The media is failing the American people

ScreenshotLast year I explained how the “Clinton Rules” of reporting works after the New York Times, Washington Post and FAUX News announced an “exclusive” arrangement with right-wing author Peter Schweizer for his upcoming book on Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, “Clinton Cash.” The feckless media falls back on old ways: The Clinton Rules.

This “exclusive” arrangement for opposition research (of dubious quality) has been the source of much bad reporting ever since. Think Progress adds some more background,  A Tale Of Two Foundations: One of these things is not like the other:

Much of the controversy about the Clinton Foundation focuses on Hillary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State and whether she was complicit in “selling access” in return for donations to the foundation. These charges were elevated to prominence by Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, in his book Clinton Cash.

The Government Accountability Institute is the non-profit arm of Breitbart.com, a notoriously pugilistic right-wing website. Trump recently hired Steve Bannon, who runs Breitbart, to be the CEO of his campaign.

Schweizer’s book failed to uncover any clear evidence of wrongdoing — and was rife with errors — but it did succeed in focusing mainstream media attention on the alleged issue.

You should also note that none of this background is ever disclosed in the reporting by the reporters writing these scandal mongering pieces based upon opposition research from Breitbart.com, which has been operating as the media arm of the Trump campaign from day one.

Just this week, for example, the New York Times published a story with a provocative headline. Emails raise new questions about Clinton Foundation ties to State Dept. The actual story, however, was far less sensational [as I posted about last week].

While the reporting on the Clinton Foundation focuses on these kind of “conflicts,” there has been no evidence of actual misconduct. Charity watchdog groups rate the Clinton Foundation highly.

Charity Watch gave the Clinton Foundation an A grade, while GuideStar gave it a platinum rating.

Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch noted that in 2014, 87.2% of the foundation’s funding went to its programs, “which is really high.” The foundation, he said, does “really important, valuable work that saves lives of lots of people.”

“It’s unfortunate that it’s become this punching bag, this political punching bag,” Borochoff said. “There’s a lot of things that are said that are false. If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation.”

Meanwhile, on September 1, news broke that the Trump Foundation “violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida’s attorney general.” It was required to pay a $2500 fine to the IRS.

The details of the case are even more unseemly. Florida’s Attorney General was considering opening an investigation into Trump University, which is accused of defrauding students. Bondi herself contacted Trump and asked for a political contribution. After a political committee associated with her campaign received the illegal $25,000 contribution, she decided not to pursue it.

The story has something that none of the Clinton Foundation stories have: Actual evidence of illegal conduct. In this case, not only is there concrete evidence that the Trump Foundation broke the law, but a formal finding of wrongdoing by the IRS.

And yet, coverage of the Trump Foundation, even in the few short days since the story of the IRS fine broke, has been scant. A search for coverage in the Nexis database, which contains almost all English language print and broadcast sources, found just 23 mentions of the “Trump Foundation” since September 1. That was vastly overshadowed by continual coverage of the Clinton Foundation, even though it was not the foundation linked to any illegal activity.

Media coverage did not improve over the long Labor Day weekend.  Paul Waldman of the Washington Post picked up the story on Monday, Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?

In the heat of a presidential campaign, you’d think that a story about one party’s nominee giving a large contribution to a state attorney general who promptly shut down an inquiry into that nominee’s scam “university” would be enormous news. But we continue to hear almost nothing about what happened between Donald Trump and Florida attorney general Pam Bondi.

I raised this issue last week, but it’s worth an update as well as some contextualization. The story re-emerged last week when The Post’s David A. Fahrenthold reported that Trump paid a penalty to the IRS after his foundation made an illegal contribution to Bondi’s PAC. While the Trump organization characterizes that as a bureaucratic oversight, the basic facts are that Bondi’s office had received multiple complaints from Floridians who said they were cheated by Trump University; while they were looking into it and considering whether to join a lawsuit over Trump University filed by the attorney general of New York State, Bondi called Trump and asked him for a $25,000 donation; shortly after getting the check, Bondi’s office dropped the inquiry.

