Slate

Tags ››› Slate
  • Conservative Media Push Myth That Planned Parenthood Isn't Essential For Zika Response

    The Daily Signal: Planned Parenthood Is Inessential Because Its Clinics “Are Limited In The Services They Can Provide In The Fight Against Zika”

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On September 6, Congress again failed to approve a federal response to the Zika virus after Republicans included a legislative “poison pill” designed to exclude Planned Parenthood from funding -- echoing the false right-wing media argument that the reproductive health organization is not an essential health care provider.

    The bogus assertion that Planned Parenthood is inessential has been a right-wing media staple, frequently adopted by anti-choice legislators attempting to defund the organization. In particular, since the release of deceptively edited videos from the discredited Center for Medical Progress, anti-choice legislators have repeated the inaccurate right-wing media talking point that federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) or community health centers can effectively fill the gap left by denying Planned Parenthood access to funding and resources.

    After the failed Zika vote, The Daily Signal justified the anti-Planned Parenthood rider, arguing that Democrats were needlessly obstructing funding because, “In reality, clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood … are limited in the services they can provide in the fight against Zika” while many community health centers are “ready [and able] to ramp up efforts against Zika.”

    To support this position, The Daily Signal cited evidence from a number of anti-abortion organizations such as the Susan B. Anthony List and the Charlotte Lozier Institute. It also included numerous comments from Casey Mattox, a lawyer for the right-wing legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- which not only openly opposes abortion but also has a history of smearing the LGBT community and working to criminalize homosexuality.

    According to Mattox, only FQHCs are “equipped” to handle Zika response because they have “medical professionals on staff … to diagnose and treat illness” while “Planned Parenthood does not.” In reality, Planned Parenthood health centers offer a “wide range of services” including “general health care” that is covered by Medicaid or other state safety net programs. To underscore Mattox’s argument, The Daily Signal included an ADF graphic claiming to compare the seeming differences between Planned Parenthood and FQHCs.

    However, as Emma Grey Ellis noted in an August 2 article for Wired, to “actually combat Zika, you need to gain control of its vectors.” Given the sexually transmitted nature of the Zika virus and its impact on pregnant persons, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) determined that “full access to the most complete range of reproductive options,” which includes contraception and abortion, is essential to address its spread.

    In an August statement to ABC News, ACOG president and CEO Dr. Hal Lawrence explained the significant role Planned Parenthood plays in Zika response. According to Lawrence, Planned Parenthood has long “provided ongoing well-woman services and contraceptives to millions … and has been oftentimes the best access for some underprivileged women to get access to contraception.”

    Lawrence’s argument is further supported by previous research from the Guttmacher Institute, which found that in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” accessible for those seeking contraception. Guttmacher noted that Planned Parenthood is not only a leading provider of publicly subsidized contraceptive services, but also that it can typically see more patients annually for these services than "other types of safety-net providers" can.

    Planned Parenthood has played an essential role in educating the public about the the virus, including discussing how it spreads and methods of prevention. As Alex Harris reported for the Miami Herald, Planned Parenthood has launched a campaign “to spread the word about Zika prevention.” Harris continued that Planned Parenthood staff have been going “door-to-door in areas where large groups of reproductive-age women live … [who] may not have been reached by state or federal Zika education efforts.”

    Furthermore, as Florida’s last attempt to defund Planned Parenthood demonstrated, classification as a FQHC doesn’t necessarily qualify a health care provider to respond to reproductive health issues like the Zika virus.

    When Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that barred Planned Parenthood from accessing state Medicaid funds -- a measure that has since been temporarily blocked by a federal judge -- the list of replacement FQHCs provided by supporters was called “laughable” by Slate’s Christina Cauterucci because it was "filled with dozens of elementary and middle schools, several dental practices, and at least one optometry center.” This disparity is partly explained by the caption to ADF’s own graphic, which explains, “While every FQHC provides these services, not every FQHC delivery site offers every service listed.” In other words, although some providers may have staff and resources to address a reproductive health issue like Zika, not every FQHC will be adapted to that purpose.

