CBSN

Commentary: No, the media isn't biased against Hillary Clinton

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton talks to reporters on her campaign plane before take-off in White Plains, New York, U.S., September 6, 2016. 

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

There’s an argument going around that the media has it out for Hillary Clinton. Over at The New York Times, Paul Krugman doesn’t like the coverage of her foundation, and frets that she’s being portrayed as an out-of-touch stiff a la Al Gore. Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis, meanwhile, recently wrote a long post on Medium despairing over the media’s habit of always looking for a Clinton scandal.

Both Krugman and Jarvis have some fair points to make. Some reporting on Clinton’s emails and her family’s foundation have been a bit too breathless – all journalists are concerned with traffic to their stories, which lends itself to an unfortunate tendency to oversell shoddy goods.

It happens. Not all coverage is good or fair. But this idea that Bill, Hillary and their defenders have proffered for decades – that there exists a pronounced anti-Clinton bias in the press – is off base.

Does your average political reporter harbor much affection for Hillary Clinton? Probably not, which is to their credit, because in terms of policies the Clintons are likely right where most journalists are politically. It’s no secret that journalists tend to lean center-left, and it would be quite hard, if not impossible, to find a mainstream reporter who’s voting for Donald Trump.

But let’s grant for a moment that reporters are naturally suspicious of the Clintons and go looking for scandals. Why would that be, if ideology isn’t the reason? Maybe it’s guilt: journalists (at least the ones who vote) will be turning out for Clinton in droves come November, and overcorrect by being extra adversarial in print.

Maybe. But here’s another: it’s the Clintons’ general shadiness, which likely stems from their lack of concern about appearances. As the Clinton’s defenders often note, nobody has ever proven that they do special favors for their donors. Nobody can say definitively that they’re corrupt in any legal sense of the word. But that doesn’t mean it’s all kosher.

The fact is you don’t have to hate the Clintons to wonderwhy Marc Rich was pardoned. You don’t have to believe the Clinton Foundation is a massive slush fund to ask why reactionary Gulf State monarchies would bestow a progressive charity with millions of dollars. It’s not unreasonable to wonder why Goldman Sachs thinks a single Hillary speech is worth so much money, or think she shouldn’t spend the last few weeks of summer giving an extended private audience to Hamptons billionaires. And so on, and so on.

“America and the world can’t afford another election tipped by innuendo,” Krugman warns, raising the specter of the 2000 election. But as political writer Josh Barro has pointed out, it’s bad for the country when politicians like the Clintons are so cavalier about the appearance of corruption.

Trust in America’s institutions and leaders are frighteningly low, a trend the Clintons seem interested only in exacerbating. They invite the innuendo, and when challenged, immediately go into attack mode against the press, a particularly beleaguered institution when it comes to public confidence.

The media isn’t biased truly against Clinton. Skeptical, yes, and often exhausted by their endless emails and financial dealings and slipperiness. But ultimately just about every mainstream political journalist in D.C. and New York wants her to win, or rather for Trump to lose, which by itself blows up the idea that they can be all that biased against her.

Again, the coverage can be tough, sometimes unduly so. But to the extent Clinton partisans are uncomfortable with the level of scrutiny she’s received this election, they only have their candidate to blame. 

  • Will Rahn

    Will Rahn is a political correspondent and managing director, politics, for CBS News Digital.