How the AP manufactured a ‘scandal’ with false reporting last week


bullshitjThere is a reason why I refer to the AP as “All Propaganda” on occasion — its penchant for narrative reporting is frequently not up to the standards of factual and objective news reporting to which the Associated Press likes to lay claim.

I called bullshit on this AP scandal mongering with false reporting on the Clinton Foundation last week, but others have taken the AP to task for its false and misleading reporting.

Think Progress reports that the AP is refusing to correct or withdraw its false and misleading reporting (presumably so is every media outlet that published this AP report last week, magnifying the failure of the media). AP Editor Admits Tweet On Clinton Foundation Was ‘Sloppy’ And Wrong, Still Won’t Delete It:

[T]he Associated Press obtained two years of Hillary Clinton’s schedules from her tenure as Secretary of State. It culminated with this tweet on their findings:

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There was one problem: This tweet is completely inaccurate.

The AP analysis includes only 154 meetings. It excludes all meetings with domestic and foreign government officials — the people who a Secretary of State spends most of her time meeting.

Clinton actually participated in over 1700 meetings (Washington Post: “Here’s how Trump got the AP story on Clinton Foundation donors all wrong”) as secretary of state during that time period. That means, in truth, fewer than 5% of Clinton’s meetings as Secretary of State were with Clinton Foundation donors. (The AP’s story also does not allege that any of those meetings were improper.)

Nevertheless, the AP refused to delete the tweet (“As Matt Yglesias outlines in Vox, the actual numbers used by the AP to arrive at their widely shared claim of “more than half” of Clinton’s meetings are cherry-picked down to almost nothing.”)

Kathleen Carroll, the AP’s executive editor, was confronted by CNN’s Brian Stelter about the inaccurate tweet.

Asked directly by Stelter if she would agree that the tweet is “inaccurate,” Carroll said the AP was better at “breaking stories and covering news… than we are on tweets.” She said the tweet needed “more precision.”

Pressed by Stelter, Carroll said she did not “regret” the tweet because, if she did, the AP would have deleted it. She then acknowledged that the tweet was “sloppy.”

* * *

The AP’s decision to stand by the tweet, even while acknowledging it was “sloppy” and wrong, appears to violate their publicly stated “news values” which apply to “all media.”

It’s hard to square a news organization that claims to “abhor… carelessness” with a decision to stand behind a tweet its executive editor admits is “sloppy.”

Carroll’s more fundamental problem seems to be her belief in a false distinction between “reporting” and social media. In the modern media age, many people consume reporting through Twitter and other social media channels.

It is likely that far more people would read a “sloppy” 140-character tweet than a lengthy story about Clinton’s schedule. Dismissing the tweet as a side issue fails to recognize the importance of social media in the AP’s own reporting and distribution strategies.

It has long been true that everyone remembers the scandalous headline, but no one reads the corrections page (and there is almost never a retraction of a false report by a publisher). This is how big lie propaganda succeeds.

Nancy LeTourneau at the Political Animal blog delivers a beat down to the AP in How the AP Spun the Story About the Clinton Foundation:

The Associated Press has just shown us why it is important to be vigilant in how we consume the news as it is reported. They took some interesting information they gathered and spun it into something it wasn’t …scandalous.

* * *

In other words, what it comes down to is “it just plain looks bad.” That is basically what most every drummed up “scandal” against Hillary Clinton comes down to: from the perspective of the people judging her – it looks bad. Welcome to the world of optics as scandal.

One way to look at this is that the AP spun the story they wanted to tell about this information. That happens almost all the time and we often don’t notice. To clarify how that happened here, note first of all the AP headline: “Many Donors to Clinton Foundation Met With Her at State.” As Adam Khan points out – that’s actually not true.

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As he said, that wouldn’t have made for a “big story.” So they spun the information in a way that got an awful lot of attention. The AP did something else to spin this tale:

The 154 did not include U.S. federal employees or foreign government representatives…

Clinton’s campaign said the AP analysis was flawed because it did not include in its calculations meetings with foreign diplomats or U.S. government officials, and the meetings AP examined covered only the first half of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

That is how they came up with the numbers to say, “More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money – either personally or through companies or groups – to the Clinton Foundation.”

But here is where the AP blew their story. In an attempt to provide an example of how this becomes an “optics” problem for Hillary Clinton, they focused much of the article on the fact that she met several times with Muhammad Yunus, a Clinton Foundation donor. In case you don’t recognize that name, he is an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as a way to fight poverty, and founded Grameen Bank. For those efforts, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

The connection the AP tries to make is that SoS Clinton met with Yunus because he was a Clinton Foundation donor. What they didn’t mention is that their relationship goes back over 30 years to the time Hillary (as first lady of Arkansas) heard about his work and brought him to her state to explore the possibility of implementing microfinance programs to assist the poor.

