This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage. So I do think it is worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks.
Obama was then asked about Clinton and whether her loss could be laid at the feet of the Russian hack. Again, he turned to a media-focused answer:
I couldn't be prouder of Secretary Clinton, her outstanding service, and she's worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people, and I don't think she was treated fairly during the election. I think the coverage of her and the issues was troubling.
Media critic is not a new hat for Obama to wear. He (and his senior aides) have been disdainful and dismissive of the media ever since he began running for president in 2007 and 2008. The criticism then is the same as the criticism now: The media focuses on bright, shiny objects at the expense of serious policy. The media cares about clicks and ratings, not providing a public service to the electorate. From the coverage of the Affordable Care Act to the 2012 campaign and into his second term, Obama has viewed the media as overly simplistic, horse-race focused and, often, just plain wrong.
Given all of that, it's not terribly surprising that his after-action analysis of the 2016 campaign focused on the media's faults. Obama is forever insisting that he won't get involved in political punditry even as he gets involved in political punditry. And the media is almost always on the receiving end.
Obama's critique of the media's role in the Russian hacking is not unique to him. Following Clinton's stunning loss, Democrats have actively laid blame on the daily releases of hacked emails from WikiLeaks and how the media covered them. The argument goes — and Obama echoed this Friday — that most of the stuff contained in these hacked emails was mundane and meaningless, and yet the media lapped it up and hyped it even though there were clear indications then that Russia was behind it all. In so doing, the argument continues, Donald Trump's lack of a policy agenda, controversial comments about women, about Hispanics and about African American voters, and constant flouting of the rules of political engagement was overshadowed. Russia got what it wanted — thanks to a media so obsessed with sensationalism that they couldn't see the forest through the trees.
To which I would say: We can walk and chew gum at the same time. (Also, cliches!)
Yes, the media covered the daily WikiLeaks releases — while regularly noting the suspected Russian influence. To ignore those emails would have been journalistic malpractice. They were from top officials in one of the two campaigns for president. Can you imagine the outcry if we had simply ignored them? And does anyone believe that if the media had ignored the WikiLeaks emails people wouldn't have seen them anyway? In this age of information at your fingertips, that seems unlikely.
But, yes, too, the media — and WaPo in particular — covered Trump's constant controversial comments, conflicts of interest and incivility. We at The Fix wrote hundreds of blog posts detailing those problems. Ditto the broader Washington Post. No voter went into the ballot box not knowing what they were getting in Trump.
That people still chose him — despite all of that — is not the media's fault. Many Democrats seem to believe otherwise, which is their right. But, just because it's your right doesn't make you right.