The raucous political warfare of the 1990s returned into view late last week with the stunning news that former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is under indictment for allegedly agreeing to pay more than $3 million in hush money to cover up sexual abuse involving a male student at a high school where Hastert taught decades ago.
Hastert's unsettling case doesn't have anything to do with partisan politics, per se. But his rise to the speakership back in 1998 sure did. Like virtually everything else inside the Beltway at the time, Hastert's promotion revolved around the Republicans' relentless impeachment pursuit against President Bill Clinton. And today, Hastert's alleged crime once again throws into focus what a strange and hypocritical spectacle it was for GOP men to play sex cop and crusade for impeachment.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton defined American politics in the 1990s. It also defined the Beltway press, which still clings to many of the bad Clinton-related habits it formed that decade. The impeachment farce, where the press teamed up with Republicans to wage war on a Democrat, could also explain why the Clintons today might not fully trust the media as Hillary Clinton expands her presidential run and the press stands "primed" to take her down.
Why won't Hillary Clinton open up to the press? Why can't Bill and Hillary handle the media? Why has she "withdrawn into a gilded shell"? Why does she wear media "armor"? Those questions have been rehashed in recent months as journalists focus on themselves and what role they'll play in the unfolding nomination contest.
A suggestion: Follow the path back to Dennis Hastert's impeachment era for clues to those Clinton press questions.
During the 1990s, Hastert remained a firm advocate of impeachment, at one point condemning the president for his "inability to abide by the law." Hastert stressed, "The evidence in President Clinton's case is overwhelming that he has abused and violated the public trust."
Of course it was the impeachment imbroglio that elevated Hastert, indirectly, to his lofty position of speaker of the House; a position he later leveraged into millions by becoming a very wealthy lobbyist.
The background: Former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to resign in 1998 after the impeachment-obsessed GOP faced disastrous midterm losses. (Gingrich later admitted he was engaged in an affair with a Congressional aide at the time.) Up next was Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. "One of the loudest of those calling for the House to impeach Clinton over an extra-marital affair," noted the National Journal, Livingston was soon ousted after he was forced to publicly confess to committing adultery "on occasion."
Into that void stepped Hastert.
That means all three Republican House leaders who pursued Clinton's impeachment have now confessed or been accused of sexual and moral transgressions themselves. Those were the people the D.C press took its cues from during the impeachment charade?
As Orin Kerr noted in the Washington Post following the Hastert indictment:
If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.
While some in the press have conceded that the '90s impeachment was a strange circus, the truth is the Beltway press basically served as executive producers for the GOP's doomed theatrical run. It was the media elite who legitimized for years the right-wing's Javert-like pursuit of all things Clinton. "So much of the media was invested in breathless, often uncritical coverage of Clinton's impeachment," wrote Josh Marshall at Salon in 2002, while detailing the final release of the independent prosecutor's $70 million Clinton investigation.
Put another way, the same D.C. press corps that openly taunted the Clintons for years in the '90s, culminating with impeachment, is the same D.C. press corps that's now openly taunting them, for instance, regarding the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton's emails, and anything/everything else that can be presented as a Clinton "scandal" story.
That's why when the New York Times story about Hillary Clinton's email account first broke in March, "The media and politicos and Twitterati immediately responded with all the measured cautious skepticism we've come to expect in response to any implication of a Clinton Scandal," noted Wonkette. "That is to say, none." And that's why Times columnist and chief Clinton sex chronicler Maureen Dowd has, to date, published 100 columns mentioning "Lewinsky."
More than twenty years ago, the Clintons understood that the so-called liberal media was working with conservative activists and Republican prosecutors to try to destroy Bill's presidency. For the GOP, the motivation was purely partisan. For the press, it seemed to be a mix of careerism (Clinton bashing proved to be good for business), combined with a genuine dislike of the Clintons.
