Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • Trump Becomes Latest GOP Nominee To Get Lost Inside The Fox News Bubble

    Trump Expands on Romney’s Failed Strategy

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Looking to make the media rounds on Tuesday morning in an attempt to clean up his Monday night debate mess, Republican nominee Donald Trump actually had only one destination on his schedule: Fox News, of course.

    Calling into his allies and supporters on Fox & Friends, Trump promptly made things worse for his campaign. First, he suggested there might have been a debate conspiracy afoot to fit him with a faulty microphone, as a way to explain his shaky performance. (“My microphone was terrible.”) Then Trump got even further sidetracked from campaign messaging by fat-shaming a former winner of his Miss Universe pageant: “She was the winner, and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.”

    For a candidate who was nearly unanimously crowned the loser of the first presidential debate (except for in unscientific online polls he and Fox News have been desperately promoting), Trump’s attempt at damage control via Fox News was like the captain of the Titanic circling around the iceberg for a second look. 

    But of course, they loved Trump on Fox News, even after his debate loss. “A very good night for Donald Trump,” announced Sean Hannity. And from news anchor Bret Baier: “I do think he gets credit for just being on the stage.” They also tried to spin away his debate lies and conjure up reasons for his lopsided loss.

    And that’s why Trump’s campaign now resembles a Fox News cocoon, or a hermetically sealed bubble. Since the summer, Trump has basically only spoken to Fox News. Gone is the much-touted Trump media accessibility from the Republican primary. It’s been replaced with the Trump bunker strategy, where only friendly questioners are allowed and the Republican candidate is able to expound in a fact-free Fox zone.

    It’s a bubble where Trump doesn’t have to explain his long-running birther pursuit, nobody cares about his tax returns, where Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is admired for his strong leadership, and where bigotry is celebrated.

    The Fox News bubble is a welcoming, comforting place for Trump, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of American politics today. And this week, that Fox-friendly strategy caught up with Trump. Reportedly uninterested in debate prep, Trump was confronted by a skilled opponent who accessed facts at will and spoke in complete paragraphs.

    Meanwhile, “Trump was scattered, swaggering and stumbling,” wrote  TPM’s Josh Marshall. “Just a mix of easily demonstrable lies and nonsensical statements.”

    Doesn’t that sound like another morning with Fox & Friends? Trump represents a presidential nominee who exhibits no intellectual curiosity, nor any commitment to facts. He’s the Fox News id.

    And while Trump is getting pummeled from all sides for his no-show debate performance, it’s Fox News architect Roger Ailes who probably deserves a lot of the blame for the GOP’s unfolding calamity.

    Not only did Ailes reportedly play a role in Trump’s disastrous debate preparation, but Ailes, of course, provided the nominee with a Fox News platform to launch into American politics back in 2011. Since then, Ailes and Trump have been inexorably linked.

    Today, Fox News gifts Trump with so many softball interviews you’d think Rupert Murdoch himself were the nominee. Even Republican Sen. Ted Cruz lamented that Ailes had “turned Fox News into the Donald Trump network, 24/7” during the primary season.

    What’s so astonishing today is knowing that four years ago, all the warning flags for the GOP were whipping in the wind when Mitt Romney tried to run a Fox News campaign to the White House. Romney veered hard to right and adopted the right-wing media’s contempt for the lazy “47 percent” of Americans who supposedly live off government handouts. Romney even embraced reality TV show host-turned Fox News favorite Donald Trump, who was fresh off his bogus investigation into whether the first African-American president was allowed to sit in the Oval Office.

    Following the second debate in 2012, when the GOP nominee adopted Fox spin and bungled the facts of the previous month’s Benghazi terror attack, I wrote that, “Married to the conservative media and all their bogus claims and conspiracies, Romney runs the risk of coming across as badly out of touch with the truth, the way he did last night.”

    Then, following the GOP’s defeat in November, which the Fox bubble never saw coming:

    This grand experiment of marrying a political movement around a cable TV channel was a grand failure in 2012. But there's little indication that enough Republicans will have the courage, or even the desire, to break free from Fox's firm grip on branding the party.

    In the wake of Romney’s defeat, some Republican operatives did vow to venture beyond the friendly confines of Fox News. And the Republican National Committee’s post-election autopsy even stressed the need for the Republican Party to “stop talking to itself.” (That’s what Fox News is very good at.)

    While I knew Fox News had a vice-like grip on the GOP, and the GOP was in love with the angry rhetoric and the free media the cable channel provided, in 2012 I couldn’t have imagined four years later the party would not only embrace their failed Fox News strategy, but they’d inject it with steroids and nominate Trump. Or that the GOP nominee would then effectively barricade himself behind Fox News interviews during the general election campaign.

    The punchline today? Reports suggest that in the wake of Trump’s failed debate performance, Ailes’ campaign role may be expanding. The Republican Party now appears to be trapped in a Fox News cycle that chews up GOP nominees.

  • Ditch The Trump Double Standard For The Debates

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Like cigarette smokers who have admitted they have a nicotine problem but can’t stop puffing, can journalists who have already admitted they use a weaker standard to score Republican nominee Donald Trump make a clean break while grading the Republican’s debate performance next week?

    By all indications, reporters know using the double standard is wrong, and that it’s not okay to demand Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton regularly clear higher hurdles than her opponent. They know adopting different standards to grade presidential candidates disregards rules of campaign fair play for the press.

    Yet even though the double standard has been widely acknowledged in recent weeks, there’s still a likelihood it will be employed for debate analysis. That’s how strong the allure seems to be.

