I can’t help it.
I keep hearing “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman” over and over on the virtual cassette player in my brain.
That ignominious statement is the dictionary illustration for the concept we call “political hairsplitting.”
It’s where my mind raced when it bumped into this dichotomy from AP.
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 7, 2016
AP will not call [Hillary Clinton] the “nominee” until she reaches that milestone in Philadelphia next month, when the party’s delegates formally cast their vote at the convention.
AP’s two-step mirrors how Bill Clinton sidestepped a perjury charge in 1998. Back then, the legal definition of “sexual relations” while he was under deposition did not include oral sex. So, no perjury even though a contemporary poll showed that “
87% of those questioned said that oral sex was, well, sex.”
Yesterday, the AP did not technically call Hillary Clinton “the nominee” in that tweet.
Never mind that “clinches the nomination” = “nominee” in the minds of 99.9% of the thinking public.
Moreover, the tweet does not link to any story, where AP inserts its qualifier du jour. Here’s the first story (8:30 pm). In its 85-word entirety:
Hillary Clinton has commitments from the number of delegates needed to become the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for president, and will be first woman to top the ticket of a major U.S. political party. An Associated Press count of pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses and a survey of party insiders known as superdelegates shows Clinton with the overall support of the required 2,383 delegates. Now the presumptive nominee, she will formally accept her party’s nomination in July at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
A longer story went live three hours later (11:24 pm).
Super-delegates are not pledged to a candidate
The delegates that are allocated at primaries and caucuses are pledged to a candidate. When they attend the national convention, they have pledged their votes (at least on the first round of voting).
At the convention in Philly, 4,765 delegates will show up to pick a nominee. Of these, most will be pledged to a candidate (2,650 district-level; 910 statewide or at-large; 491 pledged elected officials).
But there are 714 unelected super-delegates as well. They can vote for whomever the heck they want to. And they don’t have to make up their minds until they get to the nomination convention in July. That’s their raison d’etre, to be a safety valve to make sure an electable candidate gets the nomination.
The magic number: 2383. Clinton has 1,811 pledged delegates; Sanders has 1,526. And 601 are up for grabs today. The super-delegate votes will decide the nominee, and they can change their minds up until the moment that they vote.
Back in February, FiveThirtyEight pointed out that super-delegates flipped from Clinton to Obama at the last minute back in 2008.
As recently as April 28, the DNC told the news media that unpledged super-delegates should not be counted when reporting on the nomination process.
Including super-delegates in the pledged delegate count is horse-race, superficial (not to mention, misleading) reporting at its worst. The DNC admonition didn’t stop the MSM then, or now. Maybe it was intended solely for plausible deniability?
Note: After Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, many mainstream news media outlets reported that Clinton had enormous delegate lead because of unpledged super-delegate votes. Across the pond, The Guardian noted that there could be a problem brewing between party elites and the grassroots.
Question hinges on super-delegates. Can we count on what a bunch of unnamed people told AP about what they might do? https://t.co/MSCnYNVr9w
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) June 7, 2016
NY Times (and others) make some hay
Regardless, the AP story gave the NY Times cover for this front page, which ran on the day of the New Jersey and California primaries.
Why vote, if the nomination is over. Right?
Like Glenn Greenwald — and unlike most Bernie supporters — I believe that Clinton is probably going to be the nominee. But the route to get there gives new meaning to the word “ugly.”
The nomination is consecrated by a media organization, on a day when nobody voted, based on secret discussions with anonymous establishment insiders and donors whose identities the media organization – incredibly – conceals… That the Democratic Party nominating process is declared to be over in such an uninspiring, secretive, and elite-driven manner is perfectly symbolic of what the party, and its likely nominee, actually is.
Reaction from social media
No one else, it seems, is (publicly at least) happy with the premature announcement.
— POLITICO (@politico) June 7, 2016
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 7, 2016
Yellow flags are flying
But the Clinton campaign sent out an email to its supporters almost immediately after the AP tweet.
— medicare for all or bust (@WestCoastBernie) June 7, 2016
The image of the AP tweet in the email is named “secret-win-V2-060416” with a naming convention that suggests it was created on June 4 (it is not standard practice to back-date images) and that it’s the second version of the image.
I’ll leave this for a follow-up.
Good journalism or bad practice?
Mathew Ingram points out, at Fortune:
The question of whether the Associated Press jumped the gun is is more than just a semantic or even a journalistic argument. Supporters of Bernie Sanders have complained that reporting Clinton as the presumptive nominee might convince delegates not to bother voting for him in the remaining primaries on the assumption that the game was already over.
Those kinds of concerns are what prevent media outlets from reporting on the results of election polls until a certain number of them have closed for fear that some voters might see their votes as irrelevant and not bother going to the polls at all (emphasis added). In some countries, it’s actually against the law to report early results from exit polls.
And this from Travis Mannon, also at TheIntercept:
— Travis Mannon (@TravisMannon) June 7, 2016
I think horse-race reporting does a disservice to the democratic process and civic life. I find modern news report reliance on anonymity annoying and disheartening; stories like Valerie Plame have led to distrust.
I look forward to a PhD dissertation (or two) analyzing how the media treated this nomination process, on both the Democratic and Republican sides. That’s not going to be pretty, either.