If the conservative site Washington Free Beacon is still paying a Republican opposition research firm $150,000 a year to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton, editors might want to renegotiate their contract. Because if Free Beacon's latest installation of its deep-dive into Clinton's past is any indication, GOP investigators have already run out of leads.
The Free Beacon news flash? Back in 1971, Hillary Clinton (then Hillary Rodham) corresponded twice with Saul Alinsky, a liberal organizer and activist of renown in the 1930s, `40s and `50s. More recently, Alinsky's been immortalized as a bogeyman by conservatives who for years have waged a fruitless campaign to portray President Barack Obama as a radical-left acolyte of Alinsky's.
And now the brief Clinton correspondence from more than 40 years ago is being trumpeted: "The letters obtained by the Free Beacon suggest that Clinton experimented more with radical politics during her law school years than she has publicly acknowledged." (Wait, Clinton's a secret commie who's also tight with Wall Street? Very confusing.)
Some conservatives on Monday strained to explain why any of this matters, and why their weird, hard-to-understand obsession with someone like Alinsky ought to be of importance in American politics today. The Free Beacon's meaningless revelation set off lots of Twitter chuckling, but the story itself went nowhere, much to the dismay of Rush Limbaugh, and for good reason: There's no there there. (Favorite line: Hillary's letters were "paid for with stamps featuring Franklin Delano Roosevelt.")
Keep in mind the attempts to attack Clinton by invoking Alinsky are nothing new. Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, conservatives tried to make hay out of the fact that Clinton had written a senior thesis about the author.
After the story failed to make an impact outside the conservative bubble, a Free Beacon editor claimed the article was never meant as a Hillary gotcha. Instead, they were simply sharing "primary documents" with voters. I guess that's one way to spin a swing-and-a-miss.
The whiff highlights what's becoming a growing problem for the right-wing media industry: After operating under the microscope during her thirty-year public career, there's not much about Hillary Clinton we don't know or that hasn't been dissected. And there's probably not much more that we're going to learn in the coming years, considering that trolling the Clintons has been an established far-right cottage industry that dates back to the early 1990s.
Based on three decades in the spotlight as a governor's wife, the first lady, a U.S. senator, presidential candidate and then secretary of state, there's simply no other public figure active in the U.S. political arena today (possibly other than the one who currently occupies the Oval Office) who's been more scrutinized by the media, who's endured more "scandal" coverage, who has been thoroughly trashed by the partisan press opponents, and who still comes out the other side marching on.
So now what?
If Hillary dominates the political landscape in the coming election cycle, how does the right-wing media pretend they're uncovering all kinds of new and startling facts about her past, her policies, her influences and her alliances? How does detailing a couple of letters Clinton wrote to a labor organizer 43 years ago fill the right-wing media need for fresh, new, and scary Clinton revelations?
The Atlantic's Molly Ball is the latest media figure to proclaim herself bored of Hillary Clinton, insisting the former Secretary of State offers "nothing new or surprising" and asking, "Has America ever been so thoroughly tired of a candidate before the campaign even began?"
But America isn't tired of Clinton, one of the nation's most popular political figures -- Molly Ball and others in the press corps who insist on obsessing over her every move are.
Polling from Gallup this summer found that a majority of Americans -- and 90 percent of Democrats -- viewed Clinton favorably. Clinton also beat out all of her theoretical Republican challengers in a more recent McClatchy-Marist poll. More than 80 percent of Democrats would be either "excited" or "satisfied" with a Clinton run for president, according to a CNN/ORC poll.
In fact, at the end of 2013, Gallup found Clinton was the "most admired woman" in America -- for the twelfth consecutive year. (Oprah Winfrey came in second, by a wide margin.)
