Hillary Clinton And The Purity Test

During a segment this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Hillary Clinton was all but convicted of “crimes” related to her never-ending email “scandal.” Now, for those of us condemned to watching this daily Drumpf-drumming, Hillary-hating nonsense on MSNBC, the ugly discussion about Clinton’s emails and server was nothing new. The host of the show, Republican Joe Scarborough, makes no secret of his opinion that Hillary Clinton is guilty of something, and she is especially guilty of lying about whatever that something is.

In any case, today’s excuse for yet another Hillary-is-guilty segment was a story published yesterday by the Los Angeles Times (“Clinton email probe enters new phase as FBI interviews loom“) that began this way:

Federal prosecutors investigating the possible mishandling of classified materials on Hillary Clinton’s private email server have begun the process of setting up formal interviews with some of her longtime and closest aides…

Notice something about that intro: “the possible mishandling of classified materials.” What’s so hard to understand about that word “possible”? Here’s some help from Merriam-Webster: “something that may or may not be true or actual.” You see? It may or not be true that Mrs. Clinton “mishandled” classified materials, let alone did anything that could remotely be considered criminal. That’s why the FBI is, uh, investigating the matter. And normally when there is an investigation, there are interviews. That’s the way it works. What’s the jaw-dropping news in that? It would be jaw-dropping news if the FBI didn’t interview anyone, wouldn’t it?

In fact, the same L.A. Times article notes that “a person familiar with the investigation” said that FBI agents “have interviewed a number of former aides so they could better understand how the system was used and why Clinton chose to use it.” And now the FBI is moving further up the chain of people involved, just as we should expect them to do. Is that a big deal? No. It’s not a big deal. But this is Hillary Clinton we are talking about. She is judged by a different standard. Many pundits, especially those working on television, are quick to turn even the smallest trickle of information about the FBI’s investigation into a Niagara Falls of accusations. Why? Because she is presumed to be so damned dishonest. A liar. Everyone knows that, right? Just look at the polls!

But it’s not just right-wingers like Joe Scarborough who make such outrageous claims about Clinton. As I have argued, the not-so-subtle attacks on her integrity are part of Bernie Sanders’ campaign to beat her. She is not to be trusted. She is a liar. And then there are the zany left-wing columnists out there who back Bernie. Let me give you an example of something one of those zany columnists published this morning on HuffPo:

It’s Time for Hillary Clinton to Concede the Democratic Nomination to Bernie Sanders

Yes. That is really the headline. This strange opinion piece, also generated by that L. A. Times article, was written by H. A. Goodman. He’s a real winner. Some of his past gems include “Bernie Sanders Will Become President. The FBI and 67 Percent of Americans Distrust Hillary Clinton” and “The FBI’s Investigation of Clinton’s Emails Makes Bernie Sanders the True Democratic Front-Runner” and “Bernie Sanders Won the Debate Because Jorge Ramos Is Right, Clinton Could Get Indicted” and “33 Percent of Bernie Sanders Supporters Will Not Vote for Hillary Clinton. Here’s Why” and, my personal favorite from just last week, The Case for Writing-In Bernie Sanders If Hillary Clinton Is the Democratic Nominee.” Get the idea? These creeps would rather lose the election than vote for Hillary Clinton.

Goodman, as well as other Bernie-loving leftists, are as sure as Joe Scarborough that Clinton is guilty of something. Goodman’s piece referenced some critics of Clinton who think “a criminal charge is justified” and that if it were anyone else but her, jail would probably await. But none of these people, on the left or the right, apparently bothered to read the entire L.A. Times article that left them all aglow with Hillary-hate. Here is what they missed:

Many legal experts believe that Clinton faces little risk of being prosecuted for using the private email system to conduct official business when she served as secretary of State, though that decision has raised questions among some about her judgment. They noted that using a private email system was not banned at the time, and others in government had used personal email to transact official business.

The bigger question is whether she or her aides distributed classified material in email systems that fell outside of the department’s secure classified system. But even if prosecutors determine that she did, chances she will be found criminally liable are low. U.S. law makes it a crime for someone to knowingly or willfully retain classified information, handle it in a grossly negligent manner or to pass it to someone not entitled to see it.