    Experts have confirmed that even when FQHCs and community clinics do provide reproductive health services, they are not well-positioned to fill the gap when Planned Parenthood is forced out of communities. As Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, wrote in an article for the Health Affairs Blog, the "claim that community health centers readily can absorb the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics amounts to a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do."

    While anti-choice lawmakers recycle right-wing media misinformation to score political points by attacking Planned Parenthood, the director of the Centers for Disease Control has issued an ominous warning to Congress: “Basically, we are out of money [to respond to Zika] and we need Congress to act. The cupboard is bare.”

  • Right-Wing Media Again Promote Anti-Planned Parenthood Smear Campaign As Journalism

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Since the release of the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) deceptively edited videos in July 2015, right-wing media -- and, in particular, Fox News -- have consistently promoted the organization’s smear campaign against Planned Parenthood as both credible and an act of journalism. During a discussion of a proposed California law that would criminalize undercover recording stings on the September 1 edition of The Kelly File, Fox’s Shannon Bream and TheBlaze’s Dana Loesch again promoted CMP’s work as journalism, despite the number of media figures and judges who have rejected this premise.

  • How The Media's Obsession With “Optics” Is Ruining Campaign Journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Joining a long list of concerned media voices, The New York Times' editorial page this week linked up with the Beltway chorus to express alarm over the Clinton Foundation and the “question” it presents for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

    Surveying the well-trampled ground of supposed conflicts of interest and insinuations that Clinton sold State Department access to donors, the Times announced a pressing “need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.”

    As part of its declaration, the newspaper dutifully noted, “‘Pay-to-play’ charges by Donald Trump have not been proved.” But the Times, like so many other lecturing voices, was quite clear in claiming that the Clintons have to address concerns about optics even if that means shutting down their landmark global charity. That’s how important it now is for the do-good foundation to be spotless and pure: Optics trump humanitarianism.

    Or, there’s no proof anybody did anything wrong, therefore drastic actions must be taken to fix the problem.

    The meandering foundation story has become a case study for the Beltway media’s double standard: holding Clinton to a higher mark that’s based on optics, not on facts. Unable to prove misconduct or anything close to it (just ask the AP), the press relies on the comfy confines of “optics” and the “appearance” of conflict to allow them to attack Clinton and the foundation. 

    For Clinton, it’s a can’t-win proposition. If the press says the story looks bad, even if there’s nothing to suggest it actually is bad, she gets tagged with an optics problem. And because journalists are the only ones handing out the grades, they get to decide how bad it looks.

    But the journalism malpractice doesn’t end there. It extends to the fact that the press doesn’t apply the same visual test to Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose far-flung business dealings would represent an actual, even historic, conflict of interest were he to be elected president.

    Also, note that high-profile Republicans have run foundations in the past, accepted big donations, and never been hounded by the press regarding supposed optics violations.

    What’s so strange about the current “appearance” phenomenon is that the narrative often runs right alongside media concessions about the lack of evidence proving Clinton wrongdoing.

    “Let’s be clear, this is all innuendo at this point. No pay for play has been proven. No smoking gun has been found,” announced NBC’s Chuck Todd. “But like many of these Clinton scandals, it looks bad.”

    A recent NPR report also perfectly summed up the media’s working equation:

    There's no question the optics are bad for Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. But no proof has emerged that any official favors -- regulations, government contracts, international deals -- were curried in exchange for donations or pledges.

    On and on the parade marches: “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort” (Boston Globe). “At the very least, there is an appearance of a conflict of interest for the foundation” (CNN’s Anderson Cooper).

    Perhaps the strangest presentation came from a Times news report that claimed “the potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest” was causing problems for Clinton. Think about that for a minute. Not only is Clinton being graded on perceived conflicts of interest, but also on potential perceived ones.

    The media’s emphasis on optics when relating the foundation story represents a giant tell in terms of how soggy the supposed scandal really is. As Matthew Yglesias noted at Vox:

    It’s natural to assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But the smoke emanating from the Clinton Foundation is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is the result of a reasonably well-funded dedicated partisan opposition research campaign, and of editorial decisions by the managers of major news organizations to dedicate resources to running down every possible Clinton email lead in the universe.

