The business of journalism is actually pretty simple — or should be — especially when it comes to re-writing press releases. Your garden-variety hack reads the hand-out from a company, government agency, PR outfit or whatever, re-writes it and submits the copy to an editor who casts an eye over the offering and, allowing that there is nothing glaringly stupid about it, places the reporter’s effort in the paper or, these days, on the news organisation’s website. If there is a problem, an eye-smacking incongruity or doubts about the veracity of the source, checks are instituted and corrections made. That’s the theory, anyway.
Idiots could do it, one would think. But that expectation, alas, is beyond the wit and means of the click-baiters at the Age, Sydney Morning Herald and ABC, all of which today (January 13) published a Reuters report that asserted, as the Fairfax headline put it, “FBI, [sic] director James Comey’s actions during US election to be probed“.
The shame of this story is that it is no better than 10% correct. Its original sin is the confirmation bias of the editors who chose to run it as is.
First, the headline’s errant comma suggests grammatical incompetence, once regarded as a damnable journalistic vice, but difficulty with the language is the most petty of the account’s flaws. Of much greater concern is that the Reuters wire copy is not merely wrong but reekingly so by virtue of its misrepresentation by omission. A competent foreign-desk editor, one who keeps abreast of his or her assigned beat, would have spiked it at a glance. Actually, make that “editors”, because the national broadcaster is no better and quite possibly more culpable, as its story is longer but every bit as guilty of distortion by what is left out.
The press release from the US Department of Justice’s watchdog Office of the Inspector General can be found here. A Google search require precisely .75 of a second to locate it. Below, interspersed with explanations, are reproductions of its key points.
The “public announcement of July 5” was FBI Director James Comey’s then-baffling declaration that, while candidate Clinton had been grossly careless with her private server and government secrets, no charges would be brought. Here some background is required — background a competent foreign editor should have known and most certainly should have shared with readers.
The blithe presumption at both Fairfax and the ABC would be, or so one can guess, that Comey meddled with the voters’ minds by first “clearing” Mrs Clinton, then “on October 28” raising further doubts about her honesty by re-activating the investigation. When your favoured candidate loses, explanations other than what voters perceived to be the odium of her dishonesty are required. Hence the ongoing besmirching of Comey’s own reputation and honesty.
There is a bit more to it than that, however.
The Brooklyn office of the FBI, in charge of exploring the matter of Mrs Clinton’s secret basement-server, consistently stonewalled attempts by the Manhattan office, investigating the Clinton Foundation, to cooperate and share intelligence. The Manhattan office, staffed and led by Rudy Giuliani’s hires, wanted the email records in order to match them with trips, meetings and donations to the Foundation. The Brooklyn office, formerly led and largely staffed by acolytes of current Attorney General, Obama appointee Loretta Lynch, wouldn’t have a bar of it.
It was Brooklyn’s analysis of the email scandal on which Comey largely relied in announcing his initial decision not to bring charges. All this is old news, extensively detailed in late October, 2016, by Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett, whose magisterial account was reproduced in the Australian. Any competent foreign editor should have known all about this. A foreign editor more keen to advance the meme that Mrs Clinton’s bid for the White House was nobbled by a capricious and quite possibly partisan Comey would prefer to let that information vanish down the memory hole.
Now read the above excerpt once more. Far from fingering Comey as the sole subject of the Inspector General’s probe, as presented by Fairfax and the ABC, it suggests the intramural discord laid out by the WSJ‘s Barrett will be every bit as much the topic for review. In other words, the Clinton posse will be under just as much scrutiny as Comey; indeed, perhaps more.
And who is the FBI’s deputy director? Why, Andrew McCabe, a close Clinton pal whose wife, Jill, running for a state Senate seat as a Democrat, received a $467,500 campaign donation from former Democratic National Committee fund-raiser, Virginia governor and Clinton crony, Terry McAuliffe, who is rated even by far-left Mother Jones magazine to be as dubious a customer as any to operate inside the Beltway. Good reason there, or so one would think, for Mrs McCabe’s husband to stay well away from any investigation of Billary.
This aspect of the Inspector General’s upcoming investigation further suggests the Clinton crew are in as much jeopardy, perhaps more, than is Comey. Again, it was all detailed in Barrett’s WSJ account and elsewhere, including CBS News, no friend of Donald Trump.
A competent foreign editor should have known about all of the above and, regardless of personal political leanings, should have laid it out for readers it is journalism’s boast to serve with the truth and to do so without fear or favour. That those same readers were instead peddled the latest bogus update of the Left’s comforting narrative that Mrs Clinton was robbed blind on November 8 by, to quote her own words from years earlier, “a vast right-wing conspiracy” says everything about the real source and propagators of the fake news we have heard so much about of late.
Trust Fairfax and the ABC? Only if you are dim or bent enough to land a job as one of those organisations senior editors.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online. His on-the-ground coverage of the 2016 presidential election can be read here