But Ball's September 19 article largely ignored Clinton's widespread popularity to instead claim that there is widespread fatigue with the former secretary of state. Ball's argument centers around the idea that Clinton is not producing enough "spark" or "vision," and criticized her for agreeing with a "laundry list of well-worn leftish ideas" discussed at a recent event at the Center for American Progress, "from raising the minimum wage to paid family leave and affordable childcare":
Granted, these are substantive proposals, and they are controversial in some quarters. But they are broadly popular, and the overall message--that women ought to prosper--is almost impossible to disagree with. The discussion's only spark came from Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York, who made a rousing call to action. "I think we need a Rosie the Riveter moment for this generation!"
So Clinton supports popular, substantive proposals that many can agree on -- ideas that have been stymied by a recalcitrant Republican Congress -- and this is a problem, because Ball isn't entertained?
Recently NBC's Chuck Todd discussed "one thing" he thinks Washington media gets wrong: this idea of "Clinton fatigue." "There is a Clinton fatigue problem," Todd noted, "but it's in the press corps. I think there is much less Clinton fatigue in the Democratic Party than there is in the press corps."
The excitement for Clinton -- and her own "well-worn leftish ideas" -- among Democrats was apparent at another of Clinton's appearances this week, the September 19 Women's Leadership Forum, hosted by the Democratic National Committee. Clinton received a standing ovation before and after her speech, and her support for policies such as paid sick leave, equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, and a living wage received cheers and applause.
A majority of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, support raising the minimum wage and mandating paid sick leave. These ideas that seem tired to Ball are specific policy proposals that Americans want. It would certainly be more interesting for journalists if Clinton decided to support wildly unpopular new proposals, but it's unclear why any politician's priority should be entertaining reporters rather than promoting policies they think will help the country.
Of course, this is a perfect example of what Media Matters has previously termed the "Goldilocks approach to campaign journalism." When Clinton bores journalists by repeating a popular and substantive platform, she gets criticized, but if she did do something surprising or new, the press will pounce on her for that as well.
A press corps that is constantly looking for a new angle to parse, whether it's Clinton's charm, or body language, or clothing, is going to be bored when there's nothing to say and overly-eager to twist controversy out of anything that seems new.
And a media that is quick to attribute its own personal fatigue to the rest of the nation is going to miss out on the real story.
A new book that seeks to damage Hillary Clinton over the 2012 attacks in Benghazi reportedly relies on long-debunked conservative myths.
On September 9, WND Books will publish Aaron Klein's The REAL Benghazi Story: What the White House and Hillary Don't Want You to Know. The book's release is the latest salvo from a conservative cottage industry that aims to make money and political hay out of both Benghazi and Clinton smears.
Klein, a senior reporter for the birther site WND, is not a credible author -- one of his recent books portrayed President Obama as a "Manchurian Candidate" whose autobiography was ghostwritten by Bill Ayers.
The Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard, who reviewed an advance copy of Klein's Benghazi book, reported that Klein argues "Clinton was unwilling to provide additional security to the diplomatic outpost and even played a role in sending Stevens to his 'doomed mission.'"
Klein's contention that Clinton "was unwilling to provide additional security to the diplomatic outpost" seems to reference the long-debunked conservative claim that the then-Secretary of State personally signed off on cables rejecting requests for additional security. When congressional Republicans first made that claim in April 2013, diplomatic reporters noted that every cable sent to the State Department from overseas facilities is addressed to the secretary, and every cable sent from the State Department is signed by the secretary, even though the secretary rarely reviews them.
In her 2014 memoir, Clinton wrote that she had never seen the cables in question, stating, "That's not how it works. It shouldn't. And it didn't."
Klein's claim that Clinton "played a role in sending Stevens" to his death in Benghazi has also been debunked. The State Department's Accountability Review Board reported that Stevens "made the decision to travel to Benghazi independently of Washington, per standard practice," with the trip's timing "driven in part by commitments in Tripoli." Gregory Hicks, who was Stevens' deputy, also testified before Congress that the ambassador "chose to go" to Benghazi.