    It also seems like journalists aren’t even sure what they’re trying to accuse the Clintons of doing. Optics violations can be confusing like that.

    From Slate: [emphasis added]

    But you don’t need to believe the Clintons are guilty of intentionally engaging in quid pro quo (though it’s not crazy to think they may have) to know that there is something wrong with a dynamic where it is nearly impossible to prove that they did, or even that they didn’t.

    It’s not possible to prove any Clinton Foundation wrongdoing, therefore the Clinton Foundation must be “shut down.” In fact, the charitable outpost should’ve been closed “yesterday.”

    Slate continued:

    Even if Hillary were somehow able to completely separate the donations -- to say nothing of her and her husband’s speaking fees, which have often come from many of the same corporations who fund their family foundation -- from her official decision-making, she simply has no way of preventing the appearance of pay for play. And the mere perception of access matters, both in the financial marketplace and the political one.

    That is, frankly, a bizarre and impossible standard: Clinton must eliminate even the “perception” of special access. I mean, people realize every member of Congress accepts money from donors, right? Therefore, every donor who gives money instantly creates the possibility of purchased access. When is Slate going to cross-check schedules for every member of Congress to see how many donors they meet with and then demand each member eliminate even the “perception” of access?

    Meanwhile, all of this optics policing unfolds while Clinton’s Republican opponent serves as an executive on more than 500 companies. So why the relative media silence about Trump’s boulder-sized conflicts of interest? Where are the litany of editorials demanding he take preventive action to fix the optics?

    I’ve seen some good coverage in the business press about Trump’s massive conflicts (“Donald Trump's 500 Businesses Would Pose 'Unprecedented Ethical Dilemma'”), but little attention from the Beltway media, especially as compared to their relentless obsession with alleged Clinton conflicts.

    Lastly, the media’s ceaseless hand-wringing over the Clinton Foundation represents a brand new way of covering charities run by famous political figures. The media allegation that wealthy donors give to the Clintons simply to cash in favors at a later date represents a cynical narrative that simply did not exist in previous Beltway foundation coverage.

    Note that Colin Powell founded a charity, America’s Promise. Then he became secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

    What happened to the charity? From Yglesias at Vox:  

    Well, Powell’s wife, Alma Powell, took it over. And it kept raking in donations from corporate America. Ken Lay, the chair of Enron, was a big donor. He also backed a literacy-related charity that was founded by the then-president’s mother. The US Department of State, at the time Powell was secretary, went to bat for Enron in a dispute the company was having with the Indian government.

    Did donors send big checks to Powell’s family foundation in order to gain access to him, to his son Michael, who was then commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, or to other Bush administration officials? We don’t know, in part because the press never turned the issue into an “optics” obsession.

    The press also didn’t seem relentlessly interested in finding out whether big donors were sending checks to the American Red Cross in 1996 while Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) ran for president. At the time, Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, ran the charity.

    Today, “optics” has become the go-to campaign theme for journalists who can’t find evidence of Clinton malfeasance. That’s not what campaign reporting is supposed to be, but the misleading craft is thriving. And in this election cycle, the flimsy, malleable standard only seems to apply to her.

    And the examples listed above are just a small sample of media figures obsessing about optics recently. Some others:

    AP:

    The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton.

    Washington Post's Chris Cillizza:

    It just plain looks bad. Really bad.

    [...]

    To be clear: I have no evidence -- none -- that Clinton broke any law or did anything intentionally shady. But, man oh man, does this latest news about the Clinton Foundation cloud her campaign's attempts to paint the charity group and her State Department as totally separate and unconnected entities.

    LA Times:

    There is not an ounce of proof suggesting criminality or racketeering, no indication that Secretary Clinton performed special favors for foundation donors.

    [...]

    Nevertheless, there are plenty of Clinton allies who are troubled by her ties to the foundation because it simply looks bad.

    [...]

    Appearances are important, even if intentions are pure.

    USA Today:

    No, it is not “the most corrupt enterprise in political history,” as Donald Trump is calling it, nor is there enough evidence of potential criminality to warrant appointment of the special prosecutor Trump is seeking. But the only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs, starting today, and transfer its important charitable work to another large American charity.