Today, it's often difficult to recapture just how completely bonkers the D.C. media establishment went during the impeachment saga, and how on some days it seemed journalists were more pruriently obsessed with the Clintons than their tireless Republican tormentors. The recent Hastert sexual abuse allegation helps bring into focus the absurdity of the era, and reminds us why, as a new campaign season unfolds, the Clintons might not fully trust the Beltway media.
On May 26, Sen. Bernie Sanders hosted his first major campaign rally since announcing his presidential candidacy last month. Staged on the banks of Lake Champlain in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, the Sanders rally reportedly drew more than five thousand people, making it one of the largest campaign events of 2015, hosted by either a Democrat or a Republican.
But the sprawling rally didn't cause much of a media stir. Rather than cover it as a major news event, the Washington Post ignored the rally in its print edition the next day, as did the New York Times, according to a search of the Nexis database. The network news programs that night covered the event in just a few sentences.
At a time when it seems any movement on the Republican side of the candidate field produces instant and extensive press coverage, more and more observers are suggesting there's something out of whack with Sanders' press treatment.
And they're right.
As the Vermont liberal spreads his income equality campaign message, the press corps seems unsure of how to cover him. In the month since he announced his bid, Sanders' coverage seems to pale in comparison to comparable Republican candidates who face an arduous task of obtaining their party's nomination. The reluctance is ironic, since the D.C. press corps for months brayed loudly about how Hillary Clinton must face a primary challenger. Now she has one and the press can barely feign interest?
As for the media attention Sanders does receive, a lot of it attempts to place him and his liberal policies outside the mainstream of American politics. Yes, he's a proud socialist, but note that most of the GOP's White House hopefuls are adamant climate deniers. No matter, the Beltway press doesn't portray them as political outliers.
Mainstream media outlets are misrepresenting Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's stance on pay equality, reporting on her claim that she supports equal pay without noting her opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Ahead of former Sen. Rick Santorum's announcement that he will run for president in 2016, media outlets reported on Santorum's efforts to frame himself as a "champion of the working class," without mentioning that Santorum's past tax policies favor the wealthy.
The New York Times devoted a front page article on May 19 to advancing baseless industry allegations that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) illegally lobbied on behalf of clean water protections. Buried deep within the article was an acknowledgment that the allegations don't hold up, but The Times ran with the story anyway.
The Times reported that "industry critics said the agency's actions might be violating federal lobbying laws," and that the EPA's efforts to build support for its proposed clean water rule "are now being cited as evidence that the E.P.A. has illegally engaged in so-called grass-roots lobbying."
Yet the very same Times article acknowledged that multiple "experts" -- including an energy industry lobbyist who worked for the EPA under the Bush administration -- "said the agency's actions did not appear to cross a legal line."
Moreover, The Times wrote that "the Justice Department, in a series of legal opinions going back nearly three decades, has told federal agencies that they should not engage in substantial 'grass-roots' lobbying." That led The Times into a discussion of a social media campaign in support of the clean water rule that the EPA conducted "in conjunction with the Sierra Club," while "grass-roots group" Organizing for America "was also pushing the rule." The Times added that "critics said environmental groups had inappropriately influenced the campaign," citing officials from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who claimed that "[t]here is clear collusion between extreme environmental groups and the Obama administration" on new regulations.
It wasn't until 34 paragraphs after the initial mention of the Justice Department that The Times included this massive caveat (emphasis added):
In its previous opinions to federal agencies, the Justice Department has indicated that "grass-roots" efforts are most clearly prohibited if they are related to legislation pending in Congress and are "substantial," which it defined as costing about $100,000 in today's dollars -- a price tag that the E.P.A.'s efforts on the clean water rule almost certainly did not reach if the salaries of the agency staff members involved are not counted.
As likely Republican candidates for president continue to struggle with the legacy of the Iraq War, and specifically with the question of whether they would have authorized a similar invasion if they had been president at the time, it's important to remember the media's role in the foreign policy failure. At a time of heightened patriotic fervor, the national press played a crucial role in helping to sell President George W. Bush's war to the public in 2003.
