Whenever a transgression against transparency is charged to the Clintons, whether real, alleged or invented, America’s political media rise up in sustained outrage. From the offices of the New York Times Washington bureau to the Manhattan studio of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, journalists bitterly protest Hillary Clinton’s erased emails and her family foundation’s fundraising methods. And they will surely snap and snark about her “scandals” from now until Election Day.
Which under present circumstances might be justified, since she happens to be running for president — except for one glaring problem. Very few in the press corps apply the same standards to any Republican politician.
Nobody will ever get to see the thousands of messages erased from the private email account used by former Secretary of State Colin Powell when he held that high office. He got rid of them and got away with it (as most likely did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who implausibly claimed not to have used email, when the State Department asked for hers).
Or at least such is the attitude of the press and punditry, who seem to believe that the dumping of Powell’s emails is somehow “different” from what Clinton did. And it is, of course – because she turned over more than 30,000 emails, while he turned over zero. But there is no sound of furious buzzing within the Beltway over the Powell emails; instead there is absolute silence.
Do readers and viewers want to know what Powell and Rice’s emails said about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, a topic of political and historic interest? Don’t they have a right to know? Well, Washington journalists who claim to represent the public interest don’t care.
And the double standard protecting Republicans extends well beyond the email “scandal.”
Consider the Clinton Foundation, whose critics complain that its fundraising has been opaque and suspect. The names of all of its donors have been posted on its website for years (except for a tiny 0.3 percent who gave to a related Canadian foundation and went unreported for arcane legal reasons).
To this day, however, George W. Bush’s foundation, which collected $500 million to build and endow his presidential library in Texas, has refused to disclose the name of every donor. The names that have been disclosed are difficult to find, unless you visit the library itself.
Like Bill Clinton, Bush began to raise money for his library from undisclosed donors while still in office, which raised ethical concerns. Bush told reporters that he might well raise money from foreign donors (which he did) and might not disclose any of their names (he disclosed some, years later). He hosted White House dinners and meetings around the country for potential library contributors, also unnamed.
Only after the London Sunday Times caught a lobbyist pal of Bush on videotape in July 2008 — soliciting $200,000 for the library from someone who claimed to represent a Central Asian dictator — did the Bush White House promise not to raise money from abroad while he was still president.
Yet this little scandal provoked no more than a few days of press coverage, a flurry of denials, and one or two tut-tutting editorials. And now that brother Jeb is running for president, nobody thinks to demand all the names of all the Bush library donors, so the press and public can gauge their potential influence on the candidate.
No, that kind of obsessive inspection is reserved for one political family. Their name is not Bush.
Those Clinton Foundation critics have gone so far as to claim that it isn’t a charity at all, despite top ratings by Guidestar and Charity Watch. A Wall Street Journal editorial snarled that any good done by the foundation is merely “incidental to its bigger role as a fund-raising network and a jobs program for Clinton political operatives.” Actually, the foundation has employed thousands of people, few of whom had any political ties, to bring vital services to the poor around the world.
But there is at least one tax-exempt entity that serves no charitable purpose, existing only to employ political aides and family members: the “Campaign for Liberty,” dubiously subsidized by campaign funds left over from Ron Paul’s political accounts.
Its employees, which include most adult members of the Paul family and most of Ron and Rand Paul’s top operatives, move between “charity” and campaign. It reimbursed Ron Paul’s expenses, even after taxpayers had already paid those same travel bills. Its current leadership is entangled in a festering scandal in Iowa, where prosecutors are investigating the alleged bribery of a local GOP official who shifted from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in 2012.
Which other presidential candidates are involved in such non-profit nastiness? How many used private email accounts and conveniently lost the archives? Voters will probably never find out – because nobody named Clinton is involved.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, The National Memo, May 26, 2015
“Bernie Sanders Is A Totally Legitimate Presidential Candidate”: And It’s Time The Press Started Treating Him Like One
In democracy, the voters decide who wins a presidential election. But the media has great influence over which candidates get serious consideration. So when it comes to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the 2016 race, it’s clear that he’s getting a raw deal. It’s long since time the press gave him the respect he deserves.
