• Let the Clinton Foundation guilt by association begin

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Bloomberg News leads the charge by announcing that somebody who gave money to the Clinton Foundation is being investigation by the feds for wrongdoing.

    We suspect this is really why the press, for years, has been clamoring for the Clinton Foundation to release a list of its donors, which it recently did in order to aide Hillary Clinton's confirmation as SoS. The press wanted to see the donor list so the press could suggest that Clinton is tainted by his post-White House work.

    We saw that most recently when the NYT published a dreadful piece of journalism that tried to raise questions about Clinton based on the fact that a wealthy business man who paid Clinton to speak before a group was being separately criticized by a group of his investors. Clinton, the Times seemed to suggest, was responsible for private investors upset with an international businessman. Talk about adopting new standards.

    Anyway, Bloomberg trumpets this big news [emphasis added]:

    Canadian investor Victor Dahdaleh, facing a U.S. federal probe of allegations that he helped Alcoa Inc. defraud a Bahrain government-controlled metals company, is among donors who gave as much as $5 million to former President Bill Clinton's charitable foundation... Dahdaleh's dispute with Bahrain shows how entanglements by Bill Clinton's financial backers may pose headaches for Hillary Clinton as the New York senator seeks confirmation as President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state.

    Quick journalism point. Bloomberg noted that the probe began in March. When did Dahdaleh give his money to the Clinton Foundation? Bloomberg either does not know or simply does not report the fact, which wouold offer some illumination, no? Because if Dahdaleh gave his money to the Foundation before his company was probed, Clinton would had to have been a fortune teller to see any pending (paper-thin) conflict. But again, Bloomberg leaves that pertinent information out.

    Meanwhile, the actual significance of Dahdaleh giving money to a charity? Bloomberg never really says. But c'mon, there's an unrelated federal probe involved. (No indictments yet, of course.) Doesn't that speak for itself?

    Actually, that's not entirely true. Bloomberg does uncover this quote:

    "It certainly creates a couple of extra hurdles for the Obamawould administration," said Joel Rosenthal, president of New York's Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

    Let's map this out. According to this person, Obama has troubles because the husband of his SoS choice runs a charity and among the 200,000 of people who gave money to that charity, one is being questioned by authorities regarding his business operation.

    We're pretty sure that's the definition of guilt by association.

    UPDATE: The WaPo's Eugene Robinson pens a Clinton donor column today. At the very top he announces it's "far-fetched" to think Hillary as SoS would be influenced by any of the Foundation donors. Nonetheless, he thinks the released donor list will "provoke suspicion and give rise to conspiracy theories." So what does Robinson do? He spends pretty much his entire column fueling those suspicions by raising questions about the donors.

    Behold this dreadful passage:

    More ominous would be any perceived tilt toward India in its bitter standoff against neighboring Pakistan. The list reports several huge donations from Indian tycoons and a high-six-figure donation from the Confederation of Indian Industry. Pakistan is not similarly represented. I know this is a ridiculously slim thread from which to hang any charge of bias, or potential bias. But India and Pakistan, in their unbounded mutual suspicion, take the concept of paranoia to a new level. I guarantee that somewhere in Islamabad, a sense of grievance is already being nurtured.

    I'd argue it's the Betlway press that suffers unbounded suspicion...of the Clintons.

  • The NYT's failed Bill Krisol experiment, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    For those watching the calender, only three weeks left until Kristol's contract runs up with the Times. Gawker's Alex Pareene is guessing there will not be a renewal:

    What the New York Times needs is semi-reasonable token conservatives on its op-ed pages. Ones, like David Brooks, who occasionally wander slightly off the reservation to promote some mildly independent view, or ones like William Safire who are nakedly intellectually dishonest but smart and weasley enough to get away with it. Kristol, a lightweight, was not up to the task. His very first column was not only headlined "President Mike Huckabee?" but it warranted an immediate embarrassing correction (a rarity on the op-ed page).

  • Howie Kurtz misses the points about Obama/the press

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Talk about day dreaming up narratives, take a look at this [emphasis added]:

    Why is Obama's coverage different than that of every other president-elect? Plenty of reporters were enamored of President-elect Clinton and agreed with many of his views. But he was seen as an outsize figure, a man of enormous talent and appetites, and a Bubba-like figure from Hope, Arkansas. He was Not Like Us.

    But the reason there are so many stories about Obama having to give up his normal life, surrender his BlackBerry, yadda yadda, is that reporters identify with him. He is a writer who produced two books. He lives in a big city. He was not born to a wealthy family. And yet he keeps his essential core hidden. So journalists, I believe, are as curious about Barack as the public at large.

    First, notice how president Bush does not exist and has been erased by the Beltway media? Because I'm pretty sure Kurtz could have just as easily made the case that "plenty of reporters were enamored of President-elect" Bush. But that topic is not to be addressed.

    Second, it's never a good sign when a journalist doesn't even bother to back up the central point in his piece. i.e. How on earth has Obama been treated different than every other president-elect. And is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is Kurtz actually suggesting the press, currently in day No. 10 hyping the paper-thin Blago/Obama "scandal," has been showering the president-elect with good press?

    Specifically, Kurtz is just amazed that the press is obsessed with the trivia (i.e. his BlackBerry) and minutia surrounding Obama's transition. The writer thinks that quite unusual.

