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
Donald Trump, a man who tosses the truth around with the callous disdain of a spoiled child with a toy he has outgrown, has spent much of his campaign calling the media dishonest, even though his manipulation of the media is the only reason he’s the last Republican standing.
He seems to view any unflattering, or otherwise critical, coverage as an attack. His rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty.
Such is his wont. And no Republican in a party that continues to veer dangerously toward fact-hostile absolutism has ever lost points with his base by calling the media biased against him.
But there is a strand of these comments and behavior that heralds something more dangerous than an ideological animosity toward the press. Trump keeps signaling that if he had his druthers, he would silence dissent altogether.
At a spectacle of a news conference on Tuesday, Trump laid into reporters for asking simple accountability questions about funds going to charity groups. He even called one reporter a “sleaze” and complained that coverage of his donations to the groups “make me look very bad.”
This isn’t the first time he has used base language to attack reporters with whom he disagreed or was annoyed. The New York Times has collected a comprehensive list of his Twitter insults (often waged against journalists), which simply boggles the mind. (I am among those he has accused of “dishonest reporting.”)
But even that isn’t what’s most troubling. What’s troubling is that under a Trump administration, the First Amendment itself — either in spirit or in law, or both — could be severely weakened. What we have to worry about is a chill wind blowing from the White House.
This is no small thing. Our constitutionally protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press are pillars that make this country great, and different.
Not only did Trump say Tuesday that if he became president he was going to “continue to attack the press,” but in February, he said:
One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.
Exceptions for falsehoods are already part of our libel jurisprudence, but the worrisome nature of that comment lies in its vagueness. What does “open up our libel laws” mean? Is he equating “purposely negative” and “horrible” — both subjective determinations — with “false”?
These principles of free press and free speech, which are almost as old as the country itself, are not things to be tinkered with on the whim of a thin-skinned man who has said flattering things about dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, ruler of a country that the press watchdog group Freedom House calls “one of the most repressive media environments in the world,” where “listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are considered ‘crimes against the state’ that carry serious punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that this week Time magazine reported that “a North Korean state media outlet has praised Donald Trump as a ‘wise politician’ and ‘farsighted candidate’ who can reunify the Korean Peninsula.”
Trump’s dictatorial instinct to suppress what he deems “negative” speech, particularly from the press, is the very thing the founders worried about.
In 1737, more than 50 years before the Constitution was adopted, signed and ratified — before the First Amendment was adopted — Benjamin Franklin wrote in The Pennsylvania Gazette:
“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”
Our unfettered freedom to interrogate and criticize our government and our leaders are part of our patriotism and an expression of our national fealty.
James Baldwin put it this way: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
And that extends to the country’s politicians.
This idea is so much bigger than Trump, a small man of small thought who is at war with scrutiny.
Freedom of speech and the press are principles that we must protect from this wannabe authoritarian.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 2, 2016
“Wallowing In Self-Pity”: Can Trump Whine His Way To The White House With Complaints About “Biased” Media Coverage?
That was quite a temper tantrum Donald Trump threw at his press conference this week.
Irked that news reports raised questions about his promised donations to American veterans and their charities, Trump responded by denouncing the political press as “disgusting” and “among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever met.” Trump even dismissed one ABC News reporter as “a sleaze,” and mocked another from CNN as “a real beauty.”
Trash talking the press is hardly new for Trump. During the primary season, he routinely set aside time at rallies to denigrate journalists as “scum” and “disgusting”; attacks his supporters often amplified in person and online.
What made Trump’s meltdown this week so noteworthy, and probably what shocked the Beltway media, was that it came during the general election campaign season, where these kinds of vicious, personal attacks coming directly from the presumptive nominee are unheard of.
“Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, assailed those reporting on his candidacy with a level of venom rarely seen at all, let alone in public, from the standard-bearer of a major political party,” The New York Times reported. (GOP media bashing is most often handled by surrogates and by Republican allies in the press.)
