I am writing to express my concern about a recent string of reports and columns from your publication that have done nothing but use false pretenses to cast a shadow on Bill and Hillary Clinton. It says a lot that Rush Limbaugh applauded your "injurious" work on the former first family yesterday afternoon on his radio program. This recent pattern is all the more worrisome in light of your political editor's decision to assign a reporter to cover Hillary Clinton, now a private citizen with no announced political plans, more than three years before the next presidential election.
To begin, your August 13th report that claimed to expose the "unease" over finances and management at the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation was an exercise in evidence-free speculation. On August 16th, the former president and the Foundation corrected the record, explaining that your reporters failed to provide critical context and facts essential to the story and misconstrued the Foundation's lawful accounting. More specifically:
- On financials: The report claimed the Foundation ran a $40 million deficit in 2007 and 2008 and an $8 million deficit in 2012, citing tax returns. As the Foundation noted, the IRS requires tax-exempt organizations to report multi-year financial commitments occurring in the year the commitment was made. In 2005 and 2006, the Foundation reported a surplus exceeding $100 million. In subsequent years, that money is reported as spending, but not cash inflow. Clinton also pointed out the difficult reality all nonprofits face when fundraising during a recession.
- On management: The report also questioned the capabilities of senior Foundation employees and the effectiveness of the organization's domestic and global initiatives. A 2011 review of the Foundation by the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett undermines this speculation of mismanagement -- the review states that "[i]nterviewees uniformly praised the effectiveness of the Foundation and its affiliates, noting the enormous amount they have accomplished over a ten-year period." As Clinton noted, the Foundation has responded in accordance with the firm's recommendations over the last two years, strengthening the leadership and structure of the organization.
While the Times stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the errors in its reporting and President Clinton's statement in a follow-up story, an editorial clarification, or even a mention by the paper's ombudsman, that ombudsman published an August 17th article describing the "potential benefits and the possible pitfalls" of assigning a reporter to a full-time beat on the former secretary of state. Most troubling was Political Editor Carolyn Ryan's reasoning for the assignment - "there is a certain opacity and stagecraft" surrounding the Clintons, she said, wrongly implying that they purposely misled the public with no evidence.
Another cause for concern is two recent columns from Maureen Dowd that reinforce her long pattern of using hollow caricatures to attack the Clintons (and the former first family in general). On July 31st, she compared Clinton to Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, marking the fifth time she has used the inapt literary analogy against Hillary Clinton. And just this past Sunday, she compared the Clintons to Wile E. Coyote. Clark Hoyt in 2008 called out Dowd's "gender-laden assault on Clinton" and others of the same stature have taken notice. Despite criticism from her colleagues, Dowd's invective against the Clintons ensues.
These recent developments raise the question of whether what we are seeing is an anti-Clinton institutional bias at the Times. Rush Limbaugh certainly seems to think so. I hope this is not the case.
We respectfully ask that you:
1. Correct the record regarding errors of fact and context in the Foundation news story;
2. Refrain from negatively pre-judging the Clintons in the manner of your political editor;
3. Correct the anti-Clinton animus consistently exhibited by one of your columnists; and
4. Resist the temptation to create purely speculative news in your new Clinton "beat."
Chairman, Media Matters for America