A set of emails has exposed a sordid, transactional relationship between Hillary Clinton and the press.
The emails were obtained by Gawker as part of a large Freedom of Information Act request it made back in 2012. They show a 2009 exchange between Marc Ambinder, then-politics editor of The Atlantic, and Philippe Reines, a close assistant and adviser to Clinton during her days as Secretary of State.
Ambinder asked Reines for an advance copy of a speech Clinton was scheduled to give at the Council on Foreign Relations. Rather than simply say yes or no, Reines cut a deal with Ambinder, turning over the speech provided Ambinder agreed to three conditions:
1) You in your own voice describe [the speech] as “muscular”
2) You note that a look at the CFR seating plan shows that all the envoys — from [Richard] Holbrooke to [George] Mitchell to [Dennis] Ross — will be arrayed in front of her, which in your own clever way you can say certainly not a coincidence and meant to convey something
3) You don’t say you were blackmailed!
Ambinder agrees in the exchange, and his subsequent article shows that he followed Reines’ demands to the letter. Clinton’s speech is dubbed “muscular” in the second sentence, and the suggestive arrangement of Holbrooke, Mitchell, and Ross is noted immediately afterward. Ambinder never reveals that he was fulfilling demands made by Reines. In essence, in return for a scoop, Ambinder allowed Clinton’s team to dictate part of his coverage.
The Atlantic has updated the nearly seven-year-old article to reflect Gawker’s revelations.
“On February 9, 2016, Gawker called the reporting of this post into question. It is The Atlantic’s policy never to cede to sources editorial control of the content of our stories,” the magazine said.
Ambinder wasn’t the only person who may have followed demands from Reines. Mike Allen of Politico also used the “muscular” label for Clinton’s speech, and he also made a note of the arrangement of figures like Holbrooke and Ross. Allen taking orders from Reines wouldn’t be a huge shock, as it was recently revealed that Allen allowed Reines to ghostwrite an item in his popular daily Playbook email.
Ambinder is still a contributing editor at The Atlantic, but his main job is now as editor-at-large of The Week. Ambinder justified his action by saying he also corresponded with Reines by phone and that the email record was at best an “incomplete” log of what happened.
“Since I can’t remember the exact exchange I can’t really muster up a defense of the art, and frankly, I don’t really want to,” Ambinder told Gawker. “I will say this: whatever happened here reflects my own decisions, and no one else’s.”
Ambinder’s willingness to essentially produce Clinton press copy is particularly notable given an article he wrote in 2015 claiming the press would have a combative relationship with a Clinton presidential campaign.
“They’ll give her no quarter, and they’ll provide a good source of accountability tension until Walker (or whomever) emerges from the maelstrom,” he predicted.
Ambinder’s behavior isn’t necessarily a surprise, though, based on other emails Gawker published that showed an almost sycophantic attitude towards Clinton. In one brief message to Reines he said Clinton “kicked A[ss]” on Meet the Press, and in another he effusively said Clinton was “PITCH f#$*& PERFECT” at a press conference.
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