There’s nothing quite like a Clinton press conference to bring out the madness of today’s political news cycles. Reports came out early last week that Hillary Clinton used a personal email for her work at the State Department, setting off an all-out media frenzy on the topic. She addressed the concerns on Tuesday at a press conference at the U.N. Clinton confirmed that she used one email on one phone for convenience, admitted that perhaps she should have used separate devices in retrospect, but insisted that she followed all proper State Department rules and has turned over her work emails.
What may have sounded like a perfectly rational response to some was nowhere near enough for a press corp already devoting non-stop coverage to what they considered a scandal. The political Twitter universe has replaced cable news to some extent as the main force for creating narratives, and its abilities were on full display throughout this escapade. What resulted was a complete circus, full of quick-take reactions lacking a complete set of facts. Now that we’re two days out from the press conference and have a little breathing room to think, let’s take a look back and see how justified some of the reactions were.
Making a Spectacle Out of Everything
The lead-up to Clinton’s press conference at the U.N. threatened to overshadow the actual news for a while on Tuesday. Reporters tweeted out non-stop their travails of getting to the U.N., picking up their credentials, and jostling for positions by the podium. Many complained that the line was long:
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) March 10, 2015
Others made fun of the backdrop:
— Andrew Grossman (@A_Grossman) March 10, 2015
And they all pointed out how much press was there:
What Hillary Clinton will see when she takes the podium shortly. pic.twitter.com/FuUGgBrHWr
— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) March 10, 2015
Yep, who would have guessed that the person most likely to become the next President of the United States would attract a swarm of reporters when she holds a press conference? And she held it at the United Nations, which many in the media did not appreciate. You’d think many people would consider that a pretty natural place to speak to reporters on issues of importance. Sure, the space wasn’t that large and the check-in line rather long, but the massive reaction to it on Twitter was simply ridiculous.
All of this may seem silly the way the press somehow turns everything involving Clinton into a massive circus, but it does have real consequences. It creates additional drama where there doesn’t need to be, making voters viewing the spectacle all the more tired of the nonsense that could surround a Clinton presidency.
Wild Assumptions and Stupid Jokes Clog the Twitter Feed
When Clinton was asked about the email server itself, she noted that she used the same one that President Bill Clinton’s office had set up, and that it was on property guarded by the Secret Service. Which quickly led to these jokes:
Clinton points out her house was guarded by secret service so server was safe… we all know WH guarded by secret service too… zing!
— Zach Wolf (@zbyronwolf) March 10, 2015
Hillary: The email server "was on property guarded by the Secret Service." OK, so no hackers jumped the fence? Phew.
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) March 10, 2015
— Chris Cillizza (@CillizzaCNN) March 10, 2015
Get it? Some people jumped the White House fence several months back, so clearly all Secret Service members are incompetent and Clinton’s server must have been terribly insecure. Do these people seriously not realize that the Secret Service isn’t just a bunch of bodyguards in suits, but that they also handle some cyber and electronic security as well (even if it’s not clear that was the case here)? Also, the server was set up specifically for a former President of the United States, so why would you instantly assume they didn’t take security precautions?
And the idea that Clinton’s email was insecure simply isn’t the case. There were reportedly no security breaches on it, and Clinton’s emails never showed up in the multitude of other documents released by hackers that targeted many government agencies, including the State Department. It’s fine to ask the question, but the amount of people declaring with certainty that it must have been insecure was astonishing.
That’s just a smaller point, however. The most ridiculous – and actually damaging – instant-reaction was the endless mocking of Clinton’s claim of “convenience” that she combined both her personal and work email on one phone. But look, everyone shouted, I have two or three emails on my phone! See, I’m switching between them right now!
HRC says she only had one email account for convenience? I've had multiple accts on my phone for years. That excuse won't fly.
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) March 10, 2015
Can someone tell Hillary Clinton that you can, in fact, have two email accounts on one device?
— Ali Watkins (@AliWatkins) March 10, 2015
I do @41jellis: You can have two email accounts on one device, no?
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) March 10, 2015
For crying out loud, is it really that difficult to comprehend that maybe, just maybe, you using your phone and email today might be a slightly different situation than the Secretary of State using a phone and email in 2009? Is it that hard to consider that her security issues might be different than your personal and work email setup? But no, no, go ahead and take screenshots of your multiple email accounts on your phone and tweet it out as clear proof that Clinton is wrong.
At least one Washington Post reporter asked the question in the midst of the nonsense in a well-written article. But by then the mindset of the Twitter masses was already set. Finally, a day afterwards, a clear explanation from State was given, saying, in fact, that it was State’s policy at the time that you couldn’t access a separate personal account on your phone in 2009. (And actually, isn’t it weird that no reporter thought to call the State Department and ask them before the Clinton press conference?) So there you have it.
Now you could still question whether it was appropriate that Clinton combined the two and kept it on a home server. But that doesn’t excuse the mad dash to relentlessly mock Clinton’s setup because many people weren’t willing to take a breath and figure out the truth of the matter. And again, that kind of sloppiness in the quick reactions have serious consequences on how Clinton is perceived to have handled her response. It sets the narrative that she’s lying (when she was not), which clouds all other statements she makes.
Right-Wing Lies Enter the Conversation
Republicans have a massive operation churning away to take down Clinton, and they made their appearance with the email story. A right-wing PAC called America Rising put out a quick hit that suggested Clinton contradicted her story just a few weeks ago:
Wow, Hillary admitted she used two devices while at State just two weeks ago
— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) March 10, 2015
The title of the link is an outright lie. At no point in the video from an event Clinton attended in February does she say she had two devices while at the State Department. Seriously, click the link and watch, it’s only 15 seconds long. She says she has an iPhone and a Blackberry, but that’s what she has now. She didn’t say that’s what she had six years ago. And it was done in a pretty joking tone, so I don’t think it’s the best clip to accurately determine Clinton’s technology habits. But that didn’t matter to many journalists from well-respected publications that re-tweeted it out. Many people apparently just read the title rather than take literally 15 seconds and watch the video clip to see it was completely false.
Missing the Bigger Picture
At the end of the day, some people will never be satisfied with the answers they get from Clinton about her email use during her time as the Secretary of State. Many of these emails simply will not be released (and it’s an open question as to whether they really should be), so it comes down to a trust factor for some. Unfortunately, the current state of the media and political Twitter universe has already cast Clinton in an untrustworthy light on this issue. Some would tell you that’s a result of bad press relations from Clinton’s team. But even if that were an explanation, it is by no means an excuse.
The level of hysteria that comes along with nearly everything Clinton does and says is simply unreal. There are some legitimate questions to be asked about her emails, though none rise to the level of justifying a full two weeks of hyperbolic, non-stop news coverage. And the important questions and their answers are obfuscated by the mess of over-reactions, jokes, poorly thought-out criticisms, and an overall lack of seriousness that embodies the media frenzy.
Since that’s a rather depressing account of our current political media coverage, I’ll leave you with one humorous tweet from the day I enjoyed:
Maybe I should do it pic.twitter.com/M5myv22SEC
— Michael Crowley (@michaelcrowley) March 10, 2015
by Pat Rynard