There were some key, praiseworthy exceptions, but in general the Beltway press failed badly during the run-up to the war. It's a fact that shouldn't be forgotten as politicians today grapple with the past.
Below is an excerpt from my book, Lapdogs: How The Press Rolled Over For Bush. (Note: "MSM" is shorthand for mainstream media.)
Battered by accusations of a liberal bias and determined to prove their conservative critics wrong, the press during the run-up to the war -- timid, deferential, unsure, cautious, and often intentionally unthinking -- came as close as possible to abdicating its reason for existing in the first place, which is to accurately inform citizens, particularly during times of great national interest. Indeed, the MSM's failings were all the more important because of the unusually influential role they played in advance of the war-of-choice with Iraq.
"When America has been attacked -- at Pearl Harbor, or as on September 11 -- the government needed merely to tell the people that it was our duty to respond, and the people rightly conferred their authority," noted Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect magazine. "But a war of choice is a different matter entirely. In that circumstance, the people will ask why. The people will need to be convinced that their sons and daughters and husbands and wives should go halfway around the world to fight a nemesis that they didn't really know was a nemesis."
It's not fair to suggest the MSM alone convinced Americans to send some sons and daughter to fight. But the press went out of its way to tell a pleasing, administration-friendly tale about the pending war. In truth, Bush never could have ordered the invasion of Iraq -- never could have sold the idea at home -- if it weren't for the help he received from the MSM, and particularly the stamp of approval he received from so-called liberal media institutions such as the Washington Post, which in February of 2003 alone, editorialized in favor of war nine times. (Between September 2002 and February 2003, the paper editorialized twenty-six times in favor of the war.)
The Post had plenty of company from the liberal East Coast media cabal, with high-profile columnists and editors -- the newfound liberal hawks -- at the New Yorker, Newsweek, Time, the New York Times, the New Republic and elsewhere all signing on for a war of preemption. By the time the invasion began, the de facto position among the Beltway chattering class was clearly one that backed Bush and favored war.
Years later the New York Times Magazine wrote that most "journalists in Washington found it almost inconceivable, even during the period before a fiercely contested midterm election [in 2002], that the intelligence used to justify the war might simply be invented." Hollywood peace activists could conceive it, but serious Beltway journalists could not? That's hard to believe. More likely journalists could conceive it but, understanding the MSM unspoken guidelines -- both social and political -- were too timid to express it at the time of war.
To oppose the invasion vocally was to be outside the media mainstream and to invite scorn. Like some nervous Democratic members of Congress right before the war, MSM journalists and pundits seemed to scramble for political cover so as to not subject themselves to conservative catcalls.
Mainstream media are highlighting the Clintons' recent disclosure of their personal finances to suggest that Hillary Clinton will not be able to address poverty and income inequality as a 2016 presidential candidate, ignoring how her past policies and work have helped to alleviate these issues.
Twenty years after 189 countries committed to improving the status of women in the media, the United Nations has found some improvements, but little overall change.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women, at which representatives from 189 countries committed to a blueprint for new global policy empowering women, known as the Declaration and Platform for Action. The Platform identified "12 critical areas of concern" for women worldwide, including the media.
In 1995, the delegates argued that the media helped perpetuate "gender-based stereotyping," and demanded that the "continued projection of negative and degrading images of women in media" be changed. Signatories committed to promoting "women's full and equal participation in the media" at all levels, from management to on-air talent, as well as promoting "balanced and diverse portrayals of women."
Two decades later, the UN has found that there "has been some progress since the Beijing Conference." Notably, "The percentage of stories reported by women has edged up in most issue areas." Women are also highly active on social media, an important force in the media landscape.
However, women are still far from equal in global media. Based on recent data from 108 countries, the UN released an infographic noting that on print, radio, and television news, men still dominate both news organizations and the stories those organizations report on:
The UN also noted that while social media has become "a sounding horn for the feminist movement," it can also be dangerous for women. According to their data, 26 percent of women aged 18-24 "have been stalked online; 25% were targets of online sexual harassment."
