An Open Letter to Democrats: Stop Freaking Out, Start Fighting Back

ANKENY, IA - AUGUST 26:  Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to guest
ANKENY, IA - AUGUST 26: Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to guests gathered for a campaign event on the campus of Des Moines Area Community College on August 26, 2015 in Ankeny, Iowa. A recent poll has Clinton leading all other Democratic contenders in Iowa by about 30 percentage points. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

What if I told you we had a chance to elect a transformative progressive president -- someone with an inspiring personal story, a long record of accomplishment on behalf of the most vulnerable, a keen understanding of how to effect real change in a broken political system, and an ambitious agenda for bolstering the middle class?

And what if I told you we were at risk of blowing that opportunity because we couldn't stifle our own propensity to panic?

I've been in the political trenches for 20 years -- on both sides of the battlefield. And yet, I'm still constantly surprised that, every time Republicans manufacture a fake scandal and convince the mainstream media to swallow the bait, Democrats immediately fret -- often publicly, to conservatives' delight -- that the sky is falling.

But there's nothing to worry about- unless we let the conservative smear machine and its enablers tell us what to think about Hillary Clinton's e-mail "scandal."

When it comes to Hillary, the right -- aided and abetted by a gullible and sometimes complicit media -- has had it out for her for 25 years (trust me, I was there at the start). She's been the target of countless fake scandals -- Whitewater, Travelgate, Benghazi, and beyond.

But every single one of them fizzled. And this one will, too -- if Democrats who are supposed to have Hillary's back look past the spin, stop taking the first breathless reports at face value (especially when they come from the New York Times), and focus on the facts.

This episode began on March 2 when the Times published a story by Michael Schmidt with this startling headline: "Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules."

At first glance, it looked bad. Sure, it had been public knowledge for years that Hillary used a personal e-mail account. But those two words in the headline -- "Breaking Rules" -- were ominous. And Schmidt's "analysis" made sure to explain exactly why he thought we should panic: the story fit into the media narrative about the Clintons' "lack of transparency and inclination toward secrecy."

But while too many of my friends and colleagues were commencing the early stages of Democratic grief, I was giving the story a second read. It was immediately obvious that the Times was doing the bidding of the Republican House committee conducting the dead-end Benghazi investigation. And over the course of the next day, it became clear that there were glaring problems with the piece.

Critically, it turned out that the "rule" Schmidt was accusing Hillary of "breaking" wasn't a rule at all when Hillary was in office. Indeed, the sole source Schmidt had used to deliver a grim assessment of Hillary's legal situation flatly told CNN the next morning that Hillary did not violate any laws. Later, that scary headline would be changed, along with crucial details; initially, Schmidt had claimed that Hillary had surrendered emails as part of the Benghazi investigation, but the story was corrected to acknowledge that she had provided them voluntarily as part of the State Department's internal archiving project (a correction that was never explained to readers).

Perhaps worst of all, the Times edited a lengthy explanatory statement from a Clinton spokesman down to a perfunctory assertion that she had complied with "the letter and spirit of the rules." The full statement would have identified many of these flaws in Schmidt's story, but the Times chose not to include it. Why? Because Times editor Carolyn Ryan told colleagues that she -- Carolyn Ryan -- thought that it was a lie. Why did she think that? Because the Clintons, in her mind, always lie.

The story, like much of what the Times has printed in its quarter-century-long vendetta against Hillary Clinton, was wrong. Indeed, the Times would also botch a follow-up story when it falselyclaimed that federal inspectors general had launched a criminal investigation into Hillary's email practices (they hadn't).

Appearing on cable TV the day after the Schmidt story hit, I refused to hedge, to express concern, to buy into the narrative that Here We Go Again with the Clintons -- because even at that early moment it was clear that Hillary hadn't broken any rules, and I wasn't shy in saying so.

You shouldn't be afraid to defend Hillary, either. The facts are on her side:

· Hillary Clinton's use of a personal e-mail account followed the law.

· Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email account also followed precedent--Colin Powell, for example, conducted business on a personal email account as Secretary of State.

· Hillary Clinton has been open and transparent--calling for an unprecedented public release of all of her work emails and offering to testify before Congress about them for months

· There is no issue of Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information--no information she sent or received was marked classified.

· Hillary's email was safe, secure, and never breached--unlike the email of numerous federal agencies that have been hacked.

· Hillary Clinton is the target of a gross double-standard. If you want to talk about a politician whose e-mail use broke the law, look at Jeb Bush -- he was required to release his e-mails when he left office, but illegally delayed doing so for seven years. Not to mention the literally millions of "lost" email in Jeb's brother's administration.

The number-one leading killer of Democratic campaigns isn't Republican skullduggery or media malpractice. It's our own inability -- or, worse, unwillingness -- to fight read beyond the false headlines, sift through the facts, and stand up for our own embattled standard-bearers.

Republicans know they can't beat Hillary fair and square. All they can do is hope to confuse and exhaust enough Democrats who lose their nerve and chicken out when it comes to refuting false attacks on her.

And if that strategy works, it won't be on Hillary. It'll be on us.

David Brock is the founder and chairman of Media Matters for America and the founder of the progressive SuperPAC American Bridge 21st Century. His latest book, Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government, details how progressives can fight back against the efforts of conservatives and their co-conspirators to tear down Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election cycle.