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“The Real Threat Trump Poses To Hillary—And Us”: Spending Time On Endless, Pointless & Corrosive Questions

Donald Trump says Ted Cruz may not be eligible to be president, and what happens? It dominates the news cycle for three days. Going on four.

See a pattern here? You should. A few months ago people used to ask, “What impact is Donald Trump having on the race”? Now we know very clearly exactly what it is. He takes over the news cycle. He says something about one of his rivals—or occasionally about an issue, although it’s always un-substantive and full of untrue assertions—and it sucks all the other oxygen out of the room. The rivals have to answer Trump, and the cable shows do panel after panel on whether what Trump said is true, whether it even matters whether it’s true, how so-and-so handled the response, and how it’s going to change the polls.

It’s happened over and over again. In fact it’s happened pretty much nonstop. Trump says Jeb is “low-energy”; Jeb has to prove he’s high energy. He hammers Marco Rubio for this, Chris Christie for that, and now Cruz. In a nutshell, this is the campaign, at least the campaign that those of us who aren’t in Iowa or New Hampshire see.

The effect has been to turn the campaign into a vacuous, reality TV dick-swinging competition. And bad as that is, the effect has been far worse when Trump makes one of his assertions about the country or world. He says these things about the world that are either just false or crazy, and everybody has to spend three days explaining why it’s false or crazy. He saw “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9-11 attacks. That was eventually debunked. But it took nearly a week. And by the way, it hasn’t been debunked everywhere; certain web sites on the right spent days if not weeks defending Trump.

This is the real Trump Effect: He forces us to spend an endless series of three-day cycles debating at best pointless or at worst toxic and corrosive questions. That week we had to spend proving that American Muslims didn’t celebrate 9-11 wasn’t just a stupid and wasted week. It was a hatefest week that pulled an entire country in reverse, unlancing boils, raising temperatures. It was the same, more or less, when he said what a great guy Vladimir Putin was.

No. These are things we know. Putin is not a great guy. He’s a thug, just like you, Donald. We may not know for a fact that he’s had journalists killed, but a lot of anti-Putin journalists have died mysteriously. American Muslims did not cheer 9/11, bub. The government of Mexico is not “sending” rapists. And on and on and on.

But this is our level of discourse with Trump in the race. I’ll grant him that it’s a skill, of a kind. He says things in a hot-button way, a way we’re not accustomed to hearing from most politicians, certainly most presidential candidates, who usually strive for some simulacrum of dignity. It’s catnip, especially for cable news. He gets ratings. Every night all the shows get their figures on how each individual segment did in the crucial 25-49 demographic. Undoubtedly, the Trump-Cruz segments right now are doing better than the North Korea segments. And in any event, it’s not like the media can just totally ignore the demagogic claims of the Republican front-runner.

What a way to elect a president. The process has been corrupt enough. The billions of dollars spent by the rich, the dishonest attack ads, the stupid emphasis on things like who we’d supposedly rather have a beer with.

But now, we’re really going down the sinkhole, and Trump is leading us. Republican primary contests lately have not exactly been flower gardens of new policy ideas, as candidates in 2012 and this year basically just compete against each other to see who can offer up the most irresponsible tax cut and who can sound toughest on immigrants and moochers and terrorists. But there are a few ideas out there, and a few interesting differences. We hear about them a little, but then Trump comes along and says something and he smothers everything.

And yes, it can get worse. Imagine Trump as the GOP nominee. Imagine a general election run like this. General elections, underneath all the spumes of nonsense, actually are contests of ideas. There were clear and important policy differences between Barack Obama and John McCain, and between Obama and Mitt Romney, and they had to talk about them.

There will be clear and important policy differences between Trump and Hillary Clinton, but the difference is we’re not likely to have a real debate about them. Instead, we’re going to have more of this. Clinton is going to give some normal and slightly over-earnest speech about paid family leave. Important thing. And Trump will respond…not by stating his counter-position, but by saying something about how women want to be paid to sit at home and watch soap operas, and we’ll spend three days on it. And of course he’ll issue an endless stream of false or over-the-top statements about Whitewater and Vince Foster and, as he’s promised, Bill’s sex life.

