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Media’s Email Hysteria: Why Are Republicans Exempt?

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Media’s Email Hysteria: Why Are Republicans Exempt?


It is almost eerie how closely Hillary Clinton’s current “email scandal” parallels the beginnings of the Whitewater fiasco that ensnared her and her husband almost 20 years ago. Both began with tendentious, somewhat misleading stories published by The New York Times; both stoked highly exaggerated suspicions of wrongdoing; both were exploited by Republican partisans, whose own records were altogether worse; and both resulted in shrill, sustained explosions of outrage from reporters and commentators who could never be bothered to learn actual facts.

Fortunately for Secretary Clinton and the nation, she won’t be subjected to another fruitless $70 million investigation by a less-than-independent counsel like Kenneth Starr. The chances that the innocuous email flap will damage her nascent presidential campaign seems very small, according to the latest polling data.

Yet the reaction of the Washington media to these allegations renews the same old questions about fairness. In this instance, the behavior of Republican officials whose use of private email accounts closely resembles what Secretary Clinton did at the State Department has been largely ignored – even though some of those officials might also seek the presidency.

Recently Jeb Bush released a large volume of emails from the personal – i.e., non-governmental – email account that he routinely used as Florida governor, and then praised his own transparency with self-serving extravagance. The only problem is that those released emails represent only 10 percent of the total. The rest he has simply withheld, without any public review.

When Scott Walker served as Milwaukee county executive, before he was elected Wisconsin governor, he and his staff used a secret email system for unlawful campaign work on public time; that system emerged as part of an investigation that ultimately sent one of his aides to prison (another was immunized by prosecutors). Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has used a personal email account for government business, as has former Texas governor Rick Perry. So have Florida senator Marco Rubio, and various congressmembers who have been heard to spout off about Clinton’s emails, such as Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Those examples epitomize hypocrisy, of course — yet none compares with the truly monumental email scandal of the Bush years, when millions of emails went missing from White House servers – and many more were never archived, as required since 1978 by the Presidential Records Act. Dozens of Bush White House staff used a series of private email accounts provided by the Republican National Committee (whose loud-talking chairman Reince Priebus now mocks Clinton as the “Secretary of Secrecy”). The RNC’s White House email clients most notably included scandal-ridden Bush advisor Karl Rove, who used the party accounts for an estimated 95 percent of his electronic messaging, and by Rove’s staff.

Among many other dubious activities, Rove aide Susan Ralston used her private RNC email to discuss Interior Department appointments with the office of crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who wanted to influence the department on behalf of gambling interests. According to Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, another White House official explained to him that “it is better not to put this stuff in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc…” While Rove was forced to surrender some emails involving his notorious exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame, he retained the capacity to delete thousands of emails.

Various investigations and lawsuits uncovered the astonishing breadth of the Bush White House email fiasco, such as the “recycling” of backup tapes for all of its emails between Inauguration Day 2001 and sometime in 2003. This evidently meant that vast troves of messages pertaining to the 9/11 terrorist attack went missing, of course – along with whatever Rove and his aides might have communicated on that topic, or weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or countless other topics of public concern.

And former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose office was also involved in both the Plame and WMD scandals, admitted recently that he used private emails in office – but that he turned over and retained none of them – zero. (Powell’s successor Condoleezza Rice claims she didn’t use email at all.) By contrast, Clinton has turned over tens of thousands of her emails to the State Department.

Thanks to a federal lawsuit filed by two nonprofit watchdog groups, the National Security Archive at George Washington University and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a small proportion of the missing Bush White House emails were eventually restored – but only when the Obama administration finally settled the case in 2009. Those strict Obama rules for preserving emails (which Clinton stands accused of ignoring) resulted directly from the new administration’s determination to avoid the mess engendered by the deceptive and unlawful preservation practices of the Bush White House.

Now if Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account is so shocking to the Beltway media, why did they barely notice (and care even less) when millions of emails disappeared during the Bush years?

The current hysteria may reflect the intense press prejudice against Clinton that several well-placed Washington journalists confessed during a brief moment of introspection following the disgraceful coverage of her 2008 campaign. And it should serve to warn voters that what Arkansas columnist and author Gene Lyons famously calls “the Clinton rules” – which encouraged inaccuracy, bias, and other forms of journalistic failure in the 1990s – are back in all their malignant effrontery.

Photo: Ripon College via Flickr

Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers. Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003). Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. Daniel Jones March 14, 2015

    Republicans or their sponsors dominate the media entities that make these stories. The simple fact is, these assholes consider law as beneath them.
    No, I’m not saying they regard themselves as above the law, I’m saying they think law, as a concept, is *beneath them*!

