Friday, June 2, 2017

Chris Cillizza Makes Me Want To Gargle Bleach

I am not a fan of Chris Cillizza. He wrote one of the worst books I have ever read about politics (and I’ve read quite a few); I once called him out on Twitter and his response was basically “I write a blog.” Some time later, he blocked me. Of course, my opinion of Cillizza is meaningless - he has (for reasons unclear to me) become a successful journalist, first, at the Washington Post and was recently poached by CNN where he gets paid what I assume is a healthy mid six-figure salary to write columns like this:

But that is the reality of all political campaigns. Stuff happens. Good luck and bad breaks occur. Circumstances totally out of a candidate’s control often decide — or heavily influence — how voters make up their minds. Here’s one example: Clinton’s private email server had absolutely nothing to do with the email hack via WikiLeaks. But the two issues — both of which dealt with email — got conflated as one issue in the minds of lots and lots of voters. And there as nothing Clinton could do about it.

The truth of the matter is this: Hillary Clinton’s name was at the top of the campaign and signed on the checks her staff received. It was her decision to set up a private email server and exclusively use it for her communications as secretary of state — the first person in her position to do that.

Cillizza then goes on at some length about all of Hillary’s failings as a candidate. But here is the thing - saying “stuff happens” as a way to minimize … pick your poison (1) Jim Comey going against DOJ protocols and sending a letter to Congress 11 days before the election based on incomplete information; (2) a foreign nation’s overt attempts to influence our election via cyber espionage; and/or (3) the Trump campaign’s (possible) collaboration with those efforts is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst - there is no corollary, no modern historical precedent to compare these actions to. This is not a “bad break” like a good (or bad) unemployment number a few days before the election, these were intentional acts be persons (and a country) to tilt the election.

Which brings me to the second point and the one that really grinds my gears. Cillizza correctly notes that Hillary’s use of a personal email server and the WikiLeaks hack had nothing to do with each other but then he says they “got conflated as one issue in the minds of lots and lots of people.” This is the classic media dodge that omits its role in putting that idea in the minds of voters. I am not sure why “the media” is so reluctant to acknowledge its role in making both the email server and WikiLeaks bigger stories than they should have, but the idea that this conflation took place magically, without any doing by people like Cillizza is a blatant lie. 

And even if you accept that the email server was a legitimate topic for the media to cover, the extent of the coverage far outstripped the importance of it - no charges were filed, the State Department’s Inspector General acknowledged she did not violate State Department protocol and, by the way, more than 90 other senior level officials utilized private email accounts (including Colin Powell and senior aides to Condoleezza Rice). The perception that the email server story showed Hillary to be untrustworthy was a media creation, not one based on the facts of the matter. As for WikiLeaks, on this account the media’s refusal to admit its role in disseminating information they knew to be stolen by the Russians and (likely) being published to harm Clinton is both baffling and shameless. The stolen email were published in earnest right after the final debate and continued on right up to Comey's letter to Congress. The idea these things did not harm Hillary have been debunked by people like Nate Silver and are not "stuff" that candidates have ever had to deal with before. 

Any losing campaign for President is flawed - but so is every winning campaign. Perfection rarely (if ever) happens, but Cillizza’s dismissiveness of the forces that aligned against Clinton as mere “stuff happens” and his failure to acknowledge the media’s role in getting voters to think “Clinton + email = scandal” is the real scandal.

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy

And do read Cillizza’s full column and draw your own opinions. It can be found here:


  1. Cillizza has always been a hack, trying to play both sides. That the media gives these "contributors" airtime is baffling. Truth USUALLY wins out - here's hoping.

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