Adam Nagourney is the Los Angeles bureau chief for the New York Times. Though he’s the paper’s former chief political reporter, he’s not currently assigned to cover the campaign of Democratic 2016 hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton. But he receives the campaign’s e-mails.
Clinton "will lay out her view of challenges facing country and her vision and ideas." This on background to "campaign official." Really?— Adam Nagourney (@adamnagourney) June 1, 2015
Per Clinton campaign memo: background is negotiated btwn campaign & reporter. And that Jesse stuff doesn't rise to level of needing bckgrnd— Adam Nagourney (@adamnagourney) June 1, 2015
As Nagourney noted, the e-mail addressed Clinton’s June 13 campaign kickoff speech at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City. The e-mail instructed recipients to attribute its contents to a “Clinton campaign official.” Those contents were pedestrian and, in some cases, Wikipedia-style pedestrian. For example:
Hillary Clinton grew up in Illinois, and her career spent working on behalf of children and families has taken her from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., Arkansas to New York. But it was the voters of New York who elected her to serve as their first female senator.
Now let’s attribute that snippet in accordance with the rules of the e-mail:
Hillary Clinton grew up in Illinois, said a Clinton campaign official in an e-mail sent to reporters, and her career spent working on behalf of children and families has taken her from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., Arkansas to New York. But it was the voters of New York who elected her to serve as their first female senator, noted the campaign official.
In a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog, Nagourney said, “Reporters negotiate the terms of information with sources….you can’t go preemptively.” He called the information in the e-mail “anodyne stuff.” “It’s like give me a break,” he says. Nagourney isn’t writing a piece on Clinton’s campaign launch, nor has he heard any complaint from the Clinton people about his tweets. The Twitter commentary from Nagourney, furthermore, lands on a heap of other backlash pieces against the Clinton campaign team for generally worthless press briefings.
And Nagourney has some experience torpedoing background e-mails. Way back in December 2003, Nagourney did a story on how the capture of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein would affect the then-incipient race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Around that time, Howard Dean was viewed as a threat to vanquish his rivals, who included eventual nominee Sen. John Kerry. Nagourney wrote:
The strains this created were evident on Sunday. Mr. Kerry’s press secretary, Stephanie Cutter, sent an e-mail message to news organizations listing remarks Dr. Dean had made over the past six months that she said demonstrated that his opposition to the war was ”politically driven.”But Ms. Cutter, reflecting the concern among the campaigns that they not be viewed as turning a foreign policy victory to political advantage, put a note on the top of the statement demanding that it be reported as ”background” and attributed only to a Democratic campaign.
“She was upset,” Nagourney recalls, when asked how Cutter reacted to the outing. Cutter told the Erik Wemple Blog via e-mail, “[B]ackground has to be agreed to, not assumed.”
Of course, there’s a problem when reporters gripe about the “background” tendencies of campaigns and Cabinet officials and White House officials and so on. That problem is that media execs also run away from on-the-record accountability whenever possible.