The Clinton Foundation returned to the headlines this week and once again the topic was promoted with lots of media hand-wringing. The problem is, it's not always clear journalists understand what the foundation does. At least it's not clear based on the media coverage.
The news this week came from a Wall Street Journal article reporting that once Hillary Clinton left her job as secretary of state, the Clinton Foundation lifted its ban on donations from foreign governments. The ban was reportedly first put in place at the request of the Obama administration, which wanted to alleviate any possible conflicts of interest with its new secretary of state. When Clinton became a private citizen again in 2013, the foundation once again accepted money from foreign governments.
"A spokesman for the Clinton Foundation said the charity has a need to raise money for its many projects," the Journal reported.
The Journal article stressed that some ethics experts thought it was bad form for the foundation to accept foreign donations because Hillary Clinton is expected to run for president. The following day, Republican partisans piled on, insisting Hillary herself had accepted "truckloads of cash from other countries." (She had not; the foundation had.) The Beltway press largely echoed the Republican spin and lampooned the foundation's move.
Did the original Journal article raise an interesting question? It did. If and when Hillary formally announces her candidacy, will the foundation have to revisit its position on accepting foreign government donations? It likely will. But the only way the story really worked as advertised this week was to casually conflate the Clinton Foundation, a remarkably successful global charity organization, with Hillary's looming campaign coffers, and to suggest everyone who's giving to the foundation is really giving to her presidential campaign.
In order to make that allegation stick, Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post simply suggested there's no difference between a global charity and "a PAC or campaign entity." (That kind of changes everything.)
The only way the story gained traction, and this has been true of Clinton foundation coverage for years, was for journalists to pretend the foundation isn't actually a ground-breaking charity, in order to make vague suggestions that it's one big Clinton slush fund where money gets "funneled." ("Money, Money, Money, Money, MONEY!" was the headline for Maureen Dowd's scathing New York Times attack column about the foundation in 2013.)
Conservative media outlets are broadly attacking clean energy and the environmental movement by falsely alleging that prominent environmental philanthropist Tom Steyer has "deep ties" to the recent scandal involving Cylvia Hayes, the fiancée of former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber who failed to publicly disclose that she was being paid by a clean energy group while also advising Kitzhaber on clean energy issues. In reality, there is no evidence that Steyer funded Hayes, or that Steyer has any other connection to the scandal.
Right-wing media outlets used a flawed National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper to attack unemployment insurance (UI), claiming that the paper proved that UI disincentives work. In fact, experts criticized the paper's methodology and data, and one of the paper's co-authors admitted that most UI recipients look for work while receiving benefits.
Media coverage of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst's Republican response to the State of the Union failed to explain that Ernst's family farm has benefited from large government subsidies, despite highlighting her upbringing on her family farm and calls to cut government spending.
The Washington Post's Fact Checker debunked the claim that net neutrality protections could cost American consumers $15 billion in additional taxes and fees -- a favorite conservative argument against net neutrality and one parroted by multiple media outlets -- concluding the estimate contains "significant factual error[s] and/or obvious contradictions."
As Mitt Romney is reportedly considering a third presidential run, several conservative media figures are calling foul, labeling the idea "too stupid" and suggesting another Romney bid would be "preposterous."
After repeatedly claiming he was done with running for president, last Friday Romney apparently reversed course, telling a group of Republican donors in New York City, "I want to be president." Since then, Romney's team has reportedly been working "to reassemble his national political network."
As part of his efforts to kickstart another run, Romney reportedly reached out to several conservative media figures.
According to The Washington Post, he recently invited Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham to his ski home to discuss "politics and policy," and also made phone calls to CNN analyst Newt Gingrich and Fox News contributor Scott Brown. In a subsequent appearance on The O'Reilly Factor, Ingraham initially told viewers that between Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Romney, her support would "probably be a tie between Romney and Walker." Pressed by O'Reilly, she added, "I'll just say Romney because he's been through the grist mill before." (Ingraham explained that Romney had made her and her daughter "cocoa and soup" when she visited his ski house.)
During an appearance on Fox News' Your World, Brown said that when Romney recently called him, "I encouraged Mitt to run." Brown told Fox News viewers that Romney "was right" on a variety of issues and that he "absolutely" wants Romney to join the race.
But not everyone in the conservative movement is as supportive.
In an article for the New York Times, reporter Jonathan Martin writes that despite the "excitement among his loyalists in the Republican donor class" for another Romney run, "interviews with more than two dozen Republican activists, elected officials and contributors around the country reveal little appetite for another Romney candidacy."
