“The Unrelenting Hostility Of Washington’s Courtier Press”: The Media’s Crusade Of Scandals Against Hillary Clinton
It’s always been my conviction that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed president, she’d do a bang-up job. Getting elected, however, might prove more difficult. Michelle Goldberg does an excellent job defining the problem in a Slate article about why so many people say they hate her.
“There’s a reason actors do screen tests,” Goldberg writes. “Not everyone’s charm translates to film and video. For as long as Hillary Clinton has been in public life, people who’ve met in her person have marveled at how much more likable she is in the flesh than she is on television.”
As a friendly acquaintance since 1980, I’d second that. My wife, who worked with her on the board of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, will hear nothing against her. We recently read a Facebook posting from a friend in Eureka Springs. Neither a big-shot nor a political activist, Crescent was profoundly touched that after her husband died in a bicycle crash, one of her first callers was New York’s newly-elected Senator. Hillary had left Arkansas for good, but not its people.
But no, her personal warmth doesn’t always come across on TV. She’s anything but a natural actress. However, like most pundits, Goldberg glosses over the issue that’s plagued Hillary since Bill Clinton’s first term: the unrelenting hostility of Washington’s courtier press.
People say they don’t trust the media, and then they credit the imaginary scandals this cohort has peddled for 25 years. The exact causes of Clinton-hatred among the press clique remain obscure. Was it Bill Clinton’s humble Arkansas origins? Humbling the Bush family? Failing to pay homage to society hostess Sally Quinn? Nobody knows.
Todd S. Purdum has recently offered a classic in the genre: a compulsively disingenuous Politico piece entitled “Why Can’t Hillary Stop Fudging the Truth?” It begins by describing a “brief, but revelatory” exchange between Clinton and Charlie Rose.
Asked about her damn emails, Hillary tried to broaden Rose’s focus.
“Well, I would hope that you like many others would also look at what he said when he testified before Congress,” she said, “because when he did, he clarified much of what he had said in his press conference.”
If you’re like most Americans, you don’t know that when Comey testified, he was forced to walk back his assertion that the FBI found three (out of 30,000) documents marked “classified” among her emails.
Were they properly marked? Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) asked.
“No,” Comey answered.
So wouldn’t the absence of such markings “tell her immediately that those three documents were not classified?”
“That would be a reasonable inference,” Comey said.
In other words, contrary to the FBI director’s grandstanding press conference and a million Republicans chanting “Hillary lied,” there were zero documents marked classified on her server. Not one.
So was Comey dissembling during his press conference? Or had he made an honest error? Pundits like Purdum know better than to ask. He never acknowledged Comey’s walk back. No, the real issue was Hillary’s “sloppiness,” and her forgetting Comey used that exact word.
“The pattern is unmistakable,” Purdum scolded, “from the Whitewater inquiry (when she resisted disclosing documents about a failed Arkansas land deal)…to the Rose Law Firm billing records (which infamously and mysteriously turned up in the White House residence after she’d said they were missing) to the Monica Lewinsky affair and the State Department emails themselves.”
A more misleading paragraph would be hard to imagine. In fact, the Clintons voluntarily delivered Whitewater documents to the independent counsel, but not to New York Times reporters whose inept, downright deceptive reporting created the bogus “scandal.”
If there had to be an investigation, they wanted a real one.
Also no, but the famous billing records didn’t turn up in the White House residence, “mysteriously” or otherwise. An aide found them in a box under her desk in the Old Executive Office Building, where she’d misplaced them. (They were Xerox copies, incidentally. Hence no motive for hiding them existed.)
Once found, of course, they vindicated Hillary’s sworn testimony. See Joe Conason’s and my book “The Hunting of the President” for details.
As to the “Monica Lewinsky affair,” is there anybody in America that doesn’t know Bill Clinton played slap and tickle with a young thing at the office and lied about it?
How is that his wife’s fault?
Anyone who’s followed Hillary Clinton’s political career has seen this happen time and again. Ballyhooed charges of wrongdoing and/or perjury that collapse in the light of evidence, only to have newly imagined allegations follow almost at once.
Can you say Benghazi?
Some years ago, I got to ask the late televangelist Jerry Falwell on camera which of the Ten Commandments was the worse sin, adultery or false witness? Falwell had peddled the “Clinton Chronicles,” hysterical videos charging the president with drug smuggling and murder.