    The Atlantic:

    Even if every one of the meetings that Secretary Clinton had with foundation donors was a meeting she would have had anyway, the impression that one can pay to play means that there’s no tidy way to wall the two off.

    Time:

    If she didn’t do anything wrong, why won’t she defend herself? By avoiding taking responsibility, Clinton only exacerbates the perception she is dishonest and untrustworthy, the primary hurdle on her path to the White House. Optics matter when the issue is transparency.

    Tampa Bay Times:

    We can all readily agree that the optics of Clinton granting audiences to deep-pocketed swells who had sent tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation are not good.

    WSJ's James Taranto:

    The Clinton Foundation and the appearance of corruption.

    [...]

    And the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a “compelling government interest”—which can justify restrictions of the fundamental right to free speech—in avoiding even the appearance of corruption. The “quid” and the “quo” are enough, even if the “pro” can’t be proved.

    Media Matters researcher Tyler Cherry contributed research to this post. 
  • How A Right-Wing Media Myth About Planned Parenthood Could Hurt Florida’s Fight Against Zika

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    At the end of July, the first outbreak of the Zika virus occurred in Miami, FL -- confirming many experts’ fears that it was only a matter of time before the mosquito-borne virus began to impact the United States. But efforts to fight the spread of the virus have been stymied by anti-choice lawmakers’ reliance on the right-wing media talking point that Planned Parenthood isn’t an essential service provider.

    Since last winter, the Zika virus has spread among a number of Latin American countries, predominantly affecting pregnant persons. Experts have classified the virus as a “public health threat” due to the suspected link between Zika and the neurological disorder microcephaly, which severely stunts the development of a fetus during pregnancy. This link prompted concerns about the accessibility of contraception, prenatal care, and abortion for pregnant persons affected by Zika in Latin America.

    Rather than prepare for an outbreak of Zika in the United States by making these essential reproductive health services more accessible, however, anti-choice lawmakers instead invoked a right-wing media myth to attack Planned Parenthood and block its efforts to help combat a potential outbreak.

    Since the release of deceptively edited videos from the discredited Center for Medical Progress, anti-choice legislators have repeated misinformation about Planned Parenthood and the essential services it provides as part of an ongoing attempt to defund the organization. To justify these attacks, legislators have relied on the right-wing media talking point that community health clinics can effectively fill the gap left by denying Planned Parenthood access to funding and resources.

    Prior to the Zika outbreak, anti-choice lawmakers in Florida had already attempted to block access to abortion and other reproductive health services offered by Planned Parenthood.

    In March, Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that not only emulated provisions of Texas’ unconstitutional HB 2, but also barred Planned Parenthood from accessing state Medicaid funds. Although parts of the law have been temporarily blocked by a federal judge, if enforced in full the bill would functionally defund the reproductive care provider. The Guardian’s Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy reported that supporters of the Florida bill echoed right-wing media’s false claim that community health clinics could fill in by “insist[ing] that plentiful alternatives exist for reproductive and sexual healthcare” even without Planned Parenthood.

    However, as Slate’s Christina Cauterucci explained, the list of replacement providers in the state was “laughable” because it was filled with “dozens of elementary and middle schools, several dental practices, and at least one optometry center.” She continued:

    Nevertheless, proponents of HB 1411 have used this list to pooh-pooh concerns for women’s health, claiming that there are 29 public health clinics for every Planned Parenthood in the state; therefore, the argument goes, no poor women will miss Planned Parenthood when it’s gone. The Guardian reports that in 2010, according to Guttmacher Institute data, there were just five public health clinics that offered family planning services for every Florida Planned Parenthood.

    Indeed, experts have confirmed that the idea of community clinics filling in for Planned Parenthood is “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.” According to earlier research from the Guttmacher Institute, in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” accessible for those seeking contraception. Guttmacher noted that Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of publicly subsidized contraceptive services and typically can see more patients annually for these services than "other types of safety-net providers" can.