Media Matters research confirms that the inequality women face in global news media is a still reality in the United States. As we recently reported, white men now host all of the Sunday morning political talk shows on CNN and broadcast news, giving them a key platform to set the media and political agenda for the rest of the week.
White men also make the large majority of guest appearances. A 2013 Media Matters analysis found that gender diversity on these shows was practically unchanged over the previous five years -- and the numbers are much worse for women of color. This trend has continued since:
Female experts are also often missing from crucial media debates. In one Media Matters study, women's health experts made up only 4 percent of guests brought on to cable news to discuss key abortion legislation. Another study found that women made up only 28 percent of cable news economic guests over the course of a year. And when it comes to discussing national security and foreign affairs, women made up less than a quarter of guests in one year.
As the UN noted, many of these problems stem from newsrooms that are not diverse. Last year, when Jill Abramson was ousted from her role as Executive Editor at the New York Times, it meant that none of the ten largest U.S. papers were led by women anymore.
The UN is now asking signatories from the Beijing Conference to recommit to their goals from 20 years ago, noting that "even a cursory look at media content shows how far there is to go":
Women have an equal right to participate in public debate, including in the media, and offer insights and ideas that must be heard. Everyone deserves to live free from the burden of harmful gender stereotypes.
The media shapes our world -- but so do women, as powerful agents of change in all areas of society. It is time for media to reflect this reality.
Ever since Peter Schweizer's new attack book Clinton Cash was touted as the must-read tome of the campaign season, a growing number of media organizations, including Politico, BuzzFeed, ABC News, FactCheck.org, and Time, have detailed factual shortcomings in the book. (Media Matters has, too.) Noticeably absent from that fact-checking procession has been The New York Times and the Washington Post, the two newspapers that entered into exclusive editorial agreements with Clinton Cash's publisher.
The Times' and Post's seeming lack of interest in detailing the book's long list of misstatements certainly raises questions about whether the papers' exclusive pacts made the dailies reluctant to highlight Clinton Cash's obvious shortcomings.
After all, if those other media organizations can find the Clinton Cash errors, why can't the Times and the Post? And even if Times and Post reporters can't spot the misinformation, why aren't they at least writing about the key revelations that others are uncovering? Recall that it was the Times that trumpeted Clinton Cash as the "the most anticipated and feared book" of the campaign season. If it's so important, why isn't the Times documenting the crucial errors found between the Clinton Cash covers?
Hyped by its publisher -- the Rupert Murdoch-owned HarperCollins -- as being "meticulously researched and scrupulously sourced," Clinton Cash has instead turned out to be a mishmash of allegations glued together by innuendo and falsehoods. That, according to an array of news outlets that have documented the book's shortcomings.
Reports by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters and NPR uncritically relayed climate science deniers' criticism of the Vatican's climate change summit and Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change. By contrast, other media coverage -- including a different New York Times article -- noted that the organization behind these efforts has received funding from fossil fuel interests and their claim that humans are not responsible for global warming is firmly rejected by the vast majority of climate scientists.
Just one month after Fox News' Bill O'Reilly brazenly threatened a New York Times reporter, warning her he'd go after her "with everything" he had if he didn't like the article she was writing about him, Times reporter Jo Becker happily cooperated with Fox News for its 60-minute special, The Tangled Clinton Web, which aired April 24.
Based on the pending book Clinton Cash, which is being published by Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins and heavily promoted by Murdoch's Fox News, Murdoch's Wall Street Journal and Murdoch's New York Post, The Tangled Clinton Web represented a mishmash of half-baked Clinton conspiracies that had Hillary and Bill Clinton at the center of a supposed vast web of international bribes and payoffs.
