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Budowsky: Hillary vs. media malpractice

The political coverage of the 2016 campaign has reached epic levels of sloppiness and shallowness, at a moment when public opinion toward major media has reached catastrophically low levels of trust, according to surveys from Gallup.

According to the latest survey of institutional trust from Gallup, in June television news ranked near the bottom of public confidence in all American institutions, approaching the low levels of trust of the almost universally distrusted Congress. Newspapers barely ranked higher. 

Another Gallup survey in September 2014 was headlined “trust in mass media returns to all-time low.” When I charge media malpractice in the 2016 campaign I am in the good company of huge numbers of voters.

{mosads}The Clinton email issue involves a mistake but not a scandal. It involves a judgment call but emphatically not a crime by Hillary Clinton — a charge that is the biggest lie in American politics today.

When The New York Times ran a front-page story that falsely suggested Clinton was being criminally investigated — a false charge that remains negligently legitimized by many media organizations today — at least the Times ultimately ran a correction of that sterling example of media malpractice.

Regarding the emails themselves, based on all public evidence, Clinton did not send one classified email and did not receive one classified email. Anyone who has handled classified information, which I did during my days working for Democratic leaders in Congress, knows that classified information is clearly marked and labeled “confidential,” “secret,” or “top secret,” or whatever level of classification is justified.

Hillary Clinton did not send or receive one classified email. Not once. Not ever. If others sent her emails that included materials that should have been classified, but were not, or were classified, but not labeled as such, for any in the media to treat this as a criminal scandal against the candidate is media malpractice of the first order. When Republican partisans level this charge it is the professional duty of legitimate journalists to report and explain the facts and not repeat and legitimize the lie.

In another example of media malpractice, CNN on Wednesday released a poll that showed Clinton defeating every Republican opponent by between 6 percent and 10 percent. If this margin victory for Clinton occurs on Election Day, it may bring Democrats back into control of the Senate and give Democrats some chance of regaining control of the House, especially if Clinton wins by the 9 percent that the poll showed her defeating Jeb Bush by.

And yet, in a stunning example of media malpractice, many political commentators stated that a poll showing Clinton winning by such large margins is a setback for the Clinton campaign, and proof of her faltering campaign.

I promise you, if the Lord tells any Democrat that his or her candidate for president is going to win by 6 percent to 10 percent on Election Day, that person would be jumping for joy, and if the Lord said to any Republican that his or her candidate would lose by 6 percent to 10 percent, they would be mourning into their beer or Merlot. 

To report otherwise is a political incompetence and media malpractice that was rampant throughout the media in the reporting about that poll.

For months reporters had criticized Clinton for not taking questions from the media. Fair enough. I agree. But what happened when she did take more questions?

First the media hounds shouted repetitive questions about the emails she has already answered, some of which imply that the big GOP lie about a criminal investigation of Clinton are true. The former secretary of State recently released a comprehensive plan to lower the costs of education that would help tens of millions of Americans who care about this issue deeply. Yet how many in the media ask Clinton about this plan, which is far more important to voters than emails and servers?

The greatest media malpractice of the 2016 campaign is the aggressive and systematic refusal throughout the media to discuss and explore the serious substantive issues that voters care about.

It is media malpractice to treat the election of our next leader as a blood sport, reality television show, freak show or sporting event and refuse to treat voters as serious people concerned about serious issues. This disrespect of voters cheats voters by denying them the kind of campaign they deserve, and it accounts for the humiliating low trust levels that voters demonstrate toward the media.

It is unprofessional, wrong and causes further public distrust of the media when media malpractice legitimizes a partisan attempt to falsely turn what the candidate has acknowledged was a mistake first into a scandal, and then into a crime. 

The malpractice is magnified again when reporters shout perp-walk-style questions to a candidate about a criminal investigation that does not exist and will not happen, and then offer, instead of objective analysis of the facts, their theatrical evaluation of the candidate’s rhetorical charm when faced with this media malpractice mayhem.

It is media malpractice turned into farce when commentators suggest that a CNN poll showing the Democratic candidate winning by 6 percent to 10 points is in trouble and that the Republican candidates losing by 6 percente to 10 points are doing well.

Does Hillary Clinton’s campaign have challenges? Yes, you can bet your pants suit it does. But there is not one Republican candidate who would not trade places with her strength in the campaign for the nomination and general election. Any GOP candidate who claims otherwise is bearing false witness, and anyone who reports otherwise is guilty of one more moment of media malpractice.


Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors blog and reached at

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