Hillary Hysteria is raging everywhere, from the most disreputable websites to the most respected newspapers. Candidate Clinton’s polling numbers are down. Her email server is in the custody of the FBI. Her comments brushing aside the controversy have only infuriated the Washington press corps, which has virtually declared war on her.
But why is the political press so agitated? Is this Watergate, a shattering scandal with profound implications for national security and the Constitution? Or is it Whitewater, a meaningless squib of a failed real estate investment, absurdly inflated by the national media and partisan adversaries?
According to many journalists – along with the Republican Party and its favorite propagandists – the email uproar surrounding Clinton equals the worst political scandal in modern American history. On Fox News, eminent analyst Meghan McCain thrilled credulous viewers by telling them the Clinton emails “could be this generation’s Watergate.” On MSNBC, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, excited his Morning Joe hosts with a similar comparison that echoed across the media.
“Follow the trail here,” intoned Woodward, who broke the Watergate story four decades ago with Carl Bernstein. “You’ve got a massive amount of data. It, in a way, reminds me of the Nixon tapes: thousands of hours of secretly recorded conversations that Nixon thought were exclusively his,” he said, adding: “Hillary Clinton initially took that position: ‘I’m not turning this over, there’s gonna be no cooperation.’ Now they’re cooperating.”
But like so much of the commentary about Clinton’s emails, that last remark by Woodward was entirely inaccurate — as he should know.
When the State Department first requested emails for its archives from all living former secretaries of state, Clinton was the only one to provide any files at all; both Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell said they no longer possessed the emails they had sent on private servers. And when the FBI asked to examine Clinton’s server to determine whether her emails contained any information that was or ought to have been classified, her attorneys turned it over immediately.
Woodward swiftly amended his hyperbolic outburst, saying that his Nixon comparison referred to “the volume of emails” measured against the White House tapes, rather than any attack on the character of the Democratic frontrunner.
Perhaps Woodward suddenly remembered what actually occurred during Watergate – a series of gangster conspiracies based in the Nixon White House that included burglaries, warrantless wiretaps, illegal spying, campaign dirty tricks, election tampering, money laundering, and assorted thuggish schemes, growing into a cover-up that compounded those initial felonies with still more crimes committed by lawyers and bureaucrats who collected corporate bribes and then handed out hush money to the perpetrators. This bunch ranged from right-wing Cuban exile hoodlums all the way up to the president, his closest advisors, and his stooges at the highest levels of the Justice Department, the FBI and the CIA.
Whatever Woodward or McCain may imagine, the Clinton email flap is nothing like Watergate. Perhaps new and terribly incriminating evidence of something will emerge someday. But at the moment, media coverage of this “scandal” closely resembles the overheated and underreported promotion of Whitewater.
Indeed the parallels are remarkable — especially the notable role of The New York Times in publishing inaccurate stories that insinuated wrongdoing where there was none. As a “scandal,” Whitewater began with a front-page Times story, inspired by Republican opponents of Bill Clinton in Arkansas, that was grossly inaccurate in its most salient details. The email story caught fire with two inaccurate Times stories, including its debunked “scoop” alleging a “criminal referral” to the FBI.
Obscured by sensational and often stupid media coverage, the fundamental facts are simple. There is no evidence that Hillary Clinton violated any law in her use of a private email server, however badly advised. There is no evidence that she knowingly sent any previously classified information to anyone at any time. There is no evidence that any national security breach occurred in her email system. And there is no statute under which she can be held liable for sending information that was retroactively classified, many months after she sent it, when the State Department was reviewing her emails for public release.
The true scandal is the Republican attempt to invent a scandal that will derail the Democratic presidential candidate they fear most, by misusing the oversight powers of Congress – and the eagerness of major media outlets, including the nation’s most important newspaper, to collude in that scheme.