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The FBI's Nothing Burger

In this March 12, 2012, file photo, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her mobile phone after her address to the Security Council at United Nations headquarters. (Richard Drew/AP)
In this March 12, 2012, file photo, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her mobile phone after her address to the Security Council at United Nations headquarters. (Richard Drew/AP)
This article is more than 5 years old.
COMMENTARY

As most Americans will have heard by now (perhaps as many as 167 times), FBI Director James Comey released a letter on Friday noting that the agency had located emails that might have something to do with his closed investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Given the climate of hysterical insinuation that hovers above Hillary Clinton at all times — a climate created by political opponents and cable stars desperate to gin up her bureaucratic blunderings into capital offenses — you might assume that a guy like Comey, with a paid staff of thousands, would actually take the time to have these emails examined, and to figure out if they include any damning information about Clinton, before releasing such a vague letter.

Because think about it: we’re barely a week from the election. If these emails do include info that would lead him to reopen his investigation of Clinton, then the public should know that. And if they don’t include anything that would lead him to reopen that investigation, there is no justification for making this investigative fishing expedition public.

Is there a single person in America who can explain why Clinton’s use of a private email server is criminal? Seriously. Can you?

Instead, Comey has taken a third path. He is conducting himself like a Fox News anchor. I mean by this that he is throwing out the possibility of wrongdoing with absolutely no evidence.

Which is what the media has been doing to Hillary Clinton for her entire public life. It’s the reason so many Americans say they don’t trust her. Not because she’s done anything wrong. But because she’s been accused of doing so many things wrong.

Not one of these fake scandals — from Whitewater to Benghazi to her emails — has panned out. There’s been no proof that Clinton did anything illegal or even unethical in most cases. It’s just been one long, blaring, baseless, paranoid Republican fever dream.

FBI Director James Comey pictured on July 5, 2016 at FBI Headquarters in Washington. (Cliff Owen/AP)
FBI Director James Comey pictured on July 5, 2016 at FBI Headquarters in Washington. (Cliff Owen/AP)

You’d think that, after 30 years of serving up these nothing burgers, the self-respecting members of the Fourth Estate might finally grow a conscience and stop trafficking in conspiracy theories.

Heck, at this stage in the campaign, they might even talk about the candidates’ policies and how those policies would affect the future of our democracy.

Aw, but that’s stuff’s too boring!

Especially when they’ve got an election to sell, one that was getting pretty lopsided, thanks to one candidate being a proudly ignorant bigot, with a side career in sexual predation. The anchors needed another “October surprise” to gin up the action. After all, a fake scandal serves the essential purpose of our corporate media, which isn’t to inform or enlighten the electorate, to but to inflame them.

So here’s your headline heading into the homestretch, America:

Clinton Mishandles E-mails. Trump Manhandles Women. You Decide.

How pathetic.

How pathetic that we have to watch videos of Trump and his minions crowing about this.

Could Trump even explain what Clinton supposedly did wrong and how it endangered Americans?

Heck, could you? Is there a single person in America who can explain why Clinton’s use of a private email server is criminal? Seriously. Can you?

So here’s your headline heading into the homestretch, America: Clinton Mishandles E-mails. Trump Manhandles Women. You Decide.

How about all you Trump supporters?

Why don’t you do us all a favor and explain, in simple and direct language, precisely what laws Clinton has broken. Not what laws she might have broken, or that you wish she’d broken. Enough with the smoke. Give us the statutes.

And when you’re done with that project, please explain why Trump calling for Russia to hack the emails of American citizens is okay with you. And why — given your deeply principled concerns about transparency — you’re just fine with Trump hiding his tax returns from the American people.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton boards her campaign plane at Westchester County Airport on Friday, Oct. 28. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton boards her campaign plane at Westchester County Airport on Friday, Oct. 28. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

If it were up to me, Bernie Sanders would have been the Democratic nominee for president. So my defense of Clinton isn’t about some slavish loyalty. But it’s been despicable to watch the media vilify her for what amount to wonky misdemeanors. All along, she’s been held to a different ethical standard than her opponent. That’s part of how we punish women for ambition.

Ultimately, the American presidential contest is the most important election on earth. It should be decided on issues, not insinuation.

I don’t expect Trump or the media propagandists of the right to abide by that credo. Because Trump has almost no grasp of the issues, and what Americans do know of his policy positions — mass deportations, tax cuts for the wealthy — are deeply unpopular.

But James Comey, and every single serious journalist in this country, should take a long hard look in the mirror and think about what it means that they are hyping what is, at this point, an utterly hollow story.

If anyone’s rigging the election right now, it’s them.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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