“Emails show Washington Post, New York Times reporters unenthusiastic about covering Clinton-Lynch meeting,” reads the headline on a Washington Examiner piece that has secured a great deal of pass-around in conservative media circles in recent days. The Federalist charged the two news outlets with sweeping the meeting “under the rug.” There’s even been chatter involving the “c” word:
Reporters from the Washington Post and New York Times colluded with Obama's DOJ to try and kill the tarmac story. https://t.co/HnWIrKOwSB
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) August 7, 2017
It was only a matter of time before this media conspiracy landed at the social-media doorstep of President Trump:
E-mails show that the AmazonWashingtonPost and the FailingNewYorkTimes were reluctant to cover the Clinton/Lynch secret meeting in plane.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2017
Now, let’s have a look at said emails. They were obtained by the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), which last year requested documents related to the rationality-defying tarmac meeting between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whose Justice Department was overseeing the investigation into presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state, and former president Bill Clinton. Worthy topic!
The trove included some media correspondence, including this exchange involving Post reporter Matt Zapotosky:
Clearly the conspiratorial right has clung to the notion that Zapotosky, all by his lonesome, is going to put this whole Lynch-Clinton scandal “to rest.” Another, more plausible scenario: Zapotosky was trying to put the finishing touches on his story. Seeking further details from the Justice Department isn’t the most effective way of suppressing a story, after all. And: The email states in plain language that editors at The Post were “still pretty interested in it.”
Yet another wrinkle: The correspondence shows that a Justice Department spokeswoman appeared to be annoyed with Zapotosky for jumping on the story without checking with her for comment. “Who did you email for comment for this story. And why not reach out to me?” asked the Justice Department’s Melanie Newman.
Now for the New York Times. Here’s the email from New York Times reporter Mark Landler to the Justice Department:
“Pressed into service,” huh? Sounds scandalous and highly “reluctant,” until you hear the explanation from the New York Times: “As a White House correspondent, he was explaining that he was assigned to do the story because the DOJ reporters were not available. … We would have told the Washington Examiner and others as much if they had asked,” notes New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha.
Both newspapers managed to overcome their severe reluctance and their collusional tendencies to eke out major news articles on all of this. “Meeting Between Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch Provokes Political Furor,” reads the headline on Landler’s June 30 piece. Oh, and on Page 1 of the July 2 edition of the New York Times, Landler and two other reporters contributed this piece: “Loretta Lynch to Accept F.B.I. Recommendations in Clinton Email Inquiry.” Here’s the lead of that article: “Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, conceding that her airport meeting with former President Bill Clinton this week had cast a shadow over the federal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s personal email account, said Friday that she would accept whatever recommendations career prosecutors and the F.B.I. director made about whether to bring charges in the case.”
Ha notes: “The Times covered that story repeatedly for weeks.”
The pattern for The Post’s coverage was similar: A spot-news story on the meeting and an A1 story on how it forced Lynch into a posture of deference with respect to the FBI’s findings on the Clinton email investigation.
The next day, longtime political journalist Dan Balz did a piece on the Lynch-Comey disaster, even though the matter had been “put it to rest.”
Scott Wilson, The Post’s national editor, emails: “Contrary to President Trump’s characterization, the email in question shows our reporter committed to the Lynch-Comey story and working to report it as comprehensively as possible. … Our coverage was vigorous and aggressive from the moment we learned Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch met more than a year ago in the Phoenix airport. Saying otherwise is factually wrong.”
Examining the actual coverage of two newspapers, of course, is nowhere near as conclusive as fixating on random and easily misinterpreted remarks in quickie emails from reporters to government flacks.