To his credit, Falwell said they were equally bad.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 27, 2016
“You Can’t Convict Someone With Maybe”: They Were Never Close To Indicting Hillary — 20 Years Ago Or Yesterday
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear: specifically to September 1992, when Attorney General William Barr, top-ranking FBI officials, and — believe it or not — a Treasury Department functionary who actually sold “Presidential Bitch” T-shirts with Hillary Clinton’s likeness from her government office, pressured the U.S. Attorney in Little Rock to open an investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater investment.
The Arkansas prosecutor was Charles “Chuck” Banks, a Republican appointed by President Reagan, and recently nominated to a Federal judgeship by President George H.W. Bush. It was definitely in Banks’s interest to see Bush re-elected.
The problem was that Banks knew all about Madison Guaranty S&L and its screwball proprietor Jim McDougal. His office had unsuccessfully prosecuted the Clintons’ Whitewater partner for bank fraud. He knew perfectly well that McDougal had deceived them about their investment, just as he’d fooled everybody in a frantic fiscal juggling act trying to save his doomed thrift.
Banks and local FBI agents were unimpressed with the “Presidential Bitch” woman’s analysis. She showed shaky grasp of banking law, and obvious bias — listing virtually every prominent Democrat in Arkansas as a suspect. When FBI headquarters in Washington ordered its Little Rock office to proceed on L. Jean Lewis’s criminal referral, Banks decided he had to act.
He wrote a stinging letter to his superiors in the DOJ refusing to be a party to a trumped-up probe clearly intended to affect the presidential election. “Even media questions about such an investigation,” he wrote, “all too often publicly purport to ‘legitimize what can’t be proven.’”
Keep that phrase in mind.
Banks also promised to refer reporters to the Attorney General. And that was the end of the Bush administration’s “Hail Mary” attempt to win the 1992 election with a fake scandal. Also the end of Chuck Banks’ political career.
The prevailing themes of the Clinton Legends, however, were set: imaginary corruption, and a “Presidential Bitch.” Eight years and $70 million later, Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater prosecutors folded their cards, proving the Little Rock prosecutor had been right all along.
Shamefully, several of Starr’s assistants recently showed up in the Washington Post reminiscing about how they almost indicted Hillary Clinton. Except that they never did, and for the same reason FBI director James Comey wouldn’t dare take his largely adverbial case (“extremely,” “carelessly,” etc.) into a courtroom against her.
Because when the accused can afford competent defense counsel, a bogus case endangers the prosecutor more than the defendant. Indict the former Secretary of State and lose? Goodbye career.
If the Post had a sense of humor, they’d have illustrated the article with a photo of “Judge Starr,” as he liked to be called, dressed in his cheerleader costume leading Baylor University’s felonious football team onto the field.
But back to Comey’s successful grandstand play — successful at protecting Comey’s own career while wounding the Democratic presidential nominee, that is. See, no way could the former Secretary of State be prosecuted for mishandling classified information without convincing evidence that a bad guy got his hands on it. The best Comey could do was to say that “it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”
Clinton herself noted that Comey was simply speculating. “But if you go by the evidence,” she said “there is no evidence that the system was breached or hacked successfully.” (Although the State Department’s was.) Pundits can sneer, but you can’t convict somebody with maybe.
What secrets are we talking about? Slate’s Fred Kaplan explains: “Seven of [Clinton’s] eight email chains dealt with CIA drone strikes, which are classified top secret/special access program—unlike Defense Department drone strikes, which are unclassified. The difference is that CIA drones hit targets in countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where we are not officially at war; they are part of covert operations… But these operations are covert mainly to provide cover for the Pakistani and Yemeni governments, so they don’t have to admit they’re cooperating with America.”
Top Secret, maybe. But regularly featured in the New York Times. The eighth email chain was about the President of Malawi.
Even Comey’s press conference assertion that Clinton handled emails marked classified failed to survive a congressional hearing. Shown the actual documents, Comey conceded that they weren’t properly marked. Indeed, it was a “reasonable inference” they weren’t classified at all. Both concerned trivial diplomatic issues in Third World countries. Really.
Michael Cohen in the Boston Globe: “Whatever one thinks of Clinton’s actions, Comey’s depiction of Clinton’s actions as ‘extremely careless’ was prejudicial and inappropriate. The only reason for delivering such a lacerating attack on Clinton was to inoculate Comey and the FBI from accusations that he was not recommending charges be filed due to political pressure. But that’s an excuse, not an explanation, and a weak one at that.”
The very definition, indeed, of legitimizing “what can’t be proven.”