    1. ericlipps March 14, 2015

      No. They think they’re the representatives and enforcers of God’s law, which trumps a Constitution written by mere mortals. (Of course, they also think the Constitution was directly dictated to the Framers by God. How they square those two beliefs, I don’t know.)

      1. Daniel Jones March 15, 2015

        Read my original comment again.
        They point fingers specifically to avoid the blame for doing whatever all the time. They throw people under the bus for crimes they regard as their perogative.
        Simply put, they square themselves as the arbiters of “God’s Law” by *playing God*.

        1. ericlipps March 15, 2015

          Your comment and mine aren’t necessarily at odds with each other The only real difference is that I suggest that they feel free to ignore what most of us consider as law when it suits them because they believe they’re serving a higher law by doing so.

          Of course, then there are those who don’t really believe that but simply feel entitled. They’re perfectly willing to let the rubes, that is, the true believers carry water for them.

  2. Dominick Vila March 14, 2015

    The media is consumed by e-mail hysteria, for the same reason they always focus on sensationalism and negativism: ratings and money. The reason most Republican elected officials are silent on this issue is because they have done, and continue to do the same. If every elected official that use personal e-mail accounts, and non-government servers, is investigated and disqualified from office, Washington would become a political desert.
    Interestingly, more relevant issues, such as treason, are ignored in favor of the more juicy stuff.

  3. dave March 14, 2015

    Funny ain’t it how the pubies whine and moan about dems doing anything they don’t like !! Yet catch them in the middle of doing the same thing or having done the same thing and they act all innocent ?? Talk about two faced lying b.s.er’s can you say hypocrites ???? Rove should be in jail and if his e-mails were ever recovered and made public he’d probably be charged tomorrow !CLINTON IS NOT THE VICTIM OF A VAST RIGHT WING
    IDENT !!

    1. weary_jane March 14, 2015

      It will backfire on them. Any sensible person knows that this kind of campaign by the GOP will turn around and burn them. It should also fire up all democrats to do their best to ensure that America is not saddled by this GOP bunch by fighting back with the truth. Hope springs eternal!

    2. Dominick Vila March 15, 2015

      If the focus of the GOP 2016 campaign is on email-gate, that tactic is going to backfire. I wish Hillary had used government resources, but her decision to use a personal e-mail account and a private serves is not only consistent with what most Republican elected officials have done, and continue to do, but it pales in comparison to Iran-gate, the Grand Pappy of all faux pas. If aiding and abetting those declared terrorists by the GOP is not an act of treason, I don’t know what is. What remains to be seen is how is the Democratic party going to handle the attack (s) on Hillary, and what are they going to do against the most embarrassing act committed by members of a major political party in U.S. history.
      The GOP has done horrible things in recent years and, in some cases, they admitted their wrong doing. McConnell’s admission that the politics of obstructionism that delayed the economy recovery and caused so much pain and misery to millions of Americans were influenced by the need to ensure President Obama was a one-term President comes to mind. Incredibly, McConnell, and others that think and do like he does, were re-elected by people who do not seem to understand the implications of what there bozos are doing. Hatred and prejudice are not new in America. What is new are the deliberate attempts to destroy our country to achieve narrow political goals…and get away with it.

  4. Eleanore Whitaker March 14, 2015

    As a former Republican woman of 33 years (I left when Cheney was all too high handed and dishonest), I can tell you why the GOP believe it is above the law. These are men and women who are not politicians. They are only in the game to make millionaires of themselves by sidling up to men like Kochs, Adelson and the rest of the big name billionaires. This EmailGate is just another round of GOP treachery to force Hillary to resign all possibility of running in 2016. Does the GOP seriously think that Elizabeth Warren won’t run? Or Wendy Davis? Or for that matter, Cory Booker?

    The GOP is hiding behind EmailGate just like they did WhiteWater. This is a redoux of WaterGate for the GOP that is bound to come back to haunt them.

    It’s a well known fact that Bobby Jindal’s Administration in 2012 used private email to plot cuts to Medicaid, a federal program. But, what you’ll hear from the GOP and righties is how Hillary, that most dangerous woman in the US, committed a federal crime. Is plotting to cut a federal program not a federal crime?

    All this proves is that it is high time for the elder statesmen among the Democrats to do what Teddy Kennedy or Patrick Moynihan would have done: Slap the Brack Packers in the GOP down to size.

    They fly just under the radar of violating the Logan Act and now are running with tails between their legs to find excuses for why McConnell used Cotton to sabotage President Obama’s ongoing talks for peace and end to nuclear proliferation with Iran.