Ronald Kessler reportedly attacks Bill and Hillary Clinton with anonymously-sourced stories in his forthcoming book The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents, according to British tabloids and The New York Post. Critics have described Kessler's previous books as "National Enquirer-style gossip," and claims in his previous book on the Secret Service were "strongly disputed" by the agency and other subjects. Kessler was an established journalist for credible newspapers like The Washington Post decades ago but became chief Washington correspondent for the far-right outlet NewsMax in 2006. He subsequently pushed false smears of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and led the charge to promote Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. The First Family Detail is part of a trifecta of anti-Clinton books based on anonymous sources published this summer, along with Daniel Halper's Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine and Edward Klein's Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas.
In the past two months, Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza has used his platform at The Fix to obsess over the question of whether Hillary Clinton has sufficiently explained her family's wealth, dismissing Clinton's comments on income inequality while offering conflicting advice on how she should answer the question in a way that satisfies Chris Cillizza and The Washington Post.
Cillizza's latest post came in response to an interview Hillary Clinton gave to Fusion TV host Jorge Ramos that aired July 29. "Hillary Clinton still hasn't found a good answer to questions about her wealth," according to the July 29 headline over at The Fix. After crediting GOP opposition research firm American Rising with focusing his attention on Clinton's wealth, Cillizza concluded: "Until she finds three sentences (or so) to button up any/all questions about her wealth, those questions will keep coming. And that's not the way Clinton wants to run-up to her now all-but-certain presidential bid."
This is the third time in two months that Cillizza has posted a column fixated on Clinton's wealth and his belief that she is struggling to explain it -- and the third time since June 22 that The Fix has turned to America Rising to help define Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, a June NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll found that 55 percent of Americans say that Clinton relates to and understands average Americans.
"The Clintons are not 'average' people," Cillizza warned just a week before that poll came out. He concluded by advising Clinton to stop talking about her wealth and move on: "Instead of spending her time litigating just how wealthy she is, Clinton should acknowledge her wealth and then spend the vast majority of her rhetorical time making the case that through the policies she has advocated and pursued, she has never lost sight of the middle class."
The reality is that Clinton has already done exactly what Cillizza advises; he just largely chooses to dismiss it. When Clinton has been asked about her wealth, she has consistently paired her personal finances with discussing her lifelong advocacy and work on behalf of the poor and middle class.
From the July 25 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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In the thirteen months directly prior to kicking off his Republican presidential campaign in February 2007, Rudy Giuliani earned more than $11 million dollars giving paid speeches. The former New York City Mayor, who was thrust into the national and international spotlight after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, typically charged between $100,000 and $300,000 for his speeches and spoke more than 120 times.
According to one speaking contract published at the time, Giuliani required clients pay for meals and lodging for himself and four travel companions. Giuliani required a two-bedroom suite (with a king-sized bed) for his overnight stays; a suite preferably located on an upper floor with a balcony. Clients also had to pay for four additional rooms to house Giuliani's entourage.
As for travel, the contract stipulated that clients "should provide Mr. Giuliani with first class travel expenses for up to 5 people to include a private plane." What kind of private plane? "Please note that the private aircraft MUST BE a Gulfstream IV or bigger."
Note that along with the $11 million in speaking fees Giuliani pocketed in 2006, he also earned $8 million on the speech circuit in 2002. If Giuliani was able to average between $8 and $11 million in speaking fees from 2002 until he announced his candidacy in early 2007, he would have earned more than $40 million giving speeches in the five years prior to his White House campaign. (Speaking fees represented only part of his income.)
What's newsworthy about that today? Simply the fact that back in 2007 when a wealthy Republican became a presidential hopeful the Beltway press didn't care that he'd earned an eight-figure income giving 45-minute speeches. (With an additional 15 minutes allotted for Q & A.) Indeed, Giuliani's financial revelations barely registered with pundits and reporters who gave the information little time and attention. The Washington Post, for example, published just three mentions of Giuliani's multi-million dollar "speaking fees."
The press certainly never elevated the issue to a defining narrative for the Republican's campaign. Perhaps they realized there was nothing intrinsically wrong with a speaker being paid what organizations are willing to offer them.