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 13, 2016
You read it here first: “Fearless prediction,” this column began last April 6: “No legalistic deus ex machina will descend to save the nation from the dread specter of President Hillary Rodham Clinton…no Kenneth Starr-style ‘independent’ prosecutor, no criminal indictment over her ‘damn emails,’ no how, no way.
“Ain’t gonna happen…
“Those impassioned Trump supporters holding ‘Hillary for Prison’ signs are sure to be disappointed. Again. Played for suckers by a scandal-mongering news media that declared open season on Clinton 25 years ago. And haven’t laid a glove on her yet.”
If they wanted to prevent Hillary from taking the oath of office next January, I wrote, voters were “going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: defeat her at the polls.”
As of this writing, that’s not looking too likely either. Minutes before the news broke that FBI Director James B. Comey announced that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges against Secretary Clinton, I’d made an observation to a Republican friend on Facebook regarding his expressed wish to see her jailed.
“As a personal matter,” I wrote, “you wouldn’t trust Trump to walk your dog.” After Comey’s announcement, he groused that Hillary had friends in high places, but didn’t dispute my characterization of Trump. Although we disagree politically, I’d trust my friend with anything requiring honesty and steadfastness—dog-walking, cow-feeding, anything at all.
I see Trump, I keep my hand on my wallet. Seen that bizarre interview on Lives of the Rich and Famous where Trump speculates about the eventual size of his infant daughter’s breasts?
No? Then read on USA Today about the thousands of contractors—carpenters, plumbers, electricians–Trump’s stiffed on construction jobs. You do the work, he doesn’t pay. Even his own lawyers sometimes.
The man’s been sued 3500 times. Think he gives a damn about you?
So anyway, last week saw the collapse of not one, but two ballyhooed Hillary Clinton investigations. Even after two years, $7 million and 800-odd pages, Rep. Trey Gowdy’s celebrated Benghazi committee—the eighth of its kind—failed to come up with hurtful new evidence against Secretary Clinton in the tragic events in Libya on September 11, 2012.
But then that wasn’t necessarily the point.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee,” GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy boasted last September. “What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”
So the committee folds its cards, Bill Clinton does his happy Labrador retriever act on Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s airplane, and The Washington Post says we’re nevertheless back to Square One: “Can Hillary Clinton Overcome Her Trust Problem?” reporter Anne Gearan asks.
Clinton herself acknowledges that voters don’t see her as Miss Congeniality. She says she’s working hard to overcome that impression, but acknowledges it’s an uphill struggle.
“You know, you hear 25 years’ worth of wild accusations, anyone could start to wonder…Political opponents and conspiracy theorists have accused me of every crime in the book. None of it’s true, never has been, but it also never goes away,” Clinton told the Post.
“And it certainly is true that I’ve made mistakes. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t,” Clinton continued. “So I understand that people have questions.”
Indeed many of those “questions” about Hillary’s dishonesty originated in acts of journalistic malpractice so crude that their authors would have been shamed out of the profession—if the profession had any shame at the Washington pundit level.
Back in December 1995, ABC’s Nightline broadcast a doctored video clip that made Hillary appear to be lying about representing a Whitewater savings and loan. In reality, she’d explained her role as billing attorney on the account. No wonder “the White House was so worried about what was in Vince Foster’s office when he killed himself,” Jeff Greenfield observed, an insinuation as ugly as it was false.
Her imminent indictment was widely predicted.
A few months later, financial journalist James B. Stewart appeared on the same program, promoting his farcically inaccurate book “Blood Sport.” (He’d failed to read the Treasury Department’s “Pillsbury Report” and taken soon-to-be-convicted Jim McDougal’s word for everything.) Stewart gravely produced a loan application he alleged that Hillary had falsified, a federal crime, he said.
Joe Conason noticed something at the bottom of the page: “(BOTH SIDES OF THIS DOCUMENT MUST BE COMPLETED.)” Sure enough, Stewart had neglected to examine page two of a two page application.
Oops, hold the handcuffs and the orange jumpsuit.
If you think Stewart’s career suffered, you must not read the New York Times or the New Yorker.
Anyway, nothing’s really changed. Paradoxically, the collapse of one ballyhooed Clinton “scandal” after another appears to have hurt her. Few follow the details. But people suspect that she must be especially cunning and slippery to keep getting away with it, the bitch.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 5, 2016
“Reporters Now Face A Choice”: Can Donald Trump Win By Duping Young Voters With ‘90s Conspiracy Theories?
The final week of the Republican primary was essentially a formality, but in hindsight an exceptionally important formality.
