• The Email Scandal That Wasn't

    After an almost 19-month-long presidential election, we all got a little “sick and tired of hearing about Hillary’s damn emails” (to quote Bernie Sanders). At least, I know I got pretty tired of hearing about them. The election is over now, but the “scandal” stuck around till the very last days before Election Day, the media never ceasing to mention it in every clickbait-y headline.

The media absolutely botched handling the controversy, to say the least. When FBI Director James Comey reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails on October 28, newspapers, websites, and political blogs had a field day. Coverage of the email scandal took over election news, and cast a dark cloud over Clinton’s significant lead in the polls.

    But what scandal was there? None. Many other politicians have used private emails in the past, not to even mention that time when the Bush administration lost 22 million emails between 2003 and 2009 (but that somehow got no coverage). And not only this—the FBI re-opened investigation of Clinton’s emails just 11 days before the election, but most of the leaked emails show the opposite of malfeasance. Here’s a sample email:

    From: Hillary Clinton
    Do you recall Nooni Ali(?), the ten year old Yemeni girl who got herself divorced? I met her at the Glamour awards last year. There was a CNN story last few days about how unhappy she is, still living at home, not attending school and quite angry that her life is not better. Is there any way we can help her? Could we get her to the US for counselling and education?

    Seriously—these emails should have HELPED her campaign, not damaged it. So why were people so angry?

    Unfortunately, the media reported on the emails in a way that made Clinton and her campaign seem evil and criminal. After the new investigation, Comey reported on November 6 that the FBI had found nothing new in the emails—the entire reopening of the “scandal” was for nothing.

    During the 2016 election, the media equalized Clinton’s few misdeeds with Trump’s many severe wrongdoings—leading many in the public to falsely believe that Trump’s many disgusting actions were insignificant, and that Clinton was nothing short of a criminal. Truthfully, it’s easy to understand how the media ended up like this. Keeping the race suspenseful attracts readers and makes media companies a better profit. And many major news outlets try to criticize all candidates equally in order to avoid accusations of bias. But it seems so unfair that the email “scandal” that ended up not being a scandal at all got as much (or more) media attention than the thousands of crazy, racist, sexist, xenophobic things Trump has said, or the fraudulent and illegal acts he committed with Trump University and the Trump Foundation.

    Now, as we analyze the (horrifying) results of this election, we must understand the consequences and true weight of false equivalency in the media. Trump’s presidency means that we will need to avoid any distorted reporting now more than ever.

    Photo credit to Roberlan Borges

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