It’s not quite proof of the “vast, right-wing conspiracy” that Hillary Clinton once bemoaned, but as validations of grievances go, this is pretty good: Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson thinks the Democratic presidential front-runner’s private email scandal— a story that, by the way, the Times broke— has been overblown. And she thinks the media, in general, have subjected Clinton to a greater level of scrutiny than they would a comparable male candidate.
In an interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush published on Monday, Abramson threw cold water on what is arguably the hottest scoop of the campaign so far— the Times’ report last March that Clinton used a private email server at her New York home to conduct government business during her tenure as secretary of state.
“The issue, to me, that’s at the crux is that everything that we know that was classified was classified after the fact— after the emails were sent,” Abramson said on Thrush’s “Off Message” podcast. “And so, you know, why is that a big deal? And the fact that she had this private email is something that, you know, I’ve read widely, a lot of people in the government 1/8did3/8.”
Abramson, ousted in 2014 for what Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. cryptically referred to as “an issue with management in the newsroom,” didn’t directly criticize her old newspaper’s editorial decisions. She also rejected the notion that during her tenure, the Times was unreasonably tough on Clinton. But she said the likely Democratic nominee is justified in complaining— as she has publicly and privately— that the Times and other news outlets have held her closer to the fire than they have other White House contenders.
“She does get more scrutiny,” Abramson said, adding one possible explanation that she attributed to a former student of hers at Harvard, where she is a visiting lecturer: “We, for some reason, expect total purity from a woman candidate.”
Abramson is hardly the first to offer this sort of critique. As Times public editor (and incoming Washington Post media columnist) Margaret Sullivan chronicled last fall, readers and press critics have also accused the paper of covering Clinton with undue harshness— though not always because of her gender.
Conservatives will no doubt scoff at the idea that the Times, which has endorsed Clinton for the Democratic nomination and they generally view as a liberal organ, could possibly be too hard on her, of course.
For the candidate herself, however, Abramson’s opinion is more valuable than most. It’s one thing for people who never worked in the Times newsroom to suggest that the paper is overbearing; it’s another for the Times’ former top editor to do the same.
As Clinton looks ahead to a likely general election matchup against Donald Trump— a master of positioning himself as the victim of unfair media coverage— she will want to advance the narrative that she is actually the one whom the press is out to get. This is a game virtually all politicians play, but Clinton will probably be facing an uncommonly skilled opponent. She’ll need help, and Abramson just gave her some.