Romney also faces a hurdle in several prominent conservative media figures and outlets that are less than enthusiastic about the idea of another Romney run.
In 2014, right-wing media attacked immigrants and immigration reform by pushing baseless claims, relying on debunked research, and using misleading statistics about immigrants and the impact of immigration on the United States. Here is a look back at the most absurd anti-immigrant myths of 2014.
Newspapers across the country have been publishing misleading op-eds attacking the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy without disclosing the authors' oil-industry funding. The op-eds, which attack the wind energy policy as "corporate welfare" and "government handouts," ignore the fact that the oil and gas industry currently receives far greater government subsidies and that the PTC brings great economic benefits.
Right-wing media outlets have used misleading voter fraud stories to stoke fears of rampant voter fraud in the months leading up to the 2014 midterm elections. But experts state that voter fraud in the U.S. is virtually non-existent and that voter ID laws would actually disenfranchise voters.
Fox News contributor and Republican strategist Karl Rove misreported Gallup poll data on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in order to attack health care reform as a liability for Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. In fact, the Gallup poll Rove cited found that the majority of respondents said the ACA has had no effect on them or their families, and 16 percent of respondents said the law helped.
In his October 22 Wall Street Journal column, Rove claimed that the ACA "is re-emerging as a major liability for the Democratic Senate" heading into the November 4 elections. Citing an October 2 poll by Gallup, Rove alleged that 54 percent of Americans "said the Affordable Care Act had hurt them and their families, compared to 27% who said it had helped them."
But according to Gallup, a majority of Americans (54 percent) believe that Obamacare has "had no effect" on them or their families, and another 16 percent believed that the ACA has helped:
On September 30, California became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags in stores, leading to a barrage of misinformation from various media outlets claiming the ban would actually hurt the environment. However, these contrarian claims are undermined by research showing that previous bans and taxes have reduced energy use and litter, while doing no harm to the economy.
Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett wrote a column accurately depicting the college sexual assault epidemic and the fears victims face in reporting these crimes, a stark contrast to his colleagues and fellow conservative media figures who have dismissed, mocked, and stigmatized victims.
In a September 25 column for Fox News' website, Jarrett highlighted the high rate of assault on college campuses, and praised student activists for raising awareness of the often insufficient resources and efforts by colleges to address the problem (emphasis added):
Nearly 20 % of female college students have been sexually assaulted, according to a White House task force.
I suspect the true number is significantly higher. Many young women are reluctant to report it. They keep it secret for fear of embarrassment, shame, retribution, and the trauma of reliving the nightmare during legal or disciplinary proceedings. I get it. There are repercussions. Victims are especially afraid of being stigmatized or ostracized within the tight, insular social circles on campus.
Awareness is on the rise driven, in part, by student activism. Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, angry over how the school adjudicated her claim of rape, has taken to carrying a mattress around campus. Dubbed "Mattress girl" by fellow students and the media, her visually indelible protest has galvanized a growing demand for honesty and transparency. And why not? Schools should be required to publish accurate information about the frequency of assaults. It can be done without breaching individual students' privacy.
Jarrett's column unfortunately stands out among recent commentary about sexual assault in conservative media, where the fact that one in five women are assaulted at college is regularly dismissed. The Daily Caller has called the statistic "bizarre and wholly false," while the Washington Examiner called it "ridiculous."
Moreover, the trust and respect Jarrett treats the victims of these assaults with is unusual. Instead, their stories are often questioned or critiqued, with media figures suggesting that a large number of victims are lying about their assault, or are partly culpable.
The same day that Jarrett's column was published, some of his Fox News colleagues suggested that intoxicated women who are assaulted at college fraternity parties are responsible for their own assaults. Several co-hosts of Fox's Outnumbered defended a Forbes contributor who was fired after claiming that drunk women were "the gravest threat to fraternities" because the fraternity would be liable if a woman was sexually assaulted at a party.
This past summer, Washington Post columnist George Will came under fire for claiming that college efforts to curb sexual assaults were making "victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege." In his column, Will disputed the story of a college rape on Swarthmore's campus, implying he didn't believe the survivor's story qualified as an actual incident of assault. The survivor, Lisa Sendrow, told Media Matters about the violence she had experienced, how Will's dismissal of her story was triggering and damaging to her, and that she was diagnosed with PTSD and received violent threats after her story was first reported.
Earlier this year, a Weekly Standard contributor blamed feminism for sexual assault, because victims abandoned "feminine modesty" which had provided women "protection" from rape. National Review Online writers claimed rape was "instinctive" among some young men, that assaults involve "a large degree of voluntary behavior" from women, and that women are "being taught to believe they were raped." A New York Post columnist dismissed rape as "regrettable sex."
And Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto went so far as to claim intoxicated sexual assault victims are just as guilty as their attackers.
While Jarrett's column is sadly something of an outlier among conservative commentary on the issue, survivors now have one more voice in the media supporting their efforts to combat this epidemic.
Karl Rove's super PAC received $300,000 from the parents of Alaska Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, a fact that Rove has not disclosed in numerous recent media appearances discussing Sullivan's race.
The Center for Public Integrity reported that in a recent amendment to an August 29 Federal Election Commission filing, American Crossroads disclosed it received $300,000 "from Thomas and Sandra Sullivan, the parents of U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan of Alaska." Crossroads changed the filing after the Center raised questions about the donation, which was originally misidentified as coming from the Glenmede Trust Company.
Bloomberg reported that Thomas Sullivan "said he doesn't know with certainty that the funds will be spent on his son's race ... 'That will be up to the discretion of Karl Rove,' said Sullivan." Rove is the co-founder and an adviser to Crossroads. The group is reportedly planning to spend $5.5 million to defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.
That Rove's group received money from Sullivan's parents and Rove is reportedly involved in directing their money has gone undisclosed by Rove in his Wall Street Journal column and Fox News appearances at least four times in recent weeks.
In a September 18 column for the Wall Street Journal, Rove wrote that Democrats are outspending Republicans in key races including in Alaska, where "Democrats have spent $6.4 million, Republicans $3.6 million." He added that Republicans are being attacked on social issues and "Planned Parenthood has reacted with such fury to Republican Senate candidates in Alaska, Colorado and North Carolina saying they support making contraceptives available over-the-counter." The column ended with a plea for Republicans to "open their wallets to candidates" or else "they should prepare for two more years of Majority Leader Harry Reid."
Rove, a paid Fox News contributor, appeared on the September 22 edition of The O'Reilly Factor and criticized Begich for airing, then pulling, an ad about Sullivan's time as attorney general. Rove similarly appeared on the September 21 edition of Fox News Sunday, where he criticized Begich for the ad and said the race is likely to take a "pro-Sullivan tilt." On September 12, Rove appeared on Happening Now and said Begich was distancing himself from President Obama on foreign policy but that would be a tough sale with voters.
Fox News routinely fails to disclose Rove's stakes in the races he discusses (Rove's appearances on The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News Sunday, and Happening Now didn't mention Crossroads). And The Wall Street Journal published Rove's September 18 column despite it being a clear fundraising call to groups like his own.
The Wall Street Journal's problematic relationship with Karl Rove continues as the paper ran a Rove-penned column that's essentially an advertisement for the importance of political groups like American Crossroads -- which he helped organize and still fundraises for -- in swinging control of the Senate to Republicans this November.
In his September 17 column, Rove warns readers that despite a "terrible" midterm environment for Democrats, a "GOP Senate Majority Is Still in Doubt" due to a Democratic cash advantage. According to Rove, "Republican candidates and groups must step up if they are to substantially reduce that gap."
Rove's warning about Republicans' November chances includes a plug for Crossroads' research on ad buys, as well as its conclusions about "swing women voters." Unlike many of his columns leading up to the 2012 election, Rove offers a disclosure that he works with the group:
And on Wednesday American Crossroads' media buyers produced their latest analysis on how much airtime each side has run or reserved in 14 Senate contests. As of this writing, between Sept. 1 and election day, Democratic Senate candidates, party committees and outside groups have run or placed $109 million in television advertising, while Republican candidates, party committees and groups have $85 million in television time. (Disclosure: I help American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS raise funds on a volunteer basis.)
There is also evidence there are limits to the efficacy of the Democrats' "war on women" narrative. Recent American Crossroads focus groups among swing women voters found they resent being treated as single-issue abortion voters, considering it condescending. They want candidates from both parties to talk about broader concerns like jobs, the economy, health care, energy, government spending and national security, and they are more than open to the GOP message.
The language about women resenting being treated as "single-issue abortion voters" directly echoes an advertisement Crossroads GPS has been running in Colorado against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, which features a woman explaining, "We aren't single issue voters...we care about good jobs that support our families."
He concludes the column with a plea for Republicans to "open their wallets to candidates whom they may have never met," or else "they should prepare for two more years of Majority Leader Harry Reid."
In The Wall Street Journal, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) disavowed the offensive narrative pushed by conservative media which labels needy Americans as "takers" versus more economically-prosperous "makers." However, Ryan's proposed anti-poverty policies still rely on the right-wing media myth that blames poverty on poor individuals' personal life choices.