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  • Right-Wing Media Scandalize Purpose Of “Limited Immunity” To Create New Clinton Email Conspiracy

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    House Republicans are selectively pushing new information that long-time Clinton aide Cheryl Mills was granted a limited form of immunity in the now-closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. Right-wing media have seized on these efforts to falsely claim the immunity was broad and stands as proof of criminal wrongdoing, while ignoring the reasons for why the limited immunity was recommended by both the FBI and Mills’ attorney.

  • Trump Campaign Statement Clashes With Recent Birther Claims Made By Trump And Surrogates To The Media

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET & JARED HOLT

    Donald Trump’s campaign released a statement claiming Trump now admits President Obama was born in the United States, and “was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion” in 2011. In fact, Trump has pushed racist birther attacks on President Obama after 2011, and campaign surrogates have repeatedly defended his birtherism in the media.

  • Despite Lack Of FBI Evidence, Fox News Pushes Myth That Clinton Deleted Emails After Subpoena Request
     

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Fox News is hyping congressional Republicans’ attempt to set up more hearings into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of private email, even after the FBI determined there was no basis for charges of wrongdoing. Citing the FBI's recently released report on its concluded investigation, Fox baselessly suggested there is proof that Clinton ordered the improper deletion of work-related emails after she was instructed by Congress to preserve them. 

  • Anatomy Of A Terrible Clinton Foundation Article

    Wall Street Journal Scandalizes Hillary Clinton's Attendance At Her Husband's Birthday Party

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    A new report from The Wall Street Journal provides an excellent example of the media’s tendency to suggest malfeasance around events related to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, even when they have found no evidence to support that impression. Based on documents and spin from a right-wing organization, the story actually scandalizes Clinton’s attendance at her husband’s birthday party.

    Publication bias -- the tendency to publish stories regardless of whether they prove the premise the reporters set out to investigate -- is one of the most pernicious aspects of press coverage of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias has put it, “Journalists need to admit when we’ve struck out” in order to avoid providing readers “a distorted picture of reality simply because everyone is trying to be interesting.”

    Here’s a sentence-by-sentence breakdown of how that played out in a September 6 Journal report headlined “Calendar Shows Hillary Clinton Meetings With Foundation Donors.”

    Hillary Clinton as secretary of state attended high-profile events and functions where donors to her family’s charitable foundation were in attendance, calendar records show.

    The story opens with an over-promise suggesting that it will contain a number of conflicts of interest regarding Clinton and her foundation. As we will see, that does not occur.

    Records for a six-month stretch in 2011 show her attending a foundation plenary session in New York in September, when she was interviewed by her daughter, Chelsea.

    This isn’t news -- the 2011 interview at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting was covered at the time by ABC, NBC, CNN, and The Associated Press. None of those outlets suggested there was anything untoward about the appearance. You can watch video of the event here.

    Three weeks later, she attended what was billed as a Clinton Foundation dinner in Los Angeles.

    The dinner occurred at a concert that “doubled as Bill Clinton’s 65th birthday party,” according to a contemporaneous 2011 Los Angeles Times report.

    The following day, she was scheduled to attend a brunch at the home of media billionaire Haim Saban, whose family foundation has given more than $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.

    The calendar says she and her husband were to “mix and mingle with guests.”

    The Journal’s analysis reduces Saban to nothing more than a Clinton Foundation donor; mentioning Clinton’s attendance at a brunch at Saban’s home makes sense in this article only under that frame. In reality, Saban has known and supported the Clintons since Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. Drawing a line from the Clinton Foundation donation to the brunch appearance is nonsensical.

    The records were provided by Citizens United, a conservative group that obtained them through a public-records lawsuit against the State Department. David Bossie, president of Citizens United, said last week he would take a leave of absence to join the Trump campaign.

    This is an acknowledgment that the contents of this article are based on documents provided by a right-wing organization that has been attacking the Clintons for decades. Journalists are less likely to continue to receive access to such documents if they report that the documents show nothing shady occurred (one might call that a bit of a journalistic quid pro quo).

    Mrs. Clinton has faced questions about the family foundation and whether donors received access to her top deputies at the State Department. In an interview to air Tuesday on ABC, Mrs. Clinton said, “What I made a decision based on was what was good for the United States, what was good for our values, our interests, and our security.”

    Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian and history professor at Rice University, said that “a lot of politics is perception” and that the Clinton Foundation’s “endless tangle of relationships” have amounted to a drag on her candidacy.

    These paragraphs put the article’s supposed revelations in the context of “questions” Clinton has faced about purported play-to-play surrounding the foundation, notwithstanding the article’s failure to identify such a case.

