If you wanted a perfect illustration of the media's 2016 election coverage, you couldn't have asked for better than this. On Sunday morning's Meet the Press, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former secretary-turned-CEO Carly Fiorina faced scrutiny from host Chuck Todd, and the contrast was illuminating.
First up was Secretary Clinton, whom Todd confronted over the newest email "scandal" revelations. which seem to consist mainly of a single email chain with David Petraeus from before Hillary was secretary of state. Hillary did a good job of explaining it, while also making the grossly underreported point (except, ironically, by Fox News' Brian Kilmeade) that there was no herculean effort to set up a private server. To paraphrase LL Cool J, it had been there for years:
Todd: "Let me stop you there. You say you weren't focused on it, but this seemed to be -- to put an e-mail server at your house is not a -- it's a complicated thing."
Hillary: "Yeah, but it was already there. It had been there for years. It is the system that my husband's personal office used when he got out of the White House, so it was sitting there in the basement. It was not any trouble at all."
The rest was pretty much a recap of things that have been covered before. It's nice that this email conversation with Petraeus turned up, but as hard s I'm trying to give a rat's ass about it, I just can't. It's from before Hillary was secretary of state, it didn't take any extraordinary sleuthing to turn it up, and it mainly "included Clinton and Petraeus getting acquainted as well as some personnel matters." Stop the presses.
What is remarkable is that despite that thin basis of new information, Chuck Todd spent more than twelve minutes grilling Hillary about the email issue, nearly as long as Andrea Mitchell did a few weeks ago. Whether you liked her answers or not, Hillary did answer all of his questions. I get it, though, the email story is good for business, and you could argue that this is just dogged adversarial journalism.
Then, Chuck interviewed Carly Fiorina, and caught her in several bald-faced lies. The first involved Fiorina's claims about a Planned Parenthood video that doesn't exist. Todd did follow up with Fiorina a few times, but Fiorina refused to admit her lie (and told a bunch more in the process), using the patented "Say Chuck fives times and change the subject" strategy:
Todd: "The footage you describe, at best, is a reenactment. The videos -- the people that made the videos admitted stock footage, yet you went right along and said it's Planned Parenthood.
Fiorina: "Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, do you think this is not happening? Does Hillary Clinton think this is not happening?"
As Chuck noted, the photo Fiorina described was of a premature birth, and had nothing to do with abortion or Planned Parenthood. This is a flat lie that Todd calls an "exaggeration," and when Fiorina changes the subject, he just... lets it go. Twelve minutes on a meaningless email, and two minutes on a bald-faced lie involving an accusation of murder.
Then, Todd called Fiorina out for another lie, she uses the "Rule of Five" to talk over him again, and he just... lets it go:
Todd: "At the end of the day, the jobs you're talking about that grew and expanded were jobs overseas..."
Fiorina: "That is false. That is false. That is false."
Todd: "There were no net American jobs. No?"
Fiorina: "That is false, Chuck. That is false... There were many jobs that left California, and you know where they went? To the state of Texas."
There may have been some jobs that went to Texas, but there has been extensive reporting on Fiorina's offshoring of jobs, and Fiorina herself acknowledged it, and even praised China for fighting so hard for American jobs:
Wallace: "But, Ms. Fiorina, if the issue is jobs, Senator Boxer says your record is what you did as the head of Hewlett-Packard. And the record shows, according to her -- and it's not just her, the facts are that during that time you laid off more than 30,000 American workers, and many of those jobs went to India and China."
Fiorina: "It is true, I managed Hewlett-Packard through the worst technology recession in 25 years. And in those tough times, we had to make some tough calls. It is also true that, net-net, we created jobs. We doubled the size of the company from $44 billion to $88 billion. We tripled the rate of innovation to 11 patents a day. We quintupled the cash flow. We improved the profitability in every product segment and ...
Wallace: "What about the 30,000 American jobs that you laid off?"
Fiorina: "You know, every family and every business in California knows what it means to go through tough times. And every family is cutting back, and every business is laying off right now. I don't say that with delight. I say that with sorrow. But yes, it is true that jobs are being taken out of California. By the way, China fights harder for our jobs than we do. Texas fights for our jobs. Nevada fights for our jobs. North Carolina fights for our jobs. We have to start fighting for our jobs in this nation and in our state."
Fiorina claims a net job gain, but does nothing to dispute the fact that "many of those jobs went to India and China," which is the same point Chuck Todd makes, and then abandons. Fiorina lies right to Chuck's face, repeatedly, yet even when calling her out over during a later panel segment, Andrea Mitchell lauds Fiorina for capturing the "mood" of the electorate.
Why the difference? It's really quite simple. Hillary Clinton doesn't have a friend in the media world, so the only people who will complain about a 12-minute grilling on the email story will be Hillary Clinton and her surrogates. Even in that interview, Clinton is handcuffed by the fact that any aggressive attempt to defend herself will only feed the narrative against her.
Fiorina, on the other hand, has an entire conservative media complex at her back, and a mainstream media that's just super-impressed that she managed not to blow herself up during the debate. It's the path of least resistance, plain and simple. That's why Hillary Clinton ends up being called a "liar," and Carly Fiorina an aggressive candidate who sometimes "exaggerates."