Last night, you may have seen the surprising news—first reported by the AP and then transmitted like a virus to every other major news outlet—that Hillary Clinton “clinched” the Democratic presidential nomination. To do so, she had to surpass the 2,383-delegate mark, just over the halfway point for the 4,765 total delegates available. Once she reached that milestone, it became mathematically impossible for anyone to beat her.
For those readers blessed with political savvy, something about the timing of this story might strike you as strange. How, you might ask yourself, could Hillary Clinton win on Monday night? There was no primary or caucus on Monday night, and as such there were no delegates available on Monday night. So what happened? Did Alabama cheat and hold a secret second primary?
Nope. What happened is that one AP reporter, Stephen Ohlemacher, called up some superdelegates—those party bigwigs whose influence in the primary is both undemocratic and overtly stifling— and extracted their commitment to support Clinton at the convention. With these new superdelegate supporters, he padded his numbers and essentially manufactured a Monday night win hours ahead of his competitors. This all went down on the eve of the last major set of primaries, when states like California and New Jersey were set to vote and play a major role in determining the mood of July’s national convention. The AP announcement was perfectly timed, if the goal was to have a chilling effect on those voters.
So, to recap: We live in a democracy where a victory can be declared not after a vote, but after a national reporter calls up a collection of mayors, congressmen, or whoever else, and badgers them until they say, “yes, fine, I’m supporting Hillary.” Even if that exact outcome was bound to happen down the line, the inescapable truth is that Ohlemacher created this victory from a few phone calls, and as a citizen, that should make you want to scream.
Now, let’s give the point-missers a chance for a predictable rebuttal:
“Hillary Clinton won the primary because she had more votes!”
That’s true, point-misser, but you’ve missed the point. Sure, Hillary has more votes, and yes, she was going to win eventually, and even though I think this will dampen turnout in today’s primary states, it might have even annoyed her camp that the AP essentially scooped their dramatic Tuesday victory moment. The point is not that this hurts Sanders, or even that it’s a purposeful conspiracy. The point is that we’re living in a fucked-up system where the absurd has become the new normal at every step in the process, and the mainstream media has been utterly complicit in the corruption.
Before the first votes ever took place, Clinton had a huge lead over Sanders because of the superdelegates, and almost every major media outlet included these vote totals in the overall tally without explaining what, exactly, was going on—even though the DNC told them not to. Why would the party’s ruling body take this step? Because superdelegates don’t vote until the convention, so their preference is entirely hypothetical! Unlike primary and caucus voters, whose choices are locked in, superdelegates can change their minds! Things can happen, like another candidate winning the popular vote and the supers thinking, gee, maybe we shouldn’t subvert the will of the people (see Clinton v. Obama, 2008). Or someone could get indicted, or die, or whatever.
But when Sanders won New Hampshire to take a lead in “pledged delegates,” which is another term for “actual votes by actual people,” almost every mainstream outlet—TV and newspaper both—reported Clinton holding a 431-50 delegate lead. Many of them also led with the story that she had “won” New Hampshire 15-13 because of superdelegates, even though Sanders had scored an overwhelming victory at the ballot box.
Now, not only was that wildly offensive to anyone who believes in democracy, but it actively stacked the deck against Sanders, creating the perception that even if he prevailed in the overall vote count, he couldn’t win. Was that the only factor in his loss to Clinton? Of course not, but anyone who denies that it was a factor is deluding themselves. To anyone watching and supporting Sanders, it looked a sort of unconscious collusion between the media and the Democratic party power structure.
Finally, past the point when it even mattered, many outlets began to explain the distinction between pledged delegates and superdelegates, and to adjust their counts accordingly. But the fact that it took so insanely long before mainstream journalists understood why this was necessary was maddening—and showed the rest of us how complicit they were in the lazy horse-race coverage that the establishment prefers.
So, let’s turn back to Stephen Ohlemacher, the man who manufactured last night’s “win.” Here was the lead of his story, co-written with three others:
Striding into history, Hillary Clinton will become the first woman to top the presidential ticket of a major U.S. political party, capturing commitments Monday from the number of delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.
No mention of how these commitments could change, as they do all the time, or how they won’t be official until the convention, and how the Tuesday primaries still matter. The headline may as well have been: “California: Don’t bother voting!”
Now, a lot of people will say that Ohlemacher was “just doing his job.” Bullshit. The comedy of this whole thing is that the rush to print the article was purely a function of a single reporter, or a single wire service, showing off. There is no actual news value here. If the shocking news peg is about the “presumptive” nominee, we’ve known it would be Hillary Clinton for a long time. This is not significant. This is the journalistic equivalent of a some needy lickspittle on a message board thread typing “FIRST!”
The really amazing part, though, is how proud they were. To the AP, this was the new Watergate:
Here's more from Ohlemacher's timeline:
Dear superdels, I promise to stop calling you 6X a day AP count: Clinton has delegates to win Democratic nomination https://t.co/lfbBT8×9y1— Stephen Ohlemacher (@stephenatap) June 7, 2016
Top-notch work, Steve! You harassed the party moguls long enough to report a foregone conclusion 24 hours before everyone else.
It’s not. Good journalism would be exposing a corrupt system and explaining to the public exactly how they’re getting screwed. This is not only accepting that system, but validating it by playing a cute, pointless game within its crooked parameters. It’s lackey journalism, disguised as something important. It’s also one of the most naked examples we’ve seen of the “unconscious collusion” mentioned before—the mainstream media carrying water for establishment interests. And in the end, it’s nothing more than the work of a horse-race apparatchik, either too blind or too craven to report something worthwhile.