One of the longstanding tropes of the modern conservative movement is that the mainstream media is liberal to its core and incurably biased against them, a charge they hurl relentlessly at the press in all its permutations. This has been going on since at least the 1960s and continues to this day. It is not a sincerely held belief, at least not on the part of the professional political operatives who push this disingenuous conceit. It’s a cynical tactic to pressure the media into taking a jaundiced view of their political enemies in order to avoid further abuse. It generally works: Mainstream journalists almost always end up giving the conservatives the benefit of the doubt. It’s called “working the refs,” and it’s been highly effective.
I have written about this phenomenon many times but it was perfectly demonstrated in 2016 when the inanely trivial Clinton email server issue was elevated to a major scandal that consumed the campaign and served to make the overwhelming corruption and ineptitude of Donald Trump appear to be no worse. The press had already partnered with right-wing operatives Peter Schweizer and Steve Bannon on hit jobs like “Clinton Cash,” and were well primed by years of character assassination from the likes of Citizen United’s David Bossie, who later became Trump’s deputy campaign manager. Hillary Clinton had been the Great White Whale for both the press and the Republicans for many years. The refs did not need much working.
That overheated coverage was lethal to the Clinton campaign. It likely made more than a few people feel vaguely ill with the knowledge that trumped-up scandals like Benghazi would be the norm if Clinton were elected, as was the intention all along. Indeed, on Nov. 3, 2016, a few days before the election, the Washington Post reported this:
Chairmen of two congressional…