ABC Skips WikiLeaks Story on When President Obama Knew of Clinton’s Private Server

As WikiLeaks continued to drip hacked emails from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account, CBS and NBC covered the latest developments on Oct. 25 — but not ABC.

The emails in question were from top aide Cheryl Mills to Podesta after President Obama said in a 2015 CBS interview he learned about Clinton’s private email server “the same time everybody else learned it, through news reports.”

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Shortly after the interview aired Mills wrote to Podesta, “We need to clean this up — he has emails from her — they do not say state.gov.”

These emails are important because they potentially contradicts the president’s statements on Clinton’s use of a private email server. They could show that President Obama had received official business emails from Clinton’s personal email address.

CBS and NBC covered the emails the day WikiLeaks released them, even including sound bites from the President Obama interview.

ABC didn’t cover the story Tuesday night. Instead, ABC led its Clinton coverage with Colin Powell’s endorsement and followed with early voting in Florida.

Executive Director of the American Press Institute Tom Rosenstiel said the trickle of emails may determine how significant a story is.

“The WikiLeaks story is challenging and problematic for various reasons. One is that the leaks are being dribbled out in a way that is designed to manipulate the press,” Rosenstiel said. “The second problem is that a good deal of what is in the emails, maybe all of it, is simply the discussions that occur in campaigns.”

Rosenstiel added that the emails are only a portion of the big picture: “They are also having in-person conversations and phone conversations in addition. So, these are fragments of a reality.”

But regarding whether ABC should have covered this story, Rosenstiel said:

“There is no right or wrong answer. In an 18-minute newscast (after commercials), I’d say no stories on the WikiLeaks emails would be a mistake. One on every leak might be too many. But the bigger issue is whether the stories provide enough context about the meaning of both the emails and the implications of Russians hacking the election. That, rather than anything that has been found in the emails so far, is the bigger story.”

But for former Twitter and NPR executive Vivian Schiller, ABC’s lack of coverage wasn’t an issue.

“Maybe they should have covered it–though I’m not sure neglecting it is a capital offense,” she said. “For better or worse, this campaign season has yielded such an overabundance of news that a 22-minute evening news program is better judged over time than by one particular episode.”

WikiLeak’s presence in the 2016 election is unprecedented, but networks should cover what is significant.

More from our panel:

Vivian Schiller

  • “It’s NOT the New York Times which can cover much more news in a single day. If you’re telling me that ABC continuously ignores stories negative to Clinton or Obama in favor of positive, or vice versa, that would be important. But not sure this single incident rises to that level.”

Tom Rosenstiel

  • “If the press were not being used in this way, they would prefer to have all the emails, sort through them, perhaps over weeks or months, and then publish stories about what they mean or don’t mean.”
  • “The piecemeal dribbling has led to stories that may or may not be all that important.”
  • “The second problem is that a good deal of what is in the emails, maybe all of it, is simply the discussions that occur in campaigns. ‘Should we mention Israel in the daily stump speech or not.’ ‘We need to clean this up.’ Arguments. Worries. Tactical discussions. That is what campaign aides do. Is it a story. Probably. Is it a scandal. No.”
  • “A third problem is they are emails. They are imprecise. And partial. People are dashing them off. They are also having in-person conversations and phone conversations in addition. So these are fragments of a reality.”
  • “And there is the problem of the public misinterpreting these fragments and those conversations becoming news…i.e., Podesta saying they should ‘oversample’ a particular population in a poll. Oversampling is a technical polling term. It means polling more people in a subpopulation so you can understand them more deeply. So you oversample Asians or African Americans or young voters so you have enough of them, for instance, to be able to do geographic breaks.”
  • “It doesn’t mean they are overrepresented in the final result, which would be ‘weighted’ to reflect the population. But people then go nuts in social media because they mistook the word oversample to mean over-represented.”
  • “With all that, should these networks have done stories? That’s a judgment call. There is no right or wrong answer. In an 18 minute newscast (after commercials), I’d say no stories on the WikiLeaks emails would be a mistake. One on every leak might be too many.”
Alex Theriot

Alex Theriot

Alex Theriot is a senior multi-platform journalism major, minoring in global terrorism studies. Previously, Alex served as staff writer, style editor and webmaster for Unwind Magazine, the campus arts and entertainment publication. Alex has held communications internships at the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Department of Homeland Security. She completed her journalism internship at CNN. Upon graduation, Alex hopes to attend graduate school in the Washington, D.C. area, continuing to pursue a career in national security.

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