    What these morons forgot is that they also sabotaged our allies tied to this agreement like England, Germany, France and Spain. So, when they thought they were “outsmarting” the black guy in the White House, in effect, they destroyed US credibility among our allies who now see the US government under the control of the Mutton Chops Brat Packers.

    1. weary_jane March 14, 2015

      I agree. Pick yourself up, straighten your backbone, and show what can be done as Democrats elected to fight the fight for all Americans.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker March 15, 2015

        The only legacy of these smug mugs of the Power Drunks league is their inability to succeed at anything. They’ve been proving this since Warren Harding…Every GOP President with the exception of Eisenhower had a recession in their 2nd term. We give them 8 years and the last 4 are morbid failures.

        1. Independent1 March 15, 2015

          Don’t mean to correct you, but I’m not sure why you’ve excluded Eisenhower (aside from Ike not really being a Republican), when Ike actually leads all presidents in presiding over recessions (3). There were three during Ike’s 8 years which lasted almost half his eight years in office. The recessions of 53-54, 58 and 60-61. Ike actually had 2 in his 2nd term.

          From 1901 to the present day, America has suffered through 17 recessions and 3 depressions: with 14 recessions and all 3 depressions occurring mainly while Republicans were in office. The longest stretches that America has gone through without a recession, were over years when Democrats were mostly in office: 1992-2000 (Clinton); and 1962-1968 (Kennedy & Johnson).

          1. Eleanore Whitaker March 16, 2015

            Correct away! I didn’t check Eisenhower’s record on recession. But, as you point out, ALL GOP president’s were responsible for the worst economies in history.

            When you consider that the very last time Americans felt any sense of prosperity was during the Clinton Administration, you see that the door to Middle Class prosperity and advancement was slammed shut the minute Bush got himself elected.

            Thank you for setting my post straight.

  5. Aaron_of_Portsmouth March 14, 2015

    There is email hysteria, and other dysfunctional patterns of behavior by a certain political wing in America because its membership by and large are not imbued with a sense of fair-play, moderation on speech and tone, and take a dim view of the concept of “Justice”.

    Whenever these jack-asses start foaming about the other party’s faults, they immediately develop selective amnesia and conveniently overlook their own misdeeds.

    Such is the pathetic condition of the American partisan-political landscape. What an eyesore, a cause for despair and anger, and a contributor to a sense that no real progress in achieving unity of purpose can be achieved with the current leadership in both chambers of the legislative branch of American government.

  6. Matforce March 14, 2015

    It would be hilarious if it weren’t so damned infuriating; the right getting every drop of mileage out of yet another divisive issue, while the whole of the GOP has, not just its hand in the cookie jar, but is up to their eyebrows in it, as they have turned our Representative form of Government into a corrupt, “money-for-influence,” pay-to-play, if not Plutocracy, then certainly, an Oligarchy that serves ONLY moneyed interest! This, regardless of the threat to our national interest, as witnessed by the crumbling infrastructures in practically every State in the Union! The sell-out has been pervasive! But don’t expect them to acknowledge the unintended consequences of budget cuts, tax cuts, and favor for moneyed interest. This
    From tax breaks for top earners and multinational corporations (you know; the “job creators”), to Citizens United vs. FEC, to Gramm, Leach, Bliley Act and the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act, otherwise known as the great bank and Wall Street deregulation law, to FTAs from GATT, to NAFTA, to WTO, to The Korean, Columbian you name it, to the upcoming treasonous TPP (all touted as a means to boost US exports , but all have contributed to the decline of Made In USA exports that went from steady trade surpluses up to about 1975 to deficits that, just a few years after China joined the WTO with MFN status, reached the $$$half a TRILLION/yr. US trade deficits that still persist today).

  7. TWBDB March 14, 2015

    Tell you what I wish. I wish there were a way to make Republicans, especially the Tea Party, answer for the shocking commentary made on sites like Newsmax, etc. each and every day. What I find truly scandalous is the acceptance of calls for militant over throw of the government, intimations about killing the president, and the blatant bigotry not only supported but encouraged by the lion share of posters. In my opinion, one politician’s indiscretions pale in comparison to the documented evidence of the mindset of the people who elect those politicians.

    1. Matforce March 14, 2015

      Didn’t you know? Now that the FCC has enforced “Net Neutrality” (a law that keeps large telecom corporations from dicing up the internet into fast and slow lanes and other content control), posters that comment with any “anti-government” free speech will be censored by the big-bad-government, and posters of this libel will be tracked down and shot on sight! (sarcasm filter-off)

    2. Dominick Vila March 15, 2015

      Excellent post! Thank you.