    Already we’re hearing rumblings that Clinton has more to lose at the debate, and that if Trump manages to not insult large portions of the electorate, the event will represent a victory for him. What’s doubly concerning is that Trump already appears to be actively trying to intimidate the debate moderators in hopes they’ll go easy on him. (According to network news executives, moderators Lester Holt from NBC and Fox’s Chris Wallace were chosen to “appease” Trump.)

    If Trump bullies the moderators and the press uses a weaker standard to grade him, then the debates are no longer fair campaign fights because a media-sanctioned ‘victory’ for Clinton will be that much harder to obtain.

    “He won't have to win policy arguments or outshine Clinton's qualifications – anyone who's been watching this race will already know he can't do either,” noted U.S. News & World Report contributor Cary Gibson, who noted that Trump is “generally held to a lower bar than Clinton and this dynamic is likely to prevail during the debates.” She continued, “But if he makes it through the debates with no major gaffes and his composure intact, his performance could get high marks anyway.”

    Must be nice.

    And from CNN’s Dana Bash:

    But I do think that the stakes are much higher in this debate and all the debates for Hillary Clinton because the expectations are higher for her because she is a seasoned politician, she is a seasoned debater. Yes, we saw Donald Trump in the primaries debate for the first time, but he is a first-time politician. So for lots of reasons, maybe it's not fair but it's the way it is, the onus is on her. 

    Fact: Republicans opted to nominate a political novice as their nominee, knowing the possible drawbacks. There’s no reason the Republican nominee should then get special treatment from the press for being a political novice.

    Meanwhile, I certainly can’t recall any presidential election where so many journalists conceded, in real time, the double standard at play in the unfolding coverage. In the past, journalists almost always denied that one candidate was being treated differently -- being graded easier -- than the other. To make that admission was to admit a complete unfairness in the coverage.

    But this year the acknowledgments keep coming simply because the double standard in play has been so obvious: 

    MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough: “Donald Trump is held to a lower standard. He just is.” 

    Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin: “Trump is doing things that if Clinton did, she would be hit a lot harder. We shouldn’t do that.”

    New York Times’ Maggie Haberman: “The bar has been lowered for Trump repeatedly.”

    CNN’s Brian Stelter: “It is true that Trump is held to a different standard than Clinton.”

    The evidence of this is everywhere. When The Washington Post reported that the Trump Foundation had to pay a fine to the IRS for making an illegal $25,000 donation to a PAC supporting the re-election campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, broadcast news networks devoted just a third as much time to the story as they did to a recent flawed Associated Press story on the Clinton Foundation that proved no ethical misconduct.

    Meanwhile, Clinton this month has been regularly attacked in the press for not being transparent, when in fact she’s been far more transparent via personal disclosures than Trump has been.

    And recall how last week The New York Times reported on Trump’s proposal for child-care and maternity leave plan and noted, “But in selling his case, Mr. Trump stretched the truth, saying that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has no such plan of her own and ‘never will.’”

    Trump didn’t “stretch the truth.” He flat out lied: Clinton does have a plan of her own and she unveiled it last year.

    Concerns about the media embracing a double standard for debate coverage were rekindled following the NBC’s televised presidential forum earlier this month, and how commentators often rewarded Trump for doing far less than Clinton. The event was hosted Matt Lauer, who came under withering criticism for the drastically different approaches he took to interviewing each candidate that night.

    “Lauer’s gentle questioning of Trump — after grilling Clinton over her use of the private email server and her 2003 vote in favor of the Iraq War — is but one example of television journalists treating the GOP nominee with kid gloves,” noted Politico in a piece headlined, “Why Donald Trump Gets A Pass.”

    But again, the media schizophrenia remains ever present: Just days before, Politico used a sliding scale for analyzing the NBC forum. Politico stressed both candidates did poorly because “she look[ed] uncertain while he sound[ed] uninformed.” And “Clinton wobbled on style. Trump stumbled on substance.” (Why not hold both accountable for style and substance?) 

    So one day after Politico clearly graded the two candidates using a different scale, Politico conceded the media uses a different scale when grading the two candidates.

    Please ditch this for the debate.

  • Another Reason Chris Wallace Isn’t Fit For The Debate Stage

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    On Wednesday, Donald Trump continued to stonewall reporters and voters interested in learning more about his medical history. Adhering to his penchant for secrecy, Trump ignored the long-running protocol for presidential nominees to provide voters with a medical background and professional assurance about their health.

    Trump tried to dance around that disclosure norm by appearing at a taping of Dr. Oz to release some medical information to the daytime television host. (“From an investigative reporter's perspective, we continue to be played by the Trump campaign,” noted CNN’s Drew Griffin yesterday.)

    Watching the spectacle unfold on Wednesday, amidst widespread speculation over what happened at the taping and as the Trump’s campaign sent conflicting signals about what would exactly be revealed during the Thursday airing of the Dr. Oz episode and how many documents would be released, Fox News’ Chris Wallace announced that Trump had seized the transparency initiative over Hillary Clinton. 

    Wallace touted how Trump was “disclosing medical records on Dr. Oz” and “being transparent.” In fact, “At this point, the health transparency gap now works in Trump's favor because of the Dr. Oz incident,” the Fox News Sunday host insisted.

    But none of that was accurate. The Trump campaign likely wanted to project the image it was “disclosing medical records on Dr. Oz” and “being transparent.” But that wasn’t the case on Wednesday. In fact, on Wednesday Trump was still refusing to publicly release any relevant medical information, which meant he clearly trailed the “transparency gap” as compared to Clinton. 

    The day after Wallace’s comments, Trump’s campaign did release a three-paragraph letter from the candidate’s doctor who briefly summarized Trump's health.

    Last December, Trump previously released a letter from the same doctor. But that missive was widely ridiculed as being nearly worthless in terms of pertinent information. And Trump’s doctor later conceded he had spent just five minutes writing the note, which he did as a limousine that the Trump campaign had sent over to retrieve the document idled outside.

