Wednesday, June 08, 2016

When 'The Morning After' Looks Even Worse

California Primary Leaves More Questions Than Answers

Yesterday I wrote about the Associated Press report, the evening before the big California primary, that Hillary Clinton had already won the Democratic Party's nomination for president. See "Searching for the Media's Soul," June 7, 2016.

I expressly noted that it was not intended as yet another assertion of anti-Bernie media bias. Nor did I suggest there were any dirty tricks involved. It was simply an analysis of the journalistic errors on the part of those who ordered and created the AP story, and the lemming like lapping up and repetition of the story by the AP's clients. It was kind of like the rush to war in Iraq, after the unquestioning acceptance of the Administration's assertion regarding "weapons of mass destruction."

I noted the report was wrong to include Hillary's superdelegate support, given that asking them their "preference" at this time is little more than a polling exercise, since they can't vote until July 25. The report's mention of number of primary votes received, or primaries "won," were irrelevant since it is pledged delegates that count. And, if Clinton's delegates from what the AP called her "decisive weekend victory in Puerto Rico" had been included in the report's analysis, those numbers were clearly inappropriately used since the votes had not yet been even counted.

I suffer no illusions that anyone, let alone from the media, is going to pursue this incident with as much, let alone greater, depth.

But for the record, I'd like to at least put the following on the table.

First, note the probable impact of the AP's eleventh hour bombshell the day before the California primary.

Polls at that time indicated the California primary was a toss up, a statistical tie. "Heading into the last big primary day, California's contest looks like a virtual toss-up with Hillary Clinton up two points on Bernie Sanders, 49 percent to 47 percent, as Sanders has closed a double-digit gap there in recent weeks." Anthony Salvanto, Fred Backus, Jennifer De Pinto, Sarah Dutton, "Poll: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders down to the wire in California," CBS NEWS June 5, 2016.

"It’s hard to know how much the news may depress turnout, but it has easily been the closest contest in a big state, at least in the pre-election polls. . . . [T]he polls are close enough that he could win." Nate Cohn, "Race Appears Over for Bernie Sanders, but California Still Offers Drama," The New York Times (online), June 6, 2016.

In other words, not only is Bernie virtually tied with Hillary, he has been gaining on her, he has the momentum, he's continuing to draw crowds measured in the thousands, there's a real possibility he might get more votes that she will.

And the results of that primary, we discover this morning? With 94% of the precincts reporting, it turns out that Clinton has a 13% gap over Sanders (56.0% to 43.1%; 1,841,285 to 1,416,742 votes). "California Primary Results," The New York Times (online), June 8, 2016.

Was there a relationship between the AP story the day before the primary, and the results the next day? As the Washington Post put it, "Tuesday’s primaries were somewhat anticlimactic, given the AP’s tally Monday of Clinton’s support among superdelegates — the elected officials and other party elites whose convention votes are not bound by the primary results in their states. The AP count showed her reaching 2,383 pledged delegates and superdelegates, the exact number she needs to clinch the nomination." Anne Gearan, Robert Costa and John Wagner, "Clinton Celebrates Victory, Declaring: 'We've Reached a Milestone,'" Washington Post (online), June 8, 2016.

And see, "Although Tuesday had promised to be a watershed moment in the nation’s political history, it proved anticlimactic after The A.P. reported Monday night that Mrs. Clinton had secured enough delegates to clinch the party’s nomination. . . . Sanders advisers were on edge over the declaration that Mrs. Clinton had locked up the nomination, worried that it would depress voter turnout in California. And Mr. Sanders told NBC on Tuesday evening that he was “upset” and “disappointed” that The A.P. had made its call based on a survey of superdelegates, party officials who can shift their allegiances as late as the convention." Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin, "Hillary Clinton Wins California, Boosting Claim to Nomination," The New York Times (online), June 7, 2016.

And, Matt Pearce, "'It Was Just Chaos': Broken Machines, Incomplete Voter Rolls Leave Some Wondering Whether Their Ballots Will Count," Los Angeles Times (online), June 7, 2016

Of course, polls have been inaccurate predictors before. But this seems a particularly great disparity.

Was it merely a coincidence that the AP survey of superdelegates ended up with precisely the number -- 2,383 -- that Clinton need to be nominated? It almost seems like someone kept looking until they reached that number and then stopped and published the story.

What role did Clinton campaign staff, or supporters, have in encouraging the AP to make these inquiries? Did they prepare just enough delegates and then pass their names to the AP group?

See, "On 6 June 2016, the Associated Press reported that Hillary Clinton had 'clinched' the Democratic nomination. Shortly thereafter, a Twitter user published a video about an e-mail sent by the Clinton campaign . . . The video showed the e-mail on the screen; when the [Twitter] user clicked to save the embedded graphic, she claimed that it then showed the following filename: The graphic was hosted on what appeared to be a Clinton campaign 'intranet' inaccessible to the general public and probably used to host campaign-related content. According to the video, the graphic appears to have been created on 4 June 2016, two days before to the AP's pre-primary call . . . It is true that the Twitter video's claims checked out." Jeff Zarronandia, "Clinton Campaign 'Secret Win' Controversy; After the AP called the Democratic presidential nomination for Hillary Clinton on 6 June 2016, social media users questioned a campaign graphic that appeared to be dated 4 June 2016," (a typical Snopes-balanced account, which notes that this does not definitally prove the Clinton campaign's early influence in the AP's story and decision to publish on June 6).

Who at the AP was behind this effort and why? When and why was the decision made to (a) include superdelegates in the count, knowing that they don't vote until July 25, and (b) release the story the night before the big California primary?

I don't have, let alone argue for, answers. And probably no one else will even ask the questions.

But for me, from the perspective of today, the morning after looks even worse than the day before.

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