And yet there, featured amidst the waves of misinformation, was a New York Times reporter. Becker's Fox News' appearance was noteworthy, not only because of O'Reilly's stated contempt for the newspaper. But because Times journalists don't make a habit of regularly appearing on openly partisan Fox News, a cable channel that has embraced claims of Obama birtherism and has depicted the president of the United States as a racist, communist sympathizer who apologizes for America. (According to the Times' newsroom guidelines, when appearing on television programs staffers are supposed to avoid forums "that emphasize punditry and reckless opinion-mongering.")
Why the Becker appearance? In part, because she wrote a controversial piece last week that was inspired by Clinton Cash. Part of the Times' unusual "exclusive" arrangement with the book's author, Becker's article tried, and failed, to show how donations to the Clinton Foundation influenced Clinton's State Department when it signed off on the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company with uranium mining claims in the U.S., to the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom.
By cooperating with the Fox News Clinton special, a program that was drowning in misinformation, Becker and the Times lent the Fox effort a desperately needed sheen of legitimacy. (i.e. 'Even the liberal New York Times....') And that's likely why prior to The Tangled Clinton Web airing, when Fox released to the media a clip of the special, the clip featured Becker's interview--Fox was proudly brandishing its Times alliance.
What would be the only topic that could create such a strange partnership where The New York Times, the world's most famous news organization, was working hand-in-a-hand with a media outlet that during the last presidential campaign abandoned all pretense of independent journalism and produced and aired its own four-minute political attack ad?
The endless pursuit of the Clintons, of course.
NBC News has conceded that the flimsy anti-Clinton allegations contained in a New York Times report fail to deliver on the hype surrounding them. The Times report was based in part on a chapter from discredited conservative author Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash, and a series of facts surrounding the story's allegations supports NBC's negative conclusion.
The Times story suggested that donations to the Clinton Foundation may have influenced Hillary Clinton's State Department, when they signed off on the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company with uranium mining claims in the U.S., to Rosatom, a Russian atomic energy agency. Alleging that individuals who had previously donated to the Clinton Foundation may have benefited from the deal, the Times' reporting has been used as the springboard for commentary hyping the supposed connection, despite the lack of evidence.
But the April 24 First Read column on NBCNews.com admits, "upon reflection, that Times article doesn't hold up that well 24 hours after its publication."
Indeed, a series of facts supports NBC's conclusion and unravels the innuendo in the Times piece:
Other media outlets have found that this and additional allegations in Schweizer's book about donations to the Clinton Foundation are unpersuasive. Time magazine noted that Schweizer's allegation about Uranium One "is based on little evidence," and "offers no indication of Hillary Clinton's personal involvement in, or even knowledge of the deliberations," while CNN's Chris Cuomo noted that the "the examples that have come out so far in [The New York Times] were not that impressive." ABC News reported that Clinton Cash "offers no proof that Hillary Clinton took any direct action to benefit the groups and interests that were paying her husband," while Fox News' Ed Henry noted "there's a lot that's murky" in Schweizer's claims.
Even Times writer Patrick Healy admitted that the allegations are "not smoking guns."
Image via Flickr user samchills
The New York Times is urging the Clinton Foundation to reinstitute a ban that never existed on accepting donations from foreign governments.
The Times editorial board wrote on April 23 that now that Hillary Clinton is running for president, the international nonprofit "needs to reinstate the ban on donations from foreign governments for the rest of her campaign -- the same prohibition that was in place when she was in the Obama administration." Likewise, an April 23 Times news article stated that the Foundation recently "limited donations from foreign governments," but that the new policy "stops short of Mrs. Clinton's agreement with the Obama administration, which prohibited all foreign government donations while she served as the nation's top diplomat."
In fact, the 2008 memorandum of understanding entered into by the Clinton Foundation and then-President-Elect Barack Obama did not ban foreign government donations. Instead, it stated that if Hillary Clinton were confirmed as secretary of state, the Foundation would "continue to perform" its activities "on behalf of existing foreign country contributors and in fulfillment of existing and on-going commitments."
