Though former President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky helped spawn citizen journalism and the new media age, Hillary Clinton’s private email scandal has again shown that the Clintons are still having trouble dealing with and understanding a media landscape that has diminished the power of their preferred gatekeepers.
On CNN’s Inside Politics, National Journal‘s Ron Fournier, a veteran Clinton chronicler from his days as a reporter covering Arkansas state politics, agreed with host John King, who covered Bill Clinton’s White House, that the Clintons think they can “do the minimal amount of disclosure” and then move forward because “they think it’s worked for us in the past and it will work again.”
Not so fast, said Fournier, who has written about the potential “pay-to-play” whispers surrounding the millions in foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.
“What they don’t realize is the world has changed,” Fournier said. “In the 15 years since there was a Clinton in the Oval Office, we have this little thing called the Internet. It changed the media landscape. Back in the ’90s there were 12 gatekeepers, basically. If we decided not to print something at the Associated Press where you and I worked, people didn’t find out about it. Now there’s 300 million reporters and researchers. They can see through the spin. They can see through the lies. They can see the conflicts of interest.”
Save for a formulaic Tweet, Hillary Clinton has been silent on the scandal, hoping that it will go away while the State Department spends months reviewing her emails, which Fournier said should be turned over because “those are our e-mails–they’re not hers.” The Clintons, who could have been ahead of the news cycle had they revealed Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account when the House’s Select Benghazi Committee found out about it last year, have been a step slow. It is indeed beyond ironic that they are having trouble dealing with a new media landscape that they helped birth and have always feared, as the the infamous 1995 Clinton White House “conspiracy commerce memo” revealed.
The memo, written three years before Matt Drudge’s Lewinsky bombshell forever changed the news, revealed that the Clintons obsessively feared the Internet’s ability to diminish the power of their preferred gatekeepers–like the ones that would spike the Monica Lewinsky story to protect them.
The memo noted that “Internet has become one of the major and most dynamic modes of communication” and “can link people, groups and organizations together instantly.”
“Moreover, it allows an extraordinary amount of unregulated data and information to be located in one area and available to all,” the memo stated. “The right wing has seized upon the Internet as a means of communicating its ideas to people. Moreover, evidence exists that Republican staffers surf the Internet, interacting with extremists in order to exchange ideas and information.”
As Drudge noted in his landmark and seminal 1998 address at the National Press Club, Hillary Clinton was even more agitated after Drudge broke the Lewinsky bombshell. Drudge reminded the National Press Club audience in his speech that “the First Lady of the United States recently addressed concerns about Internet during a Cyberspatial Millennium Project press conference just weeks after Lewinsky broke.” Drudge noted that Hillary Clinton had said, “We’re all going to have to rethink how we deal with the Internet. As exciting as these new developments are, there are a number of serious issues without any kind of editing function or gatekeeping function.”
“I wonder who she was referring to,” Drudge quipped before continuing to quote Clinton, who argued that, “any time an individual leaps so far ahead of that balance and throws a system, whatever it might be–political, economic, technological–out of balance, you’ve got a problem. It can lead to all kinds of bad outcomes which we have seen historically.”
“Would she have said the same thing about Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison or Henry Ford or Einstein?” Drudge asked then. “They all leapt so far ahead out that they shook the balance. No, I say to these people, faster, not slower. Create. Let your mind flow. Let the imagination take over. And if technology has finally caught up with individual liberty, why would anyone who loves freedom want to rethink that?”
Drudge declared that, “We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices. Every citizen can be a reporter, can take on the powers that be. The difference between the Internet, television and radio, magazines, newspapers is the two-way communication. The Net gives as much voice to a 13-year-old computer geek like me as to a CEO or speaker of the House. We all become equal.”
“And you would be amazed what the ordinary guy knows,” he said.
The new media pioneer and godfather further explained then how the Internet will save the news business:
And time was only newsrooms had access to the full pictures of the day’s events. But now any citizen does. We get to see the kinds of cuts that are made for all kinds of reasons — endless layers of editors with endless agendas changing bits and pieces, so by the time the newspaper hits your welcome mat it had no meaning. Now with a modem, anyone can follow the world and report on the world–no middle man, no big brother. And I guess this changes everything.
It certainly changed on the night of January 17th, when Newsweek spiked, at the 11th hour, a well-researched, responsibly documented piece about the President of the United States and an obscure White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. After checking with multiple sources, I ran a story about the killing of the story.
No, television saved the movies. The Internet is going to save the news business. I envision a future where there’ll be 300 million reporters, where anyone from anywhere can report for any reason. It’s freedom of–freedom of participation absolutely realized.
During a 2012 speech to online activists and citizen journalists, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin reminded them that “the new media rose up precisely because the old media failed to tell the truth.” And she also discussed how much Drudge, who was fast becoming a de facto assignment editor, upset the legacy press that ridiculed him and tried to diminish his influence even though they were obsessively refreshing his home page.
“That very first new media breakthrough was about 15 years ago when this lowly little store clerk in a lowly little apartment equipped with his computer and a modem broke one of the biggest stories of the decade. His name was Matt Drudge and the rest is history,” Palin said in 2012. “And in hindsight, we see that the story he broke was more than just a president having an affair. To me it was much, much more than that. It was about a major old media publication that had spiked the story eleven times.”
She reminded today’s citizen journalists that the mainstream press did not spike the Lewinsky story to “check their facts” but “because as charter members of that Democrat Media Complex they were protecting their guy.”
“So, when a fellow with a modem and a website found out about this, he decided to tell the truth they refused to tell. And oh how that old media cried foul and they howled. They denounced Drudge as irresponsible and unprofessional and even dangerous and anti-everything from motherhood to apple pie. How dare that nobody from nowhere without a degree or a pedigree try to influence the national discourse,” Palin said then. “But the real reason they feared him was because he wasn’t beholden to the old media’s machine and the Thought Police. Unshackled, he was free.”
It is worth nothing that the mainstream press also derided and mocked Palin when she went over their heads and bypassed them by using Facebook and Twitter to send out statements and opinions shortly after the 2008 presidential election. Years later, the same mainstream media reporters, politicians and operatives in the permanent political class who ridiculed Palin now obsessively use Facebook and Twitter to get their messages out and reach people directly.
As Hillary Clinton prepares another White House run, information is being shared faster than ever while more Americans are bypassing the legacy media to unearth the truth that the legacy press often still will not report or publish. New media is even more powerful because, as the late Andrew Breitbart powerfully noted, Americans are now equipped with cell phones and cameras instead of modems.
“Everybody put your cell phones up in the air,” Breitbart memorably told a Washington, D.C. Tax Day Tea Party audience in 2010. “We have a sea of new media here to capture the [mainstream media’s] lies… The new media is taking over where the old media failed.”
Social media–which barely existed when the rusty Clintons were tripped up by the new media landscape during the 2008 election cycle–can, to borrow from conspiracy commerce memo, “link people, groups and organizations together instantly” to further diminish the gatekeeping role that legacy media journalists often played to protect Democrats in power.
The relentless coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal across all media platforms must make the Clintons feel as if they are being besieged by former Arkansas Razorbacks college basketball coach Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of hell” full-court pressure.
A single citizen journalist with a modem almost brought down Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1998. Hillary Clinton is fast discovering that millions of non-legacy media journalists, along with new media outlets, can potentially torpedo her White House run.