Jay Rosen, the New York University journalism professor, has a useful concept for describing the ideology of journalists: nested spheres of legitimacy. These have to do with the way ideas are presented in a piece of journalism. The idea of women’s suffrage is presented as non-controversial, thus placed in the “sphere of consensus.” The idea that aliens control the government, say, is presented as nuts, thus placed in the “sphere of deviance.” The latter ideas are openly presented in the news as illegitimate or insane, if they are not ignored altogether.
What ideas go in which sphere is an inescapable part of journalism, though most reporters don’t acknowledge they’re doing it. And at the moment, the idea of Bernie Sanders as a candidate is getting placed in the deviant sphere. As Steve Hendricks noted, the media has mostly presented Sanders as a non-serious kook:
The Times, for example, buried his announcement on page A21, even though every other candidate who had declared before then had been put on the front page above the fold. Sanders’s straight-news story didn’t even crack 700 words, compared to the 1,100 to 1,500 that Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Hillary Clinton got. As for the content, the Times‘ reporters declared high in Sanders’ piece that he was a long shot for the Democratic nomination and that Clinton was all but a lock. None of the Republican entrants got the long-shot treatment, even though Paul, Rubio, and Cruz were generally polling fifth, seventh, and eighth among Republicans before they announced. [Columbia Journalism Review]
Indeed, if anything Sanders is more credible than the likes of Paul and Cruz. He has risen markedly in the polls of late, where his support has about tripled since the end of last year. He’s doing particularly well in New Hampshire, where a recent poll put him in second place at 18 percent support. As an opponent of the Iraq War and a longtime advocate for more progressive policy, he has a natural constituency in the liberal left, where he is genuinely admired.
Will he win? The odds are surely against him. Clinton’s level of name recognition, money, and elite support — Sanders didn’t even pick up an endorsement from the governor of his home state — makes it a very tough challenge. But it’s conceivable that he could win. As Hendricks notes, dark horse challengers like Jimmy Carter have reached victory facing even longer odds.
But more to the point, it is simply inappropriate for powerful media figures to consistently bookend any mention of Sanders with comments about his inevitable electoral demise. Matt Yglesias, for example, presents Sanders’ loss as so certain that if Clinton were to drop out, he would inevitably lose to Martin O’Malley.
It would be one thing to say that after February next year, when the primaries will have started. Statements like “he doesn’t seem to have a realistic path to winning the nomination” could be grounded in realistic, near-term projections. But a lot can happen in eight months! And it’s frankly ridiculous to present Sanders as a less credible candidate than O’Malley, who is currently polling behind Lincoln Chafee at 1.2 percent.
The constant presumptions about the electoral viability of some candidate amounts to an attempt to influence the outcome of the election, whether it’s intentional or not. That might be a justifiable enterprise with someone like former Rep. Ron Paul, who has an extensive history of racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. But while Sanders has odd hair, and can be grouchy at times, he’s not some random nutter from the Prohibition Party.
Bernie Sanders is a sitting United States senator who could easily finish second in the Democratic presidential primary. It is conceivable that he could even end up as Clinton’s running mate. The fact that he is utterly fearless in advocating for Scandinavian-style democratic socialism is no reason to treat him like a kook.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 26, 2015
Surprise! It turns out that there’s something to be said for having the brother of a failed president make his own run for the White House. Thanks to Jeb Bush, we may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.
But many influential people — not just Mr. Bush — would prefer that we not have that discussion. There’s a palpable sense right now of the political and media elite trying to draw a line under the subject. Yes, the narrative goes, we now know that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake, and it’s about time that everyone admits it. Now let’s move on.
Well, let’s not — because that’s a false narrative, and everyone who was involved in the debate over the war knows that it’s false. The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that. We were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.