    So at the time of Wallace’s Trump defense on Wednesday, the only information the candidate had disclosed was a rather nutty note from his doctor. Yet Wallace insisted Trump was winning the “transparency” battle with Clinton.

    Normally, Wallace’s misleading commentary might just be written off as more Fox News spin for Trump. The problem is, Wallace isn’t just any talking head. He’s been selected to be the sole moderator of the final presidential debate on October 19 in Las Vegas. (Wallace represents the first Fox anchor ever selected to host a general election presidential debate.)

    The fact that Wallace pitched in to help the Trump campaign this week by suggesting Trump had earned the transparency advantage raises additional doubts about his moderating duties. What if during the debate Wallace turns to Clinton and asks her why she hasn’t been as “transparent” as Trump in releasing medical information? What if Wallace introduces other anti-Clinton falsehoods like that while he’s moderating?

    Keep in mind, Wallace has already stated publicly that he won’t fact-check candidates during the debate. (“It’s not my role.”) The odd concession raised deep concerns, especially since Trump has rewritten the rules for political prevarications this cycle.

    Also troubling was the fact that for two decades Wallace worked for Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who left the channel in disgrace amidst allegations of sexual harassment, and who is now reportedly advising Trump for his debate preparation. Said Wallace of Ailes this summer, “Roger Ailes is the best boss I’ve had in almost a half a century in journalism. I admired him tremendously professionally, and loved him personally.”

    So Wallace has been actively spinning for Trump regarding “transparency,” won’t fact-check Trump at the debate, and has been close friends with Trump’s debate adviser.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    CNN recently reported that in choosing the four debate moderators this election season, “The last thing the [Debate] Commission wants is for the moderator to become part of the story about a debate.”

    By selecting Wallace, the Commission has failed.

  • The Press Keeps Punishing Clinton Over Disclosures -- While Trump Makes None

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Did you notice how quickly the media turned Hillary Clinton’s health problem into Hillary Clinton’s supposed transparency problem?

    Perhaps sensing that a “candidate is sick” storyline doesn’t have enough drama to propel it forward for days, or to justify the overexcited coverage, the press shifted its focus to condemning Clinton for not disclosing her diagnosis sooner, suggesting it was that lack of candor and “transparency” that created the campaign “mess.”

    “Hillary Clinton Is Set Back by Decision to Keep Illness Secret,” read The New York Times front page headline. See, she wasn’t “set back” because of the pneumonia infection. She was “set back” because she tried to keep it a “secret.”

    Over and over we’ve seen this narrative embraced and echoed by the Beltway press: The pneumonia story is really about the “famous Clinton secrecy” and her stubborn refusal to disclose information to voters. And if she’d just be more willing to give out more information, these stories wouldn’t be a problem for her.

    But is that true? Would additional disclosures have prevented this campaign headache? Are disclosures a cure-all that Clinton simply refuses to embrace because she’s so secretive?

    No, not really.

    “Usually you would think that the truth sets you free, but in the experiences that Hillary Clinton has lived through, that’s not necessarily accurate,” New York Democratic Party leader Jay Jacobs told the Times in its front page article on the pneumonia story.

    He’s right, and this fact gets lost in the debate over candidate transparency and disclosures, and specifically over the stated-as-fact assertion that Clinton is dramatically more “secretive” than her political contemporaries: Time and again the Clintons not only haven’t received credit for making wide-ranging disclosures to the press and the public, they’ve been penalized for it. And not because reporters found damning information within the disclosures, but because the press was already committed to a particular Clinton Scandal storyline.

    That means reporters often work too hard to twist mundane facts into something controversial, or to simply ignore facts that exonerate the Clintons. That’s been the norm for two decades.

    Quick history lesson: The initial Whitewater investigation in The New York Times from 1992, which sparked the years-long investigation, was based entirely on the glaring omissions of exculpatory information. (See Gene Lyons’ Fools For Scandal: How The Media Invented Whitewater.)

    That pattern still holds true today. For instance, the Clinton Foundation is under no obligation to make public the names of its donors or the amount of money they give. But in the name of transparency, the foundation announced it would post that information online. Many foundations connected with politicians, and with ex-presidents, don’t do that. “Experts told us the Clinton Foundation is among the most transparent in this group of charities, which, for the most part, are foundations associated with presidential libraries,” PolitiFact recently reported.

    Does the press cheer that transparency? No. She’s still dubbed as being overly secretive while journalists use the disclosures to peddle hollow claims about Clinton Foundation wrongdoing. Meanwhile, I’m not aware of any out-of-the-ordinary disclosures made by the Trump Foundation, which appears to operate as a fraudulent entity.

    Here’s another example: Hillary Clinton, in the name of transparency, and following “a 40 –year bipartisan tradition of transparency expected of presidential nominees,” has released decades of tax returns.

    Last month, the Clintons’ 2015 release showed they gave more than $1 million to charity. Looking for a gotcha angle, lots of journalists erroneously claimed most of that $1 million went to the Clinton Foundation, suggesting that was a bad thing. (Why?) But the claim itself was completely false. The money was given to the Clinton Family Foundation, which is a separate group that distributes money to various nonprofit and charitable organizations.

    By contrast, Trump has refused to release any tax information, while constantly lying about why he supposedly cannot. And for most of 2016, Trump has paid a very small price in the press.

    What would the roiling news cycles look like if Trump equaled Clinton’s transparency, released his tax returns, and voters discovered the GOP nominee has exaggerated his wealth, or that he’s lied about his charitable giving, or that he hasn’t paid federal income taxes in years, or that he’s beholden to business interests in Moscow?

