Last 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.
Steve Benen reports, Dubious Clinton ‘controversies’ litter the political landscape:
Much of the political world’s focus last week was focused on an ill-defined “controversy” surrounding the Clinton Foundation, springing from a single Associated Press article. The AP, looking for evidence of influence peddling involving foundation donors and Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State, didn’t find evidence of wrongdoing, but the news service nevertheless published an overwrought story that dominated campaign coverage.
Nevertheless, for campaign watchers, one of the key takeaways from last week is that Clinton is now burdened by a new “scandal,” even if she didn’t do anything wrong and the allegations crumbled under scrutiny.
This week, it’s apparently time for a new not-so-controversial controversy. Politico reported this morning that Bill Clinton’s staff “used a decades-old federal government program, originally created to keep former presidents out of the poorhouse, to subsidize his family’s foundation and an associated business, and to support his wife’s private email server.”
Politico added that its review “does not reveal anything illegal,” and deep into the piece, in the 24th paragraph, the article explains that the payroll system Clinton set up is actually permissible and perfectly understandable given the logistical challenges of his schedule.
Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum summarized just how meaningless these revelations are.
Now, I know you have seen these dubious Clinton “scandals” breathlessly reported in the Arizona media, but how many of the actual Donald Trump scandals have you seen reported in the Arizona media? That’s what I thought.
This is the subject of Paul Waldman today at the Washington Post. Here’s a tale of two scandals. Guess which one will get more play?:
Whenever some new piece of information emerges about Hillary Clinton or people close to her, we’re told that it “raises questions” of some kind, which means it’s being shoehorned into a larger narrative that says something fundamental about her: That she’s tainted by scandal, or corrupt, or just sinister in ways people can never quite put their finger on.
Yet somehow, stories about Donald Trump that don’t have to do with the latest appalling thing that came out of his mouth don’t “raise questions” in the same way. They’re here and then they’re gone, obliterated by his own behavior without going deep into question-raising territory.
To see what I mean, let’s look at a couple of stories that have come out in the last 24 hours. We’ll start with the one about Clinton. You may have heard recently about Judicial Watch, which is an organization established in the 1990s to destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, a mission it continues to this day. Through lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests, they try to obtain information that can be used against the Clintons, and they’re going to be a vital player in Washington politics should Hillary become president. The group’s latest “revelation” can be found in email exchanges between Doug Band, an executive at the Clinton Foundation, and Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin, when Clinton was secretary of state.
Here’s how the New York Times reported this story, under the headline “Emails Raise New Questions About Clinton Foundation Ties to State Department“:
A top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department agreed to try to obtain a special diplomatic passport for an adviser to former President Bill Clinton in 2009, according to emails released Thursday, raising new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.
The request by the adviser, Douglas J. Band, who started one arm of the Clintons’ charitable foundation, was unusual, and the State Department never issued the passport. Only department employees and others with diplomatic status are eligible for the special passports, which help envoys facilitate travel, officials said.
Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign said that there was nothing untoward about the request and that it related to an emergency trip that Mr. Clinton took to North Korea in 2009 to negotiate the release of two American journalists. Mrs. Clinton has long denied that donors had any special influence at the State Department.
The first sentence of that story is questionable at best. The top aide, Huma Abedin, did not “agree to try to obtain a special diplomatic passport” for Band. He emailed her asking for it, and she replied, “OK will figure it out.” It’s hard to say whether that constitutes agreeing to anything, and at any rate, Band and the other two Clinton aides who were going to accompany the former president on this mission to North Korea didn’t actually need diplomatic passports for the trip and wouldn’t be allowed to get them anyway, nothing happened. You might have missed it, but there in the second paragraph the story notes that no diplomatic passports were ever issued.
To sum up: An executive at the Clinton Foundation made a request of Hillary Clinton’s aide, and didn’t get what he was asking for. Now maybe there is some real evidence somewhere of corruption at the State Department during Clinton’s time there, but that sure as heck isn’t it.
If you as a journalist are going to say that something “raises questions,” and if you know the answer to those questions, you have to say that, too. So in this case, the question the Band email raises is, “Did an aide to Bill Clinton get a diplomatic passport from Hillary Clinton’s staff when she was Secretary of State, something he was not entitled to?” The answer is — and pay attention to make sure you grasp this answer in all its complexity — No. (If you want a fairer version of this story, here’s the Post’s.)
Now let me point you to another story, one you probably haven’t heard about. Yesterday we learned that Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty over a contribution his foundation made to a PAC affiliated with Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, whom you might remember from the Republican convention, where she gave a rousing speech endorsing Trump. Does this story “raise questions”? Does it ever.
Here’s the quick summary: In 2013, Bondi’s office received multiple complaints from Floridians who said they had been cheated out of thousands of dollars by a fraudulent operation called Trump University. While Bondi’s office was looking into the claims to determine if they should join New York State’s lawsuit against Trump University, Bondi called Donald Trump and asked him for a contribution to her PAC.
Now let’s pause for a moment to savor the idea that Bondi, the highest-ranking law enforcement official in the state, would solicit a contribution from someone her office was in the process of investigating. She did solicit that contribution, and Donald Trump came through with $25,000.