    Access to contraception and abortion care are essential to address the spread of Zika in the United States. As Emma Grey Ellis wrote in an August 2 article for Wired, “To actually combat Zika, you need to gain control of its vectors.” She continued that although enabling people “to delay pregnancy to avoid passing Zika to their children is an obvious, vital step,” there were a number of “political stumbling blocks” preventing access to reproductive health services.

    These “stumbling blocks” have included opposition from public officials. During an August 6 interview with Politico, former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he believed those impacted by Zika should not have the option to abort the pregnancy.Gov. Scott has urged pregnant people to “contact your OB-GYN for guidance to and receive a Zika prevention kit.”

    However, according to Mother Jones, “Planned Parenthood hasn't received any Zika kits from the Florida Department of Health, nor has it received any guidance from the department about how to serve pregnant women during a possible outbreak.” The outlet noted that this failure is problematic given the significant role Planned Parenthood plays in caring for low-income and uninsured patients, who are “more likely to get pregnant by accident.”

    Furthermore, even when pregnancies are intentional, the threat posed by Zika is still substantial. In an article for The Atlantic, journalist Liz Tracy reported on her fraught experience being pregnant in Miami during the Zika outbreak. She wrote that the threat of Zika transformed “nine-and-a-half months into a horror movie with a monster that is almost impossible to locate and hard to avoid.” As Tracy explained, thanks to the numerous barriers to abortion access, “if a Zika infection terribly damaged the fetus, and we decided on having an abortion, those restrictive laws would pose an overwhelming emotional, practical, and financial challenge.”

    Tracy also quoted another pregnant woman saying that with the lack of testing, kits, and care in Florida, “It just feels like too little too late” to contain Zika in the state. She added, “It’s crazy how much they could have done in advance and nothing was done.”

  • Media Slam The Republican Leaders Disavowing Trump’s Feud With Khans But Not Rescinding Their Endorsements

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media figures are criticizing Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), for refusing to rescind endorsing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump while condemning his attacks on the Khans, an American Muslim family whose son was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. They are calling the statements refusing to flat-out disavow Trump “acts of cowardice,” “less than worthless,” and “empty words.”

  • Four Times Media Highlighted The Importance Of Repealing The Hyde Amendment

    The Hyde Amendment Has Long Stymied Abortion Access -- And Media Are Taking Note That It’s Time For A Change

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    During its national convention, the Democratic Party adopted a platform explicitly calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment -- a long-standing budgetary rider blocking the use of federal Medicaid funds to cover abortion care except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. Here are four times media highlighted the importance of repealing the Hyde Amendment and removing economic barriers to abortion access.

  • Fox News Revives Debunked Claim That Democratic Primary Was “Rigged”

    Fox Spins Hacked DNC Emails To Claim Clinton’s Victory Is “Illegitimate”

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox News figures distorted the contents of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to claim that the Democratic presidential primary was “rigged” and that Hillary Clinton’s victory is “illegitimate.” But media have noted that Clinton won “her party’s nomination by every available measure” and that the hacked emails in no way prove the primary was “rigged.”

  • Despite The Most Anti-LGBT Platform Ever, Pundits Tout Trump As A "Champion" Of LGBT Causes

    While Some Pundits Point Out The Anti-Gay Record of Trump And The GOP, Others Fall For His Superficial Outreach

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    While some media figures ignored the GOP’s anti-LGBT party platform to label Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “a champion” of LGBT causes after the candidate mentioned the LGBTQ community during his Republican National Convention acceptance speech, others called out the “fallacious and offensive” idea, and noted that “this year’s GOP platform is one of the most anti-LGBT ever.”

  • Media Highlight Trump VP Pick Mike Pence’s “Radical Obstinacy” On Abortion

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Media figures are calling out the “bizarre” and “extreme” anti-abortion record of Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN). They called Pence “the most anti-abortion presidential or VP candidate we’ve had,” and noted that he “became a conservative hero” by virtue of his “longstanding, implacable and dogged” opposition to abortion.

