Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was finally asked a tough question during NBC's commander-in-chief forum, so naturally the establishment media immediately coagulated around the notion that NBC's Matt Lauer was the worst moderator ever.
An Air Force and Navy veteran, who said he held "the top secret sensitive compartmentalized information clearance," said to Clinton regarding her acts as secretary of state, "Had I communicated this information not following prescribed protocols, I would have been prosecuted and imprisoned." He then asked, "Secretary Clinton, how can you expect those such as myself who were and are trusted with America's most sensitive information to have any confidence in your leadership as president when you clearly corrupted our national security?"
How could Lauer allow a veteran to spend precious time on Clinton's email "scandal," they wondered from the bubble? Since Clinton claims that her experience is what makes her ready "on day one," it's not unreasonable to wonder why she still supposedly didn't understand how classified documents worked; or why she engaged in actions that probably allowed foreign actors to access top secret information; or why she attempted to obstruct the investigation into those emails. We can't talk about Donald Trump tweets 24/7, after all.
For critics, there was an even uglier moment. How could Lauer let Trump get away with lying about his position on Iraq? This was the big takeaway last night, and the dominant apprehension of the media, the sanctity of the candidate roundtable and political debates. As if politicians blatantly lying about their positions were a unique event.
Basically, everyone lied about everything at the forum. Yet rarely was any of the post-forum hand-wringing concerned about Clinton's performance. It is true that Clinton's distortions are better-couched, but why was there no pushback when she claimed that no Americans died in Libya "action" in 2011? Why was there no fact-check on Clinton's false intimation that no one hacked her emails? The consensus is that a foreign nation probably did hack her classified emails. No one seemed exceptionally concerned about her prevaricating on that one.
Now, media types are wondering if perhaps moderators should engage in spontaneous fact-checks, which, theoretically, sounds like a wonderful idea. In practice, though, as the very stories calling for fact-checks illustrate, the media is highly selective in ascertaining which inaccuracies they find problematic, and which would skew coverage even more than it's already skewed—if that's possible. Imagine Candy Crowley, who moderated the second presidential debate in 2012, using incorrect information to defend President Barack Obama from Gov. Mitt Romney but having no moderator challenging the president's litany of untruths regarding Obamacare.
Republicans "lie," but Democrats offer imprecise or nuanced assertions that can be transformed into a truth with a couple of Vox.com explainers.
What must have been most off-putting was Clinton's performance. For the first time, a small part of me was forced to concede that Clinton might be one of the few politicians in the country awful enough to lose a general election to Trump. She must have felt something went wrong as well because for the first time in 278 days she held a formal press conference, on a tarmac in New York.
Not that it mattered. The press didn't exactly roll her an orange and ask her what her favorite color is, but it wasn't far off. Most of her time was spent ripping Trump's ugly assertion that he prefers Russian President Vladimir Putin to President Obama. It was unpatriotic and outside the norms of political discourse, said Clinton, who probably forgot that a couple of months ago she was cheering on Democrats who were accusing Republicans of arming ISIS.
With the freedom to ask the probable next president of the United States anything in the world they wanted, the first query from the media was about polls. Why aren't you winning by a larger margin, Hillary?
By the end, Clinton had answered a total of four questions, not one of them challenging or enlightening in any genuine way. Two softballs allowed her to pontificate about foreign policy. One question was about the horserace, and one about the unfair treatment she receives from the media.
Clinton said during the press conference: "I have been somewhat heartened by the number of articles recently pointing out the quite disparate treatment of Trump and his campaign compared to ours. I don't understand the reasons for it." That's probably because it's a complete fantasy propagated by partisans and now internalized by the media as a reality.
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