Two days before the Democratic National Convention, Wikileaks released 20,000 private emails stolen from Democratic National Committee officials. The same information was released to the public at the same time, in the same way – but how it was reported in the establishment press and progressive news websites varied greatly.
The DNC Scandal
The most notable revelation, according to mainstream outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post, was that DNC officials had “derided” the Bernie Sanders campaign.
The New York Times published its first article on the DNC email leak on July 22nd. “The emails appear to bolster Mr. Sanders claims that the committee […] did not treat him fairly,” wrote Michael D. Shear and Matthew Rosenberg. They also quote DNC financial officer Brad Marshall:
“[Sanders] had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist,” he emailed. “This could make several points difference with my peeps.”
The Washington Post followed the same pattern, but afforded slightly more ink to the contents of the emails.
On July 22nd, the Post published an article by Tom Hamburger and Karen Tumulty about the Wikileaks release that “provid[ed] an embarrassing inside look at Democratic Party operations on the eve of the Democrats’ national convention.”
On July 25th, Aaron Blake penned an article enumerating all of the key revelations from the release, as opposed to naming only one or two as the Times reporters did.
The more progressive, online news outlets, like Democracy Now and Vox, took different angles than either the Times or the Post.
In Democracy Now’s first story, the emails showed the “Democratic party favored Hillary Clinton and worked behind the scenes to discredit and defeat Bernie Sanders.” Democracy Now was also the last of the outlets included in this analysis to publish an article about the emails’ contents.
An August 8th headline reveals Democracy Now’s editorial sympathies toward whistleblowers: “Julian Assange: Leaked DNC Emails Show Democrats Waged “Propaganda” Campaign Against Sanders.”
Although Vox and Democracy Now both generally peddle progressive viewpoints, Vox does not rely as heavily whistleblowers and activists for information, causing a chasm in coverage perspective between them.
In Vox’s first article on the DNC email leaks, author Timothy B. Lee downplayed the significance of the contents of the emails, saying the emails provided no proof DNC officials used the resources of the Democratic Party to aid Clinton or hurt Sanders.” Moreover, Lee emphasized Russian involvement: “Perhaps as important as the emails’ content is who may have leaked them,” Lee wrote.
Vox’s Matthew Yglesias also concluded, in a July 24th article on Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, that “none of the emails contained a smoking gun demonstrating that the primary was rigged for Clinton.”
The DNC-Press Relationship
Both the Times and the Post put less focus on another notable revelation from the email leaks: the fact that several DNC officials forged close and arguably unethical relationships with reporters and management in the press.
Progressive news websites, such as Vox and Democracy Now, included this press-official relationship much more saliently in their coverage.
In Vox’s first story on the DNC emails release, author Timothy B. Lee mentions how one “email showed Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel made an agreement to share a copy of a forthcoming story with DNC a contact.”
Many media outlets, including the New York Observer, have noted that the media cooperation with the DNC may have had a hand in the bias against Sanders in their editorial pages.
“The emails also reveal a close relationship between the media and the DNC,” said Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.
In an exclusive televised interview with Democracy Now’s David Cobb, Julian Assange insisted that “talking points were constructed for Jake Tapper, for example, on CNN.”
Although the Times covered these findings in a July 24th article by Michael M. Grynbaum, such an article could not be found in the pages of the Post.
Accusing the Times and the Post of taking a pro-Democrat and pro-Clinton bias by omitting these instances would be convenient, but not necessarily true.
The Times and the Post each boast an extensive rolodex of official sources, while Democracy Now has easy access to one of the largest networks of whistleblowers and investigative reporters. Vox, a self-proclaimed “explainer of news,” often uses members of the media as its sources.
From this reliance on a different set of sources, the paintings presented to the readerships of these publications have their own unique palettes.
National Security and the Hack
Coverage difference between each of these outlets appears the most in how each reported on national security experts’ reactions to the DNC hack.
The Times published 11 articles from July 24th to July 30th about whether Russian intelligence had perpetrated the attack, as several cybersecurity analysts and federal officials concluded. In a July 26th article about the federal probe into the DNC hack, we see that the Times primarily obtained sensitive national security information by using anonymous sources.
Reporters David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt used several indirectly attributed sources to learn how the intelligence community reacted to the DNC hack, using the vague phrase, “according to federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence,” in the first paragraph. They also found that although intelligence experts thought Russia intended to interfere with American electoral politics, many doubted Russian intelligence intended to tilt the election in Donald Trump’s favor, in contrast to statements from Democratic officials like Nancy Pelosi and Robby Mook.
While the Post frequently cited DNC officials to draw conclusions on security matters, their reporters also devoted a significant amount of time towards debunking the claims of Democratic officials by interviewing anonymous federal investigators. Ellen Nakashima quoted an anonymous intelligence official in a July 27 article:
“‘We have not drawn any evidentiary connection to any Russian intelligence service and WikiLeaks — none,’ said one U.S. official.”
If any bias exists in the Times and Post coverage of the DNC hacks, evidence suggests that it is toward official sources, not toward Hillary Clinton or the DNC.
Democracy Now published four transcripts about the contents of the DNC emails, and only one article about Donald Trump which included statements from reporter Amy Goodman about the conclusions of US intelligence officials. “The comments come as U.S. intelligence agencies continue to blame Russia for the hack of the 20,000 leaked DNC emails,” Goodman wrote.
Vox also published an article on July 27th, entitled “3 reasons Russia’s Vladimir Putin might want to interfere in the U.S. election,” written by Fiona Hill, an expert on United States-Russia relations.
Although Hill admitted the “DNC files may not have been given to WikiLeaks by Russian intelligence,” she concluded that releasing the emails to the DNC “would all be fair game” for Putin, “who sees himself as locked in a struggle for influence with the United States.”
The conclusions of the many United States intelligence experts who disagreed with Hill’s suppositions were completely absent from this piece.
The media heavyweights and their progressive, online counterparts have a contrast in coverage due to a variety of factors, but primarily is a result of their differences in resources, audience, and angle.