And the campaign will just be that, over and over and over. Trump says crazy thing A. Cable shows salivate. A few responsible outlets read by 4 percent of the population point out that what Trump said isn’t true. Clinton spends three days repeating that. Upshot: Much of America is left with the impression, because Trump will be attacking and Clinton will be responding, and in TV land that’s what mostly matters, that it’s probably true. And then he’ll say crazy thing B, and then crazy thing C…

There is no force that can stop it. Well, maybe the Clinton campaign. They’ll sure need to figure out how, if Trump’s the nominee. I don’t think he can beat her, barring really bizarro circumstances or developments, but it’s not her losing I’m most worried about. It’s us.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 8, 2015

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Scandalizing Hillary”: If The First Time Is Tragedy, Then The Second Time Is…

With a self-proclaimed socialist running a credible campaign for president, perhaps the time has come to revive Karl Marx’s wittiest aphorism – although his pungent quip is relevant to Hillary Clinton, not Bernie Sanders.

At the outset of The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, the young revolutionary said Hegel had once observed that “all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

That piercing insight can be applied to the “Clinton scandals,” now playing again, courtesy of the Congressional Republicans and especially the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), that committee is hardly the first on Capitol Hill to investigate, at great length and expense, a series of vague accusations against Bill and/or Hillary Clinton and/or various staffers and/or associates. (Indeed, it is the seventh Congressional committee to investigate this particular set of vague accusations concerning the former Secretary of State, with none of the earlier probes finding any evidence of wrongdoing by her in the consulate attack on September 11, 2012.)

Back in 1994, just before the Republicans gained control of Congress in the midterm elections, Newt Gingrich gloated that his agenda as Speaker of the House would include multiple investigations of the Clinton administration, the President, the First Lady, and all their friends and associates. He wasn’t kidding. Whitewater? Definitely. Travelgate? Certainly. Filegate? Absolutely. Even those obviously fabricated tales implicating the president in cocaine smuggling at a tiny Arkansas airstrip called Mena? Of course!

While the national press corps treated all those farcical “investigations” as matters of the utmost gravity, even a cursory glance at the underlying facts would have quickly showed that there was nothing to investigate (as Gene Lyons and I explain in considerable detail in our free ebook, The Hunting of Hillary).

Whitewater was a defunct land deal that cost the Clintons about $45,000 and ended long before his election as president. Travelgate was an inter-office dispute of no consequence to anyone, except the traveling press corps that had enjoyed favors from a few White House employees. Filegate was a complete fake, based on a misreading of a list of former staffers. And no, there was never any evidence that Clinton knew about drug trafficking at Mena. But a presumably sane Republican Congressman from Iowa named Jim Leach pretended to believe it for a while, anyway.

Still these official hoaxes dragged on for months and years, courtesy of the Republican majority and an independent counsel appointed by Republican judges (a position happily eliminated from the statute books when its enabling legislation finally expired). Their aim was blatantly political, even though nobody in the GOP leadership was stupid enough to brag about driving down Clinton’s poll numbers. And they all ended with nothing to show for the millions of taxpayer dollars expended. In fact, the following midterm elections saw the most prominent figures on the Senate Whitewater Committee – Alfonse D’Amato of New York and Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina – abruptly ousted from their seats.

If Whitewater wasn’t quite tragedy, despite the damage inflicted on many innocent people in Arkansas, #Benghazi/email is assuredly farce. Not only has Rep. Kevin McCarthy exposed the scam with his juvenile bragging on Fox News Channel, but now a second Republican member, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) has confirmed that the Benghazi committee was “designed” to “go after…an individual, Hillary Clinton.”

According to the New York Times, the committee’s members and staff occupy their time with a “wine club” and a “gun-buying club,” while issuing subpoenas to Clinton’s friends and associates – and failing to discover anything of consequence about that incident in Benghazi. Gowdy likes to claim that he uncovered Clinton’s use of a private email server – as used by many public officials, including her predecessor Colin Powell – but even that fact, obviously known to many in the Obama administration, had been revealed by a Romanian hacker long before the committee was appointed.

At the first Democratic debate, Sanders turned to Clinton and declared that the American people “are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” Laughing, she agreed. Nevertheless the damned emails will return on October 22, when Clinton appears before the Benghazi committee for a full day in open session to answer the committee’s questions, and say a few words about the committee and its masterminds.

As that date approaches, let’s hope this partisan burlesque, at the very least, provides a few more laughs before its inevitably ignominious conclusion. We’ve already spent more than $4 million in tax revenues on its production, and we’ll never get that money back.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, October 15, 2015

October 16, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“The Death Rattle Of A Fake Scandal”: It Turns Out That The “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” Has Been Right In Front Of Our Eyes

To hardly anybody’s surprise, it turns out that the “vast right-wing conspiracy” has been right in front of our eyes. Always was, actually, as Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s politically disastrous on-air admission made plain. Or maybe you thought a seventh Benghazi investigation lasting as long as the Pearl Harbor and JFK assassination probes combined was exactly what America needed.

