August 04, 2016
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First, Do Some Harm: How to Smear a Disfavored Candidate

By Jim Naureckas

The first sentence of the lead story in yesterday’s New York Times (5/19/16) had some surprising news:

Senator Bernie Sanders is opening a two-month phase of his presidential campaign aimed at inflicting a heavy blow on Hillary Clinton in California….

That would be odd behavior—a political campaign having the professed aim of damaging an opponent rather than advancing its candidate. The New York Times wouldn’t lead with this sensational claim unless it had hard evidence, right?

Well, you have to go to the seventh paragraph of the story–co-bylined byPatrick Healy, Yamiche Alcindor and Jeremy W. Peters–before you find an actual quote from anybody. And that’s this:

Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Mr. Sanders, said the campaign did not think its attacks would help Mr. Trump in the long run, but added that the senator’s team was “not thinking about” the possibility that they could help derail Mrs. Clinton from becoming the first woman elected president.

This is Bad Journalism 101: You come up with a thesis, like “Bernie Sanders wants to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances of beating Donald Trump.” You take your thesis to your source, and ask them to agree with it; like any sensible spokesperson, they decline to comment on it. You take their no-comment as an endorsement of your thesis—and that becomes the lead headline in the nation’s most influential newspaper:


As a bonus, you get to make a front-page allusion to violence on the part of Senator Sanders, which bolsters the idea—advanced by phantom chair-throwing incidents—that the Sanders campaign is a dangerous menace. (Note that the story’s original headline was the less-inflammatory “Bernie Sanders’s Campaign Accuses Head of DNC of Favoritism“—which became the more slanted “Bernie Sanders’s Defiance Strains Ties With Top Democrats” before settling on the final smear.)

The real problem that the Times has with the Sanders campaign, I would suggest, is revealed at the end of that lead, where Healy et al. write that Sanders plans on “amassing enough leverage to advance his agenda at the convention in July—or even wrest the nomination from her.”

Yes, the New York Times has the scoop: Bernie Sanders is secretly hoping to win the election!

Healy is one of the Times reporters who wrote, back in October, about “Hillary Rodham Clinton emerging as the unrivaled leader in the Democratic contest.” The Times will not forgive Sanders for proving them wrong.

Originally published at FAIR.ORG

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