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The Clinton Papers and the Decline of the Mainstream Media: ‘You Just Got Punk’d’

Credit: The University of Arkansas Library

Credit: The University of Arkansas Library

  writes:  The school of literary criticism known asreception theory holds that a text should be studied in light of its effect on its contemporaries, that a reader should be aware of the “horizon of expectations” in which a text is produced. I was reminded of this the other day as I observed, in amusement, fascination, and occasional pity, the reaction of the so-called mainstream media to Alana Goodman’s lengthy and rock-solid report on “The Hillary Papers.” This trove of previously unexamined transcriptions of conversations between Hillary Clinton and her best friend Diane Blair had been collecting dust at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville for years. Not anymore.

As far as Bill and Hillary Clinton are concerned, the media’s horizon of expectations is stunningly narrow. It encompasses on the one hand the belief that the “secretary of explaining stuff” is a national treasure beyond reproach, and on the other hand the expectation that the former secretary of state will be our next president. Stories that fall outside of this horizon are problematized, scrutinized, ascribed to partisanship, and read with the sort of incredulity reporters are supposed to apply to public figures such as the Clintons.

When the Free Beacon published “The Hillary Papers” last Sunday night, we knew the story would have to cross a high bar. The piece was scrupulously fact-checked. All of the documents we cited were loaded onto the Internet. Every effort was made to present as straightforwardly as possible the contents of the papers, which show Hillary Clinton as hardheaded, calculating, and, yes, ruthless. (Re-read the part where she axes a Supreme Court appointment out of spite.)

What I did not expect was that the media would undergo such a tortured and dramatic breakdown, would struggle so laboriously to acknowledge the scoop while schizophrenically downplaying its importance. That a conservative online newspaper could have understood the significance of the archive, and actually examined its public contents, seemed too much an embarrassment for the staffs of the major newspapers and networks and magazines to bear. By being the first to report on the papers, the Free Beacon exposed the inanity and irrelevance of the mainstream media. We beat them. And they are sore losers.

The very fact that the story appeared on the Free Beacon prompted journalists to append elaborate, silly, and inaccurate qualifiers to their reporting on our findings. In various outlets the WFB was called “relatively obscure,” “conservative,” “ultra-conservative,” and an “anti-Clinton website,” in order to make it easier for liberals to dismiss the story altogether. The case of CNN is demonstrative. The network wrote that a “conservative website”—guilty as charged—was “claiming” to have found documents shedding new light on Hillary Clinton’s years as first lady. “Claim” was an unusual choice of words, since the documents in the story were all on FreeBeacon.com. Then CNN reduced the fascinating and novelistic details contained in our 3,408-word article to a slug-line: Clinton once called Monica Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony toon.” Later CNN “authenticated” the WFB story, giving it, one assumes, a stamp of approval—which CNN is free to have back.

One of CNN’s contributors, New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza, prefaced a discussion of the Hillary papers by saying of the Free Beacon, “Let’s be honest, their approach to journalism generally is sort of opposition research.” Still, he went on, “kudos to them for finding this.” Thank you, Ryan, for the kudos, but your condescension is completely unwarranted, as is your air of professional and moral superiority. All investigative journalism can be construed as “opposition research,” as any reader of Jane Mayer’s attacks on Republicans in the New Yorker, or any journalist who praised David Corn’s “47 percent” scoop in 2012, or any viewer of MSNBC’s nonstop coverage of a lane closure in New Jersey, would know…

Read the rest…

Washington Free Beacon

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One Comment on “The Clinton Papers and the Decline of the Mainstream Media: ‘You Just Got Punk’d’”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet Matthew Continetti writes: The school of literary criticism known asreception theory holds that a […]


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