(Washington Examiner) – Many in the national media are certain that hacked emails hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances in the election, but their reports and columns rarely cite any of the emails’ contents that would have presumably affected the outcome.
Members of the press have made a new push to assert that Russian hacking had an effect on the election, especially after last week’s unclassified report that said Russia did try to help President-elect Trump, and hurt Hillary Clinton. That report made no finding of how effective Russia was, but many in the press are deciding nonetheless that the effort had a huge impact.
“While Russian hacks ‘were not involved in vote tallying,’ the publishing of pilfered emails … altered the zeitgeist, poisoned the political environment and shifted public opinion, all of which redounded to Trump’s benefit,” liberal New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote on Monday, citing the intelligence report.
The night before, Blow’s colleague Jim Rutenberg, who writes a column on media, said the “spilled secrets” in the emails were “damaging” to the Clinton campaign.
He noted that the email revelations saw the resignation of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and led CNN to terminate its contract with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. But neither Blow nor Rutenberg explained why the emails were damaging nor did they cite examples as to what was in them.
The emails — first the DNC ones hacked and published last July, followed by those of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s in August — contained no explosive revelations, though they did show DNC officials preferring Clinton to Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. They also showed Clinton aides questioning some of their candidates’ decisions.
Another email showed Podesta referring to former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Transportation and Energy Secretary Federico Pena, both of whom are of Latin descent, as “needy Latinos.” (At the time of that email’s publication, neither the Times nor the Washington Post covered it.)
But news reports and journalists are asserting that the emails, at least in some capacity, cost Clinton the election.
“Was it the Russians who turned Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania truly red?” said Times columnist Maureen Dowd on Saturday, referring to the formerly blue states that Trump won on Election Day.
The Trump team has maintained that its victory is legitimate and that it was not helped or guaranteed by foreign intervention. That assessment hasn’t been challenged by the intelligence community, at least not in the public version of its report.
The report did say Russia’s intent was to aid Trump and harm Clinton, but it also said intelligence officials “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Still, in an interview Sunday on CNN, anchor Jake Tapper, without discussing the contents of the emails, asked Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, “How can you say that the hacking had no impact on the election when Mr. Trump [during the campaign] kept invoking WikiLeaks which was printing, publishing things that the Russians had hacked?”
An article Friday in the Times called the intelligence report “a damning and surprisingly detailed account of Russia’s efforts to undermine the American electoral system,” but did not mention the contents of the emails.
The Washington Post’s write up of the intelligence report referred to the emails as having “embarrassed Democrats and kept voter attention on Clinton’s email controversy.” But again, that story listed no “embarrassing” details that might have swayed voters away from Clinton.
Similarly, a USA Today report in December referred to the emails as “a trove of sensitive communications” but did not say what made them sensitive.
One hurdle for the press as it tries to claim the emails were decisive were prior assessments from the media that downplayed the emails. Before the intelligence findings last week, some news outlets had actually diminished the importance of the email hackings.
In October, Times columnist James Poniewozik dismissed the contents of them. “Just because it’s hacked doesn’t mean it’s important,” he wrote, adding that, “Where there’s a smoking gun, there isn’t always fire.”
And PolitiFact, on Dec. 1, in a since updated article, said, “Based on the evidence, it seems highly unlikely that actions by the Russian government contributed in any decisive way to Trump’s win over Clinton.”