Conservatives are often critical of liberal bias in our political media but an explosive new story shows the issue is worse than many suspected.

Back in 2009, Marc Ambinder then working for the Atlantic wanted a scoop on a Hillary Clinton speech. He got it, but it came with conditions with which he complied fully.

Surprisingly, it was Gawker which broke the story. J.K. Trotter reported:

This Is How Hillary Clinton Gets the Coverage She Wants

Hillary Clinton’s supporters often argue that mainstream political reporters are incapable of covering her positively—or even fairly. While it may be true that the political press doesn’t always write exactly what Clinton would like, emails recently obtained by Gawker offer a case study in how her prodigious and sophisticated press operation manipulates reporters into amplifying her desired message—in this case, down to the very word that The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder used to describe an important policy speech.

The emails in question, which were exchanged by Ambinder, then serving as The Atlantic’s politics editor, and Philippe Reines, Clinton’s notoriously combative spokesman and consigliere, turned up thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request we filed in 2012 (and which we are currently suing the State Department over)…

On the morning of July 15, 2009, Ambinder sent Reines a blank email with the subject line, “Do you have a copy of HRC’s speech to share?” His question concerned a speech Clinton planned to give later that day at the Washington, D.C. office of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential think tank. Three minutes after Ambinder’s initial email, Reines replied with three words: “on two conditions.” After Ambinder responded with “ok,” Reines sent him a list of those conditions:

Here’s the email exchange. Pay close attention:

From: [Philippe Reines]
Sent: Wednesday, July 15 2009 10:06 AM
To: Ambinder, Marc
Subject: Re: Do you have a copy of HRC’s speech to share?

3 [conditions] actually

1) You in your own voice describe them as “muscular”

2) You note that a look at the CFR seating plan shows that all the envoys — from Holbrooke to Mitchell to Ross — will be arrayed in front of her, which in your own clever way you can say certainly not a coincidence and meant to convey something

3) You don’t say you were blackmailed!
One minute later, Ambinder responded:

From: Ambinder, Marc
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 10:07 AM
To: Philippe Reines
Subject: RE: Do you have a copy of HRC’s speech to share?

got it

Ambinder rolled over like a good lap dog. Emphasis is Trotter’s:

Ambinder made good on his word. The opening paragraph of the article he wrote later that day, under the headline “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Smart Power’ Breaks Through,” precisely followed Reines’ instructions:

When you think of President Obama’s foreign policy, think of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That’s the message behind a muscular speech that Clinton is set to deliver today to the Council on Foreign Relations. The staging gives a clue to its purpose: seated in front of Clinton, subordinate to Clinton, in the first row, will be three potentially rival power centers: envoys Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, and National Security Council senior director Dennis Ross.

There’s much more. Trotter did an outstanding job here.

Erik Wemple, who covers media for the Washington Post weighed in on this as well:

Corrupt journalism doesn’t pay. Nor does abetting it.

In a series of remarks to Gawker, Ambinder lamented making the deal. “It made me uncomfortable then, and it makes me uncomfortable today,” said Ambinder. “And when I look at that email record, it is a reminder to me of why I moved away from all that. The Atlantic, to their credit, never pushed me to do that, to turn into a scoop factory. In the fullness of time, any journalist or writer who is confronted by the prospect, or gets in the situation where their journalism begins to feel transactional, should listen to their gut feeling and push away from that.”

That’s a dash of knowledge seasoned by seven years of perspective: Who remembers Clinton’s July 15, 2009, speech before the Council on Foreign Relations? And even if it was a consequential address, what lasting contribution or analysis did Ambinder contribute with his piece on it? The story was a quick-hit classic, incorporating the elements required by Reines, plus some further analysis and some block quotes from the speech’s text. Of course, Clinton eventually issued the speech, meaning that the rest of the journalism field gained access to it. An “ego scoop,” as New York University Professor Jay Rosen would say. Maybe it drove some traffic that day.

Though Ambinder will bear most of the smirch from this Beltway bucket of slime, the episode speaks to the inadvisability of encouraging journalists to flout the SPJ code of ethics.

There are plenty of issues to chew on in this story but liberal media bias is certainly a top concern. Try to imagine Marc Ambinder or any other liberal journalist taking marching orders from a Republican.


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