Compare that collective shoulder shrug with the nearly month-long media fascination still churning over Hillary Clinton's speaking fees; a fascination that's part of a larger, misguided media obsession over the issue of Clinton wealth. ("Speaking fee" articles and columns published by Post so far this year regarding Clinton? 28.)
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has attempted to scandalize the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation in two consecutive columns, even as colleague Nicholas Kristof prepares to participate in the Clintons' charitable events for the sixth straight year.
Dowd's attacks on the Clinton Foundation are the latest salvo in her decades-long anti-Clinton campaign.
In her July 19 column, Dowd baselessly criticized the "foundation dishabille" as part of the "percussive drama" that supposedly surrounds the Clintons. Dowd devoted her July 12 column to lashing out at Chelsea Clinton for giving paid speeches and donating the fees to the Clinton Foundation, an activity which Dowd described as somehow "unseemly."
The Clinton Foundation's website says its mission is "to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment." But Dowd baselessly smeared the Foundation as a phony organization intended solely to benefit the Clinton family, claiming that Chelsea Clinton was "joining her parents in cashing in to help feed the rapacious, gaping maw of Clinton Inc." by giving her speaking fees to the Clinton Foundation rather than donating the proceeds to "some independent charity not designed to burnish the Clinton name as her mother ramps up to return to the White House and as she herself drops a handkerchief about getting into politics."
Dowd's criticism raises questions about The New York Times' position on the Foundation given Dowd colleague Nicholas Kristof's involvement in Clinton charitable events through the Clinton Global Initiative. Founded by President Clinton in 2005 and merged into the broader Clinton Foundation last year, CGI brings together global leaders from the public, nonprofit, and private sectors to help solve pressing international issues.
Kristof has participated in CGI's annual meeting in each of the last five years, either by delivering remarks or moderating panels. In a 2010 "CGI Stories" video, Kristof praised the group, saying, "There has been a bit of a change in how global poverty and global health is perceived and I think what's happening at CGI both reflects that and also helps shape it."
In an interview with Media Matters, Kristof said CGI events give him "a chance to meet people who converge from around the world" that are focused on issues that interest him, such as global women's rights, development, and education. He said that he plans to attend the group's annual meeting in September if he is invited. He declined to comment on Dowd's work.
The Times also declined to comment on the tension between Dowd's campaign to scandalize the foundation and Kristof's continued relationship with it.
The paper's Ethical Journalism handbook suggests that the paper has not institutionally adopted Dowd's critique. It states that Times journalists "must consult with the standards editor or the deputy editorial page editor" before addressing "groups that might figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise, especially if the setting might suggest a close relationship to the sponsoring group." It also bars them from accepting "invitations to speak where their function is to attract customers to an event primarily intended as profit-making."
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who criticized Chelsea Clinton's speaking fees as "unseemly," brings home less than half as much as the former first daughter for her own paid engagements.
American Program Bureau, one of two speaking bureaus that broker speaking appearances for Dowd, said she receives an average of $30,000 per appearance, plus travel expenses. An APB agent who requested anonymity, confirmed Dowd averages at least eight to 12 such appearances per year.
Dowd's other speaking bureau, All-American Speakers, declined to release fee information for Dowd.
This is less than half of the $75,000 Chelsea Clinton receives per event according to a previous New York Times story. That article noted that all of her fees go to the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, which "works to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment."
Dowd, who has a decades-long history of viciously criticizing President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, took on their daughter this past Sunday in a column that said there was "something unseemly" about the younger Clinton being paid to speak:
Why on earth is she worth that much money? Why, given her dabbling in management consulting, hedge-funding and coattail-riding, is an hour of her time valued at an amount that most Americans her age don't make in a year?
Dowd went on to write that if Clinton "really wants to be altruistic," she should "contribute the money to some independent charity not designed to burnish the Clinton name" or "speak for free."