The fraudulence of the case for war was actually obvious even at the time: the ever-shifting arguments for an unchanging goal were a dead giveaway. So were the word games — the talk about W.M.D that conflated chemical weapons (which many people did think Saddam had) with nukes, the constant insinuations that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11.
And at this point we have plenty of evidence to confirm everything the war’s opponents were saying. We now know, for example, that on 9/11 itself — literally before the dust had settled — Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, was already plotting war against a regime that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. “Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] …sweep it all up things related and not”; so read notes taken by Mr. Rumsfeld’s aide.
This was, in short, a war the White House wanted, and all of the supposed mistakes that, as Jeb puts it, “were made” by someone unnamed actually flowed from this underlying desire. Did the intelligence agencies wrongly conclude that Iraq had chemical weapons and a nuclear program? That’s because they were under intense pressure to justify the war. Did prewar assessments vastly understate the difficulty and cost of occupation? That’s because the war party didn’t want to hear anything that might raise doubts about the rush to invade. Indeed, the Army’s chief of staff was effectively fired for questioning claims that the occupation phase would be cheap and easy.
Why did they want a war? That’s a harder question to answer. Some of the warmongers believed that deploying shock and awe in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.
Whatever the precise motives, the result was a very dark chapter in American history. Once again: We were lied into war.
Now, you can understand why many political and media figures would prefer not to talk about any of this. Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped: may have fallen for the obvious lies, which doesn’t say much about their judgment. More, I suspect, were complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war, or, alternatively, allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. For there was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer.
On top of these personal motives, our news media in general have a hard time coping with policy dishonesty. Reporters are reluctant to call politicians on their lies, even when these involve mundane issues like budget numbers, for fear of seeming partisan. In fact, the bigger the lie, the clearer it is that major political figures are engaged in outright fraud, the more hesitant the reporting. And it doesn’t get much bigger — indeed, more or less criminal — than lying America into war.
But truth matters, and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some general sense to repeat it. The campaign of lies that took us into Iraq was recent enough that it’s still important to hold the guilty individuals accountable. Never mind Jeb Bush’s verbal stumbles. Think, instead, about his foreign-policy team, led by people who were directly involved in concocting a false case for war.
So let’s get the Iraq story right. Yes, from a national point of view the invasion was a mistake. But (with apologies to Talleyrand) it was worse than a mistake, it was a crime.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 18, 2015
“Why Do Political Reporters Refuse To Show Us The Money?”: American Politics Revolves Around Two Mutually Reinforcing Truths
A profound sense of cognitive dissonance lies at the center of American politics: one that even our most elite journalists and pundits refuse to recognize. In virtually all of our political debate and news coverage, the competition between the two parties is treated as one of personalities and ideas. As with any democracy, the guys who are the most popular, whether for reasons of charisma or appealing policy proposals, emerge as the winners. The job of journalists and pundits is to illuminate the candidates’ character and beliefs and track their respective successes, dividing themselves between “substance” and “horse-race” coverage however they see fit.
But this is nonsense. In fact, American political life revolves around two mutually reinforcing truths. The first is that our democracy has been severely corrupted by money; the second is that the conservative movement, and hence the Republican Party, is dominated by ideological extremists who demonstrate zero interest in the problems of actual governance. Taken together, these truths not only define our political debate; they ensure that virtually nothing is decided on its merits — up to and including our national elections.
Catch a bigfoot journalist or pundit at a social event or private gathering, and he or she will likely admit these truths. Scan the editorials and opinion pages of most major newspapers, and you’ll see the power of money decried on a fairly regular basis. But in the news stories, where it matters most, even our best reporters feel the need to put forth a fairy-tale narrative in which the United States enjoys a fully functioning democracy and our elections and laws accurately represent the genuine will of the people.