At this point we should note that everything here may be completely innocent. Perhaps Bondi didn’t realize her office was looking into Trump University. Perhaps the fact that Trump’s foundation made the contribution (which, to repeat, is illegal) was just a mix-up. Perhaps when Trump reimbursed the foundation from his personal account, he didn’t realize that’s not how the law works (the foundation would have to get its money back from Bondi’s PAC; he could then make a personal donation if he wanted). Perhaps Bondi’s decision not to pursue the case against Trump was perfectly reasonable.

But here’s the thing: We don’t know the answers to those questions, because almost nobody seems to be pursuing them.

For instance, there was only one mention of this story on any of the five Sunday shows, when John Dickerson asked Chris Christie about it on “Face the Nation“ (Christie took great umbrage: “I can’t believe, John, that anyone would insult Pam Bondi that way”). And the comparison with stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails or the Clinton Foundation is extremely instructive. Whenever we get some new development in any of those Clinton stories, you see blanket coverage — every cable network, every network news program, every newspaper investigates it at length. And even when the new information serves to exonerate Clinton rather than implicate her in wrongdoing, the coverage still emphasizes that the whole thing just “raises questions” about her integrity.

The big difference is that there are an enormous number of reporters who get assigned to write stories about those issues regarding Clinton. The story of something like the Clinton Foundation gets stretched out over months and months with repeated tellings, always with the insistence that questions are being raised and the implication that shady things are going on, even if there isn’t any evidence at a particular moment to support that idea.

When it comes to Trump, on the other hand, we’ve seen a very different pattern. Here’s what happens: A story about some kind of corrupt dealing emerges, usually from the dogged efforts of one or a few journalists; it gets discussed for a couple of days; and then it disappears. Someone might mention it now and again, but the news organizations don’t assign a squad of reporters to look into every aspect of it, so no new facts are brought to light and no new stories get written.

The end result of this process is that because of all that repeated examination of Clinton’s affairs, people become convinced that she must be corrupt to the core. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of negative coverage of Trump, because of course there is, but it’s focused mostly on the crazy things he says on any given day.

But the truth is that you’d have to work incredibly hard to find a politician who has the kind of history of corruption, double-dealing, and fraud that Donald Trump has. The number of stories which could potentially deserve hundreds and hundreds of articles is absolutely staggering. Here’s a partial list:

  • Trump’s casino bankruptcies, which left investors holding the bag while he skedaddled with their money.
  • The Trump Institute, another get-rich-quick scheme in which Trump allowed a couple of grifters to use his name to bilk people out of their money.
  • The Trump Network, a multi-level marketing venture (a.k.a. pyramid scheme) that involved customers mailing in a urine sample which would be analyzed to produce for them a specially formulated package of multivitamins.
  • Trump’s history of being charged with housing discrimination.
  • The time Trump paid the Federal Trade Commission $750,000 over charges that he violated anti-trust laws when trying to take over a rival casino company
  • The fact that Trump is now being advised by Roger Ailes, who was forced out as Fox News chief when dozens of women came forward to charge him with sexual harassment. According to the allegations, Ailes’s behavior was positively monstrous; as just one indicator, his abusive and predatory actions toward women were so well-known and so loathsome that in 1968 the morally upstanding folks in the Nixon administration refused to allow him to work there despite his key role in getting Nixon elected.

[Update: Just today,  Gretchen Carlson Settles Lawsuit with Fox News.]

To repeat, the point is not that these stories have never been covered, because they have. The point is that they get covered briefly, then everyone in the media moves on. If any of these kinds of stories involved Clinton, news organizations would rush to assign multiple reporters to them, those reporters would start asking questions, and we’d learn more about all of them.

That’s important, because we may have reached a point where the frames around the candidates are locked in: Trump is supposedly the crazy/bigoted one, and Clinton is supposedly the corrupt one. Once we decide that those are the appropriate lenses through which the two candidates are to be viewed, it shapes the decisions the media make every day about which stories are important to pursue.

And it means that to a great extent, for all the controversy he has caused and all the unflattering stories in the press about him, Trump is still being let off the hook.

Waldman’s colleague at the Post, Daniel Drezner comes to a similar conclusion. Why Hillary Clinton’s perceived corruption seems to echo louder than Donald Trump’s actual corruption.