    The calendar shows that on Sept. 16, 2011, Mrs. Clinton convened a summit in San Francisco, where she gave a speech on empowering women. Before the speech, according to her calendar, Mrs. Clinton met with nine executives from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for which she once served on the board.

    A Wal-Mart spokesman declined to comment about the meeting, which included Doug McMillon, now the company’s CEO. The Clinton campaign said the meeting related to a company initiative aimed at boosting women-owned businesses.

    In the spring of the next year, Wal-Mart pledged to help women in Latin America with a $1.5 million donation in grants to 55,000 women entrepreneurs through a public-private partnership Mrs. Clinton created at the State Department. Wal-Mart also gave $500,000 for Vital Voices, a charity she co-founded.

    Later in 2012, Mrs. Clinton visited India and made an argument to loosen the nation’s restrictions on big-box retailers.

    A Clinton representative has said she was advocating on behalf of American companies in general.

    As secretary of state, Clinton promoted women-owned businesses abroad, including through public-private partnerships, and advocated for U.S. companies in foreign countries. In other words, she did her job. But the article scandalizes these typical job responsibilities by placing them in the context of “questions” raised about the foundation. Vital Voices is a nonprofit that grew out of a U.S. government program Clinton and then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright founded in 1997 to “promote the advancement of women as a U.S. foreign policy goal.”

    “The idea that attending her husband’s birthday party, being interviewed by her daughter on live TV or meeting with a company announcing a major global initiative to help empower women economically—all of which was covered in the press at the time—is somehow now retroactively scandalous is absurd,” said Josh Schwerin, Clinton campaign spokesman.

    The last paragraph of the article is a statement from a Clinton campaign spokesman explaining why the piece’s premise makes no sense and why it shouldn’t have been published.

     
  • FBI Memo Confirms Clinton Email Classification Story Has Little To Do With Her Private Server

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Media have frequently sought to scandalize Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state by connecting the server to retroactively classified emails she sent or received. But recently released FBI documents regarding the department’s investigation into Clinton’s use of the private server conclusively show that the interagency classification dispute would have occurred regardless of whether she had used a State Department email account and resulted in large part from career State Department officials sending information in good faith that was later deemed classified.

  • Here’s The Real “Question” Raised By The NY Times' Latest Clinton Foundation Flop

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The New York Times is reporting that the latest emails released by a right-wing anti-Clinton organization “raise new questions” about “whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at” Hillary Clinton’s State Department. But the information revealed in the article completely debunks that interpretation of events, showing that the people seeking “special access” were actually involved in Bill Clinton’s successful 2009 mission to North Korea that resulted in the freeing of two captive U.S. reporters, and their request for a special passport was never granted.

    The Times is credulously reporting on “510 pages of new State Department documents” released by Judicial Watch, a conservative activist group with a history of engaging in dishonest activism, promoting conspiracy theories, and pushing false or misleading narratives that have driven the media narrative on Hillary Clinton’s emails. According to the story’s headline, the “Emails Raise New Questions About Clinton Foundation Ties to State Dept.”

    Here’s what the article actually shows:

    1. Douglas J. Band, an adviser to Bill Clinton who also played a role with the Clinton Foundation, reached out to top State Department aide Huma Abedin on July 27, 2009, seeking diplomatic passports for himself and two other people.

    2. The State Department did not issue the passports.

    3. Band sought the passports because he was about to accompany Bill Clinton on a secret trip to North Korea which resulted in the successful release of two U.S. journalists.

    4. At about the same time, Abedin told Hillary Clinton’s scheduler that Bill Clinton wanted her to meet with Andrew Liveris, the chief executive of Dow Chemical, at an event the next night. Judicial Watch suggested that this was because Dow Chemical was a major Clinton Foundation donor.

    5. Liveris was the head of the US-China Business Council and was about to let Bill Clinton use his private plane for the secret trip to North Korea.

    So, a top aide to Bill Clinton sought but did not receive diplomatic passports for aides accompanying Clinton on a trip to save American journalists from captivity in a brutal dictatorship, and a corporate executive who was providing the plane for the mission got a few minutes of facetime with the secretary of state.

    As The Boston Globe’s Michael Cohen noted, “This is literally a story about how those at the Clinton Foundation DID NOT RECEIVE SPECIAL ACCESS.” It’s hard to see how this is a story about the Clinton Foundation at all. But to the Times, this raises “new questions.”

    This is an excellent example of what Vox’s Matt Yglesias has termed the media’s tendency to depict Hillary Clinton as “a uniquely corrupt specimen” due to “editorial decisions by the managers of major news organizations to dedicate resources to running down every possible Clinton email lead” and presenting them as evidence of corruption regardless of context.