Media discomfort with reporting the truth about Republican extremism has often been (and will undoubtedly remain) a focus of this column. But today, let’s just look at the money. Take, for example, a recent story by Neil Irwin that appeared in The New York Times’s “Upshot” section, purported to be the paper’s most thoughtful and knowledgeable organ of political analysis. Irwin argues that Americans’ alleged disinclination to “soak the rich” is reflected in “the actual policies espoused by candidates for office and enacted by Congress.” When he notes that taxes on the wealthy have fallen in the past decade, he offers both a “liberal” and a “conservative” explanation for why this happened. Irwin and his editors don’t appear to think it worth mentioning that fewer than 1 percent of Americans contribute more than 80 percent of the campaign funding for the politicians who write these laws. These are, without exception, the wealthiest people in the country: According to statistics compiled by Americans for Campaign Reform, the top five zip codes of Manhattan’s Upper East Side — home to countless Wall Street tycoons — contribute more money than the residents of 39 states combined. And when you consider that far-right billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch have the power to demand that presidential aspirants pledge fealty to their ideological preferences and financial interests, the notion that our laws represent the collective will of the American people appears comical at best. Neil Irwin knows this, yet he writes his “Upshot” analysis from the point of view of a naive child who has never heard the words Citizens United or seen an episode of The Daily Show.
A similar game of “Where’s Waldo?” can be played with a recent Times story about the House vote to repeal the estate tax. At this year’s annual White House correspondents’ dinner, the Times’s Peter Baker was honored with the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award, which recognizes repeated excellence in White House coverage. Yet Baker’s reporting on the April 16 vote was miles from excellent.
Baker went on for nine paragraphs of “he said, she said” bickering before mentioning that, for all the crocodile tears spilled by House Speaker John Boehner over forfeited family farms and small businesses, “the federal tax currently applies to estates worth more than $5.43 million for an individual or $10.86 million for a couple. Assets above those levels are taxed at rates up to 40 percent.” In paragraph 11, we learn that the tax applies to just “0.2 percent of the deaths anticipated in the United States.” Additional facts that find no place in Baker’s coverage (but can be found on the website of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities): In general, taxable estates pay less than a sixth of their value in tax, and a significant number of loopholes already enable many of them to avoid all taxes. Also, roughly 20 (!) small businesses and small farms owed any estate taxes in 2013; these were taxed at a level averaging less than 5 percent (most large estates have never been taxed for capital gains, which are also taxed well below the level of workers’ wages).
It should come as no surprise that the beneficiaries of an estate-tax repeal would be the wealthiest 0.1 percent of Americans, whose estates will generate nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in revenue between 2016 and 2025, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Baker quotes Boehner calling this amount “nothing more than a drop in the bucket to the federal government,” but he fails to note how frequently the Republicans attempt to slash far smaller expenditures when the poor and working class are likely to benefit. Nor does he note that the folks who would benefit most from the estate tax’s repeal are the very same people whose massive donations to the Republican Party, its candidates, its political-action committees, and its alleged educational arms determine its agenda. This is an agenda, one might add, that is exclusively dominated by the interests of the super-wealthy — science, economics and often even reality be damned.
It’s a cliché to note that in politics, “money talks and bulls*** walks.” But too often, thanks to the frequent failures of our media establishment, the walk and the talk are one and the same.
By: Eric Alterman, Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism at Brooklyn College, and a Professor of Journalism at the City University of New York; Moyers and Company, May 1, 2015
“Making A Fetish Of John McCain”: Using The Veil Of Patriotism To Shroud What Is Plainly Partisan Politics
Its futility makes me so weary it’s hard to type the question, but I’ll type it anyway: Why do the elite Washington media, especially the influential Sunday morning shows, continue to pay deference to, and take seriously, the opinions of John McCain?
Put another way: What would it take for the elite Washington media to reconsider their fealty to McCain? What would the Arizona senator have to do to disqualify himself as the authoritative voice on national security issues, military affairs, and patriotism?