All of these stories were reported by mainstream media outlets, so I don’t quite buy the notion that the press isn’t doing its job covering both candidates’ real and perceived scandals. I do buy the notion, however, that the Clinton stories have had a much bigger echo than the Trump stories. As Matthew Yglesias noted, the Clinton stories “bounce on cable” but the Trump stories don’t. Also, there’s this:

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 4.35.16 PMScreen Shot 2016-09-06 at 4.35.44 PM

So what explains this disparity? I think there are two small things going on and one big one. A small thing is that Hillary Clinton has been ahead in the polls and more likely to be the next president of the United States. It’s therefore not too surprising that she faces the harsher media glare. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver noted the cycle of candidates leading in the polls facing more negative stories, which then narrows the gap with their opponent and switches the media glare to them. As Trump narrows the gap, I expect to see a greater focus on his corruption.

The second small reason is that at this point it’s just easier to report on the Clinton than on Trump. Clinton has made it easy for the press to cover these things as the emails have been released. Trump, on the other hand, is a model of opacity, requiring reporters like Fahrenthold to have to do real shoe-leather reporting to find anything. On their personal finances, Clinton has been transparent, and Trump has been the opposite of that. Paradoxically, Clinton’s relative transparency has made it easier to discover even the slightest possible appearance of impropriety.

I think there’s a bigger reason, however, and it’s not Clinton-specific. Josh Marshall got at it somewhat in this post when he wrote, “Many reporters and editors simply take it as a given that Trump’s a crook. So stories about Trump’s corruption amount to what journalists call dog bites man stories — not really news because it’s the norm and wholly expected.” Indeed, in the primaries Trump bragged about buying up politicians and promoted his tawdry brands in news conferences. So new reports about Trump ethical lapses and legal violations aren’t terribly surprising.

The reason the Clinton Foundation has earned more scrutiny is that the Clinton Foundation, like Hillary Clinton herself, ostensibly stands for something greater. The best version of Donald Trump is someone who nevertheless does everything to advance the greater glory of Donald Trump. Clinton, like most politicians, laudably professes to a higher ideal. Corruption and conflict of interest are more eye-grabbing when they come from someone committed to a life of public service. The possibility of ethical lapses involving a philanthropy exposes hypocrisy in a way that no Trump scandal possibly could.

* * *

We are in a moment when small hypocrisies seem worse than blatant corruption. And in that moment, Clinton pays a greater price for her perceived indiscretions than Donald Trump does for his actual indiscretions. It’s not fair; it’s just the way it is.

24 responses to “The media is failing the American people

  1. Great job AZBlueMeanie. Unfortunately, the corporate owned media is making a killing this election season and really has no incentive to change, I suspect that they’d love a photo finish, damn the consequences.

  2. captain*arizona

    more bad news for hillary. the media is doing its job green party candidate jill stein is about to be arrested for painting protest message on pipeline equipment at north dakota native american protest site.

    • For Sure Not Tom

      Jill Stein, walking the talk! Good for her.

      Funny how it’s vandalism when you put a little paint on a vehicle but it’s good American Capitalism when you steal other people’s land and dig it up with said vehicle and then sic dogs on them when they have the nerve to complain.

      Since when do we allow private companies to send attack dogs on citizens?

      Fossil fuel companies think they own the planet.

      • “Funny how it’s vandalism when you put a little paint on a vehicle but it’s good American Capitalism when you steal other people’s land and dig it up with said vehicle and then sic dogs on them when they have the nerve to complain.”

        “Steal other people’s land…”, “…sic dogs on them…”, sounds a tad hyperbolic and emotional. Where are the facts?!? ;o) I’m just kidding, Not Tom.

        “Since when do we allow private companies to send attack dogs on citizens?”

        I think that as long as the property is so posted and there are fences or other barriers to keep people out, the law has always allows for sentry dogs to protect property rights. I could be wrong, though.

        • For Sure Not Tom

          I forgot about you, Steve, you won’t hear about this from Fox/Beck/Brietbart/WND, or much in the corporate media, because they are owned by the same folks who own and/or finance the pipeline.

