For exactly one week now, Hillary Clinton has faced intense, and I would argue unwarranted scrutiny for using a private email account during her term as Secretary of State. It’s difficult to dismiss the sexism in such a non-bombshell bombshell given how former Texas Governor Rick Perry is planning his 2016 campaign while literally being under indictment.
Sexism, possibly. “Hillaryism,” definitely. There’s an appetite throughout the press to attach scandals to the Clinton Christmas tree chiefly because it’s really easy to scandalize them, resulting in a feeding frenzy among both Republicans, independents and anti-Hillary progressives. In other words, accusations that would normally fizzle when attached to other public figures will absolutely resonate when attached to either President Clinton or the former Secretary of State.
Even when compared with President Obama, there’s no one quite as ripe a target for scandal-mongering as Hillary Clinton, which doesn’t bode well for general sanity should Clinton win the Democratic nomination and the presidency. There will absolutely be many, many more “Hillary Homebrew Email” non-scandals in our collective future.
Knowing how this is the first of many, it’s equally as harrowing to observe how poorly this has been handled by both the Clinton team and the White House. It was announced on Monday that Clinton will finally be stepping up for a press conference about all of this in the next few days.
The White House part first. As we discussed on Monday, how the hell does a White House, with six years of damage-control under its belt, come out twice in a week and explicitly announce that the West Wing staff only learned about Clinton’s private email: 1) back in August of 2014, according to one source, and 2) when The New York Times published its ludicrously shoddy email article, according to the president himself? Which is it? Oh, and a third story was published Monday showing that the White House and the president had been receiving emails from Clinton’s private account from the beginning.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the White House is trying to lie for Clinton, and it could be possible that the president simply didn’t care enough to notice Clinton’s email address. But really, why weren’t talking points issued for the West Wing on day one of the email affair? And if there were talking points, why didn’t the talking points contain details about the “Guccifer” hacking story from March, 2013 when the public first learned about the “clintonemail.com” account? (Shame on The New York Times and the Associated Press — again — for failing to publish this crucial background detail as well.)
To recap, the White House learned about the private account:
1) In August, 2014.
2) Last Monday.
3) Throughout 2009-2013.
I don’t — huh?
It’s no secret how I feel about the president and his significant record, but as always, I can’t help but give his White House communications team a generous “D” on this one. In an attempt to be open about the email account, the White House has inadvertently enhanced the patina of hinkyness — a patina which the press is eager to telegraph. When commenting on a story, the mission should always be to improve the public’s perception of it, not to add fuel to the fire. What did Al Pacino’s Ricky Roma say in Glengarry Glen Ross? “Never open your mouth unless you know what the shot is.”
Now for the Clinton team.
If I had been Hillary Clinton last Tuesday, I would’ve dropped everything and asked my sysadmin (whether stationed at “my” house or elsewhere) to unhook the mail server box, pack it up, and hand it to me. Or better yet, I would’ve brought the sysadmin with me. From there, we would’ve boarded a plane for Reagan National Airport with the computer as carry-on. With a gaggle of press photographing every step, we would’ve dropped off the computer at the Office of the Inspector General at Foggy Bottom, with a note instructing the OIG to have at it. After that, we would’ve held a press conference on the steps of the State Department. Me and the sysadmin taking questions. Day one.
Would the Republicans have continued to spaz out anyway? Of course. But the amount of material they’d have been able to work with would’ve been seriously degraded. Now, again, it appears as if Clinton will be holding a press conference this week. Great. It’s about time. But the scandal has already had, by that time, perhaps 10 days to metastasize in the conventional wisdom. And the Republicans have enjoyed more than enough time to not only strategize rapid response, but to game out various scenarios whereby they can easily keep this email story alive long past its shelf-life — just as they have with Benghazi, IRS, Fast & Furious, et-cetera ad-nauseam.
It’s one thing to be unfairly smeared in the press with just God-fucking-awful reporting, but it’s another thing entirely to amplify the problem through communications incompetence. Consequently, a candidate’s strongest supporters will rapidly exhaust themselves back-stopping those mistakes. It shouldn’t work that way.
Clinton knows more than anyone else that her opposition is a galactically cynical, universally shameless Republican Party that cares nothing about civility or political tradition. It has at its disposal not only the most popular cable news network on television and all of AM talk radio to festoon the world with its misinformation and scandal-porn, but with the inclusion of internet and social media these lies travel around the world before the truth gets its pantsuit on. And unless Clinton, and to a certain extent the Obama White House, can’t get in front of a scandal with more haste and precision, it’s going to be a very turbulent 20 months between now and Election Day.
The best thing that works in Clinton’s favor is that she’s the only 2016 hopeful with positive favorability and trustworthiness — the only one, out of both parties. And the Clintons are famous for dodging scandals, but only after the scandals snowball into soul-crushing monsters. Hillary can do better, and she has to.