    By contrast, The Washington Post also reported on the emails, but presented them as a case of clear overreach by Judicial Watch.

    If the Times report raises any question, it is Cohen’s: “Is there some kind of a deal with Judicial Watch where respected news outlets must print their partisan spin in return for [Clinton Foundation] emails?”

     
  • The Problem With The Politico Report On The Clinton Foundation

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A new report from Politico suggesting former President Bill Clinton used federal money to subsidize the Clinton Foundation and possibly Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server illustrates media’s habit of scandalizing stories throughout Clinton’s presidential campaign that have not stood up when subjected to more scrutiny.

    A September 1 report from Politico claimed that Bill Clinton “used a decades-old federal government program, originally created to keep former presidents out of the poorhouse, to subsidize his family’s foundation and an associated business, and to support his wife’s private email server.” The article was originally titled “Bill Clinton used tax dollars to subsidize foundation, private email server.” While the outlet acknowledged that its investigation did “not reveal anything illegal” (which some others in media also pointed out), it claimed to “offer fresh evidence of how the Clintons blurred the line between their non-profit foundation, Hillary Clinton’s State Department and the business dealings of Bill Clinton and the couple’s aides.”

    The investigation specifically claimed that the Clintons used General Services Administration (GSA) funds to subsidize people who worked for the Clinton Foundation and for foundation email servers, including subsidizing an aide who helped set up Hillary Clinton’s server. However, the article does not show that federal funds actually went directly to these private activities as opposed to official work. The Clinton campaign pushed back, stating that private funds paid for Clinton’s server and that the GSA funds were not for servers and demanded a correction. The headline of the article has since been changed to “Bill Clinton aides used tax dollars to subsidize foundation, private email support.”

    While Politico suggested that Clinton has been particularly greedy in requesting federal allocations, reporting that his requests since 2001 had been “more than any of the other living former presidents,” the piece ignored that such allocations have been larger for each successive president, with President George W. Bush receiving the most funds in fiscal year 2015.

    Even though the article doesn’t show any legal wrongdoing, it still suggests that the behavior in question is sketchy -- which is the hallmark of what Vox’s former chief political correspondent Jonathan Allen called “the Clinton rules” in 2015. These “rules” have permeated media coverage of the Clintons during Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. According to Allen, many in media inherently “assume [Hillary Clinton] is acting in bad faith” and that “when the Clintons aren't forthcoming — and sometimes, even when they are — they're covering something up.”

    This belief can be seen in the numerous recent pieces alleging nefarious behavior between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department under Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. The New York Times pointed to emails from the conservative group Judicial Watch to claim that a Clinton Foundation official facilitated a meeting between a foundation donor and an ambassador. But that official sent an email on behalf of Bill Clinton, not as a foundation employee, and the donor didn’t seek any financial benefit from the meeting, which was never actually set up.

    CNN suggested Clinton’s then-chief of staff Cheryl Mills violated government rules by simultaneously working for the State Department and volunteering for the Clinton Foundation, even though her foundation work was voluntary, she received no payment for it, and the State Department said it was allowed.

    Multiple media outlets ran with a claim from Judicial Watch that Clinton aides tried to set up a meeting between Clinton and Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain, a foundation donor, even though the emails show that the meeting was proposed and arranged through “normal” and “official channels” and the crown prince has met with past secretaries of state and U.S. presidents.

    Most prominently, The Associated Press alleged that more than half the people outside government who met Clinton when she was secretary of state were foundation donors, even while multiple media figures and the AP itself pointed out that there was no evidence of ethical breaches. The AP also sent out a tweet on the story, and CNN reported that there was “near unanimous agreement” among other journalists that the tweet was “false.” The AP defended its story in a statement seeming to imply that Clinton’s calendars were being covered up to hide potential wrongdoing. It also noted that the story was reported by the same team that discovered Clinton’s server, seeming to imply a connection in behavior between the two stories. When the AP’s executive editor was confronted over the incorrect tweet, she admitted the tweet was “sloppy” but refused to take it down.

    In all of these foundation stories, media outlets have hyped the the charges, claiming they looked “unseemly” and made for bad “optics,” despite admitting that there was no evidence of any legal violation, “quid pro quo” or some kind of pay for play, thus illustrating the suspicion that Allen mentioned in Clinton coverage.