          The story is being covered extensively on several left wing websites, including video, I assumed people were aware.

          You can see the dog attacks starting a little after the 3 minute mark, and those do not look like security guards handling the dogs.

          http://www.democracynow.org/2016/9/4/dakota_access_pipeline_company_attacks_native

          You may not agree with the protestors, but surely, as a conservative, you are against imminent domain being used for the benefit of a private corporation?

          And as a Christian (I assume) you wouldn’t want anyone bulldozing Bethlehem/Jerusalem, or setting dogs loose on Christians?

          I know, IOKIYAR.

          • captain*arizona

            children were bitten by these attack dogs. even DU posters complained about the gleeful tone of the now clinton site. what few bernie people that are left.

          • Not Tom, my friend, I need to clear up a misconception you have: I don’t watch or listen to Fox News, Beck, or Limbaugh. I don’t even know who Jones, Breitbart or WND are. I just want to set the record straight.

            I assume you are talking about the pipeline in the Dakotas and the Native American efforts to stop it. I have not seen any videos of anyone using dogs to break up protests, but I will take your word for it they exist. It sounds excessive to me, UNLESS the protesters were actually rioting and destroying property.

            No, I do not approve imminent domain being used to condemn property and then turn around and give it to private corporations. When the Supreme Court upheld that as a legitimate use of Imminent Domain I was shocked. It seemed to me to be a major abuse of the process.

            As to comparing the “sacred land” argument to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, I must admit to a certain skepticism. The term “sacred land” has been beaten to death by Native Americans as they oppose almost any construction, anywhere. Given the nature of their collective religions, everywhere can be declared sacred land. Now I realize Native Americans may hold a little grudge against us for stealing all this land from them because they couldn’t defend it, and they found that the sacred land argument carried a lot of weight for many years, but common sense has to make you suspicious that not everywhere can be “sacred land”.

            What the heck does “IOKIYAR” mean?

  3. Here’s Greenwald, with close to the opposite take on the situation —

    https://theintercept.com/2016/09/06/the-unrelenting-pundit-led-effort-to-delegitimize-all-negative-reporting-about-hillary-clinton/

    Reasonable minds can differ, but it’s hard to see what Greenwald has wrong in this passage:

    “As my colleague Zaid Jilani remarked: “I can imagine Paul Krugman standing in front of the mirror saying, ‘This is *your Tahrir Square* big guy.’” Nate Silver, early yesterday morning, even suggested that Krugman’s Clinton-defending column was so edgy and threatening that the New York Times — which published the column — was effectively suppressing Krugman’s brave stance by refusing to promote it on Twitter (the NYT tweeted Krugman’s column a few hours later, early in the afternoon). Thankfully, it appears that Krugman — at least thus far — has suffered no governmental recriminations or legal threats, nor any career penalties, for his intrepid, highly risky defense of Hillary Clinton.

    That’s because — in contrast to his actually brave, orthodoxy-defying work in 2002 as one of the few media voices opposed to the invasion of Iraq, for which he deserves eternal credit — Krugman here is doing little more than echoing conventional media wisdom. That prominent journalists are overwhelmingly opposed to Donald Trump is barely debatable; their collective contempt for him is essentially out in the open, which is where it should be. Contrary to Krugman’s purported expectation, countless Clinton-supporting journalists rushed to express praise for Krugman. Indeed, with very few exceptions, U.S. elites across the board — from both parties, spanning multiple ideologies — are aligned with unprecedented unity against Donald Trump. The last thing required to denounce him, or to defend Hillary Clinton, is bravery.”

  4. captain*arizona

    your complaint is the media should portray hillary as jesus it is not enough to portray trump as satanlike msdnc does on maddow lart word hardball and joy reed does. by the way hillary supporter azbm I am still waiting for you to defend hillarys iraq war vote for personal gain and phony apology. waiting and waiting and waiting…..

  5. Poor Hillary. I never realized that the stench of corruption that surrounds her and her husband was just the result of poor reporting rather than actual corruption. Who knew that there could be so many incidents of “poor reporting” occuring over the years with the pair? I also never realized how open and honest the Clintons were all these years and how those characteristics have caused them all the trouble they have had over the years. Thank you for removing the blinders from my eyes.