Could the same be said of Dowd's own work on the paid speaking circuit? She has appeared at college campuses ranging from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to Hofstra University and the University of Rochester in the past. Her paid appearances have also spanned the likes of the Philadelphia Bar Association and Temple B'nai Abraham in Livingston, N.J.
"We don't pay all of our speakers, but in her case I am sure we did," said Dan Anderson, vice president for university relations at Elon University in Elon, N.C., where Dowd spoke in 2012.
Dowd did not respond to a request for comment seeking to determine whether she donates her speaking fees to charity.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd posited that there is "something unseemly" about recent reports Chelsea Clinton gives speeches that raise up to $75,000 per appearance for the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
A July 9 article in The Times discussed Clinton's foray into public speaking appearances on behalf of the Clinton Foundation. The Times quoted a Clinton spokesperson who explained that "100 percent of the fees" Clinton receives are "remitted directly to the foundation," and that "the majority of Chelsea's speeches are unpaid." According to The Times, "Ms. Clinton's speeches focus on causes like eradicating waterborne diseases." (The Clinton Foundation's website says its mission is "to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment.")
In a July 13 column, Dowd took issue with Clinton's speaking arrangements, writing that the former first daughter is "acting out in a sense now, joining her parents in cashing in to help feed the rapacious, gaping maw of Clinton Inc." Dowd also suggested that Clinton's speaking fee means she has "open[ed] herself up to criticism that she is gobbling whopping paychecks not commensurate with her skills, experience or role in life."
"There's something unseemly about it," Dowd continued, "making one wonder: Why on earth is she worth that much money? Why, given her dabbling in management consulting, hedge-funding and coattail-riding, is an hour of her time valued at an amount that most Americans her age don't make in a year?"
The media's fixation on comments Hillary Clinton made during recent interviews responding to questions about her family's wealth has obscured the substantive issues Clinton talked about during nearly four hours of interviews.
Clinton's interviews on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, PBS, and NPR lasted for more than three hours and 45 minutes, not including commercials, according to a Media Matters analysis.
In the weeks since Clinton began promoting her book, the media has endlessly fixated on whether Clinton committed a "gaffe" when responding to questions about wealth.
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler misquoted Hillary Clinton while criticizing her recent and accurate comments about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.
Kessler specifically took Clinton to task over a comment she made during the Aspen Ideas Festival:
CLINTON: It's very troubling that a salesclerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception, which is pretty expensive, is not going to get that service through her employer's health-care plan because her employer doesn't think she should be using contraception.
But in taking issue with the portion of Clinton's remarks about the affordability of contraception, Kessler actually misquoted what she said:
As for "very expensive," this is in the eye of the beholder. Studies have indicated that when times are tough, women have tried to save money by skimping on birth control, such as skipping pills and delaying prescription refills.
Clinton never said that contraception is "very expensive." She said it was "pretty expensive." The distinction is meaningful in light of the fact that Kessler specifically went on to criticize Clinton for not being careful while making extemporaneous remarks.
Kessler also criticized Clinton for observing that a Hobby Lobby sales clerk would not be able to access contraception because her employer doesn't think she should be using it. Here's Kessler's rationale:
In the specific case, the company on religious grounds objected to four of 20 possible options, leaving other possible types of contraceptives available to female employees -- though not necessarily the most effective or necessary at the moment.
Contrary to Kessler's reasoning, it's entirely accurate to say that a sales clerk could decide in consultation with her doctor that a valid form of contraception is the best option for her health needs and yet be denied access because her boss doesn't think she should be using it.
Kessler addressed similar criticism from readers in an update, calling it an "interesting parsing" but standing by his original analysis.
After spending much of the last two weeks criticizing Hillary Clinton for supposed "gaffes" about her wealth and claiming she's increasingly out of touch with voters thanks to the combined earnings of herself and her husband, Beltway pundits are confronted with a new poll that shows that despite days worth of media attacks on Clinton's money comments, a clear majority think the former secretary of state relates to "average Americans" and the problems they face.
