Major U.S. media outlets have sided with Hillary Clinton by arguing that FBI Director James Comey was wrong to tell Congress — and by extension, millions of voters — that he is revisiting the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private emails, and are worried that the surprise announcement runs the risk of unfairly throwing the election to Donald Trump.
Comey’s letter came out Friday, months after he said Clinton was “extremely careless” in her handling of government information during her tenure at the State Department. His revelation that new emails were located on devices belonging to Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin and her husband, disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, rocked the Democratic nominee’s campaign and reinvigorated Republicans hopeful to win back the White House, though Comey did not reveal anything about the contents of the emails.
In the hours and days that followed, it became clear that several hundred thousand emails were found that had to be sorted out. Even so, media reports and analysis on the subject were less focused on whether Clinton may have sent classified information to an unsecure computer, and much more focused on how the announcement might change the outcome of the election.
A study from the right-leaning Media Research Center said that between Friday and Monday morning, reports and analysis on ABC, NBC and CBS were overwhelmingly negative on Comey. The study “reviewed all statements (by reporters, analysts, and partisans) that took a position on Comey and Clinton and found arguments against Comey (88) swamped those against Clinton (31) by a ratio of almost 3 to 1,” it said.
Some of the network’s biggest anchors indicated they had doubts that Comey’s actions were devoid of political intent. On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” anchor George Stephanopoulos said, “It’s hard to know what’s going through James Comey’s mind right now.”
NBC’s “Today” anchor Willie Geist interviewed Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and asked, “If you were on the other side of this, would you think this was the right thing to do on the eve of an election, to be so vague about it without knowing the content?”
Republicans as well as Democrats have said Comey should not have revealed anything about the reopened investigation, until something was discovered. Still, that was an argument used more often by Democrats, and was also picked up by major op-ed boards that downplayed the possibility that damaging information was released, and played up how the election math might have changed.
The Washington Post editorial board said Monday night that “no one should be happy that the outcome of a U.S. presidential election could be affected, if not determined, by a cryptic letter from the FBI director released 11 days before the vote. But that is our unfortunate situation.”
The editorial continued, “What about Mr. Comey himself? Is there anything he can do to mitigate the harm that has been caused?”
Though Clinton and her team have admitted to deleting more than 30,000 emails from the server, the Post blamed Comey for a “re-eruption” of the controversy that the paper said “never should have generated so much suspicion or accusation in the first place.”
The New York Times focused on how Comey’s decision will raise suspicions that he acted politically, which could further erode the trust people have in the federal government.
It is “sadly fitting that one of the final and perhaps most consequential acts” of the unusual election was for Comey to “undermine the American people’s trust in the nation’s top law enforcement agencies,” the Times wrote.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin took a similar line, by saying that Comey violated a “bedrock principle” for the FBI to “go dark” in the time leading up to an election.
Comey’s letter was only the latest dint to Clinton’s campaign, which has spent nearly the entire election cycle with the FBI investigating the candidate and, more recently, under scrutiny following the WikiLeak publication of hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.
Comey’s few defenders argued that the FBI chief had told Congress he would provide updates if any new information was obtained, and said he may have feared the fallout of keeping quiet about the new wave of Clinton emails until after the election, which might also have been seen as a political decision.