The Clinton Foundation's board agreed earlier this month to return to a similar policy given Clinton's run for president. They will "permit donations from Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the U.K. -- countries that support or have supported Clinton Foundation programs on health, poverty and climate change," according to the Wall Street Journal.
From the April 23 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes
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James Carville is a guest contributor to Media Matters.
On March 12, I posted on Media Matters to discuss what I called the Clinton Rule. The Clinton Rule is as follows: There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Well this week we got the ultimate proof of the Clinton Rule when The New York Times got its hands on a copy of Clinton Cash, a forthcoming book which purportedly claims that the State Department received favors from foreign entities that donated to The Clinton Foundation. Now, I wasn't the least bit surprised that the conservative media echo chamber immediately reverberated with cries of the "very damning" "bombshell," of a book that "could threaten [Hillary's] campaign." And I say purportedly because almost no one has read the book yet.
Here's the thing that did surprise me:
Never have we seen a more instant classic for followers of the Clinton Rule than with this latest tome. The book isn't even slated to be released for several weeks and yet The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Fox News are in cahoots with the author -- reporting on what might be inside. I'll run you through the playbook.
Let's start with the facts. The star of this latest instance of the Clinton Rule is the author, Peter Schweizer. He's a discredited fringe conservative activist and former political aide to the likes of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Bobby Jindal. That's a trifecta that pays a high dollar for pushing right wing conspiracies. Schweizer has worked for such "reputable" publications as Breitbart.com -- the same Breitbart.com that once called gun safety advocate Gabby Giffords a "human shield" for the gun safety movement. His right wing bona fides don't end there. Schweizer is even listed as a contributor to one of former Fox News host Glenn Beck's books.
Speaking of Schweizer's work -- back in 1998 he took on the "gay subculture" that was "blossoming" at Walt Disney World. In Disney: The Mouse Betrayed -- which is not listed on Schweizer's website with his other works -- he attacked the "gay activism" at the theme park, with special attention for the annual Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom. "There is a lot of openly displayed affection during the event -- holding hands, kissing, and the like," Schweizer wrote. God forbid.
Here's the deal, Peter Schweizer's new book out May 5 is likely to have serious problems -- one embarrassing error has reportedly already been found. As Media Matters noted this week, Schweizer has been called out at least ten times by journalists and independent fact checkers for getting his facts wrong in his previous articles and books. His past work has been called "incorrect," "bogus," and "a fatal shortcoming in journalism 101." In short, he's a SERIAL MISINFORMER.
Yet, The New York Times, Washington Post, and Fox News have all made exclusive agreements with Schweizer for early access to pursue "the story lines found in the book." I'm not shocked that Fox News took the shady deal here since Harper Collins, which is publishing Schweizer's book, is also owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and is the sister company of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox. But I'm hard pressed to find any reason why The New York Times and The Washington Post would do the same except for the Clinton Rule.
The rule where every piece of nonsense the press can grab onto about the Clintons gets headline after headline.
But here's the thing, friends. The last time I remember a major media outlet hyping a right wing book this much was when CBS' 60 Minutes got duped by a guy whose tall tale included him scaling a 12 foot wall on the side of the diplomatic compound in Benghazi and dispatching a terrorist with his rifle butt. We all know how that ended: a book pulled from publication, a 60 Minutes report retracted, and a "journalistic review" which ended with a CBS reporter and producer taking a leave of absence.
All I'm saying here folks is this: The bottom line is that mainstream media must be up for the challenge. To all the reporters wanting to push the limits and take an advance look into the claims of a guy whose history of reporting is marked by errors and retractions, I say it's time to break the Clinton Rule. But in this case, I'm afraid the smarter bet is that we are going to see the same playbook over and over again.
Again, let me repeat what the Clinton Rule is: There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons. After the latest antics on the part of The New York Times I am forced to add to the Clinton Rule. At The New York Times when it comes to the Clintons, there are no rules.