    But those bad-news-for Trump headlines don’t exist because he refuses to adhere to even the most minimal standards of transparency -- and the press lets him.

    The other part of the media’s disclosure trap is that for the Clintons, disclosures are never enough. It seems there’s nothing they can do that will satisfy media demands.

    For instance, CNNMoney recently suggested that Clinton (and Trump) have failed to meet the “McCain standard” in terms of releasing medical information. What’s the McCain standard? In 2008, facing questions about his health, McCain’s campaign allowed a group of reporters into a room where they were allowed for three hours to review McCain’s medical documents. They were not allowed to make copies of the documents.

    Sounds like a good plan, right? But I guarantee you that if tomorrow Clinton adopted that exact same “McCain standard,” the dominant themes of the media coverage would be, ‘Why is Clinton being so restrictive? Why are reporters only given three hours to review documents? Why can’t copies be made? Why won’t she release the 1,700 pages to the public?’ And ‘Which reporters is the campaign refusing to give access to the documents?’

    So how does Clinton win? When she embraces extra transparency, as with the Clinton Foundation, her political opponents seize upon non-damning information and turn it into so-called scandals. And if she follows disclosure protocol, as with her taxes, reporters also comb through the data in search of phony gotcha stories. And yet either way she’s tagged as secretive.

    All the while her political opponent this year categorically ignores virtually all disclosure requests and pays little or no price in the press.

    But again, the press has decided Clinton’s pneumonia problem story was really about press access. “The frenzy and uncertainty Sunday over Hillary Clinton's health could have easily been avoided had Clinton and her campaign disclosed that she had pneumonia,” according to NBC News.

    Does anyone actually believe that if on Saturday Clinton announced she had pneumonia and then the next day suffered a public health episode at the 9/11 Memorial that was captured on video, the subsequent media coverage would not have been equally hysterical? That CNN’s Wolf Blitzer would not have “spent minutes breaking down a few seconds of Clinton dragging her feet like it was the new Zapruder film,” as Politico Magazine noted? (Turning on CNN Sunday afternoon you’d would have thought Clinton had been hospitalized.)

    Meanwhile, the press kept emphasizing that on Sunday Clinton had slipped away from reporters who didn’t know her whereabouts; she had tried to “ditch” her press pool that followers her around each day. She’s not transparent!

    Mostly left unmentioned was that Trump was also at the 9/11 Memorial on Sunday but there were no reporters closely monitoring his every move. “Trump has no such pool, a break with past candidates,” The Washington Post noted over the weekend. “He had no reporters with him Sunday, when he appeared unannounced at the same memorial ceremony Clinton attended.”

    So Trump doesn’t have a press pool, but the press attacked Clinton for not being responsive to her press pool.

    Also, we didn’t hear endless media complaints last month when Trump flew to Mexico to meet with the country’s president and left campaign reporters stranded in Phoenix. There weren’t front-pages articles, endless panel TV discussions or columns hitting Trump for his trademark “secrecy.”

    Different rules for him, I guess.

  • The Awful 9/11 Trump Stories The Sunday Shows All Ignored While Remembering 9/11

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Coinciding with the fifteenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, this week’s Sunday morning network talk shows dedicated a lot of their time to covering and reflecting on two stories: The 9/11 attacks, as well as the unfolding presidential campaign. If they had wanted to, the programs could have also examined the distinct overlap between those events. The shows could have spent time examining the unflattering examples of Donald Trump caught telling lies about Sept. 11, exaggerating about 9/11 and just being wildly inappropriate while discussing Sept. 11.

    But the Sunday shows didn't do that this week.

    The Republican nominee lies about lots of things, but he seems to have a special proclivity for telling falsehoods about events surrounding America’s worst  terror attack.

    What made the complete lack of Sunday show coverage this week even more unusual was the fact that one day before, the New York Daily News published an exclusive investigation, reporting that the billionaire’s organization pocketed $150,000 in government aid after the attack because it claimed to have helped out locals. But the “government program was designed to help local businesses get back on their feet — not reimburse people for their charitable work,” the News reported. Plus, “It’s unclear what, if any, help Trump provided to those affected by 9/11.”

    So that represented a 9/11 Trump controversy with a fresh news angle. But the News story produced no coverage on the Sunday shows.

    Do you think that if on Saturday the Daily News had reported that the Clinton Foundation had unethically scooped up funds intended for terror attack victims in New York City, that yesterday’s Sunday talks shows would have completely ignored the stunning revelation?

    The other new story that emerged about Trump and Sept. 11 was when Politico recently reported on a television interview Trump did on that deadly day in 2001. It was just hours after thousands of New York area residents lost their lives in the attack, and Trump, on live television, was noting that the 40 Wall Street building he owned was no longer the “second-tallest” in downtown Manhattan -- it was the “tallest” … because the Twin Towers had just been toppled by terrorist hijackers.

    But not a mention of that on the Sunday shows.

    This trend isn’t entirely new. Too often journalists have given Trump the benefit of the doubt when lying about 9/11-related events. Last December, when Trump began making the wholly unsubstantiated claim that the 9/11 attackers had “wives” living with them in the United States and sent them home prior to the attack, The New York Times reported Trump had become “fuzzy” about the facts and was “having trouble keeping some details straight about the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks.”

    One key fact Trump had “trouble” with? "There is no evidence that the hijackers had wives in the United States, shipped them home or even told them of the plot in advance." What’s “fuzzy” about that?

    Again though, no mention on this week’s Sunday shows about Trump’s completely fabricated claims about the Sept. 11 hijackers and their “wives.”

    There was also no discussion yesterday about Trump’s wild claim that he had lost “hundreds” of friends in the Sept. 11 attack.

