How Media Bias Works
Published on TheHill.com on November 3, 2015
What happened to the email scandal? Or the Clintons’ speeches? Or the uranium deal where Vladimir Putin got control of our mines? Or Hillary Clinton’s lie about the Benghazi terrorist attacks being caused by a video? Or any of the scandals the media pursued with such zest and vigor until last week?
Some say that Hillary Clinton’s winning the 2016 Democratic primary by surviving the Benghazi hearings. Others say there was nothing there in the first place.
The truth is that the four-year rule kicked in.
The four-year rule, widely honored but never admitted by the media, provides that it can be critical of the Democratic Party, President Obama or the Clintons for only three out of every four years. But when an election year looms, it has to cut it out and fall in line behind the party and its likely nominee, Hillary Clinton.
In other words, when the stakes are down, they have to cut out the criticism.
Two weeks ago, Vice President Biden decided not to run for president. From that date on, the harsh media criticism of Clinton stopped, and it will remain stopped until after Election Day 2016. The four-year rule has taken over.
I was exposed to the four-year rule in 1996. As Bill Clinton ran for reelection, I got a call from the managing editor of The New York Times, Joseph Lelyveld. He wanted an interview with the president. His request came after months of the Times savaging Clinton with every kind of criticism. Almost single-handedly, the Times kept the Whitewater scandal alive, joyously chronicling its every twist and turn. How, I thought, did they think Clinton would grant them an interview? So they could continue to savage him?
Anticipating my hesitancy, Lelyveld assured me that “we don’t think people care about what happened in Arkansas years ago.” Translation: Give us the interview and we won’t ask him embarrassing questions about Whitewater. From now on, we are on the pad.
I relayed the request to the president. He was, to say the least, disinclined to cooperate. Then I repeated Lelyveld’s line about the events in Arkansas years ago. Clinton still said no. But Mike McCurry, our press secretary, and I strongly urged him to relent.
He did so, muttering how much he hated the Times.
Then, to my shock, Todd Purdum, the Times reporter who was to conduct the interview, called and asked to meet me beforehand. When we met, over drinks at the Hay-Adams Hotel, he sketched out for me the questions he planned to ask and solicited my advice on any additional ones I might suggest. Talk about softballs. We got the questions in advance and even could chip in a few of our own. It was the easiest pre-interview briefing I’ve ever conducted. The president practiced hitting softballs out of the park all day.
The interview was the kindest and most gentle we ever had, and a cover story in the Sunday Times Magazine featured the president’s picture on the cover.
The sycophantic coverage continued all year. This publication, which had caused more angst than any other for three years, now rolled over and played dead.
I learned then about the right of passage and the three-out-of-four rule. Now it is Hillary Clinton’s turn to benefit. So don’t count on the media to continue to tell the truth about the former first lady now that she is the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can’t go after her. But we will be on our own. The media resonance we’re accustomed to hearing as we talk about the Clinton speeches or Benghazi or the private email server has stopped. Now we will hear only the sounds of the media’s silence. It’s time to rally behind the party.
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