Fans and supporters of Independent Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential runner-up Bernie Sanders are crying “collusion” over a leaked memo that they say proves “collusion” between the Democratic National Committee and the media to “rig” the Democratic nominating contest in favor of now-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The only problem with that theory is everything.
The document in question is a memo that was included in the documents leaked from the same alleged hack that contained an opposition research file on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and which according to Sanders supporters like The New York Daily News’ Shaun King, is damning evidence of a DNC thumb on the scale:
Two other documents that are very concerning were internal memos. One, claiming to be written on May 26, 2015, a full year before Hillary was declared the winner of the party’s presidential nomination and months before the first primary was held, speaks of her as if she is already the nominee and how they aim to spend the following year preparing her for such a moment.
The DNC is supposed to be an unbiased arbiter of the campaign and this memo suggests anything but that. Furthermore, the memo gives strategies for they can best position her for general election. One of those strategies says they aim to, “Use specific hits to muddy the water around ethics, transparency, and campaign finance attacks on HRC.”
Another memo claims that they “will utilize reporters to drive a message” but do so “with no fingerprints” on the process so that the public believes the messages are coming from the reporters and not the campaign.
The memo, which has not been authenticated (but certainly looks like the real deal), does contain those specific phrases, but that’s where reality ends and fevered Berniebot fantasy begins. Here’s the text of the portion King cites:
…Use specific hits to muddy the waters around ethics, transparency and campaign finance attacks on HRC
…Reporter Outreach: Working through the DNC and others, we should use background briefings, prep with reporters for interviews with GOP candidates, off-the-record conversations and oppo pitches to help pitch stories with no fingerprints and utilize reporters to drive a message.
The two sources of Berner agita over this memo are that it specifically names Hillary Clinton as the nominee around whom they are building a strategy, and that it demonstrates “collusion” with the media to drive messages that are in Hillary’s favor, both of which prove that Bernie Sanders never really had a fair shot.
On the first count, Bernie’s fans are ignoring the fact that when this memo was allegedly drafted, May 26, 2015, Hillary Clinton was 48 points ahead of Bernie Sanders, who was, himself, tied with Joe Biden. There’s probably not a memo outlining a strategy for Jim Webb, either. This was an early strategy for use against the Republican field, not the Democratic primary, so all it shows is that the DNC thought the same thing everyone thought at that time, including Bernie Sanders. Now, there are fair arguments to be made over whether the DNC has tried to help Hillary, particularly with the debate schedule, but this memo is not that.
An equally big problem with this theory is that even if the memo were somehow indicative of anything at all, it isn’t a DNC memo. It was written by an unidentified party, probably a consulting firm, and sent to the DNC.
As for the media’s alleged complicity in this nonexistent plot, the description of “reporter outreach,” while jarringly blunt to the journalism novice, is no more than a description of practices used by every press shop ever, including those of major news outlets. It’s distasteful, but the proof in that pudding isn’t what the press shop is selling, but in how the reporter handles it.
A bad reporter will regurgitate what they’re fed, while a decent reporter will evaluate it the way they would any other piece of information, judging its newsworthiness and their own ability to independently verify and contextualize it. Personally, I believe that the source of an off-the-record pitch is almost always more newsworthy than the pitch itself, so I have consistently handled them by aggressively negotiating for attribution. As a result, I don’t get many of these anymore.
The charge that Bernie Sanders’ followers are trying to make stick is at once an easy and confounding one, because while there can be little doubt that the DNC has had a clear preference for Hillary all along, the fact that she has been winning all along makes them only guilty of having a preference for winning. Whether they have acted unfairly on that preference is a separate matter, one which this alleged memo fails to substantiate.
It’s possible that some other document may surface to demonstrate whatever it is Sanders fans think this one does, but this one, if it’s real, is simply a recognition of reality. Unfortunately, that’s in short supply in Bernieland.
Here’s the full text of the alleged memo:
To: The Democratic National Committee
Re: 2016 GOP presidential candidates
Date: May 26, 2015
Below, please find a suggested strategy for positioning and public messaging around the 2016 Republican presidential field. Ultimately, we need to
Our Goals& Strategy
Our goals in the coming months will be to frame the Republican field and the eventual nominee early and to provide a contrast between the GOP field and HRC. Over the long-term, these efforts will be aimed at getting us the best match-up in the general election, and weakening the eventual nominee through the course of the primary. We have outlined three strategies to obtain our goal:
1) Highlight when GOP candidates are outside of the mainstream on key issues, ideally driving the rest of the field to follow with positions that will hurt them in a general election;
2) Damage Republican presidential candidates’ credibility with voters by looking for targeted opportunities to undermine their specific messaging;
3) Use specific hits to muddy the waters around ethics, transparency and campaign finance attacks on HRC
Operationalizing the Strategy
Highlighting Extreme or Unpopular Positions
There are two ways to approach the strategies mentioned above. The first is to use the field as a whole to inflict damage on itself similar to what happened to Mitt Romney in 2012. The variety and volume of candidates is a positive here, and many of the lesser known can serve as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right. In this scenario, we don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates, but make them more “Pied Piper” candidates who actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party. In these issues, we would elevate statements and policies from any candidate—including second and third-tier candidates—on issues that will make them seem too far to the right on social issues and too far from the priorities of everyday Americans on economic issues.
Undermining Their Message& Credibility, Based on our General Election Priorities
In addition to pinning down the field on key issues, we will work to undermine the Republican candidate’s specific messaging, while keeping in mind which candidates and which messages we believe are most powerful. These messages and the responses to them will change given new campaign positioning and new learnings from polling and research, but on these issues, we will keep the focus on the most likely candidates to allow some possibility for growth with the weaker candidates.
What to undermine: the notion he is a “moderate” or concerned about regular Americans; perceived inroads with the Latino population.
What to undermine: the idea he has “fresh” ideas; his perceived appeal to Latinos and younger voters
What to undermine: his Wisconsin record, particularly on jobs; the idea he can rally working- and middle class Americans.
What to undermine: the idea he is a “different” kind of Republican; his stance on the military and his appeal to millennials and communities of color.
What to undermine: his success as governor, his hypocrisy in telling it like it is vs. his ethical issues and acts of a typical politician.
Muddying the Waters
As we all know, the right wing attack machine has been building its opposition research on Hillary Clinton for decades. HRC’s critics have been telegraphing they are ready to attack and do so with reckless abandon. While reporters have much less of an appetite for ethics stories about GOP candidates, we will utilize the research to place highly targeted hits—for example, GOP candidates taking positions supported by their major super PAC donors.
Working with the DNC and allied groups, we will use several different methods to land these attacks, including:
Reporter Outreach: Working through the DNC and others, we should use background briefings, prep with reporters for interviews with GOP candidates, off-the-record conversations and oppo pitches to help pitch stories with no fingerprints and utilize reporters to drive a message.
Releases and Social Media: Where appropriate these attacks can be leveraged for more public release, particularly the attacks around specific issues where a public release can point out that Republicans are outside of the mainstream.
Bracketing Events: Both the DNC and outside groups are looking to do events and press surrounding Republican events to insert our messaging into their press and to force them to answer questions around key issues.
We look forward to discussing this strategy further. Our goal is to use this conversation to answer the questions who do we want to run against and how best to leverage other candidates to maneuver them into the right place.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.