  8. cosliberal March 14, 2015

    Why are Republicans exempt? Because no Democrat will force the issue anymore? After all, Obama let Bush off the hook for torture, what difference does email make? And the press won’t pursue the story because they are afraid of the “librul press” meme, in spite of the fact that that meme is total bullcrap in the age of corporate media. Oh, and because the corporate masters of the various “reporters” tell them that if they pursue these stories, they’ll be fired and worse, they won’t get invited to any more DC parties.

    1. Matforce March 14, 2015

      Hahaha! Funny! Yea, bless their hearts! Dems don’t seem to be able to stoop to anywhere near the depths of ideological disingenuousness as their GOP counterparts, who’ve raised deception to an art form that would make Joseph Goebbels blush! LOL

    2. bobnstuff March 14, 2015

      Wasn’t this what Fox News ended up in court over a few years back when they defended them selves by saying they weren’t a news network.

    3. seconnecticut March 15, 2015

      Not to worry. The NSA has everything.


  9. FT66 March 14, 2015

    When the news broke, I warned republicans to be careful and not jump onto this issue of Hillary’s email. I knew for sure the Pandora Box was about to be opened. Here we are, nothing has been heard yet. Keep all ears opened.

  10. seconnecticut March 14, 2015

    Hillary Clinton’s emails have been front page news for days now,

    and it has become clear that rules for retention of public

    official’s email are not well defined.

    Thanks to Edward Snowden or Jacob Applebaum (watch carefully

    his youtube video “to protect and infect”), we know that the

    NSA collects and stores every bit of electronic traffic possible.

    The public should know if the NSA retains Clinton’s email

    and under what circumstances they would be purged.

    1. Gerald March 15, 2015

      It is obvious Trey Gowdy is using his $3.3 million investigative budget for political purposes until the 2016 elections. On Meet the Press he is meek and polite. On FOX News he is derogatory when talking about the old Secretary of Stare. Good prosecutors and investigators do not play their hand like that. Gowdy should know better.

  11. PhiKapMom March 14, 2015

    Don’t understand it and never will how the media can make such a big deal out of the Hillary Clinton emails and not the Rove, Jeb’s or any number of GOP private emails. Will say if you are in the military or civil service and used private email for official government business, you would be in big trouble (understatement). That said they were all wrong to use private email for official business but to pick on Hillary is beyond pale as she has turned over the emails while the Republicans like Rove have had very few come to light. The media fixation on the Hillary emails shows they are using talking points from the GOP as most people don’t care.

    We do care about the 47 traitors who undermined the President and our Country with their letter that didn’t understand the difference between a treaty (Senate advise and consent) and an agreement between nations which is subject to international law and not subject to Senate approval. Somewhere a lot of US media missed it was big news while foreign media has been all over the 47 Senators open letter to Iran even reporting on #47Traitors. Yet the GOP say the US media is liberal — bet me!

    Loved how Hillary took them apart on that letter. Emails pale in contrast and she made sure she started out with the 47 – Masterful!

    1. Independent1 March 15, 2015

      And just to follow up on your comment about the 47 mutinous senators, I really liked what General Eaton had to say about this instance. His take on the fiasco is that the senators acted like mutineers and that their act could be construed to be illegal. Checking the We the People petition on White House dot Gov, shows that over 300,000 have signed requesting that the 47 be tried for their illegal action (especially Senator Cotton).

      See this from General Eaton via the Washington Post:

      “I would use the word mutinous,” said Eaton, whose long career includes training Iraqi forces from 2003 to 2004. He is now a senior adviser to VoteVets.org. “I do not believe these senators were trying to sell out America. I do believe they defied the chain of command in what could be construed as an illegal act.” Eaton certainly had stern words for Cotton.

      “What Senator Cotton did is a gross breach of discipline, and especially as a veteran of the Army, he should know better,” Eaton told me. “I have no issue with Senator Cotton, or others, voicing their opinion in opposition to any deal to halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Speaking out on these issues is clearly part of his job. But to directly engage a foreign entity, in this way, undermining the strategy and work of our diplomats and our Commander in Chief, strains the very discipline and structure that our foreign relations depend on, to succeed.” The consequences of Cotton’s missive were plainly apparent to Eaton. “The breach of discipline is extremely dangerous, because undermining our diplomatic efforts, at this moment, brings us another step closer to a very costly and perilous war with Iran,” he said.


  12. Aaron_of_Portsmouth March 15, 2015

    Another reason the “other” party feels it’s exempt is because it is populated mostly by whiners and obdurate hoity-toity types who feel they are exalted above others.