Yes, some previous Republican nominees have chastised the press, sometimes with glee and sometimes with genuine disdain. “Annoy the Media: Re-elect Bush” bumper stickers were a favorite among Republicans during George H.W. Bush’s 1992 re-election run. Sen. John McCain’s campaign denounced The New York Times for an article it published in 2008 detailing McCain’s closeness to a lobbyist. (Many people read the article as an implication of an affair between McCain and the lobbyist, but the paper eventually updated it with a “Note to Readers” saying it “did not intend to conclude” that the lobbyist had “engaged in a romantic affair” with McCain.)
But overall, McCain enjoyed warm relations with reporters during his 2008 run, and those previous press attacks weren’t nearly as ferocious and personal as Trump’s are today. (Can you imagine Bush Sr. calling an ABC reporter a “sleaze” during a 1992 press conference?) Those attacks were never seen as being a pillar of a November campaign, the way Trump is promising his media insults will continue in coming months.
What Trump’s doing is employing a right-wing talk radio dream strategy, where whining about the so-called liberal media is elevated and presented as a pressing issue facing America.
And that’s why Rush Limbaugh was so ecstatic in the wake of Trump’s public tantrum. “That was the kind of press conference Republicans voters have been dying to see for who knows how many years,” the talker gushed. “Trump felt the need to correct the record today and did so in his own inimitable way, which basically attacked the media for dishonesty and corruption.”
Fox News’ Peter Johnson Jr. was equally animated. He cheered Trump for “saying, ‘I have a message, you may not like it, but you’re not going to take me down. I will be heard fair and square. I will either win or lose. But I will not lose because of an unfair media.’”
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with questioning the press and holding journalists accountable. But that’s not what Trump’s doing. He’s wallowing in self-pity without producing any proof of media malfeasance. Trump can’t point to any factual errors in the reporting on his charitable giving; the story that set off his most recent anti-media screed.
Complaining about so-called liberal media bias has been a hallmark of the conservative movement for decades, and has sometimes been featured as a sidebar during presidential campaigns. Trump now wants to move it to the main stage. But hurdles appear on the horizon.
First, he’s already won the Republican primary, which is more likely the season to energize hardcore supporters with allegations of media manipulation. That’s why this same anti-press crusade worked so well last November in the aftermath of the contentious Republican Party primary debate hosted by CNBC. Virtually all the candidates and most of the conservative media joined forces and issued indignant denunciations of CNBC’s allegedly dishonest debate moderators. The swarm served as a unifying ritual of outrage for the conservative movement.
Trump’s now in the general election and needs to expand his base beyond the true believers. To be successful in November, he’s trying to lure voters who have likely voted Democratic in the past and who don’t identify as Fox News fanatics. It’s less likely those types of crossover voters will be motivated by allegations that the press is out get Trump.
Secondly, a sizeable portion of the conservative media infrastructure isn’t supporting Trump. In fact, in a bizarre flip of the script previously documented by Media Matters, during the primary season some key conservative media voices have actually criticized the Beltway press for being too soft on the Republican nominee. So if there are Republican-friendly pundits on the record saying the press needs to be tougher on Trump, that obviously blunts the candidate’s claim that the “biased” media’s being too tough on him.
There’s also the issue of temperament and the fact that most voters think Trump is severely lacking in that area. A Fox News poll last month indicated 65 percent of voters don’t think Trump has the “temperament” to serve as president, and a CNN poll in May found the number was even higher: 70 percent.
Regularly staging campaign press conferences in coming months to pick fights with reporters is unlikely to improve Trump’s standing there.
Already committed to running a completely unorthodox campaign, Trump’s now gambling that press attacks can produce votes in November.
By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, June 3, 3016
“This May Shock You: Hillary Clinton Is Fundamentally Honest”: It’s A Double Standard To Insist On Her Purity
It’s impossible to miss the “Hillary for Prison” signs at Trump rallies. At one of the Democratic debates, the moderator asked Hillary Clinton whether she would drop out of the race if she were indicted over her private email server. “Oh for goodness – that is not going to happen,” she said. “I’m not even going to answer that question.”
Based on what I know about the emails, the idea of her being indicted or going to prison is nonsensical. Nonetheless, the belief that Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy is pervasive. A recent New York Times-CBS poll found that 40% of Democrats say she cannot be trusted.