    Now, if only I could convince myself I am really that gullible…

    • American Vendetta

      You are. Once again it is all about how you feel as opposed to any real evidence. That is fine if you want to call her names and disagree with her ideologically, but please give me a break with the so called crooked Hillary nonsense. Alas, I forget that in your world it never really is about facts is it?

      • AV, I find it genuinely humorous that, on a liberal blog where feelings tend to be the currency of the day, you would complain about my mentioning Hillary’s corruption without detailing the litany of misdeeds (i.e. – the facts) that she and Bill have been involved with. The “facts” are that Hillary’s corruption is well known, as is her and Bill’s ability to tap dance their way out of trouble. Between her ravenous ambition and Slick Willys manipulative skills they are a formidable team. In any event, AV, if my messages here bother you, perhaps you should ignore them. What do you think?

        • For Sure Not Tom

          Feelings are the currency of the day? On liberal blogs? Wow!

          That’s rich. Turn on Fox News/Jones/Beck/WND and lets see how long before someone starts shrieking “Bhangazi! Four American’s Died” without explaining exactly how HRC has anything to do with it…

          Or “Black Lives Matter is coming to Kill all the White Folks” or “Occupy is coming for you and they’re coming for blood”….based on what?

          Or my personal favorite, “ISIS is coming here to kill us all!!!!!!”

          Really? 30,000 dudes are coming to kill everyone in America? Without a Navy/Air Force? I know they’re bad guys, but 30,000 dudes isn’t even a good turnout for a baseball game.

          Geeze, ask 100 conservatives why Romney lost and 30 of them will tell you ACORN stole the election.

          ACORN!

          Right wing media lives off fear and hate and very few if any actual facts.

          Watch some Fox News sometime and watch for this kind of BS…”Could it be that Clinton….” or …..”Is it possible that Obama….” or “Do you think that Hillary….”

          Steve, you know I can’t stand Clinton, and I’m not voting for her, but I see in HRC a sleazy politician, just like every GOTeaP sleazbag from local and state to the federal level.

          If I’m wrong, please show me the law/statute/regulation, part and paragraph, that she violated, and show me the exact evidence that proves it.

          Fun fact, Trey Gowdy, the guy who replaced the actual convicted criminal (Darrell Issa) who was investigating HRC has his own private email server.

          But that’s just my feelings about Gowdy.

          Wow. Talk about reality distortion.

          • Not Tom, did I say “feelings” were isolated to liberal blogs? I don’t think so.

          • For Sure Not Tom

            But Steve, seriously, you posted the “feelings” comment on a blog post from AZ Blue Meanie, a person who documents the tar-hades out of each and every issue he raises. His posts go on for days.

            If he was Donald Trump, Meanie would say “I post so many facts, I have the best facts. Pretty soon you’ll say No More Facts, we can’t take all these facts! No Meanie, it’s too many facts!!!”

            And to top it off, your reply reflected the paucity of facts regarding the claims you made about Clinton.

            I agree that she’s a sleazy, lying politician, but for real reasons, like Goldman Sachs speeches and votes for wars, not for email-gate and Bhengazi or whatever the conspiracy du jour happens to be.

            The reason the right doesn’t complain about her ties to Wall Street or her hawkishness is because that’s the stuff about her they like.

            Here’s something that is based on just my feelings, and I bet we agree here, I can’t wait for this election to be in the rear view mirror.

          • I agree, Not Tom, I am tired of this election. I wish it was over regardless of who was elected.

            AzBM does document his posts rather carefully, I agree. However, he has a natural bias he can’t overcome and he carefully chooses his subjects. When he does post something out of his confort range, he is honest and I respect him for that.

            Whenever I speak of the Clintons, I will address their criminal enterprise. You admit Hillary lies, but that is only one small facet of their sleaziness. There is so much more going on there. You imply we should show objectivity in judging the Clintons (at least I think you do) and I say you have to judge them in the totality of their actions. Their sleaziness has been inherent to their existence ever since Arkansas. The problem is that Americans can’t believe our politicians can really be that bad. We believe in the basic goodness and love of country for our politicians. We are wrong…politicians can be that bad. When Hillary is elected President, my hope is that her hubris will overpower her slyness and we will actually get to see the Clinton machine in all of it’s darkness. It will be painful – IF it happens – but it will be cathartic, like Nixon.