The findings from an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey forcefully debunk the punditry's conventional wisdom that by being "rusty" while discussing her wealth during her recent book tour, Clinton inflicted potentially deep damage to her possible presidential run by being so "out of touch."
The recent wealth coverage continued the Beltway press' long tradition of parsing portions of Clinton comments taken from hours worth of long-form interviews and spinning then in the most unappealing way, and by claiming Clinton's word choice and "tone" is all wrong. (CNN even altered a Hillary quote about money last week to make it more incriminating and newsworthy.)
To date though, voters don't seem to mind when Hillary Clinton talks about money.
Nonetheless as the Washington Post's Dan Balz noted, Clinton's "comments about being "dead broke" upon leaving the White House and not being among the "truly well off" today have triggered an avalanche of coverage raising questions about whether she has lost touch with the lives of ordinary Americans."
Just yesterday, Balz's colleague Ruth Marcus detailed what she called "Hillary Clinton's money woes," and warned the former first lady that the problem might get "worse" because she risks being viewed by voters as "greedy," "defensive," "whiny," and "out of touch."
How was Marcus so sure that voters would deeply resent the Clintons' wealth if Hillary ran for president? Or specifically, that they'd resent how she talked about her wealth. Did Marcus cite polling? Did she interview voters? No, she just knew. Or she thought she knew.
According to the new NBC/WSJ poll, none of Marcus' characterizations are accurate.
And that's why the red flag of the wealth coverage was always the question of whether voters were as deeply offended by Clinton's wealth as the Beltway press is. (MSNBC's Chuck Todd recently dismissed the Clintons' earnings from giving speeches by insisting, "It's not like they have acquired their wealth from hard work.")
Despite being exposed as a self-promoting smear peddler after having his work repeatedly debunked, discredited author and conspiracy theorist Ed Klein has been repeatedly given a platform by many in the right-wing media. Here are the top five reasons the media should not trust Klein's shoddy work.
The Washington Free Beacon's claim that it's being singled out by the University of Arkansas Library for unfair treatment in its reporting on Hillary Clinton-related documents was debunked by CNN, which confirmed it followed the same rules the Free Beacon was punished for not following.
The Free Beacon was informed on June 17 by the library that its access to their archives had been suspended because Free Beacon researchers had not followed standard procedures for gaining permission to publish library documents related to Clinton back in February. The Free Beacon suggested the revocation of their access was political retribution.
But CNN officials confirmed to Media Matters that its researchers were required to fill out permission forms to first gain access to the library's collection of private documents in February related to Hillary Clinton, and later submit separate requests for approval to publish the documents on its website.
"We do have policies that are in place for all researchers and we expect all of our researchers to comply," said Laura Jacobs, associate vice chancellor for university relations for the University of Arkansas. "The idea that we would single out any researcher is false. It is unfortunate that we have been characterized as trying to stifle academic freedom. It is one of the core tenets that we take seriously. Frankly, this is a simple procedural matter."
In a story on June 20 about an interview Clinton had given in the 1980's, the Free Beacon claimed it was never told to file any forms or seek permission.
"I find that hard to believe," said Jacobs. "The process is when you come in to research in our special collection, you sit down with the research manager, you sign something saying you will comply with our policies, you tell the reading room manager materials you would like to access and it is pro forma."
In fact, the University of Arkansas Library provided Business Insider with copies of the request forms that Shawn Reinschmiedt, a GOP operative who worked with the Free Beacon to provide research for the story, signed, including an email that noted that he would be required to fill out an additional form if he wished to publish.
The Free Beacon did not comment on the forms, but told Business Insider they did not believe the University had the right to restrict publication of the documents.
"You can get materials for personal use, we will provide materials for you all day long," Jacobs added. "When you ask us to duplicate materials, if you intend to publish them you are required to complete the permission to publish form."
CNN officials on Monday confirmed CNN researchers who posted a similar story in February did file such forms and requests for permission and were granted approval.