CNN’s Stelter fails with partisan reporting on Clinton’s health
Media reporters are a relatively new breed. A breed that basically came along during the last decade when digital media came into existence, creating hundreds of more avenues for actual reporting to exist, and therefore keep an eye on.
The job of media reporter is fairly straightforward: Observe the industry in all of its forms. And when good or bad reporting happens, simply call it out.
If a police force is a parallel of the Fourth Estate, a media reporter exists in that context as Internal Affairs, as a check and balance for those who are supposed to speak truth to power.
But lately it appears that even Internal Affairs/media reporters are compromised, biased and even dishonest. Exhibit A is CNN’s Brian Stelter in his reporting on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s health issues, or per his consistent narrative for weeks, total lack of issues.
Sunday was an active news day well outside of coverage of the 15th anniversary of 9/11: Clinton left a ceremony at Ground Zero early. And Fox News’s Rick Leventhal — as solid a news reporter as they come out there — first went to air of Clinton’s unexpected departure.
From there, Leventhal was alone in his report citing a Clinton health episode for leaving early. The Clinton campaign wasn’t talking. Other news organizations were waiting for another outlet or the campaign to come forward to verify before even cautiously broaching it.
But shortly after 11:00 a.m. on CNN, Stelter broke away from his planned segment on “Reliable Sources” to break the news, via CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, that Clinton had indeed become “overheated” during the 9/11 event under comfortable conditions (76 degrees at the time, mild breeze, low humidity).
Here is video of Clinton attempting to enter her secure vehicle:
Here is the CNN transcript of Stelter’s exchange with reporter Jeff Zeleny via the non-partisan RealClearPolitics.
Sunday RCP headline: CNN’s Stelter to Media: Do Not Give Oxygen To “Conspiracy Theories” That Hillary Clinton Is “Secretly Ill”
BRIAN STELTER, RELIABLE SOURCES: Very worrisome news to hear, obviously, Jeff. As someone who covers the Clinton campaign everyday, what can you tell us about how frequently Clinton may have any health issues. Because obviously for years, there have been conspiracy theories online promoted by conservative websites saying that she is secretly ill. The campaign denied that and her physician said she is fit to serve as president.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN: Indeed, her physician said she is fit to serve as president. She’s released more medical information than her rival has of course but still has not released all of her records that all candidates have had over the years.
Now, this certainly is going to prompt and renew and raise more questions about her health potentially here. She is 68 years old. She will turn 69 in October, before election day. It has, you know, we have seen it a lot over recent weeks, you know, some selected images and pictures and video of her either stumbling —
BRIAN STELTER: Taken out of context.
ZELENY: Taken out of context, yes. And I can tell you, Brian, I cover her a lot day in and day out on the campaign trail. Her schedule is very aggressive. We hear Donald Trump often saying, ‘Oh, she is taking a nap in the middle of the day.’ That’s not true. She has a very rigorous campaign schedule.
After a panel discussion consisting of the Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik questioning Fox’s Leventhal for going to air with a story he had absolutely correct via two sources and Katrina Vanden Heuval of The Nation speculating what kind of unthoughtful tweet Republican nominee Donald Trump was writing at that moment over the incident (Trump still hasn’t weighed in as of early Monday morning), Stelter later connected with Zeleny for the following exchange — which had nothing to do with the episode Clinton experienced on Sunday that showed her knees buckling while falling into her security van with aides catching her before potentially injuring herself — around an older tabloid photo instead of discussing the situation at hand.
Translation: Nothing really to see here, so let’s deflect the conversation to a completely irrelevant point.
STELTER: “You know, they had that horrible — let’s be honest, Jeff, they had this horrible photo on the cover of that supermarket tabloid. Clearly, Hillary was Photoshopped in the picture. I thought it was disgusting.
And yet, even though there are these conspiracy theories, which we should not give oxygen to, saying that she is secretly ill, suggesting she is on her deathbed, which we can she is not, there are legitimate questions to ask by reporters. And I think that’s the distinction here to make.
ZELENY: Right. It is a distinction, no doubt about it. Like I said, she has released more information than Donald Trump has, but both of them have released far less than John McCain did and Barack Obama did, than Mitt Romney and Barack Obama did, going back much beyond that.
But the picture on the tabloid did looked doctored. I see her most every day. That looked nothing like her. And she has joked about it, Brian. I think we saw her on TV…
STELTER: Yes, good point.
ZELENY: … a couple weeks ago saying, you know, look, they’ve predicted that I would be on my deathbed by October and I’m still here. So she has made humor of this. And I think that this could go one of two ways here. If the other — if her critics keep this up and criticize her, this could certainly motivate and inspire some of her supporters as well here.