  • There’s More To The Harvard Racial Bias Study Than Right-Wing Media Are Reporting

    Other Media Note Error Of Extrapolating From Limited Data

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    After The New York Times published results from Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer’s study showing that police, after making a stop, are “less likely to shoot if the suspects were black," right-wing media hyped the report headline that there was “no racial bias” involved in police shootings. They argued that high rates of black crime could instead explain the disproportionate rate of black fatalities at the hands of police. But other media outlets noted that the study’s data is limited, that it is based on testimonies of police officers, and that it “avoided the question of whether black citizens are more likely to be stopped to begin with.”

  • How The FBI Statement On Clinton Emails Was “Totally Overblown”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Slate’s Fred Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign policy columnist, reviewed the facts FBI Director James Comey revealed during his press conference in which he recommended no charges be brought regarding the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and concluded that the media and Republicans dramatically over-hyped those findings.

    Reporters and pundits have termed Comey’s July 5 statement “biting,” “scathing,” and “blistering,” claiming that he “contradicted many of Clinton’s past explanations” and that he “called [Clinton] out for having committed one of the most irresponsible moves in the modern history of the State Department.” Five different House Republican congressional committees are considering investigations into Comey’s investigation, and Speaker Paul Ryan has called on the director of national intelligence not to provide Clinton with classified briefings as the Democratic presidential nominee.

    But after a review of Comey’s findings, Kaplan reports that Clinton’s actions did not “damage national security” and that, even if foreign intelligence services had access to her emails, “they would not have learned anything the slightest bit new or worthy of their efforts.” Kaplan's piece is titled, "The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal Was Totally Overblown."

    Kaplan breaks down the emails that Comey reported intelligence services said either contained classified intelligence at the time they were sent or received or were “up-classified” after the fact:

    Examining the 30,000 emails that Clinton turned over, the FBI agents found 110—the back and forth of 52 email chains—that contained classified information. Of these, just eight had material that she should have known was “top secret”; 36 of them had “secret” information; and eight more had stuff that she should have known was “confidential.”

    The agents also scrounged through the bits and pieces of 30,000 more emails that she didn’t turn over and found three—three!—that contained classified information: one secret and two confidential.

    About those first 30,000 emails, the ones Clinton turned over, the FBI handed them out to auditors at other agencies that might have an interest in the matter, and after months of review they “up-classified” 2,000 emails to confidential. In other words, when Clinton wrote or received those 2,000 emails, she and her correspondents would have had no reason to suspect they were jotting down classified facts. But the reviewers have declared them classified retroactively. Your taxpayer dollars at work.

    He then points out that based on his own experience and those of his sources, “the labels secret and confidential mean next to nothing”:

    As anyone who’s ever had a security clearance will tell you, the labels secret and confidential mean next to nothing. When I worked on Capitol Hill in the late 1970s, the government gave me a secret clearance on my first day of work, pending the investigation into my worthiness to hold a top secret badge. As far as anyone knew, I might have been a Soviet spy, carting out confidential and secret documents every night and making copies for my handler. But they also knew the risk was low because there was nothing in those documents that the Soviets would have paid a dime for. The same is true of our various adversaries and stuff marked secret today.

    Kaplan goes on to make a case for why even the “top secret information” contained in Clinton’s emails is not concerning -- they all concern either the CIA drone strikes, which are classified top secret even though they have been widely reported, or a conversation with the president of Malawi:

    Top secret information is another matter, but the stuff that showed up in Clinton’s private email wasn’t so special. Seven of the eight email chains dealt with CIA drone strikes, which are classified top secret/special access program—unlike Defense Department drone strikes, which are unclassified. The difference is that CIA drones hit targets in countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where we are not officially at war; they are part of covert operations. (Defense Department drone strikes are in places where we are officially at war.) But these operations are covert mainly to provide cover for the Pakistani and Yemeni governments, so they don’t have to admit they’re cooperating with America. Everyone in the world knows about these strikes; nongovernment organizations, such as New America, tabulate them; newspapers around the world—including the New York Times, where some of the same reporters are now writing so breathlessly about Clinton’s careless handling of classified information—cover these strikes routinely.

    The other top secret email chain described a conversation with the president of Malawi. Conversations with foreign leaders are inherently classified.