    As The Daily Beast previously documented:  

    Two days after Donald Trump claimed that he “lost hundreds of friends” at the World Trade Center as a result of the 9/11 attack, his campaign continued to ignore a Daily Beast request that he name even one.

    With silence comes the possibility that Trump told the most reprehensible lie of the campaign, just a few breaths from when he called both Sen. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush liars.

    By his math, Trump is trying to tell us that at least one in 10 of the 2,983 who died on 9/11 were his friends.

    The Daily Beast also highlighted how, in the wake of the terror attacks, Trump reportedly went on Howard Stern’s radio show and promised to donate $10,000 to the Twin Towers Fund, a charity set up to benefit the families of first responders who were killed on 9/11. “Despite his pledge, the Trump Foundation shows no donations at all to the Twin Tower Fund,” the Daily Beast reported.

    Meanwhile, at a rally in Ohio last November, Trump told supporters, “I have a window in my apartment that specifically was aimed at the World Trade Center because of the beauty of the whole downtown Manhattan and I watched as people jumped.”

    As the Associated Press noted, Trump’s apartment is located approximately four miles from the World Trade Center site.

    Trump has also claimed that he "helped a little bit" with clearing rubble after the attacks:

    And of course, what was one of the most famous Trump lies of 2015? That he’d seen “thousands and thousands" of Muslims celebrating in Jersey City when the Twin Towers went down.

    But it wasn’t true, obviously. If “thousands and thousands” of people had cheered in the streets and on the rooftops of an American city on 9/11, that would have been news around the world. But it never happened, as NJ.com concluded, noting “The reason Trump's comments are so offensive is that he is suggesting sympathy for terrorism is broadly shared among Muslims in America when in fact it is a fringe sentiment. It is the moral equivalent of smearing all white Americans for the actions of violent white supremacists.”

    Indeed, the Trump lie represents a particularly vicious smear meant to malign an entire culture and religion; to make it seem like there’s a dangerous fifth column within the United States ready to rise up and wage war with America.

    Over the last year, Trump has created a cacophony of lies and self-aggrandizing falsehoods about one of the most important and sorrowful days in American history. (Who does that?)

    Still, on the fifteenth anniversary of Sept. 11 and with Trump at the center of a presidential campaign, the Sunday talk shows this week turned away from the Trump ugliness.

  • The Press' Email Narrative Now Has A Colin Powell Problem

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Thanks to the release this week of a January 2009 email from Colin Powell to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we now know definitively that the former Republican secretary of state advised Clinton on the wisdom of using private emails during her time at the State Department. We know that Powell thought it was fine to use that private email account to bypass State Department servers to communicate with friends and even “foreign leaders.”

    We know Powell advised Clinton on how to circumvent federal records requirements while she was secretary of state: “Be very careful. … I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data.” We know that while Clinton used private email for convenience, she didn't follow Powell's lead in seeking to deliberately use systems that avoided future public disclosures.

    The Republican also complained that State Department officials didn’t want him using his PDA, what he termed an "ancient version" of Clinton's Blackberry: “[T]hey gave me all kinds of nonsense about how they gave out signals and could be read by spies, etc." But Powell said he ignored those warnings and used his PDA in his office suite.

    As for the whereabouts of Powell’s own emails from his time at the State Department, “during his tenure, Powell had sent classified emails over his private AOL account - but as of July, had still not responded to a request to contact his service provider to retrieve them,” according to USA Today. “In both 2014 and 2015, the State Department asked Powell to provide all of his records that were not in the agency’s record-keeping system.” As Powell's email to Clinton suggested, he no longer has the emails from his personal account; the records of those communications with national and international leaders during his tenure as secretary of state are gone. (Powell defends the contents of his email to Clinton.)

    That limbo status stands in sharp contrast to extraordinary scrutiny the press and Republicans have placed on Clinton’s private account emails, tens of thousands of which she voluntarily turned over to the government and have since been released to the public.

    These helpful Powell revelations provide some welcome context to the email story. They also raise questions about how the press will deal with the new information, and why the press has seemed so uninterested in including the context of Powell's actions over the last year-and-a-half as it relentlessly pursued the Clinton email “scandal” story.

    Keep in mind that we’ve known for quite a while that Powell used a private email account while serving secretary of state. And since March, we’ve known that Powell "handled classified material on unclassified email systems," according to ABC News, and that some of Powell’s emails contained "information classified at the Secret or Confidential levels.'" 

    Yet for the most part, Powell’s name has been invoked sparingly by the media, despite the avalanche of Clinton email coverage and commentary.

    Why the omission? I think it’s because including context about Powell and how previous secretaries of state handled their electronic communication undermines the media’s longstanding narrative about the current email story. The press has clung to the idea that it is uniquely and unequivocally about Hillary Clinton, and the reason it’s so important, and why it requires so much attention, is that it illustrated how Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton alone, is secretive and tries to obfuscate the rules.

    Except that’s just not true.

    Is Powell absolutely central to the Clinton email story? No. Does his experience radically alter the contours of Clinton’s actions, for which she has repeatedly apologized? It does not. But does Powell’s email past provide much-needed and often missing context to the press’ Clinton email narrative? It sure does.

    “To liken her to Powell does not excuse Clinton’s behavior or imply the media should ignore it. It contextualizes it,” wrote Jonathan Chait at New York, following the release of Powell’s 2009 correspondence to Clinton. “And the context suggests that Clinton committed ordinary lapses of ethics and judgment.”

    Correct. But if Clinton’s supposedly guilty of “ordinary lapses of ethics and judgment,” how does the press justify continuing to treat the email story like Watergate-meets-Iran Contra, even after the FBI has concluded there is no evidence of illegality?

