On Friday afternoon, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a lengthy interview to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, but all anyone is focused on is the one thing Clinton didn’t say. During a ten-minute-plus grilling about the email “scandal” that has kept Clinton’s campaign stalled for months, Mitchell repeatedly asked Hillary if she was “sorry” for the mess, and was rewarded with some familiar language about it not being the “best choice” and taking “responsibility,” but as for the s-word?
You said recently that using your personal e-mail while secretary of state was not the best choice and that you take responsibility. Are you sorry?
“Well, I certainly wish that I had made a different choice, and I know why the American people have questions about it. And I want to make sure that I answer those questions, starting with the fact that my personal e-mail use was fully above board. It was allowed by the State Department, as they have confirmed. But, in retrospect, it certainly would have been better, I take responsibility, I should have had two accounts, one for personal and one for work-related.”
Are you sorry? Do you want to apologize to the American people for the choice you made?
“Well, it wasn’t the best choice. And I certainly have said that.”
Forget, for a moment, the richness of Andrea Mitchell complaining about the “noise” from this story, which is a bit like Satan saying “Jesus, it’s hot in here!” Substantively, most of what Hillary Clinton said in her response amounted to exactly what people want to hear, that it was a poor decision, that she understands why people are concerned, and that in the end, the truth will come out. Whether you like it or not, though, the thing that people like Andrea Mitchell really wanted to hear was “I’m sorry,” so to them, Hillary’s response sounded like this:
It came off like Hillary Clinton not saying “I’m sorry” mostly because Andrea Mitchell so badly wanted her to say it. That’s a natural instinct, but not necessarily a wise one. What would have happened if Mitchell had asked “Are you sorry?”, and Hillary’s response had been “Yep?” The headline Hillary Clinton was trying to avoid was “Clinton ‘Sorry’ For Email Flap,” but it would also have meant never having to answer that question again. Instead, she got the (much better, somehow?) headline “Clinton Refuses to Apologize for Using Private Email: ‘It Wasn’t the Best Choice’,” and the opportunity to answer the question “Why won’t you apologize?” over and over again.
What she should have done, and can still do next time, was said “I’m not sorry, I am extremely sorry, because my poor choice has led people to doubt their ability to trust me. Here’s why they still can trust me.”
Then, launch into the explanation she’s been giving, most of which holds up very well. The goalposts on this story are ever-shifting, a game that the media has been happy to play along with, but the original complaint was a record-keeping issue. Hillary’s explanation, that sending her replies to .gov email accounts would ensure their preservation, is a little cute, but not unreasonable.
Her explanation for using one account has been met with skepticism, but there are two key factors that have gone underreported. One is that the server at the Clinton home was set up years before Hillary became secretary of state, which makes the convenience argument resonate more, since it wasn’t as much trouble to set up as people make it seem. The other is that the premise of secrecy, the idea that Hillary wanted a private server so she could send emails about how she was attending a White House fetus roast instead of rescuing personnel in Benghazi, is actually undermined by her exclusive use of private email.
If Hillary’s intention had been to create a secret stream of communication that she could delete at will, then she’d have been better served by establishing and using a .gov account as well, thereby creating a legitimate electronic paper trail to draw attention away from the real emails. In either case, it would still be a matter of trusting Hillary, or any government official, to use the private account only for private emails.
There have also been great efforts made to erase the distinction of whether something was “marked” classified, on the logic that most everything a secretary of state says is, by definition, sensitive enough to be classified. As Hillary pointed out, though, a .gov account would have changed nothing about this, as it’s not a classified system. This entire story is just a Lazy Susan of rotating accusations and innuendos that amount to fifteen cents, not the dollar everyone’s been trying to make out of them.
But since the media can’t be relied upon to accurately portray this story, it’s up to Hillary Clinton to do whatever it takes to move people past this, and if that means saying she’s sorry, then so be it. In fact, she should be sorry, genuinely so. She made a poor decision, just not a disqualifying one.
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