And no, McCarthy’s gaffe wasn’t wrung out of him by a trick question.

“The question I think you really want to ask me,” he volunteered to Fox News lunkhead Sean Hannity, “is how am I going to be different?”

As Speaker John Boehner’s presumed successor, that is.

McCarthy answered himself: “What you’re going to see is a conservative speaker that takes a conservative Congress that puts a strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

No, “untrustable” is not a word. But then words aren’t McCarthy’s strong point. His meaning, however, was clear enough. The man was bragging. The only purpose of the House Select Committee on Benghazi is to inflict political damage on the leading Democratic presidential contender.

Your tax dollars at work.

Never one to miss a chance, Hillary pounced on the Today show:

This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan, political issue out of the deaths of four Americans,” she said. “I would never have done that, and if I were president and there were Republicans or Democrats thinking about that, I would have done everything to shut it down.

Her campaign has already released a 30-second TV ad featuring McCarthy’s boasting. She added that having admitted the committee’s partisan agenda, Congress should shut it down. Everybody knows that’s not going to happen.

“Look,” Clinton added, “I’ve been around this whole ‘political situation’ for a long time, but some things are just beyond the pale. I’m happy to go, if it’s still in operation, to testify. But the real issue is what happened to four brave Americans.”

Chairman Gowdy would be well advised to invest in a pair of super-absorbent Depends when Hillary testifies before his committee on October 22. All he’s got is a handful of long-disproved conspiracy theories and selectively edited witness transcripts leaked to the news media to create a false impression.

So he’s an ex-federal prosecutor. Whoop-de-doo. Arkansas was overrun with them during the late Whitewater investigation. All but one of Kenneth Starr’s leak-o-matic staff turned out to be subpar trial lawyers. That one was clever enough to give a closing argument pointing out that Bill Clinton wasn’t on trial because the defendant — his former real estate partner — had swindled him and Hillary.

“The office of the Presidency of the United States,” he thundered “can’t be besmirched by people such as Jim McDougal.”

Any chance of prosecuting either Bill or Hillary over Whitewater pretty much ended right there in May 1996. (The whole story’s told in Joe Conason’s and my e-book The Hunting of Hillary, available for free from The National Memo.)

But no, of course it wasn’t in the newspaper because Washington scribes were stuck to Starr like ticks to a dog’s ear. He successfully diverted attention to subsequent Whitewater trials, every one of which they lost.

Until Bill Clinton bailed them out by taking his pants down in the Oval Office, that is.

But I digress. As the Washington Post‘s GOP-oriented columnist Kathleen Parker points out, Rep. McCarthy has “tried to cram the bad genie back into the bottle, but the damage has been done and can’t be undone….any previous suspicions that Republicans were just out to get Clinton have cleared the bar of reasonable doubt.”

Meanwhile, if Trey Gowdy doesn’t already know that Hillary Clinton’s a lot smarter and tougher than he is, he’s about to find out. Truthfully, they’d be better advised to fold the committee and file some weasel-worded report.

Then there’s our esteemed national news media, repeatedly burned by inaccurate leaks from Gowdy’s committee. The New York Times has run one phony exclusive after another. First, her famous emails were illegal, except they’re not. Then they were contrary to regulations enacted, oops, 18 months after she left office. Next Hillary was the subject of an FBI criminal probe. Except that too turned out to be false. Now they’re making a big deal out of the exact date she changed email addresses. Seriously.

And why? Because as Bill Clinton recently explained to Fareed Zakaria, they’re essentially fops and courtiers, “people who get bored talking about what’s your position on student loan relief or dealing with the shortage of mental health care or what to do with the epidemic of prescription drugs and heroin out in America, even in small towns of rural America.”

Any questions?

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 7, 2015

October 8, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Kevin McCarthy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fairness And Accuracy, Not Loyalty To Any Politician”: Vendetta Or Paranoia? The ‘Times,’ The ‘Beast,’ And The Clintons

When Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast showed up in my email yesterday, asking me to talk about the New York Times and the Clintons, I should have known what to expect. I’m sure Grove did his best (and I appreciate the link to our new e-book, The Hunting of Hillary), but his post left much to be desired.