I don’t mean to suggest that McCain would have to do something disreputable, like commit a crime. But if I were a producer for one of the broadcast TV shows, like Meet the Press, I’d ask myself: Does the man whose reputation rests on his dedication to duty, honor, and sacrifice deserve such a reputation in light of recent moves to privilege the Republican Party over the United States?
Before I go on, please note this complaint of mine is just one of many — many! — complaints among media watchers. Paul Waldman, over at The American Prospect, has kvetched for years about McCain’s “mavericky maverickness.” He wrote an entire book about it. So don’t take my complaint as new or even influential. My aim is to note merely how this latest episode is a clear example of McCain’s long con on the media. It illuminates his using the veil of patriotism to shroud what is plainly partisan politics.
What episode? You already know. McCain was one of 47 U.S. senators, led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas, to sign a letter to the Iranian government, saying any deal over its nuclear program with the current President of the United States could be — and, by implication, would be — nullified by the election of a Republican president. In other words, the man who represents the United States to the world is not really the man who represents the United States to the world, because he belongs to the wrong party.
This was further complicated when McCain publicly called into question the credibility of Secretary of State John Kerry after news broke of an agreement between the nations over the framework of a nuclear deal. And there’s more! McCain said he trusted the judgment of Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over Kerry’s. Clearly, the enemy of his enemy is his friend.
This is in keeping with the regular habit of his fellow Republicans to elevate the interests of party over the interests of country, as Slate‘s William Saletan minutely detailed in an article titled “Why Do Republicans Keep Siding With America’s Enemies?”
I’d add only a representative remark by presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. He recently advised any young person desiring to serve her country in the armed forces to wait until 2017. Why? Because Barack Obama is not a Republican.
“Wait a couple of years until we get a new commander in chief that will once again believe ‘One Nation under God,’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country,” he said.
You might say: Well, McCain signed the letter only because his party wanted him to. That’s not the real John McCain. The real John McCain is an independent voice, a bipartisan figure who often challenges his party. In other words, a maverick.
McCain did memorably use the term “wacko birds” in 2013 to describe Senate Republicans like Rand Paul who were carping about the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. (Paul didn’t like that Obama’s drone policy was Brennan’s brainchild.) And indeed, McCain might place Huckabee in the same “wacko bird” category.
But if McCain’s voting record is any indication — truly, it is the only indicator of a U.S. senator’s character that matters — McCain sides with the Republican Party’s “wacko birds” almost uniformly. And if he sides with the wacko birds almost uniformly, then there’s no significant difference between McCain and the wacko birds.
You might also say: Come on. The real John McCain isn’t a wacko bird. OK, I say, then the real one is feckless. According to Politico‘s Burgess Everett, McCain signed the letter without much thought. “It was kind of a very rapid process,” he said. “Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm. I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.”
In other words, he only did what his party asked of him.
In other words, John McCain is a Republican partisan.
How, then, do we understand the Washington media’s universal portrayal of John McCain as a “maverick”? Waldman says it comes from mastering the art of flattery. McCain, he says, “spent a couple of decades massaging their egos and convincing them that he was their best buddy, an investment that paid off splendidly.”
I don’t doubt it, but I’d add another perspective.
John McCain, I suspect, might be better understood as a metaphor, as a mental projection of what the elite Washington media believes a man dedicated to duty, honor, and sacrifice would look like. And John McCain, knowing that few journalists personally know anyone who served in the military, much less saw mortal combat or, like him, experienced life as a prisoner of war, exploited that mental projection to the hilt. These same journalists, I would guess, are as awed by his biography as they are by anyone who can pull the levers of power in Washington. Put it together, and you have not so much a human being as a fetish: a there that isn’t there.
Given the state of the Washington media, I suppose a fetish is as good a reason for John McCain’s ubiquity as any other. As I said, nothing is going to change. Just asking why anyone takes him seriously is exhausting. And for that reason, I’ll stop asking.
By: John Stoehr, Managing Editor of The Washington Spectator; The National Memo, May 1, 2015