As long as Donald Trump still had to go through the motions to fend off candidates whose campaigns had been reduced to simulacra, and as long as his opponents were clinging to the hope of defeating him at the GOP convention, their combat served as a kind of permission for reporters to treat Trump’s campaign as the anomaly that it was.
On the eve of the fateful Indiana primary, when Trump infamously and speciously linked Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Washington Post ran a story headlined, “How on earth is the media supposed to cover Trump’s wacky JFK-Cruz conspiracy theory?” Glenn Kessler, who writes the Post’s fact checker column, gave Trump all four of his dreaded Pinocchios. Even the Post’s straight news piece about the supposed Cruz/Lee Harvey Oswald connection lead with an incredulous dependent clause, describing Trump as “Never one to shy away from discussing unsubstantiated tabloid fodder …”
In theory, debunking political whoppers is what the press is supposed to do, but in practice, things aren’t usually so straightforward. Politicians control access to themselves and their privileged information, which gives them outsize control over who breaks news. With their parties and supporters behind them, they can freeze out adversarial reporters and dismiss accusations of dishonesty as media bias. But in Trump’s case, reporters weren’t the lone arbiters of truth during the primaries. Other Republicans participated, too. Ted Cruz called Trump an “utterly amoral” “pathological liar,” a “narcissist” and a “bully.” The press wasn’t adjudicating Trump’s claims so much as they were relaying a cross-ideological consensus that Trump was unglued.
Just a few hours after he addressed the JFK conspiracy theory, Cruz suspended his campaign and the dynamic between the press and Trump changed. Leading Republicans stopped calling Trump a liar and trying to deny him their party’s nomination. In embracing Trump, they essentially rescinded their permission to the press to treat him as an outlier.
Reporters now face a choice between reimagining Trump as a partisan mirror image of Hillary Clinton, or drawing the ire of the broader GOP. Trump can’t become president unless he comes to be seen as on a par with Clinton, and that can’t happen without the assent of the media. So far the media hasn’t granted it, but we’ve seen scattered indicia of how it might happen.
Trump can’t become president unless he comes to be seen as on a par with Clinton, and that can’t happen without the assent of the media.
When Trump swung into general-election mode and indulged the horrific lie, fixated upon by conservative media more than twenty years ago, that the Clintons may have murdered Vince Foster (a Clinton ally who killed himself shortly after joining the White House counsel’s office), the Post rightly described Foster’s suicide as “the focus of intense and far-fetched conspiracy theories on the Internet.” But the same article essentially baptized Trump’s tactics as part of the normal give-and-take of partisan campaigning:
The presumptive Republican nominee and his associates hope that his tactics will bring fresh scrutiny to the Clintons’ long record in public life, which conservatives characterize as defined by scandals that her allies view as witch hunts. Through social media and Trump’s ability to garner unfiltered attention on the Internet and the airwaves, political strategists believe he could revitalize the controversies among voters who do not remember them well or are too young to have lived through them.
Trump’s approach would be perfectly reasonable but for the fact that the “scandals” he has resurfaced have all been either roundly debunked or, in the case of Hillary supposedly enabling Bill’s sexual indiscretions, merited no respectful hearing to begin with.
What Trump and his allies really hope is that they can hoodwink first-time voters or people who weren’t paying close attention back in the 1990s into believing known lies. Only the media can prevent this—but with Trump as GOP nominee, and party leaders rallying behind him, the media suddenly faces fresh incentives not to intervene, and they will become harder to resist over time.
It is possible, even in the context of a general-election campaign, to treat Trump’s embrace of widely discredited Clinton attacks responsibly. The Post, even as it was presenting Trump’s myth-based campaign strategy as a neutral matter in its news pages, ran a story by Foster’s sister, scolding Trump for revisiting “untold pain” on the Foster family, and Kessler gave Trump another four Pinocchios.
Meanwhile, CNN’s Jake Tapper set a standard for reporters who have to cover Trump’s pronouncements, but don’t want to lend credence to false claims, by calling the Foster insinuations “ridiculous and frankly shameful.”
“This is not an anti-Trump position or a pro-Clinton position,” Tapper said. “It’s a pro-truth position.”
The trouble is that unless a critical mass of media figures agrees to treat the things Trump exhumes from the fever swamps of the 1990s with the appropriate contempt, Trump will enjoy the benefit of the doubt most major-party nominees expect. It was easy for reporters to treat Trump adversarially, without fear or favor, when other Republicans were begging them to scrutinize him. Just three weeks later, the same kind of scrutiny presents those reporters with a collective action problem—by admonishing Trump, they might find themselves at a disadvantage to peers who choose to remain in the good graces of both campaigns. And if enough of them are cowed into treating the 20-year-old contents of The American Spectator as fair-game politics, Trump’s plan to dupe the young and forgetful will succeed.