Grove’s fundamental mistake is to skew the discussion of alleged Times bias against the Clintons as Pulitzer-winning Times editors and staffers versus “diehard Clinton loyalists” and “allies.” Evidently, anyone who criticizes media coverage of Bill and Hillary Clinton falls in that latter category — and so he condescends to describe me as such. Whatever my views about the Clintons, however, my concern is fairness and accuracy, not loyalty to any politician. Are James Fallows, Rachel Maddow, Jay Rosen, and Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor — all of whom have lamented evidence of Times bias against Hlllary Clinton — also “loyalists”? I don’t think so.

In my 2008 columns on the Democratic presidential primary for Salon and The New York Observer, Hillary Clinton suffered much tougher treatment than Barack Obama. It isn’t hard to look them up. I also assigned tough stories about her campaign, notably a major exposé of Mark Penn’s anti-union consulting. None of that was the work of a “Clinton loyalist.” Now I edit The National Memo, and Hillary Clinton has received no special dispensation here, either.

As for the question of bias in today’s Times, I sent Grove an email listing specific examples that he naturally ignored:

When Gene Lyons and I wrote The Hunting of the President in 2000, we showed how Times reporting on Whitewater had been slanted and woefully inaccurate from the beginning. Our viewpoint about that “scandal” was thoroughly vindicated. But unlike some other prominent journalists who were once obsessed with Whitewater, the Times editors never acknowledged its central role in that fiasco.

Over the years since, the paper’s coverage of the Clintons has veered back and forth, sometimes wildly — and particularly whenever Hillary Clinton is or appears to be a presidential candidate. Anybody looking for a Times bias can cite several glaring examples: the inaccurate front-page story about the Clinton Foundation’s supposedly shaky financing; the first inaccurate story about foundation donor Frank Giustra and Kazakhstan; the second highly misleading story about Giustra, Kazakhstan, and Uranium One; the peculiar “deal” that the paper did with Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer; and the series of stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails, based on leaks from the Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi — which culminated in the embarrassingly wrong “criminal referral” story.

Reviewing the Times’ role in promoting the Whitewater “scandal,” Grove is more misleading than revealing — and prefers assertions to basic facts. On the Pillsbury reports that exonerated the Clintons, for instance, he links to a tendentious article by Jeff Gerth and Stephen Engelberg claiming that James McDougal, the Clintons’ crooked and deranged Whitewater partner, somehow “protected” them from a financial loss. Actually, McDougal swindled the Clintons and secretly disposed of Whitewater assets for his own benefit.

Indeed, Times editors and reporters repeatedly sought to minimize the exculpatory findings of the Pillsbury report. They also failed to correct the false suggestion at the heart of Gerth’s original “exposé” — namely that Bill Clinton’s banking appointees somehow protected McDougal and his bankrupt Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, when in truth Clinton’s state government did everything in its power to shut him down.

In an email to Grove, Gene Lyons pointed to this crucial problem, noting “the fact, which I think has NEVER been reported by the NYT, that [Arkansas] regulators removed McDougal from his own [Madison Guaranty] S & L and urged the Feds to shut it down long before they did.”

On the upside, I was amused by Gerth’s pompous assertion that his Whitewater reporting has withstood “the test of time.” (Equally comical is a quote from disgraced former Times editor Howell Raines praising Gerth as “one of the best investigative reporters ever.” Now there’s a reliable source!)

The test of time? A conservative estimate of the amount of taxpayer treasure wasted on “investigating” Whitewater – a money-losing venture that ended years before Bill Clinton ran for president – is around $100 million. Which doesn’t include the huge opportunity costs for the country, Congress, and the president, as well as the damage inflicted on many innocent people in Arkansas and elsewhere.

That enormous waste of time and money spent probing a defunct real estate deal is Gerth’s principal legacy to American journalism.

Interested readers can find a thorough accounting of media errors in covering Whitewater – and the troubling way that Republican lawyers and businessmen used both Gerth and the Times – in The Hunting of Hillary. It’s a funny story, if you appreciate dark humor. And it’s still available, free.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, Featured Post, September 2, 2015

September 4, 2015 Posted by | Bill and Hillary Clinton, Clinton Emails, Clinton Foundation | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Media Playing The Role Of Enabler”: Out Of Touch Punditry Should Get A Grip — Hillary’s Email Is Non-Story

A message to the out-of-touch Washington pundit class: get a grip. What was or was not on Hillary Clinton’s email server when she was Secretary of State is not a game-changing news story.