Once you read those two paragraphs, once you realize that the hysteria surrounding this issue mostly involves the weird and unruly classification of material handled by various agencies in the federal government (blogger Jim Wheeler has an excellent post on that mess), then you see why there is “little risk” of a prosecution for Hillary Clinton. But even so, there remains the issue of her trustworthiness, which is always raised as a liability for her in the general election. And fortunately, someone—someone important in the world of journalism—has addressed the issue in a straightforward manner.

If you follow politics religiously, you no doubt have heard of Jill Abramson. Right now she is a columnist for the Guardian, but for nearly two decades she worked for The New York Times, serving as its Washington bureau chief and then its managing editor and then its first female executive editor. That’s a big deal. That’s a lot of journalistic cred. Today, Abramson published a piece for the Guardian that should be read by every single reporter and pundit:

This may shock you: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest

“Shock you”? Abramson explains:

I would be “dead rich”, to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I’ve spent covering just about every “scandal” that has enveloped the Clintons. As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising.

Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.

Abramson, without starry-eyed admiration—she points out that Clinton’s biggest fault is her reluctance to disclose even harmless information—tells us why she thinks her “honest and trustworthy” conclusion is justified:

jill abramsonThe yardsticks I use for measuring a politician’s honesty are pretty simple. Ever since I was an investigative reporter covering the nexus of money and politics, I’ve looked for connections between money (including campaign donations, loans, Super Pac funds, speaking fees, foundation ties) and official actions. I’m on the lookout for lies, scrutinizing statements candidates make in the heat of an election.

The connection between money and action is often fuzzy. Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor…

As for her statements on issues, Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates…

Clinton has mainly been constant on issues and changing positions over time is not dishonest.

“Fundamental to understanding her,” Abramson writes, is this:

Clinton distrusts the press more than any politician I have covered. In her view, journalists breach the perimeter and echo scurrilous claims about her circulated by unreliable rightwing foes.

As a once-reluctant Clinton supporter myself, I have come to see why, especially after what Republicans and some in the press did to her in the 1990s, she has tended to insist on maintaining what Abramson referenced as a “zone of privacy,” a space for breathing air not polluted by partisan politics. I’m convinced that is what led her to make that dumb decision to have her own private server, a decision that dogs her each and every day.

But I want to be clear about something. Clinton’s past fights with right-wingers and her distrust of some journalists who made those fights more difficult doesn’t excuse her from the demands of democracy. It sounds tautologically trite, but we need information to make informed decisions, and the job of the press is to get that information. Having said that, though, Hillary shouldn’t be subjected to higher scrutiny than other candidates. As Abramson put it:

It’s fair to expect more transparency. But it’s a double standard to insist on her purity.

Insisting on Hillary Clinton’s purity is not only a right-wing standard of measuring her integrity, but, sadly, in too many cases it has also become a left-wing standard for measuring her integrity.

And the only beneficiary of such unrealistic nonsense is the Republican Party.



  1. You can lead a horse to water . . .


  2. That is an EXCELLENT article by Jill Abramson. I write this in order to encourage your readers to click on the link you provided and read the article for themselves. It’s very informative, as you pointed out, but also leaves the reader with this talking point: “…changing positions over time is not dishonest….It’s fair to expect more transparency. But it’s a double-standard to insist on her purity.”

    Thanks for sharing.


    • Dawn,

      That was an amazing article. Abramson had a reputation for being pretty hard on the Clintons over the years—The New York Times has never been a friend of theirs—and for her to write such a piece was a remarkable thing to do, especially since she also pointed out some of Hillary’s weaknesses. It wasn’t hagiography. I, too, hope everyone reads the entire thing.


      Liked by 1 person

  3. Stupid, having poor judgment, and amoral, but not as big a liar as most people think, then you link to politifact for Clinton but not Sanders, which doesn’t actually show much difference between them, aside from the Pants on Fire part.


    • Let me get this straight. You think Clinton is “stupid”? That she is “amoral”? Right? So, I guess you will be voting for Donald Drumpf in November.


  4. Anonymous

     /  March 29, 2016

    Excellent piece! Thank you!!


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