    These “Clinton rules” also carried over into the media’s reporting on Clinton’s private email server. Between the server’s discovery in March 2015 and FBI Director James Comey’s July 2016 recommendation that no criminal charges be filed, multiple media outlets scandalized the issue, often resulting in errors that were sometimes corrected and sometimes not. Among the erroneously reported supposed suspicious behavior was the AP’s suggestion that a person with a “mysterious identity” registered the domain name for Clinton’s email account, when it was actually just a misspelled name of a Clinton aide; the AP’s claim that Clinton’s use of an iPad contradicted her claim that she set up a private email in order to carry a single device -- even though the iPad came out a year after the account was set up; and CNN’s implication that Clinton tried to “[make] it harder and more expensive for the federal government to quickly review her emails” for possible public release by giving them to the State Department in paper and not electronically, even though State Department rules require preserved emails to be printed out (CNN later issued a correction).

    Most notoriously, The New York Times botched a report claiming that inspectors general were launching a criminal probe into Clinton’s emails, which the inspectors general and Justice Department subsequently announced was not true. The Times at first refused to admit any errors in its report; it subsequently had to issue two separate corrections to the article.

    Some media figures have called out their colleagues for following these biased coverage “rules.” Journalist and Yale political science lecturer John Stoehr wrote that the foundation reporting showed “that there is no evidence to suggest #PayToPlay” and that media are not doing “the basic job of prioritizing evidence that casts doubts on political accusations” from groups like Judicial Watch. Echoing Allen’s mention of the “Clinton rules,” Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote that media coverage carries the “perception that Clinton is corrupt” and that “everyone knows she’s corrupt,” meaning “every decision she makes and every relationship she has is cast in the most negative possible light.” He compared that to treatment of other government figures whose family members had foundations, such as Colin Powell and George W. Bush. As Yglesias mentioned at the end of his piece:

    To the extent that Clinton is an example of the routinized way in which economic elites exert disproportionate voice in the political process, that’s a story worth telling. But it’s a very different story from ... one in which Clinton is a uniquely corrupt specimen operating with wildly unusual financial arrangements and substantive practices.

    Much of what we’ve seen over the past 18 months is journalists doing reporting that supports the former story, and then writing leads and headlines that imply the latter. But people deserve to know what’s actually going on.

  • CNN: “Near Unanimous Agreement” Among Journalists That AP Botched Its Report On Clinton Meetings

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    CNN’s senior media reporter Dylan Byers reported that media outlets criticized an “arguably misleading” story by the Associated Press, where an “inaccurate tweet” promoting the story falsely claimed that “more than half” of the people who met Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state had also donated to the Clinton Foundation.

    According to the AP’s original review (the story has since been changed) of State Department calendars released to the organization so far, covering roughly half of Clinton’s tenure at State, “[a]t least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs.” The AP promoted this story on Twitter by proclaiming “[m]ore than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation.”

    Byers explained that other journalists “noted that Clinton had held thousands of meetings with government employees, foreign representatives, civil leaders, journalists and others while Secretary of State that were not accounted for in the AP's report,” but the AP “is still standing by its story and has yet to correct its tweet, despite near unanimous agreement among other journalists that the tweet, at least, was false.” The AP’s story was also criticized for characterizing Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who has been a friend of the Clintons for decades, as little more than a donor asking for help. From Byers’ August 26 report:

    Hillary Clinton is surrounded by suggestions of controversy. Terms like "Clinton Foundation," "email server," and "Benghazi" hover around her like a faint smoke that hints at the existence of fire.

    But finding the fire -- the lie, the misdeed, the unethical act -- is proving to be rather difficult, as evidenced this week by an inaccurate tweet and arguably misleading story from the Associated Press that were quickly rebutted by the Clinton campaign and dismissed by many media outlets.

    Three days later, the Associated Press is still standing by its story and has yet to correct its tweet, despite near unanimous agreement among other journalists that the tweet, at least, was false.

    "The AP's social-media take on the story was seriously flawed," David Boardman, the Dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University and former editor of the Seattle Times, told CNNMoney. "It's sloppy, click-grabbing shorthand that is a disservice to the reporting to which it refers."

    [...]

    This "extraordinary" finding, as the AP put it, was deemed less extraordinary by other journalists and pundits who noted that Clinton had held thousands of meetings with government employees, foreign representatives, civil leaders, journalists and others while Secretary of State that were not accounted for in the AP's report.

    [...]

    Meanwhile, other news organizations pilloried the AP's report.

    The Washington Post Fact-Checker wrote that there were "many more nuanced and important details in the story that are being misrepresented — by the AP's own promotional tweet, and by Trump."

    Vox's Matthew Yglesias was more direct: "The AP's big exposé on Hillary meeting with Clinton Foundation donors is a mess," his headline read.