In fact, no one outside the chattering class — and right-wing true believers — could give a rat’s rear about this story — and there is a good reason: there is no “there” there. If someone really thinks the great “email” story — or the Benghazi investigation — are going to sink her candidacy, I’ve got a bridge to sell them.

Of course, this is not the first time that the media — with an assist from right-wing political operatives — have laid into Hillary Clinton in an attempt to create a “scandal” where there was none.

Over the weekend, syndicated columnist Gene Lyons quoted a New York Times editorial as saying:

“These clumsy efforts at suppression are feckless and self-defeating.” It argued that these actions are “swiftly draining away public trust in (her) integrity.”

That editorial actually appeared in January 1994. The Times was expressing outrage at Hillary Clinton’s turning over Whitewater documents to federal instigators rather than the press, which, as Lyons pointed out, ” had conjured a make-believe scandal out of bogus reporting of a kind that’s since become all too familiar in American journalism.”

Speaking on NPR’s Diane Rehm show, the Atlantic’s Molly Ball sounded the same notes 21 years later. The email issue “continued to contribute to the perception that she has something to hide.”

The Times’ Sheryl Gay Solberg added that the email issue “creates and feeds into this narrative about the Clintons and Mrs. Clinton that the rules are different for them, and she’s not one of us.” Really?

What might really feed a negative narrative would be the New York Times’ own story several weeks ago that falsely accused Ms. Clinton of being under criminal investigation. Which she is not and never was. The Times public editor acknowledged that the story was false and that it fed another narrative: that the New York Times had an ax to grind against the Clintons.

Of course the bottom lines of this story are simple:

At the time Ms. Clinton was Secretary of State there was no prohibition against the Secretary of State having a private email server. In fact, no Secretary of State before Ms. Clinton had a government email account.

None of the emails on the Secretary’s personal account were classified at the time they were sent or received. That is not in dispute. There is an on-going controversy between various agencies of what ought to be classified in retrospect as the material is released to the public by the State Department, but that does not change the fact that none of it was classified at the time. In fact, one of the several emails at issue actually says the word “unclassified” in the upper left hand corner and can still be accessed by the general public on the State Department web site.

Finally, no one has ever pointed to an instance where the fact that something was on her server instead of a government server had any negative consequences whatsoever.

There is no issue here, period.

And as for the Benghazi “affair,” none of the many investigations that have already been completed concerning the events surrounding the death of the American Ambassador to Libya in the Benghazi attack has found a shred of evidence that that Hillary Clinton did anything wrong whatsoever leading up to or in response to that attack.

And frankly if you ask most people about the Benghazi affair they think you’re talking about something you rub on your muscles to reduce pain.

So now Congressman Trey Gowdy, who is the Chair of the Select Committee that was set up by the Republicans in the House to once again investigate this non-scandal, has decided to investigate the non-existent issue of the Clinton email server as well — even though he acknowledges that it has nothing to do with Benghazi.

Not withstanding the lack of substance to any of these issues, people like Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post proclaim that they could be a terrible weight on her candidacy.

Who exactly are these pundits talking to? Rarely have they been so out of touch with the real American electorate. The perceptions and narratives they are discussing are the perceptions and narratives of the insider pundit and political class — not normal voters.

And the same goes for often-unnamed Clinton backers that are wringing their hands that Clinton has not yet put the email issue behind her.

No one is handed the American presidency — and that is especially true of a candidates that are not incumbent Presidents.

Every candidate faces many challenges and hurdles to getting elected — and Hillary Clinton is no different. But the email-server issue is not one of them.

Clinton’s campaign completely recognizes that it must fight for every delegate in the primaries and every vote in the general election.

In the general election, she must motivate Democratic base voters to turn out in massive numbers. She must excite new voters — especially young people and women. And she must persuade undecided voters that she will fight effectively to actually change the rules of the political and economic game so that we have economic growth that benefits every American, not just Corporate CEO’s and Wall Street Banks.

These are her real challenges — and her campaign is focused like a laser on meeting those challenges.

It’s time for her supporters to focus on those challenges as well — and for the media to resist continuing to play its role as enabler of baseless right wing attacks like the great email and Benghazi “scandals” of 2015.

 

By: Robert Creamer, Political Organizer, Strategist, Author; Partner Democracy Partners; The Blog, The Huffington Post, August

August 30, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Clinton Emails, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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