pure speculation.

So, knowing that the most recent evidence of a "homebrew" set-up, as reported by the AP, contained the major caveat: "It was not immediately clear exactly where Clinton ran that computer system," the following parade of headlines has been published at every level of the news media:

The Washington Post: How to set up your own questionably secure home e-mail system, just like Hillary Clinton

Gizmodo: Hillary Clinton Also Ran Her Own Email Server As Secretary of State

Yahoo! UK: Clinton ran homebrew computer system for official emails

The Daily Beast: Hillary Clinton’s Homemade System May Have Put Her Email at Risk

Town Hall: Clinton Used Server From Family Home For Personal Emails, Gave Her Additional Legal Protections

Breitbart: HILLARY CLINTON’S OFF-THE-BOOKS MAIL SERVER WAS IN HER HOUSE, REGISTERED TO A NON-EXISTENT MAN

Fox Business: What it means that Hillary Clinton ran a 'homebrew' email server: Genius as well as sneaky?

CNN: Hillary Clinton's home server hard to trace

That last CNN article is astonishing. The headline states that it was Clinton's "home server" while also stating that it's "hard to trace." If it's hard to trace, then how does CNN know it's in her "home?" Clearly, it doesn't. The article itself goes on to report that it could be in another location in the Chappaqua area, "...it is unclear whether the server was physically located at her house."

Taking it one step further, so what? So what if she has such a system and spent a pile of money to keep it operational? Until and if Clinton stonewalls requests and subpoenas for the email records from her private system, there's really nothing earth-shattering to see here. The key to the entire story is the availability and transparency of her email records. And so far, the State Department confirmed that she handed over 55,000 documents. (In the last three years, I've received roughly 15,000 non-spam emails and sent 6,400 emails, and my job is all about email and internet usage.)

Meanwhile, everyone, including the White House, seems to have forgotten about a 2013 bombshell article by The Smoking Gun that first reported the existence of Clinton's personal email account. In March of 2013, The Smoking Gun broke the story of the infamous "Guccifer" hacker who acquired personal emails from former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal. Inside Blumenthal's inbox were numerous emails received from Clinton using her "hdr22@clintonemail.com" address. Gawker reported at the time:

And why was Clinton apparently receiving emails at a non-governmental email account? The address Blumenthal was writing to was hosted at the domain "clintonemail.com" (we're not going to publish everybody's email address!), which is privately registered via Network Solutions. It is most certainly not a governmental account.

Staffers in the Bush White House famously used private email accounts to conduct government business as a way to circumvent the Presidential Records Act, which mandates that all official communications be archived.

Far be it from anyone to perform a simple Google search, but despite The Smoking Gun article from two years ago (!), an article appeared on Thursday in Politico titled, "White House alerted to potential Clinton email problem in August."

August? What? I suppose it wasn't memorable enough -- a major scoop in The Smoking Gun that detailed Clinton's personal email usage during conversations with a man whose email was hacked and which included emails to and from the Secretary of State -- not only that, but a man who's generally despised by the Obama team due to his hatchet work against Obama during the 2008 primaries. Over the weekend, President Obama said he first heard of "clintonemail.com" when the Times story broke last week.

The March, 2013 story was a big deal. So, why the amnesia? Worse, why didn't Politico bother to note in its Thursday article the existence of the old "Guccifer" story, when Clinton's personal email was first exposed? Furthermore, why for the last week has everyone else treated the existence of "clintonemail.com" as if it's brand new news that broke for the first time in The New York Times last week?

Incomplete and sloppy reporting is the prime culprit -- reporting that prioritizes hasty publication and clicks over accuracy and substance. As a result, the public at large continues to replace fact with speculation, and with this fallacious reasoning, it rushes to assign guilt. "It's unclear" is being reported in a way that leads readers and other publications to believe "it's certain" and therefore "she's guilty." Mob justice isn't new, nor is the press's complicity in stirring it up. But now more than ever, falsehoods can virally circulate at lightspeed and assumptions become factual reality almost as quickly.

Consequently, the press has an even greater responsibility to get the story right, rather than getting it fast. The haste of internet communications commands an equal and opposite lack of haste in publishing stories that impact the future of our society. It doesn't matter whether the target is a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, celebrity or politician, there's simply no excuse for the disgustingly shoddy reporting we've seen in recent years, nor is there an excuse for the lack of critical reading by the rest of us. Along those lines, in a time when critical reading is more necessary than ever, there's clearly less and less of it. "Don't believe everything you read" is a dying maxim, supplanted by reflexive sharing and retweeting of pure garbage -- including totally fake articles that continue to pollute my Facebook feed. Some news media players are well aware of this and are cynically exploiting it for ratings and revenue. I don't know where this is heading, but it's bound to get worse before it gets better, especially knowing how The New York Times and the Associated Press have fallen into the trap now, too.