During the time that Clinton was Secretary of State, the government of Bangladesh was trying to discredit Yunus and remove him from leadership at Grameen Bank due to the fact that he was seen as a political threat. In case you think Clinton’s engagement on that presents and “optics” problem, consider this press release from then-Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry.

I am deeply concerned by efforts to remove Muhammad Yunus as managing director of the Grameen Bank. The international community will watch this situation closely, and I hope that both sides can reach a compromise that maintains Grameen Bank’s autonomy and effectiveness. Institutions like the Grameen Bank make a significant contribution to Bangladesh’s development and democracy and Professor Yunus’s life-long work to reduce poverty and empower women through microloans has deservedly received world-wide attention and respect.

Since those days, the whole fascination with microfinance as a way to combat poverty has waned a bit – mostly due to for-profit banks that abused the possibilities. But it is interesting to note that President Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham Soetero, was deeply involved in promoting microfinance in Indonesia. Clinton herself made that connection on the day she started work as President Obama’s Secretary of State.

We have, with President Obama, someone who believes in development and diplomacy. Coming to the State Department yesterday sent a very strong signal. A few of you may even know, as I mentioned in my testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee, that the President’s late mother was an expert in microfinance and worked in Indonesia. I have been involved in microfinance since 1983, when I first met Muhammad Yunus and had Muhammad come to see us in Arkansas so that we could use the lessons from the Grameen Bank in our own country. I was actually looking forward to being on a panel with the President’s mother in Beijing on microfinance.

One has to wonder why the AP chose this story of Clinton’s 30+ year relationship with a Nobel Peace Prize recipient committed to combating global poverty as the one to highlight in their efforts to suggest that the Secretary of State met with people because of their donations to the Clinton Foundation. I can’t imagine a more flawed example.

I am not suggesting any nefarious motives on the part of the AP reporters. But as we see so often in the media, the facts must be paired with a narrative that gives them meaning. It behooves us as consumers of the media to think twice about whether or not the narrative fits ALL of the facts.

Every news outlet that ran with this false and misleading reporting from the AP — virtually every news outlet in America after this reporting was picked up last week — needs to publish not just a correction but also an editorial apology, if not a retraction, for publishing this false and misleading reporting.  Even that will not unring the bell from this propaganda — way to go, All Propaganda.


  1. No dice. Huff Post, WaPo, and NYT have doubled down. Each of them calling for an end to the foundation and the Times continuing to press the issue with an editorial citing the same disproven ties.

    • Oh I see, you’re the PC Police. . . all opinions are equal and to be respected no matter how uninformed or ridiculous they are. This isn’t a Montessori school where no one gets grades and everyone gets a prize just for participating. When someone is full o’ crap I am going to say so. If you don’t like it, follow your own advice to Margaret.

    • LMAO. Were you deliberately trying to prove my point?

      Well, okay then, Mr. Meanie, I believe I will follow my own advice. I wonder how many folks read your posts for awhile and come to the same conclusion. Good riddance, right?

      Oh, this is probably a moot point, but has it ever occurred to you that some folks:
      1. Do not have English as their first language.
      2. Might be using voice recognition software.
      3. May not have been employed in an occupation that required top notch writing skills.
      4. May have been educated in one of our lesser quality public schools.
      5. Etc…?

  2. clintonista propaganda as usual. it was her job to meet with the 1700. the 154 were private citizens and were at her discretion. also clinton slime machine points out only 2 years were reviewed not all 4. clinton slimmer pook forgot to say why. because courts had not yet ordered clinton slime machine to give up the other two years as they had the first two years! the bullish*t is your defense of clinton slime machine. let see what you have to say about abc news reevaluations this weekend on pay for play. by the way still waiting for your defense of clinton’s iraq war vote for personal gain and phony apology.

    • You gave a right to your views, much as I disagree with them. But could you kindly learn how to write a proper sentence with grammar and punctuation? My head hurts whenever I read your posts

    • You gave a right to your views, much as I disagree with them. But could you kindly learn how to write a proper sentence with grammar and punctuation? My head hurts whenever I read your posts.

      • Also it appears people like you and Bob Lord are still waiting on the indictment fairy. As if a lightweight like Jill Stein has a snowball’s chance in hell against anybody

      • Margaret, there is a simple solution for you. Don’t read his posts. And, if you were to do that, you might avoid causing other people to have their “head hurt” when they read your comments insulting others.

        I realize, of course, that Mr. Meanie himself does this (insults readers) but that is not a reason to follow suit.

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