          • To be honest, Not Tom, I was going to ignore your demand that I provide the specific crimes, and proof of those crimes, where the Clintons are concerned. I was going to ignore it because the request is sort of boring and I will never convince you of it. But then I reconsidered and thought I would go ahead and explain why I consider them criminals.

            Let me take you on a roundabout way to get there. Guys like John Gotti (Sr and Jr) ran criminal enterprises for years in New York City. Everyone knew they were responsible for crimes being carried out, but no one could prove it. They were deeply surrounded by functionaries and lieutenants that insulated them from being prosecuted. They denied being crime lords, but everyone knew the truth. People especially knew that you didn’t run afoul of them because it wasn’t healthy to do so. They only fell when some of their Lieutenants turned on them. Had that not happened, they would likely still be running their enterprises.

            The Clintons run their own version of a criminal enterprise. They have always surrounded themselves with loyal functionaries and lieutenants, and if you weren’t loyal to them, then they let you know they knew things about you that would guarantee you would go along with the program. Going back to their days in Arkansas, it was understood that you didn’t cross the Clintons or there would be hell to pay. Bill got the name “Slick Willy” because of how he avoided being caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The Rose Law Firm, the oldest law firm in Arkansas, went out of business because of shredded and “lost” documents covering Hillary’s butt. Bill was impeached as President and lost his Law License because he lied under oath…he subverted the very cornerstone of our legal system and none of his loyalists blinked an eye.

            You know, I am getting rather bored with this, so let me cut to the chase. Bill and Hillary have left a litany of questionable activities, seeming conflicts of interest, disgraced subordinates, questionable ethics, etc. behind them ever since they entered the spotlights. So-o-o many of them that anyone who wasn’t biased in their favor would have to admit that something is wrong. They will never answer for their transgressions, but when you deal with them, you know they are sleazy and you need to watch your back and keep your hand on your wallet. They don’t know what the truth is. Whether you care about Hillary’s e-mails or not, how many different versions of what happened did she claim? And when she talked to the FBI, she couldn’t recall answers to the question more than 30 times. Is that the intellect we want for President?!?

            Defend them any way you would like, Bill and Hillary are corrupt and have left a slimy trail behind them wherever they have gone. I know they will never be caught because they have too many loyalists who will go to the mat for them. And unless one of them really screws up, they are untouchable. I accept that. But I won’t ignore what they are.

          • For Sure Not Tom

            I can’t stand Hillary, she’s a sleazy politician, like ALL of them.

            And if I was Monica Lewinsky’s dad, I’d have taken Bill outback behind the bar long ago and taught him to respect women who only do nice things for him.

            Both of them are deplorable politicians, neoliberal warhawks and friends of Wall Street, not Main Street.

            But I am a fan of reality, and you need to learn to fact check, and since there’s only one “fact” in your post, let’s take a look….

            The Rose Law Firm, a sleazy bunch of lawyers if ever there was one, is alive and well and always has been, they did not go out of business because of Whitewater.

            A simple web search would have been a good idea.

            This is my problem with conservatives, if it comes from Fox/Beck/Jones/Brietbart/WND, it’s fact, and they never seem to bother to check.

            After the election, first rounds on me.

          • I will admit, I am surprised about the Rose Law Firm. I took it as an article of faith that it had gone out of business. I was so certain that I would have never bothered to check it out. I stand corrected…on that point…and I do appreciate your correcting me.

            However, where the Clintons are concerned, I will paraphrase a line from one of my favorite old movies: “FACTS! We don’t don’t need no stinking FACTS!!” ;o)

          • For Sure Not Tom

            Dude, the only checkable fact you gave was about the Rose Law firm and it was wrong.

          • I acknowledged that. Why continue to beat a dead horse?

          • For Sure Not Tom

            Sorry, Steve, worked late, didn’t get the joke.

            From now on, I won’t post until after my second cup of coffee.