On Wednesday, Fox News’s Bret Baier reported that the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation would “likely” result in an indictment. The following day, NBC News, ABC News, and CNN all reported that this claim was false, while Baier backtracked from the word “indictment,” explaining that he’d spoken “inartfully.”
On Friday, Baier conceded that, when a journalist says the FBI is likely to bring an indictment against the family foundation of the Democratic nominee — and has no compelling evidence to back up that assertion — said journalist has done something worse than “inartful.”
“That just wasn’t inartful,” Baier told his viewers. “It was a mistake and for that I’m sorry.”
But by then, the story had already seeped deep into internet, aggregated by the Hill, RealClearPolitics, and countless conservative blogs.
“The damage is done to Hillary Clinton,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC’s Brian Williams on Friday.
In a fleeting moment of delusional naïveté, one might have thought that Conway was expressing her dismay at the pernicious effect reckless journalism can have on a campaign — sure, she wants to defeat Clinton, but she wants to do so fair and square.
But Conway hastened to explain that the “damage” here was very good damage, because the inaccurate story helped the American people understand the truth about Hillary Clinton.
“No matter how it’s being termed, the voters are hearing it for what it is — a culture of corruption,” Conway explained.
Williams noted that reporting a “likely” indictment isn’t an error of terminology, saying, “As a lawyer, you would concede indictment is not only a term of art, it’s a term of law, and that’s a big difference to use the expression ‘likely indictment’ when all the reporting is to the contrary.”
“Fine,” Conway replied. “It just doesn’t change what’s in voters’ minds right now and you see in the your own polling, you see in the other polling, Brian, which is — even though the polls were tightening before last Friday’s explosive announcement by Mr. Comey, you see that voters are putting it in this large cauldron of impressions and images and individuals and issues from which they eventually make a choice.”
Conway appears to be correct. Even though there is no new evidence the FBI will reverse its conclusion that Clinton committed no prosecutable crime in her handling of classified information, James Comey’s letter from last Friday has, indeed, done damage. Per the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent:
“Comey hurt a lot in terms of momentum,” Greenberg said. “We were heading towards a consolidation of the Democratic vote for her and down-ballot, and Trump voters were becoming more demoralized. Our tracking had crossed into her voters being more interested in the election than Trump voters were.”
“That changed,” Greenberg added. “That limits the scope of her win.”
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me that the impact of the Comey letter was to sour millennials on Clinton and on the political process — potentially to the detriment of Dem Senate candidates in states like New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
“Many millennials who were already discouraged about politics,” Lake said, saw increased “doubts whether voting for any politician makes any difference.”
The damage is done. And, per Kellyanne Conway, James Comey and Bret Baier should be very proud.