Or actually, his foundation paid Bondi’s PAC the $25,000, which is an illegal contribution. Trump’s people say this was just a clerical error, and Trump himself reimbursed the foundation — that’s what the IRS fine was about. But days before getting the check, Bondi’s office announced that they were considering whether to go after Trump University, and not long after the check was cashed, they decided to drop the whole thing.
Here are a few questions this story raises: How many Floridians were scammed by Trump University? When Bondi and Trump spoke, did Trump University come up? What was the basis on which Bondi decided not to join New York’s lawsuit? Why didn’t she recuse herself from the decision? Are there any other attorneys general Trump has given money to, and had any of them received complaints about Trump University, the Trump Institute, the Trump Network, or any of Trump’s other get-rich-quick scams that were so successful in separating ordinary people from their money?
Those kinds of questions are what spur more digging and allow news organizations to not just write one story about an issue like this and then consider it done, but return to it again and again. If they decided to, they could get at least as much material out of the issue of Trump’s scams as they do out of Clinton’s alleged corruption at the State Department. But I’m guessing they won’t. Some stories “raise questions,” and others don’t.
Like this investigative report from Mother Jones that you haven’t seen reported in the Arizona media: Former Models For Donald Trump’s Agency SayThey Violated Immigration Rules And Worked Illegally (you would think this would be Page One after Trump’s immigration speech in Phoenix)(excerpts):
[T]he mogul’s New York modeling agency, Trump Model Management, has profited from using foreign models who came to the United States on tourist visas that did not permit them to work here, according to three former Trump models, all noncitizens, who shared their stories with Mother Jones. Financial and immigration records included in a recent lawsuit filed by a fourth former Trump model show that she, too, worked for Trump’s agency in the United States without a proper visa.
* * *
Two of the former Trump models said Trump’s agency encouraged them to deceive customs officials about why they were visiting the United States and told them to lie on customs forms about where they intended to live. Anna said she received a specific instruction from a Trump agency representative: “If they ask you any questions, you’re just here for meetings.”
* * *
Models’ apartments, as they’re known in the industry, are dormitory-style quarters where agencies pack their talent into bunks, in some cases charging the models sky-high rent and pocketing a profit . . . When Blais lived in the apartment, she recalled, a Trump agency representative who served as a chaperone had a bedroom to herself on the ground floor of the building. A narrow flight of stairs led down to the basement, where the models lived in two small bedrooms that were crammed with bunk beds—two in one room, three in the other. An additional mattress was located in a common area near the stairs. At times, the apartment could be occupied by 11 or more people.
“We’re herded into these small spaces,” Kate said. “The apartment was like a sweatshop.”
* * *
A detailed financial statement provided by Blais shows that Trump’s agency charged her as much as $1,600 a month for a bunk in a room she shared with five others. Kate said she paid about $1,200 a month—”highway robbery,” she called it. For comparison, in the summer of 2004, an entire studio apartment nearby was advertised at $1,375 a month.
* * *
The three former Trump models said Trump’s agency was aware of the complications posed by their foreign status. Anna and Kate said the company coached them on how to circumvent immigration laws. Kate recalled being told, “When you’re stuck at immigration, say that you’re coming as a tourist. If they go through your luggage and they find your portfolio, tell them that you’re going there to look for an agent.”
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The experiences the former Trump models related to Mother Jones echo allegations in an ongoing class-action lawsuit against six major modeling agencies by nine former models who have claimed their agencies charged them exorbitant fees for rent and other expenses. One plaintiff, Marcelle Almonte, has alleged that her agency charged her $1,850 per month to live in a two-bedroom Miami Beach apartment with eight other models. The market rate for apartments in the same building ran no more than $3,300 per month, according to the complaint. (Trump Model Management, which was initially named in an earlier version of this lawsuit, was dropped from the case in 2013, after the judge narrowed the number of defendants.) Models “were largely trapped by these circumstances if they wanted to continue to pursue a career in modeling,” the complaint alleges.
“It is like modern-day slavery” Blais said of working for Trump Model Management—and she is not alone in describing her time with Trump’s company in those terms. Former Trump model Alexia Palmer, who filed a lawsuit against Trump Model Management for fraud and wage theft in 2014, has said she “felt like a slave.”
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Trump has taken an active role at Trump Model Management from its founding. He has personally signed models who have participated in his Miss Universe and Miss USA competitions, where his agency staff appeared as judges. Melania Trump was a Trump model for a brief period after meeting her future husband in the late 1990s.
* * *
Kate, who went on to have a successful career with another agency, also parted ways with Trump’s company in disgust. “My overall experience was not a very good one,” she said. “I left with a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t like the agency. I didn’t like where they had us living. Honestly, I felt ripped off.”
These days, Kate said, she believes that Trump has been fooling American voters with his anti-immigrant rhetoric, given that his own agency had engaged in the practices he has denounced. “He doesn’t like the face of a Mexican or a Muslim,” she said, “but because these [models] are beautiful girls, it’s okay? He’s such a hypocrite.”
But will the tee-vee networks and newspapers report these scandals? Or Trump’s many other scandals? Or will they continue to breathlessly report every opposition research Clinton “scandal” manufactured by right-wing operatives?