By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, May 27, 2016
“Not Serving Republicans’ Political Interests”: Facebook, The IRS, And The GOP’s Bullshit Feedback Loop
It is considered a historical certainty on the right that during President Obama’s first term, the IRS pursued a political vendetta against conservative advocacy groups seeking non-profit status. It is even common to hear Republicans imply that politically motivated targeting of Tea Party groups may have cost Mitt Romney the 2012 presidential election.
In reality, the IRS “scandal” was the unhappy byproduct of an agency being tasked with determining the validity of claims to non-profit status, but lacking the proper resources to do it or clear guidance on how. The fact that new Tea Party groups, many with dubious claim to non-profit status, had flooded the IRS with applications compounded the difficulty. The agency thus used watchwords like “tea party” and “progressive” to, in its words, triage the workload.
Mythmaking summons more outrage, sharpens a sense of victimization, and thus creates a larger appetite for right-wing electioneering groups and more conspiracy theories.
For the purposes of ginning up voters, that story is much less useful than one in which a liberal agency leader masterminded a sabotage campaign against patriotic conservatives trying to rescue the country from Obama. And so the IRS scandal was born.
Flash forward to this week, when John Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, launched an inquiry into Facebook’s “trending topics” after an anonymous, conservative former Facebook worker told Gawker Media that the social media giant empowered reviewers to suppress conservative news and blacklist conservative news sources on the basis of naked political bias. The GOP’s intense interest in imposing content neutrality on a private company has inspired comparisons to the defunct “fairness doctrine” that used to regulate public-affairs content on U.S. airwaves. Republican beneficiaries of conservative talk radio turned the fairness doctrine into a free-speech bogeyman, but they take a much kinder view of the concept if it can be used to reduce alleged liberal bias online.
At a glance, the IRS and Facebook “scandals” bear little resemblance to one another—but the imperative both organizations face to sort truth from fiction creates a key similarity. Facebook has denied the core allegation fairly strongly. But it is easy to imagine how a conservative Facebooker might see his coworkers manipulating Facebook trending topics, and walk away convinced of a conspiracy exactly like the one the right imagines unfolded at the IRS.
Much like the IRS, inundated with non-profit status applications from groups that by all appearances were created for electioneering purposes, Facebook is a vast dumping ground for viral political content, much of which is garbage, some of which is bigoted, and some of which carries information that is outright false. It would be irresponsible of Facebook to facilitate the spread of birther nonsense or September 11 conspiracy theories by letting an algorithm pull such stories into trending topics without override power.
Thus, like the IRS, Facebook needs to triage. And here the differences between mainstream and liberal political content on the one hand, and conservative content on the other, become critical. Facebook reviewers tasked with “disregard[ing] junk … hoaxes or subjects with insufficient sources” are going to ensnare more climate-change denialism, more birther stories, more racist Breitbart agitprop than anything comparably dubious that comes out of the liberal internet. And those dubious stories will come not just from fringe sites or content farms, but from prestige outlets of the online right. Presumably liberal hoaxes and inaccurate liberal news are also bumped from trending topics (would Facebook let a celebrity’s anti-vaccine story linger there for long?)—yet among the presumably liberal ranks of Facebook workers, this is probably seen not as suppression, but as obligatory empiricism and social responsibility.
Much of this is admittedly conjecture. But acknowledging the reality of what Facebook grapples with doesn’t serve Republicans’ political interests. If they really wanted to get to the bottom of the Facebook controversy, they would have to implicitly acknowledge that climate-change denial is crankery and Glenn Beck is a charlatan, and sacrifice the political upside: incensing conservatives by alleging a scandal. Mythmaking around both the IRS and Facebook flaps summons more outrage, sharpens a sense of victimization, and thus creates a larger appetite for right-wing electioneering groups and conspiracy theories. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle of bullshit.
The differences between the IRS and Facebook are numerous, of course. The IRS is obligated to use a neutral basis for sniffing out tax cheats, while Facebook is a lightly regulated Internet company that has the right to be a Democratic Party propaganda machine if it wants to. As a matter of principle, Facebook shouldn’t claim any of its features are fully automated, free from human meddling, if that simply isn’t true. But the fact that Facebook may have shaded the truth about trending topics doesn’t obligate anyone to give conspiracy-mongers with a rooting interest in stirring up right-wing anger the benefit of the doubt.
By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, May 13, 2016