A note from the Editor in Chief, Josh Guckert: all articles posted on The Libertarian Republic are done so with my express approval and at my sole editorial direction. Accordingly, any criticism of TLR content or issues with accountability for error remains purely the responsibility of myself in my role as Editor in Chief.
by Micah J. Fleck
Two days ago, my fellow editor directed my attention to a new WikiLeaks Podesta email: an email implicating an old Democratic insider as possibly egging on a false set of promises and ingratiation toward Bernie Sanders. Said tactics were suggested to HRC campaign chair John Podesta with the intention of rolling on Sanders later and urging he and his supporters to support Hillary Clinton’s ultimate nomination.
The full body of the email, just as with my original story, is shared below:
What should strike any fair-minded person as underhanded about this is the fact that this plan was being hatched well before the Sanders campaign was over, and therefore the assumption being made between both correspondent parties in the email was that Hillary was going to be the nominee, no questions asked. And therefore, to write and speak in support of Bernie publicly, while in private plotting the means by which one will persuade him to bow to the establishment pick of nominee, reads as deliberately dishonest. Does it not?
In my mind, there was a virtual “payoff” being promised to Bernie, and he was in some sense bribed or tricked into supporting Hillary because the nice treatment he seemed to get by some on the inside of the DNC machine amounted to the idea that perhaps some of his policy proposals (i.e. free college) might be adopted by HRC. Indeed, from what we’ve seen unfold, it appears that was likely the case, with Hillary Clinton shifting a bit more left to more closely resemble Bernie’s platform, and a sudden change of tone and rhetoric from Sanders himself after he had a private meeting with the President (a public supporter of Hillary’s 2016 campaign) standing out as prime red flags. This email finally being uncovered seemed to connect the dots a little more on this front, and I made the connections others had already started to: this was seeming evidence of a double-cross against Bernie in an effort to keep the establishment darling Hillary Clinton as the guaranteed nominee.
I wrote the article very quickly in an attempt to beat the competition to the punch and break the story. At times, the pressures of a magazine editor to “get there first” can collide untowardly with the proofreading process. This was unfortunately one of those cases. I used words such as “payoff” and “bribe” in the conclusion and headline — completely oblivious in that moment to the fact that said words can also mean a literal bribe or payoff involving exchange of money, given the context. Personally, do I think money might have at least been discussed at some point by insiders to move things in their favor? I would not put it past them. Is there clear evidence of that particular tactic in the email? No. It at best suggests it with the term “money in the bank” being used at one point, but that could have also been a simple figure of speech for guarantee of cooperation on Sanders’s part. And as such, I truly never set out to write an article that blatantly, unequivocally accused Sanders of taking a money bribe; it was a question mark for me, but merely a bribe of faux good will was enough reason to find the email upsetting. Still despicable at the hands of the establishment Democrats, certainly, but nothing so dramatic as full-on proof of cash offerings.
Having said that, my intent doesn’t trump the ultimate effect I had on the readers of the article, and that effect seemed to be one that rubbed many the wrong way. Because of the choice of words I used in the headline, a common criticism I got back was that it appeared as if I was intentionally misleading the public with a clickbait-laden headline. This was not, in any way, shape or form, my intent. But as I said, intent does not overpower the ultimate way in which my headline hit the general public’s heuristics. And the moment I realized how misleading the headline appeared, I took steps to get it corrected. As of yesterday morning, said corrections have been implemented on the original article page, as well as a statement of clarification atop the main body of the story. At this point, in regards to that original posting, this was all I could do. I also released a statement on my public page owning up to the misstep. In an age where information journalism has become so reliant on click bait and embellished claims of grandeur to win over those with goldfish-level attention spans, I believe it is more important than ever to take ownership of any and all misrepresentations — though it was an honest oversight with no malicious intent behind it, it was indeed something that happened on my watch, and we as the non-bought reporters of the new age of information owe it to our readers (and the broader public) to self-correct when needed in order to retain our journalistic integrity.
— Nicholas Sarwark (@nsarwark) October 15, 2016
I do wish to point out, however, that while I can accept the initial headline as being responsible for much of the negative reactions the article got, I cannot accept that the body of the piece itself was something to reasonably admonish on similar grounds. Indeed, the article itself never intended to mislead any more than the initial headline, but had the added advantage of containing the original email’s contents directly in the middle of it for all to see. Had the fair-minded of the readers really read the piece itself, it would have been clear as to what the email actually said – again, no intentional obfuscation or twisting of information was unfolding in my report. The evidence of what was actually said in the email was never kept in the dark. In fact, mine was not the only interpretation being challenged, with Sarwark’s tweet (which predated and co-exists alongside my report) getting similar flak from people trying to pin accusations of malicious intent to imply money involvement on him, as well. And he did nothing but share the email’s contents raw and without commentary.
So, some of the negative response I must consider then came from a knee-jerk place of abrasiveness to anything and everything that could be construed as anti-Bernie. But as made clear in my statement (and evidenced in my previous writings on the man), I am actually somewhat pro-Bernie. At least on the social issues. Even this story was, in many ways, sympathetic to Sanders’s plight, and the only accusatory rhetoric I could muster was directed at the DNC and HRC parties that seemed to somewhat conspire against his campaign by propping it up with hollow planks of pseudo support.
But none of this, of course, excuses the original problem of my own creation, which was a poorly phrased headline that stirred up all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons, and all I can do (as I did in my public statement) is be genuine, remorseful, and more conscientious moving forward.
I also am not ignorant of the fact that the misunderstanding of this story led to some of the antisemitic “liberty” crowd to rear their ugly heads in the initial batch of comments, many of which I read for myself. Let me make this abundantly clear: the fact that Sanders is Jewish has absolutely nothing to do with his proclivity, real or imagined, to accept money bribes. Not only did I not accuse Bernie of doing this anyway, but I find the implications of negatively connecting greed to one’s religious or ethnic heritage to be absolutely abhorrent and bigoted. As such, I do not and will not allow these responses to go unchecked. The prejudice against minority groups in this movement is far more common than it should be, and it needs to be exorcised if we want modern libertarianism to survive.
In closing, what this all amounts to is simple: I felt the need to follow up on my most recent report due to the way in which it took off and gained such exposure in such an unintended way. It took on a life of its own, and as such, I was compelled to make sure that the clarification of my intent had its own home on this very site. If you care anything at all about proper journalism and truth beyond party politics and biases, you too will understand why taking such a step is so important.