    In other words, even if Russian, Chinese, Iranian, or Syrian spies had hacked into Clinton’s email servers, and if they’d pored through 60,000 emails and come across these eight chains that held top secret material, they would not have learned anything the slightest bit new or worthy of their efforts. The FBI’s discoveries should be viewed in that context.

    Kaplan concludes, “The Hillary email scandal has been brewing for a long time. Like the Benghazi scandal, this one has fizzled out, and one can imagine the frustration of reporters and politicians who had been savoring a climax that just didn’t come through.”

    As Media Matters has noted, journalists seized on FBI Director James Comey’s July 5 statement that “a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information” to claim that Comey, in the words of The Washington Post,“directly contradicted Clinton’s claim that she did not send or receive materials ‘marked’ classified.” But yesterday, State Department Spokesman Kirby provided an explanation for the discrepancy, saying that the “markings were human error” and should not have been included in the documents, which were call sheets for Clinton.

  • Slate Highlights How Trickle-Down Economics Wreaked Havoc In Kansas

    Kansas Transportation Secretary Resigns After Tax Cuts Put Agency In Financial Peril

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Slate has joined The New York Times and The Kansas City Star in highlighting what’s wrong with Kansas’ “insane right-wing experiment” of drastically cutting taxes, explaining that the Republican-led state “is about to destroy its roads.”

    In 2012, Republican Kansas lawmakers led by Gov. Sam Brownback enacted a series of tax cuts -- described by the Star editorial board as “disastrous” and the Times editorial board as “ruinous” -- that deeply cut revenue streams without generating the strong economic growth conservatives promised would follow. Instead, the state has fallen into financial crisis leading to a painful credit downgrade, a massive budget shortfall, and a “negative” credit outlook for the future. Brownback’s tax cut policies were nonetheless endorsed by right-wing media personalities and created a model for other conservative politicians to follow.

    On June 30, Slate reported that Brownback had announced the resignation of his state’s secretary of transportation, Mike King, marking the latest casualty of Kansas’ failed experiment with trickle-down economics. According to Slate, the reason King is leaving may be that the state has taken $2 billion from the Kansas Department of Transportation’s reserve funds to close gaps elsewhere in the budget. Former Kansas transit secretary Deb Miller cautioned that the “weakened revenue stream” would be “more subject to political whim.” From Slate (emphasis added):

    Kansas has had trouble paying for much of anything since 2012, when conservative legislators decided to implement a bevy of right-wing economic policies—and lead their state into a fiscal crisis.

    In order to keep funding its government despite dramatically decreased tax revenue, the legislature has flipped all their piggy banks. One of them is the Kansas Department of Transportation—or what sarcastic Kansans now call “the Bank of KDOT,” for the stupendous quantity of money that has been diverted from its coffers to the Kansas general fund and state agencies.

    [...]

    On Wednesday, Brownback announced that Mike King, the secretary of KDOT, would be resigning this month. King, who was appointed in 2012, has presided over a rather unusual period in Topeka finance.

    Since 2011, according to the Kansas City Star, the state has diverted over $1 billion in “extraordinary” transfers from KDOT. If you include “routine” transfers, from 2011 through the 2017 budget year the total diversion from the Bank of KDOT will amount to more than $2 billion.

    That’s more than KDOT’s annual expenditures. It’s as if the state, which has the fourth largest number of public road miles in the nation, had taken away a full year of road funding.

    [...]

    King’s predecessor, Deb Miller, told the Topeka Capital-Journal this week that King “started as KDOT secretary at a time when the agency had a well-defined and solidly financed statewide highway program. He exits an agency deeper in debt and with a weakened revenue stream more subject to political whim.”

    Brownback’s legacy will be grander, but we could call this the Mike King doctrine: Plugging holes in the budget; leaving holes in the road.

  • A Comprehensive Guide To Benghazi Myths And Facts

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & OLIVIA KITTEL

    After nearly four years of right-wing myths about the September 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound and CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya, and as Republicans and Democrats on the House Select Committee on the attacks release their reports, Media Matters has compiled a list of more than 50 myths and facts regarding the origin of the attack, the security surrounding the compounds, the Obama administration’s handling of the attack during and after its occurrence, attacks on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other lies and misinformation regarding the Benghazi attack.