Via the Washington Free Beacon, the same conservative “anti-Clinton” site responsible for yesterday’s “Hillary papers” story. Tough call for fair ‘n balanced news outlets like NBC: How do you handle a scoop that’s (a) leading the Drudge Report, (b) can’t be discredited on the facts, and (c) damages the Democratic nominee for president in waiting? You can’t ignore it entirely. Too many people read Drudge now for big media to take a story he’s pushing and wish it into the cornfield. (Had Drudge not touted it, rest assured that it would have been ignored.) You can’t cover it straightforwardly either. Your Democratic friends won’t like that, especially the would-be 45th president, whose relationship with NBC has been … complicated.

Solution: Cover it, but emphasize that it comes from a publication on the other side that’s allegedly out to get Her Majesty. Not only that, but don’t even name the Free Beacon when mentioning the source. Viewers will draw their own conclusions from that about how seriously they should take it. Michael Goldfarb, a founder of the Free Beacon, was waiting for it:

Free Beacon‘s founder Michael Goldfarb told The Mirror, “The piece wasn’t anti-Clinton, and our website isn’t anti-Clinton, but occasionally the facts are anti-Clinton–and when they are we report them. In this case, some of the documents showed Hillary as ruthless and calculating and vindictive, others showed her in quite a sympathetic light. It’s a shame that Mitchell couldn’t be more graceful in crediting our reporter Alana Goodman for her impressive work, but given her advanced age and deep partisanship–we forgive her for it. You don’t get angry at your grandmother when she says something rude and uninformed, you have to be patient and understanding.”

I’m torn between thinking this is old media-bias wine in new bottles or something qualitatively different, a sign of things to come in the age of partisan new media. Conservatives have complained for decades about “impartial” reporters often feeling obliged to note when a politician is conservative but not when he’s liberal. E.g., if Tom Coburn and Bernie Sanders are sitting next to each other at the State of the Union, you might get, “there’s the Oklahoma conservative, Tom Coburn, and Vermonter Bernie Sanders.” It’s a subtle way of treating liberalism as the political baseline and conservatism a noteworthy deviation. There’s an element of that here too. On the other hand, Andrea Mitchell’s network has spent years gobbling up lefty gruel spoonfed to it by hyperpartisan outlets like Think Progress and Media Matters for segment ideas. That’s life in the new media ecosystem, but I guarantee you that TP and MM are every bit as anti-Republican as the Free Beacon is anti-Democrat. (More so, actually. The Beacon is a legit news site, not a pure oppo shop like Media Matters is.) If the Beacon’s Hillary report requires a TV asterisk in the form of accusing them of being anti-Clinton or not even naming them for fear that people might take them seriously, every MSNBC segment inspired by TP or MM or Talking Points Memo or Wonkblog any other lefty news source should be treated the same way. If a partisan outlook is inherently discrediting, let’s at least be consistent. But then, if a partisan outlook is inherently discrediting, the story never should have aired on NBC in the first place. Drudge or no Drudge.

I think the future is total omerta. If Joe Klein can’t bring himself to type “Free Beacon” once in an eight-paragraph whinge about the Hillary story, we’re already near the point of reporters refusing to cover Clinton criticism from righty sources entirely. Exit question: Applying Mitchell’s own standards, what’s the argument for continuing to attribute scoops to MSNBC by name instead of to “an anti-Republican news outlet” without naming the network at all? They’re nastier and more ruthlessly partisan than any mainstream conservative rival, Fox News included. If ideological bias is discrediting, they should pull the plug.