    Again, Powell’s inclusion in the story flattens and normalizes the narrative. Powell’s inclusion signals to news consumers that Clinton’s actions maybe weren’t so scandalous. In fact, maybe they weren’t even newsworthy.

    In other words, Powell ruins the plot. That’s why the press has leaned over in a concerted effort to not provide helpful context in terms of how other prominent public officials archive their emails.

    The Clinton email pursuit, the press decided long ago, is best told in a vacuum. But now that vacuum has been breached.

    How is the press responding to the release of Powell’s eye-opening email to Clinton? On Thursday, CNN did describe it as a “major bombshell,” so it’s not as if the story is being actively ignored. But I’d argue that in comparison to the never-ending, steroid-fueled pursuit of Clinton, the Powell story certainly is in no danger of being over-played by the press.

    It's true that the Powell email was referenced in the FBI report released last week, and most news organizations covered it then. But in terms of the entire email being released and the important, additional context it provides to the email saga, there has been some notable silence. For instance, the Powell email was released Wednesday afternoon and as of today, The New York Times newsroom still hasn’t acknowledged that fact or detailed for readers what counsel Powell gave Clinton. Thursday’s Washington Post did cover the Powell news Thursday, but in a brief, 400-word article that appeared on page six. (A Post editorial in Friday's newspaper admonishes the press for making too much of the Clinton email saga.) A handful of major newspapers also covered the Powell story, but none of them put the story on their front page, according to a Nexis search.

    A footnote. The Powell email revelation is, for the most part, being treated as a footnote that journalists don’t want news consumers focusing on.

  • New York Times’ Clinton Coverage Generating Widespread Media Criticism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    When you’re covering a presidential campaign, these are not the types of headlines you want to see posted by veteran journalists:

    *“Is This The Dumbest New York Times Story Ever?” (Philly.com)

    *"The New York Times’ Latest Clinton Foundation ‘Scandal’ May Be The Dumbest One Yet” (Vox)

    *“The New York Times Screws Up Its Clinton Coverage, Part Infinity” (Esquire)

    Amazingly, all three of those headlines ran within just a three-day span last week. But it’s been that kind of summer for the newspaper, whose campaign coverage, and specifically its coverage of the Democratic Party nominee, has come under withering criticism by longtime pundits and commentators.

    Writers like Josh Marshall at TPM, Matthew Yglesias at Vox, Charles Pierce at Esquire, James Fallows and Norm Ornstein from The Atlantic, Will Bunch at Philly.com, and Paul Glastris at Washington Monthly have been weighing in. So too has the Times’ own Paul Krugman, (although his critique of the Clinton coverage did not mention the newspaper by name).

    Some of the published critiques are specific to Times coverage, while others take a larger view of recent campaign journalism missteps and include examples of significant Times failures. There’s no indication that if the Times were uncovering concrete Clinton misdeeds these writers would attack the paper for solid, factual reporting.

    Instead, the running critique is that with its “Ahab” pursuit of hollow Clinton ‘scandal’ stories, the Times has lost its way. Unable to admit Republican promises of Clinton wrongdoing aren’t panning out, the newspaper insists on adhering to the same accusatory script. This, while the newspaper often holds Donald Trump to a lower standard and ignores or underplays embarrassing news developments for him.

    Note that it took the Times five days to catch up to The Washington Post regarding the illegal $25,000 check the Trump Foundation wrote to a political group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi at a time when her office was contemplating an investigation of Trump University and allegations of fraud. (After the donation arrived, the Florida investigation into Trump University never materialized.)

    When Krugman recently lamented that Trump scandals “like what appear to be clear payoffs to state attorneys general to back off investigating Trump University, get remarkably little attention,” it was seen as a swipe at the Times newsroom, which hadn’t yet covered the juicy story about possible corruption.

    Context: The Times has published 16 articles on its front page that referenced the Clinton Foundation since July 1, 2015, according to Media Matters research.

    Aside from its slow motion Trump/Bondi coverage, last week the Times’ public editor responded to widespread criticism from readers after the newspaper initially offered up a very soft and misleading report on Trump’s trip to meet with the Mexican president and subsequent immigration speech in Phoenix. The newspaper erroneously portrayed Trump as “remak[ing] his image” on immigration when in fact Trump doubled down on his virulent anti-immigrant policies.

    The heavy-handed rewrite between the article published online at night and the one that appear in print the next day, “led to the oddity of the printed paper I held in my hand saying the exact opposite of what the online version of the ‘same’ story said, ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’-style,” wrote Fallows at The Atlantic.

    Following Wednesday night’s televised presidential forum, the paper was widely criticized for initially omitting from its write-up the fact that Trump had lavishly praised Russia’s president. (A reference was later added in.)

    Are the Times’ Clinton-related miscues new? They are not. The newspaper “has a decades' long history of being lead around by rightwing opposition researchers into dead ends which amount to journalistic comedy - especially when it comes to the Clintons,” noted Marshall at TPM last week.

    And recall that last year, former Times executive editor Jill Abramson acknowledged that her former employer routinely provides an unfair "level of scrutiny" to Hillary Clinton.

    Even with that well known, built-in antagonism, lots of observers were utterly bewildered by an accusatory Times article, hand-delivered to the paper by the right-wing group Judicial Watch, in which the newspaper strenuously tried to jam a set of extremely non-controversial facts into a Bad News For Clinton narrative.

    The facts: In 2009, a Bill Clinton adviser and Clinton Foundation player reached out to the State Department seeking diplomatic passports for a secret Bill Clinton trip to North Korea to help get two detained American journalists released. The State Department didn’t issue the passports.

    From that, the Times claimed newly released emails raised all kinds of “questions” about “special access.” Actually, it was the opposite. “The reporting in the piece itself, however, doesn’t so much raise new questions as answer old ones,” wrote Glastris at Washington Monthly.