  13. Godzilla March 15, 2015

    If I’m not mistaken, the author forgot about Libby, Cheney’s CoS who got popped. But facts don’t matter on Liberal sites, it’s better to just lie and bullshit the sheople. But wait, it’s not the RWNJ’s who are screwing Queen Hillary, it’s Obama, BWAHAHAHA!


    1. TWBDB March 15, 2015

      You are free to believe, speak, and behave as you wish. Free speech does include offensive speech.

      1. Godzilla March 15, 2015

        Thank You! I do agree.

        1. TWBDB March 15, 2015

          Welcome to the reality we call center – left. You may be challenged, you may receive in kind what you put out, but you will be allowed to say it.

          1. Godzilla March 15, 2015

            This place is certainly Left. I have no fear. Did you read the link or simply blow it off because Carvelle is playing blocker for the Clintons? I actually have no problem with the personal email issue, as long as it’s legal. We should ALL have a problem with the personal server issue. To deny this as a problem will just lead to more of the same in the future, by both sides.

  14. bernieo March 16, 2015

    You forgot to mention that Jeb discussed National Guard troop movements after 9-11 and he also discussed protection of nuclear facilities.

    I do have one complaint. We should not be talking about the “Clinton rules”. That is just what guys like Rove want because it is an argument for not choosing our strongest candidate. They are terrified of going up against Hillary – hence the early attacks. GOP SOP. (And I do not buy the Times claim that they were not fed the phony lost email story by right wing operatives – just like they were fed the phony Whitewater charge and the WMD claims.)

    The double standard applies to Democrats in general. The media gleefully went along with right wing lies that smeared Al Gore and it had little to do with his association with Clinton.


    The media did not respond with the kind of outrage they have about Hillary’s not-lost emails when Republicans had the gall to trash Kerry’s well-deserved record as a war hero to ensure the reelection of two chicken hawks – one who went AWOL and the other who used every possible deferment to avoid serving in a war he supported. (Contrary to the media’s accusation that Clinton was a draft dodger, he also took legitimate deferments but then, unlike Cheney, than allowed his name to be put in the draft pool. He got a high number so was never called up.)

    The MSM also treated Carter with disdain, calling him a “Peanut Farmer” and refusing to this day to give him credit for things like reducing our dependence on foreign oil. In contrast they excused Reagan for disastrous decisions, ignore the fact that his supply-side tax cuts drastically increased out national debt, and accepted his explanation that his heart told him he did not trade weapons for hostages. Of course they must have realized he was already suffering from dementia by then (his staff seriously considered having him removed from office – a fact largely unreported by the MSM). But there is no excuse for them letting Poppy Bush get away with lying about his central role in the unconstitutional Contra op then pardoning Sec Def Caspar Weinberger to keep the truth of his own complicity from emerging at trial.

    So three standards are really at play. The right one, that bases judgements about issues of substance on facts, not gotchas, need for excitement, bias, etc. Then there are the two actually applied – Democrats being held to an unreasonable standard, often based on lies, misinformation, selective reporting, etc. and Republicans Being judged by a standard that allows them to slide even on critical issues. The Bush administration willfully ignoring multiple warnings by a variety of experts that we were in grave danger of an attack by Bin Laden springs to mind. Any Democratic president that did that would be excoriated by the mainstream media – as they should be.

  15. jbyork3 March 21, 2015

    This article doesn’t exonerate Ms Clinton — it merely shows that none of those named can be trusted, either.

  16. alansnipes March 28, 2015

    No, it does exonerate Clinton. Unlike the Republicans in this article, she has turned over 55,000 emails that her staff deemed relevant to her tenure as SOS. And, if you read below the State Departments own guidelines on keeping emails, she has violated no procedures or laws:

    Department Regulations: Employees “Must Decide Whether A
    Particular Message Is Appropriate For Preservation.” According
    to the U.S. Department of State’s official guidance for “e-mail
    communications,” the specific creators and recipients of electronic
    correspondence “must decide whether a particular message is appropriate
    for preservation.” The guidelines specifically note that the State
    Department does not intend to preserve “every e-mail message” sent or
    received by employees:

    intention of this guidance is not to require the preservation of every E-mail
    message. Its purpose is to direct the preservation of those messages that
    contain information that is necessary to ensure that departmental policies,
    programs, and activities are adequately documented. E-mail message creators and
    recipients must decide whether a particular message is appropriate for
    preservation. In making these decisions, all personnel should exercise the same
    judgment they use when determining whether to retain and file paper records.
    [U.S. Department of State, Foreign Affairs Manual, accessed 3/11/15]


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