But we see her waving there, again. She’s scheduled to go to California tomorrow. She will be on the West Coast for three days this week. As of now, her schedule is going forward here, Brian.
On Thursday, for example, I flew with her all day as she left the airport in Westchester around 10:00 a.m. after a press conference and we returned at 11:00 p.m. She had a couple different campaign stops, a couple different fundraising stops and working along the way. So she is keeping up a rigorous pace here.
But there are going to be questions about her health. In this incident, this episode, this situation this morning in Manhattan is just the latest example of that. The fact the Clinton campaign putting out this statement this morning saying that she felt overheated at Ground Zero and was taken to her daughter’s apartment certainly is the information we have right now at this hour, Brian.”
The report would end there.
The trip to California has since been cancelled.
Takeaway: Stelter never broaches during any of these live reports — big ones considering the news here — that other prominent doctors, including President Obama’s ex-physician of more than two decades — made the recommendation recently that Clinton should take a neurological exam.
Obama’s physician, who gave him a clean bill of health before the 2008 election and is widely respected, was Dr. David Scheiner from 1987 until his election in 2008. Scheiner isn’t a Trump fan, but instead a Clinton supporter who said the Republican nominee “scares the devil out of him.”
“There are a number of questions I have,” said Dr. Scheiner to CNN’s Erin Burnett in mid-August. “First of all, she’s also 68 years old, and while I think that letter was well-written and very professional, unlike Dr. Bornstein’s [Donald Trump’s doctor], it’s not enough.”
“For example, she’s on Coumadin, a medication to prevent blood clots,” he continued. “You have to monitor that and it says she’s being monitored regularly. I’d like to know how well she’s being controlled. That’s a difficult drug to use.”
But here’s the part Stelter — a media reporter whose job it is to present the full story — has curiously omitted in his numerous television appearances pontificating on the topic of Clinton’s health which he has continually dismissed as conspiracy theories:
“Also, I think she should have had a neurological examination, a thorough neurological examination in 2016,” recommended Scheiner. “We know what happens to football players who have had concussions, how they begin to lose some of their cognitive ability, I think both [Trump and Clinton] should release their records.”
On Twitter, I asked Stelter — who had repeatedly made the argument that any questions raised about Clinton’s health status are strictly those of Drudge, Fox’s Sean Hannity, Breitbart and the alt-right — why he has ignored the prognosis of the president’s own ex-physician who made said recommendation on CNN primetime to much press reaction afterward:
@brianstelter The former ex-physician of the president saying Hillary Clinton should have a neurological exam on CNN air is cherry-picking?
— Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) September 11, 2016
In reviewing transcripts of several Stelter appearances on the topic, the media reporter and critic not only has failed to present Dr. Scheiner’s conclusion, but also none of the other top doctors who have come forward to state Clinton needs further medical analysis, scrutiny and transparency as well — and there are plenty to cite.
Short version: The “conspiracy theories” that Stelter has characterized in the form of reporting dozens of times on air and in print around Clinton’s health had gone well beyond right-wing media and Trump surrogates before Sunday’s episode and should have been a legitimate concern worthy of questioning, as noted several times in this space over the past few weeks.
Meghan McCain, the daughter of 2008 Republican nominee John McCain, proceeded to weigh in on Twitter with a very fair question:
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) September 11, 2016
Stelter has never explored that contradiction in print or on his program as well. This is different kind of bias: the bias of omission.
Stelter has since pivoted to take journalists to task for not “being honest about the double standard women sometimes face with regards to their health,” especially in the workplace and in politics. So instead of conspiracy theories, which was all the rage before Sunday, it’s now a narrative around gender dynamics and unfair stereotypes.
Translation: Clinton wouldn’t face this kind of scrutiny around her health if she was a man. Uh-huh.
By the way, here’s why this column should mean something to you: Stelter is supposed to monitor media and report on all that’s right and wrong with it. A watchful eye of the gatekeepers, so to speak. That’s how I view the job with a simple mantra and two questions:
Is the media/press being objective in situation X, Y, Z?
Is it telling you the full story without bias, without agenda?
“[Questions about Clinton’s health] have been debunked time and time again,” Stelter argued on his nationally-televised program in August, adding, “This is stuff that does not belong on the lead website, like the Drudge Report, or on the Fox News Channel. It just doesn’t belong there.”
Media reporters are supposed to be the last stand against dishonesty and partisanship in the media.
But one of its more prominent ones with a large megaphone — like the kind CNN provides — has been compromised in favor of pushing one candidate’s narrative in this election.
And in the process, it now appears even the watchdogs of the Fourth Estate can’t be trusted.
Which makes one wonder as trust in media plummets well below historic lows:
Who’s really watching the gatekeepers anymore?
Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.
The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.
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