    Or, as Pierce at Esquire put it:

    Consider how it is constructed—to believe that there is even any smoke here, let alone any fire, you have to believe that the Clinton Foundation was somehow shady in its dealings with HRC's State Department, which is assuming a lot of actual facts not in evidence. That enables you to believe that an unsuccessful attempt to arrange diplomatic passports for what ultimately was a successful mission of mercy is proof of said shadiness. It also forces you to loan your journalistic credibility to a monkeyhouse like Judicial Watch.

    Just days earlier, Philly.com columnist Will Bunch took a hammer to another dubious Times piece, this one regarding Clinton aide Huma Abedin separating from her husband Anthony Weiner in the wake of news about more lewd behavior by him.

    The colossal, impossible-to-miss problem with the article was it tried to connect Abedin’s private life, and specifically the private actions of Abedin’s husband, to the public Clinton campaign. The newspaper insisted the aide’s separation had cast a “shadow” over Clinton’s White House run, and that it "threatens to remind voters about the troubles in the Clintons’ own marriage over the decades.”

    Wrote Bunch, “[I]t's the worst piece of political analysis I've ever seen in the Grey Lady in my adult lifetime.”

    Of course if they want, Times editors can choose to wave off the mounting criticism and point to harassing rhetoric from Donald Trump denouncing their newspaper. The Times can take the easy way out by claiming Both Sides are upset by the Times’ coverage, therefore they must be doing something right!

    But I can tell you that as someone who’s been watching the Times for decades and observing criticism of the paper, I can’t remember a time when so many seasoned journalists set aside so much time to simultaneously document how unfair and misleading they thought the Times’ presidential campaign work had become.

    These are in-depth, detailed critiques cataloging an array of Times missteps that have more and more writers seeing red. Or, as Pierce lamented in Esquire, “Oh, for the love of god, mother Times. Are you freaking kidding me?”

  • Still Waiting For Newspaper Editorials Demanding The Trump Foundation Be Shut Down

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Adding to a cavalcade of campaign condemnations, a string of major newspaper editorial boards in recent weeks stepped forward to announce that, in the name of avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest, Bill and Hillary Clinton needed to shut down their successful Clinton Foundation.

    Conceding that recent news reports hadn’t proven any actual wrongdoing or lawbreaking with the foundation and its connection the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state, editorials from Washington PostBoston Globe, and USA Today, among others, were nonetheless adamant: Shut it down. 

    Columnists at SlateNew York and The Wall Street Journal also jumped in, as did an array of TV talkers anxious to add their voices to the media choir demanding a global charity be shut down because the optics didn’t look quite right. And several outlets insisted that waiting until after the election for foundation action wasn’t “good enough.” 

    Everyone, it seemed, was in heated agreement.

    • “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort.” (Boston Globe)
    • “[T]he only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs.”  (USA Today)
    • “Impressions such as these are corrosive to national institutions.” (Washington Post)

    On and on the editorials went, patiently explaining to Clinton what she needed to do to eliminate budding concerns within the Beltway press; how she had to shutter her landmark charity in order to please the optics police.

    Reading the proclamations, it was clear to readers that even the appearance of impropriety when it comes to politicians and charitable foundations must be met with swift, pro-active and even drastic action.  

    So what explains the deafening editorial board silence about the Donald J. Trump Foundation in the wake of the shocking news report that in 2013 it sent an illegal $25,000 donation to a political group supporting Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi? At a time, her office was considering opening a fraud investigation into Trump University and widespread allegations the company had cheated students. After the group supporting Bondi received the large Trump check, which she reportedly personally solicited, her office announced it wasn’t going to investigate Trump University.

    Where’s the collective demand that the Trump Foundation be shut down because of conflicts?

    Not only does the payoff reek of a quid pro quo arrangement, but the generous Foundation donation was also against the law because as a registered non-profit organization, the Trump Foundation isn’t allowed to make political contributions. It appears the Foundation may have taken steps to cover up the donation by by listing the recipient of the funds as a Kansas-based charity in tax forms, according to the Washington Post report. After the $25,000 check was brought to light earlier this year, Trump’s organization paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS.

    Given the hyper attention paid to the Clinton Foundation, and the relentless media search for wrongdoing, the Trump revelations are astounding: They seem to represent precisely the type of naked misdeed the press has been trying to uncover with regards to Clinton. But instead, the foundation’s wrongdoing is attached to the Republican nominee and the campaign press reaction has been muted, to say the least.

    On the Sunday morning talk shows this week, the story was occasionally referenced by guests, but CBS’s Face The Nation host John Dickerson was the only host to bring up the Trump/Bondi controversy. 

    Meanwhile, according to a search of CNN transcripts via Nexis, “Trump Foundation” was mentioned in one on-air report on the all-news channel between Monday, August 29, through Monday, September 5. By contrast, “Clinton Foundation” was mentioned in dozens of CNN reports during that same time period.

    Keep in mind, the constant media churning about Clinton “optics” revolve around a global charity that represents a textbook example of how to build a modern-day foundation for giving. “If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation,” Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch recently told CNN. (The foundation receives exceptional marks from watchdog organizations.)

    The Clinton Foundation's sterling reputation has now been tarnished, in part because the press has decided to go all in with the GOP’s smear campaign against the charity. It’s decided to overhype trivial revelations about Foundation contacts and meetings that took place years ago.

    But when the Trump Foundation is found to have illegally donated to a state attorney general who was contemplating fraud charges against a Trump company? Suddenly the referees on newspaper editorial boards fall silent.

  • 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. 
  • The AP, And Why The Press Has Trouble Admitting Its Clinton Mistakes

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “When we're wrong, we must say so as soon as possible.” Associated Press guidelines.

