In part three of our three-part interview with Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple, we discuss the media’s handling of the Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, the appropriate role of fact-checkers in our media (specifically the Post’s own Glenn Kessler), and a topic Wemple covers frequently and critically: Fox News.
HILLARY’S EMAIL SCANDAL
THE WASHINGTON POST’S ERIK WEMPLE: Just to push back a little, do you think the media is letting Hillary off easy with this email scandal?
BREITBART NEWS NETWORK: That’s a great question and I’m going to answer it. Just let me backfill things a bit.
Whether its Macaca-gate or Todd Akin or PlameGate or Aaron Schock,, a Republican scandal is always run to ground by the media. When the media’s done with it, we know the full truth, and the politician in the crosshairs is usually wounded, if not politically dead.
But when it comes to Benghazi or the IRS, the media is always looking for an off-ramp. The story is never run to ground. The media is done with the IRS story, and I have no real idea what all happened. I don’t know who the bad guys were. The media shrugged over the missing emails.
I think the reason the media is so far doing a good job of covering Hillary scandal has a lot to do with Trey Gowdy. He has learned from his predecessors’ mistakes not to give the media reason to scream “overreach!” And I have to laugh because I have heard the media more than once admit they are waiting for that moment, even smart people like Chuck Todd.
Do I think the media is going to stay on this story until we know all the facts? Absolutely not.
EW: I do think the Hillary Clinton story is being run to ground, and I do think that fact is an effective counterpoint to claims of liberal bias in the MSM.
We’ve all seen the studies showing how news rooms tilt Democratic. I have no basis to challenge that, and my own anecdotal interactions support that. I do think there are things that matter more to reporters than ideology, and that’s when public officials block reporters from getting information. That is a far stronger bias among reporters. They go nuts when people try to block information or circumvent their Freedom of Information requests.
And Hillary Clinton’s past on the transparency front is a good explanation for why the media is going after the story. The primary bias in the media is getting the information, getting the story, getting the exclusive. And when people stand in the way of that, they are going to get the full force of the media backlash. Whether it’s eventually run to ground in the way you’re describing, I can’t say. But the early indications are that the media is taking this serious. Look at the AP suit.
BNN: I actually am impressed with the AP suit. And the AP appears to be writing stories and breaking news that sometimes goes against a dismissive attitude I see elsewhere in the MSM on some particulars of the scandal. All of a sudden the AP is saying, “No, this matters. This is a big deal.”
So far I have to say that so far I’m pretty happy with the way the media is covering it. So far.
BNN: Let’s talk about fact checkers, just in general. I know you have colleagues and I’m not trying to put you on the spot.
EW: I saw your story on our fact checker. I even tweeted it out.
BNN: I saw that. Thank you.
EW: And I liked the way our guy [Glenn Kessler] responded to you, and took your concerns seriously.
BNN: Very professional and responsive. I appreciated that very much.
EW: Here are my thoughts on that specifically, and I told Glenn the same thing: You are saying that the Washington Post disproportionately targeted Republicans, and that’s fine. My only point is that I don’t think anyone can expect politicians from any party to lie at an even rate.
BNN: That wasn’t my approach with the Washington Post, though. My argument wasn’t that Kessler was calling more Republicans liars, my issue was that, by 2-to-1, Republican statements were chosen for the fact check treatment.
EW: So they started out more skeptical of Republicans.
BNN: Whatever it was, over the course of three whole months, Republicans were targeted for scrutiny by 2-to-1. No Elizabeth Warren fact-checks over three months? Hillary was covered but never officially fact checked? But I just think that the general idea of the fact checker is wrong. So much “fact checking” is subjective. Sometimes something is just true but the fact checker will add all this subjective nonsense to make what is objectively true untrue.
EW: You have company on the left. [MSNBC’s Rachel] Maddow is famous for attacking PolitiFact. But here’s the thing I like about them. The good ones like PolitiFact and Glenn give you all the resources. You don’t necessarily have to agree with them, but all the material is laid out.
BNN: When PolitiFact fact checks a quip from Ted Cruz about Iran celebrating “Hate America Day” — everyone knows what he means, but they still call him a liar. It just goes too far. A subjective decision is made to get literal so Cruz can be called a liar. Kessler did this one once where Romney said Obama had never gone to Israel — and that was a fact. But Romney got Pinocchios because Kessler made a subjective decision to make certain context relevant. That’s an opinion column, not a fact check.