For decades she’s been portrayed as a Lady Macbeth involved in nefarious plots, branded as “a congenital liar” and accused of covering up her husband’s misconduct, from Arkansas to Monica Lewinsky. Some of this is sexist caricature. Some is stoked by the “Hillary is a liar” videos that flood Facebook feeds. Some of it she brings on herself by insisting on a perimeter or “zone of privacy” that she protects too fiercely. It’s a natural impulse, given the level of scrutiny she’s attracted, more than any male politician I can think of.
I would be “dead rich”, to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I’ve spent covering just about every “scandal” that has enveloped the Clintons. As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising.
Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.
The yardsticks I use for measuring a politician’s honesty are pretty simple. Ever since I was an investigative reporter covering the nexus of money and politics, I’ve looked for connections between money (including campaign donations, loans, Super Pac funds, speaking fees, foundation ties) and official actions. I’m on the lookout for lies, scrutinizing statements candidates make in the heat of an election.
The connection between money and action is often fuzzy. Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.
As for her statements on issues, Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates. She beats Sanders and Kasich and crushes Cruz and Trump, who has the biggest “pants on fire” rating and has told whoppers about basic economics that are embarrassing for anyone aiming to be president. (He falsely claimed GDP has dropped the last two quarters and claimed the national unemployment rate was as high as 35%).
I can see why so many voters believe Clinton is hiding something because her instinct is to withhold. As first lady, she refused to turn over Whitewater documents that might have tamped down the controversy. Instead, by not disclosing information, she fueled speculation that she was hiding grave wrongdoing. In his book about his time working in the Clinton White House, All Too Human, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos wrote that failing to convince the first lady to turn over the records of the Arkansas land deal to the Washington Post was his biggest regret.
The same pattern of concealment repeats itself through the current campaign in her refusal to release the transcripts of her highly paid speeches. So the public is left wondering if she made secret promises to Wall Street or is hiding something else. The speeches are probably anodyne (politicians always praise their hosts), so why not release them?
Colin Diersing, a former student of mine who is a leader of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, thinks a gender-related double standard gets applied to Clinton. “We expect purity from women candidates,” he said. When she behaves like other politicians or changes positions, “it’s seen as dishonest”, he adds. CBS anchor Scott Pelley seemed to prove Diersing’s point when he asked Clinton: “Have you always told the truth?” She gave an honest response, “I’ve always tried to, always. Always.” Pelley said she was leaving “wiggle room”. What politician wouldn’t?
Clinton distrusts the press more than any politician I have covered. In her view, journalists breach the perimeter and echo scurrilous claims about her circulated by unreliable rightwing foes. I attended a private gathering in South Carolina a month after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. Only a few reporters were invited and we sat together at a luncheon where Hillary Clinton spoke. She glared down at us, launching into a diatribe about how the press had invaded the Clintons’ private life. The distrust continues.
These are not new thoughts, but they are fundamental to understanding her. Tough as she can seem, she doesn’t have rhino hide, and during her husband’s first term in the White House, according to Her Way, a critical (and excellent) investigative biography of Clinton by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, she became very depressed during the Whitewater imbroglio. A few friends and aides have told me that the email controversy has upset her as badly.
Like most politicians, she’s switched some of her positions and sometimes shades the truth. In debates with Sanders, she cites her tough record on Wall Street, but her Senate bills, like one curbing executive pay, went nowhere. She favors ending the carried interest loophole cherished by hedge funds and private equity executives because it taxes their incomes at a lower rate than ordinary income. But, according to an article by Gerth, she did not sign on to bipartisan legislation in 2007 that would have closed it. She voted for a bankruptcy bill favored by big banks that she initially opposed, drawing criticism from Elizabeth Warren. Clinton says she improved the bill before voting for passage. Her earlier opposition to gay marriage, which she later endorsed, has hurt her with young people. Labor worries about her different statements on trade deals.
Still, Clinton has mainly been constant on issues and changing positions over time is not dishonest.
It’s fair to expect more transparency. But it’s a double standard to insist on her purity.
By: Jill Abramson, The Guardian, March 28, 2016