    Somebody inside the Associated Press should hide the shovels so editors there will stop digging.

    The hole they’ve dug in recent days just keeps getting bigger as the wire service refuses to admit obvious mistakes in the lengthy investigation they published last week about Clinton Foundation donors, and the implication they were able to buy access at Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

    Not only was the AP article itself deeply flawed and lacking crucial context, the news organization also tweeted out this categorically false announcement to its 8.4 million followers to promote its investigation: “BREAKING: AP analysis: More than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation.”

    That tweet immediately ignited a media firestorm. It has since been retweeted or liked more than 13,000 times, and the claim is now widely repeated as fact. But it’s completely inaccurate. The AP investigation only looked at a small portion of Clinton’s meetings or conversations -- only 154 people met the parameters of the AP’s study, of which 85 donated or pledged commitments to the Clinton Foundation. There’s no way 85 represents “more than half” of the people Clinton met with while serving as secretary of state between 2009 and 2013.

    “Clinton actually participated in over 1700 meetings as secretary of state during that time period,” notes Judd Legum at ThinkProgress. “That means, in truth, fewer than 5% of Clinton’s meetings as Secretary of State were with Clinton Foundation donors.”

    The AP’s reckless social media hyping of the donor story represented “sloppy, click-grabbing shorthand that is a disservice to the reporting to which it refers,” David Boardman, the Dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University, told CNNMoney.

    And yet there was Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, on CNN’s Reliable Sources insisting the AP’s tweeted claim didn’t need to be corrected or deleted. “If we felt it was wrong we would have taken it down right away,” Carroll announced, despite the fact that, to date, only the AP thinks its tweeted declaration is accurate. Pressed by host Brian Stelter, Carroll conceded the tweet was “sloppy,” but the organization clearly has no intention of deleting it.

    As the AP investigation began to crumble last week, I noted that the wire service joined a dubious list of news outlets that have gotten burned chasing bogus Clinton ‘scandal’ stories over the years. And now we’re seeing the postscript to that sad tradition: News outlets which then refuse to admit they botched their Clinton ‘scandal’ stories. There’s a stubborn refusal to clean up their own mess.

    For years, The New York Times has refused to acknowledge its rampantly misleading Whitewater coverage from the 1990s, as well as its overall breathless pursuit of Clinton ‘scandal’ stories back then.

    Meanwhile, when CBS’ Lara Logan reported a botched Benghazi investigation on 60 Minutes, featuring a bogus “eyewitness” to the terror attack, the network never released a full explanation for how such an obviously flawed report was ever allowed to air. Instead, the network ordered a minimal internal review, released a two-page summary and Logan and a producer took a leave of absence from the program.

    By contrast, when CBS faced conservative outrage after airing a flawed report about President Bush's Vietnam War record in 2004, the network appointed former Republican attorney general Richard Thornburgh, to investigate. Thornburgh’s review panel worked for three months, interviewed 66 people, and issued an-often scathing 224-page report.

    And now we have the AP’s stumble-a-thon. Carroll’s attempted defense on Reliable Sources was just the latest defensive misfire for the news outlet. Last week, the AP released a statement defending the article, but didn’t really address the specific complaints that were mounting. “The initial article was bad,” wrote Matthew Yglesias at Vox, “and while the defense of the article usefully clarifies a key point, it is also bad.”

    Then over the weekend on Twitter, AP reporter Matt Lee lashed out at critics of the news organization’s donor story. That did not go well.

    The reason this newsroom misfire is generating so much attention and so much anger is that it’s as if the Associated Press set out to create a textbook example of how the Beltway press plays loose with Clinton ‘scandal’ facts and then refuses to admit a mistake, even when there’s virtually no debate about the falsehoods.

    But it wasn’t just the tweet. It was the entire premise of the AP article that was botched and requires a correction or at least a fuller explaining.

    From the AP's investigation [emphasis added]:

    More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money -- either personally or through companies or groups -- to the Clinton Foundation. It's an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president.

    Right in the first paragraph the AP announced it was “extraordinary” that Clinton met with 85 foundation donors during her nearly 50 months as secretary of state. But extraordinary compared to what? In order to prove that point, the AP needed to provide context to show how the figure was remarkable and out of the ordinary. But the AP never even tried.

    Simple question: How many of those same foundation donors who met with Clinton also met with secretaries of state under the previous Republican administration?

    The clear implication from the AP report was that Clinton donors bought access and favors. But if lots of those same donors gained access to President Bush’s State Department, the AP implication falls apart. Indeed, its entire investigation collapses. (Vox's Yglesias posted several examples where a Clinton donor featured by the AP met with key Republican officials over the years.)

    Working hard to avoid crucial context, the AP presented almost laughably non-controversial examples to highlight what reporters suggested were key instances of how Clinton Foundation donors received special treatment at the State Department.

    From the Washington Monthly’s Nancy LeTourneau on how "the AP blew their story" [emphasis added]:

    In an attempt to provide an example of how this becomes an “optics” problem for Hillary Clinton, they focused much of the article on the fact that she met several times with Muhammad Yunus, a Clinton Foundation donor. In case you don’t recognize that name, he is an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as a way to fight poverty, and founded Grameen Bank. For those efforts, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

    The connection the AP tries to make is that SoS Clinton met with Yunus because he was a Clinton Foundation donor. What they didn’t mention is that their relationship goes back over 30 years to the time Hillary (as first lady of Arkansas) heard about his work and brought him to her state to explore the possibility of implementing microfinance programs to assist the poor.

    What a mess. And to think how many editors at the AP saw the donor investigation article before it was published and were unconcerned -- or unaware -- that they were deceiving their readers.

    And now those same bosses don’t want the AP to be held accountable.