EW: PolitiFact is big on context too. Like the time Rachel Maddow went crazy on them. In a State of the Union speech, Obama took credit for creating so many jobs and PolitiFact said that wasn’t entirely true because those jobs were not created as a result of his policies.
EW: You think she’s right about that.
BNN: I think she’s dead right about that. That’s a subjective decision to bring in subjective context. Put it on the opinion pages.
EW: And you think that cudgel is used more often against Republicans.
BNN: Much more often.
BNN: Let’s move on to one of your favorite subjects, Fox News. Why don’t any news outlets copy the extraordinary success of Fox News? I’m not even talking ideology. I think one of the reasons Fox News is so successful, and even draws large number of Democrat viewers, is simply based on the fact that it’s not part of the MSM’s narrative plantation. Fox offers variety — different stories are covered. And when they cover a story everyone else is covering, you oftentimes get a different point of view and information.
EW: Listen, the creation of Fox News was a masterstroke. Figuring out that there was a big audience looking for a counterpoint to the mainstream media is a massive coup, and I’ve always maintained that Fox News is such a stroke of genius that they have a lot of latitude to work as they please in terms of how they present the news. Megyn Kelly can bump Sean Hannity who bumps Greta, and the audience remains. So it’s not as if every programming decision Ailes makes is brilliant. I really like “The Five.” It’s entertaining, it’s fun, the characters are great. But if you put someone else in there, it would still win the ratings.
But as far as your idea of news outlets choosing different top stories and presenting them in a different way, isn’t Al Jazeera America doing that?
BNN: (laughs) I have no idea. I don’t get them on my cable.
EW: They’re trying the approach you suggest, and there you go. I don’t think there’s room for that. What Ailes and Murdoch are doing is a singular thing. There is no way to imitate or take any lessons from what they have done. Whether you want to copy Fox News ideologically or not, there are no lessons there for anyone else.
BNN: If I were running MSNBC, if I were Phil Griffin, I would experiment with rigidly objective news programming. I think people would go for that. MSNBC’s lost the left to CNN. In my opinion, CNN has moved so far to the left, MSNBC’s audience has drifted to CNN.
EW: You’re forgetting that MSNBC released a memo at the end of last year admitting they have problems and that they are now going to get out there and gather news. Maybe they are taking your advice and trying to be more reportorial. In January, they sent people over to over the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But look at the ratings. That ain’t working.
BNN: That’s because no sane person turns on MSNBC and believes that if you’re looking for objectivity Thomas Roberts is an upgrade from Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid.
(pause for mutual laughter of agreement)
EW: The other problem is that MSNBC is the most boring thing on earth. You cannot stick with it. The programs aren’t interesting. And they certainly won’t get you the news first. I said this two years ago and I think it still applies: MSNBC’s approach is “let’s agree TV.”
BNN: From what I can see, Fox doesn’t do that.
EW: One of the biggest misconceptions is that cable news is a shout-fest, when it’s really people sitting around and agreeing. Fox does a significant degree of it, but you are right, there is honest dissent on Fox News. I think they could get some more powerful liberal voices, but they are there.
Fox isn’t afraid to bring on a liberal hot shot who can articulate liberal views. The hosts tend to side with the conservative guest, but it’s good TV, and they do spend a lot of money on reporting — some have reported that Fox has a larger news-gathering investment than either CNN or MSNBC. When Fox gets away from politics and race, it is straight up news.
Everyone thinks I hate Fox News, but when they do good things I try to point it out. Over a very weak gun charge, Marine Jon Hammar was in prison in Mexico until December of 2012. Fox News — O’Reilly, Greta and others — made releasing him a cause. Olivia Hammar, who is Jon Hammar’s mom — she and I talk once in a while — she tells me that Bill O’Reilly saved the life of her son.
That’s a big deal. This is an example of a news organization doing a legitimate good for one of our troops, above and beyond something like pausing for a moment.
That’s a counter-example of the Brian Williams thing; someone really caring.
Oftentimes our media is shallow and self-serving in its praise of our nation’s armed forces. I think the military senses it, too. Brian Williams often presents himself as a great champion of the military, but you can’t be a great champion if you don’t represent the facts.
BNN: This was great. Thank you for being so generous with your time.
EW: This was fun. Thanks for asking me.
John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC