Leaked emails show that Hillary Clinton’s campaign officials boasted about getting favorable news coverage from compliant journalists, received political advice from cozy reporters and circulated the names of journalists who were “friendly” to the candidate.
Private emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta also show that campaign officials reluctantly devised a media strategy for handling the Democratic nominee’s sometimes troublesome brothers, Tony and Hugh Rodham, a strategy that involved Washington lawyer/lobbyist Lanny Davis.
Whatever other revelations lurk in the huge cache of campaign emails being published by WikiLeaks, one thing is clear: Clinton campaign officials clearly exude an air of confidence that much of the mainstream media are in the bag for their candidate and hostile to Republican rival Donald Trump.
Clinton traveling press secretary Nick Merrill was practically gloating after a series of local media interviews with Mrs. Clinton in Michigan in March before the Democratic primary.
“[Six] radio interviews and [two in] coffee shops this morning,” Mr. Merrill wrote. “No flags. Every single interviewer was for her.”
He said the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, “came up in every one, and then education, and [the Affordable Care Act].”
In another email, in February, Mr. Merrill described CNN Politics Producer Dan Merica and Mrs. Clinton as “basically courting each other at this point.”
He recounted an encounter between the two: “Dan Merica asked her if she was jealous that she didn’t get [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie’s endorsement, to which she responded with a prolonged smile (you could see the gears turning), and then said ‘Dan, I really like you. I really really like you.’ They are basically courting each other at this point.”
Gloria Borger, CNN’s chief political analyst, tried to get an interview with Mr. Podesta by assuring him of essentially softball questions.
“I know John will have an exalted place in the campaign, and would love to chat with him about HRC — in a general way, not in a gotcha way re HRC,” Ms. Borger wrote, according to a campaign official. “It would be about 10 mins, very general, about her as a person and a candidate.”
Mr. Trump, who has faced a ferocious media uproar over one leaked audiotape containing coarse sexual banter from more than a decade ago, said Thursday that the leaked emails prove “reporters collaborate and conspire directly with the Clinton campaign on helping her win the election.”
“The most powerful weapon deployed by the Clintons is the corporate media,” Mr. Trump told supporters at a rally in Florida. “Let’s be clear on one thing: The corporate media in our country is no longer involved in journalism. They are a political special interest, no different than any lobbyist or other financial entity with an agenda. And their agenda is to elect the Clintons at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy.”
Mr. Podesta’s emails show that CNBC anchor John Harwood offered advice to the Clinton campaign. In a December email to Mr. Podesta, Mr. Harwood boasted about his performance as moderator in the Republican primary race in which he asked Mr. Trump, “Let’s be honest, is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?”
In the email, Mr. Harwood said he believed President Obama “feels some [sad] vindication at this demonstration of his years-long point about the opposition party veering off the rails. I certainly am feeling that way with respect to how I questioned Trump at our debate.”
Mr. Podesta served as counselor to Mr. Obama before taking over Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Sheara Braun, editorial producer for MSNBC’s “All In,” described Mrs. Clinton to a campaign official as “this amazing, intelligent woman.” Ms. Braun added, “She is smarter than most men and more qualified than most men to be president.”
The emails also indicate that Clinton campaign officials devised a media strategy in May 2015 for handling potential negative publicity about Mrs. Clinton’s brothers. In an email with the subject line “Lanny,” campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri said Mrs. Clinton “is anxious to move forward — with the commitment that I will keep [Mr. Davis] focused and in line. … Can I reach out to enlist him?”
Campaign adviser Philippe Reines added that Mrs. Clinton “just called me about this. She wants Lanny.”
Ms. Palmieri replied, “Think we are stuck with Lanny for the brothers.”
Mr. Podesta responded, “In the land of [the] blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
“Truth,” Ms. Palmieri replied.
Around that time, Mr. Davis issued a statement in general defense of Mrs. Clinton’s brothers.
“Tony and Hugh live their own lives, and while there are plenty of facts to dispute, they are not going to do so as part of a political charade,” Mr. Davis said. “They hope this desire for privacy is understood by both the Republicans and the media, but either way they plan on vigorously guarding their family’s privacy by not responding to purely political attacks on relatives who are neither public officials nor running for any office.”
Meeting the press
Strategy for securing favorable coverage was a popular topic of internal campaign discussions, to judge from the WikiLeaks material.
Given Mrs. Clinton’s record of avoiding press conferences for 275 straight days at one stretch of her campaign, Clinton campaign vice chairwoman Huma Abedin asked advisers in May 2015 whether she could “survive not answering questions from press” at major campaign events to unveil policy proposals.
“Can we survive not answering questions from press at message events[?]” Ms. Abedin wrote. An earlier speech on immigration “broke through because we didn’t take questions. Her community banks message got lost because she answered questions about the [Clinton Foundation] and [her State Department] emails.”
Mr. Podesta disagreed.
“If she thinks we can get to Labor Day without taking press questions, I think that’s suicidal,” he wrote. “We have to find some mechanism to let the steam out of the pressure cooker.”
While the campaign officials consider New York Times reporters such as Maggie Haberman “friendly” to their cause, they reacted with fury to a Times report in July 2015 that the Justice Department had been urged to open a criminal investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
As campaign advisers debated the draft of a letter to New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said he was concerned about “stating the article inflicted damage on our campaign.”
“Certainly true but I worry that if we leak the letter, it could be misinterpreted as us admitting the email controversy in general is hurting us,” Mr. Fallon wrote. “Maybe we could soften it a bit by saying ‘… creating a firestorm that had a deep impact and cannot be unwound.’”
When the letter was published on July 31, 2015, Clinton adviser Neera Tanden wrote a short, celebratory, profane email to Mr. Podesta and Ms. Palmieri.
“Letter is great,” she wrote. “F— these —holes.”