    Please. It's utterly predictable because the Beltway press has consistently advertised the fact, and only underscored it in recent weeks, that it revolves around trivia and minutia. It lives for distractions. As Politico recently noted (without an ounce of irony):

    Reporters have been bombarding the president-elect's transition office and those close to Obama with the most detail-obsessed questions about his every move. Among the inquiries received in recent weeks: Does Obama prefer Macs or PCs? Who designed that tie he's wearing? Where does he buy his suits? What's his morning exercise routine like? How about his basketball techniques? What movie has he seen recently? Who cuts his hair? Will he sell his house in Chicago? What did he have for Thanksgiving dinner? What's his favorite food?

    Behold your press corps at work.

  • In search of Hillary's Caroline Kennedy critics

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Are supporters of Hillary Clinton livid that Caroline Kennedy might be appointed by NY's governor to fill the U.S. senate seat that Clinton is vacating to become SoS? i.e. Is there more Clinton drama??

    Both ABC News and NY Daily News recently stated as fact that her supporters were upset. "Very critical," was how ABC's George Stephanopoulos put it. And according to the News:

    Clinton weighed in to end speculation she was behind a recent spate of public snarking about Kennedy's abilities as payback for Kennedy's support of Barack Obama over Clinton.

    Clinton "called off the dogs" who were attacking Kennedy, reported the News.

    But if Clinton's supporters are so upset, and reportedly so numerous, than why didn't ABC or the Daily News quote, or reference, even a single one? That seems more like gossip and less like journalism to us.

    UPDATE: With New York TV reporter Marcia Kramer, three makes a trend:

    Meanwhile, Kennedy will probalby have an easier time winning the nomination now that Clinton has ordered her supporters to stop attacking her.

    Like ABC and NY Daily News, Kramer offers no examples of Clinton supporters "attacking" Kennedy.

  • The NYT celebrates Ground Hog Day

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Obama did not answer Blago questions yesterday, so the Times Jeff Zeleny rushed the update onto the newspaper's blog. (Nothing gets past the mighty Times!)

    Do news passages get any more entertaining/revealing/depressing than this?

    Mr. Obama, yet again, declined to answer questions about Mr. Blagojevich in any detail. Neither he nor his advisers are accused of any wrongdoing.

    For us, that perfectly captures the media inanity around the Blago/Obama story. Nobody is accusing Obama or his aides of doing anything wrong which means he must answers questions immediately regarding a story in which neither he nor his aides are accused of doing anything wrong.

    Of course the headline was priceless, as well: "Blagojevich Questions Continue to Overshadow Transition"

    Who determines whether Blago is overshadowing the transition? The Beltway press corps, of course. And they've already gone all in on the story.

    But wait! Zeleny has real Blago news:

    But don't look for Mr. Obama to announce the findings of the internal inquiry of which advisers – in addition to Rahm Emanuel – had contact with the Illinois governor's office over replacing Mr. Obama's Senate seat. The plan now, aides said, is to release the review by written statement.

    Did we mention nothing gets past the mighty Times?

    Some Times readers though, seem unimpressed. From "Chicago Todd":

    Whitewater redux — a media in perfect unison singing out the latest talking meme without evidence or facts. Has any prominent media publication expounded on the fact that this is a media generated controversy?

    From "Rich":

    Just because you say that "Blagojevich Questions Continue to Overshadow Transition," it doesn't make is so. Most people I talk to think the Blago questions are irrelevant.

  • Maybe Newt could write a letter to the press, too

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Like John McCain before him this week, Newt Gingrich let it be known he's unhappy with the RNC for posting a very partisan, gotcha-style web ad making all sorts of dark insinuations about Obama and the unfolding Blago story.

    Wrote Gingrich:

    The recent web advertisement, "Questions Remain," is a destructive distraction. Clearly, we should insist that all taped communications regarding the Senate seat should be made public. However, that should be a matter of public policy, not an excuse for political attack. In a time when America is facing real challenges, Republicans should be working to help the incoming President succeed in meeting them, regardless of his Party.

    Gingrich's point is well taken. But as we noted last week, it's been the Beltway press corps that been waaaaay out in front of the GOP in terms of laying on the Blago spin as thick as possible. It's been the press for the most part, not Republican operatives, who have been scheming and dreaming up all sorts of what-if scenarios.

  • Brewer & Stoddard continue MSNBC's shoddy Blago coverage

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    The Hill's A.B. Stoddard was on MSNBC this afternoon discussing the media's focus on Barack Obama's purely theoretical (and not alleged by anyone) involvement in the Blagojevich allegations:

    STODDARD: They've pushed that off into next week and according to lawyers quoted in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, they're just choosing to do this. They're choosing not to talk. They're under no legal impediment. There's no injunction against them. Although Patrick Fitzgerald doesn't want them to talk, they're not legally kept from doing so. They're not. They're choosing not to talk. So in some ways Barack Obama is sort of doing this to himself. He's going to keep getting those questions and it's going to be a feeding frenzy next week.

    See, the media feeding frenzy is Obama's fault: if he would just disclose the contacts between his staff and Blagojevich, it would all go away.

    This, of course, is inane. The questions most certainly would not go away. Indeed, they would intensify. Stoddard kept insisting that Obama is under no obligation not to talk. True. True, but dumb. Dumb because if Obama blows off Fitzgerald's request, the media would go into a frenzy about whether that means he is impeding the investigation, and why. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that A.B. Stoddard would be an active participant in it.

    MSNBC's Contessa Brewer then responded:

    BREWER: And it's leaving room for people to ponder and question and leave time for doubts to arise and in fact we're seeing this new Marist poll that shows that 63 percent of Americans feel the Obama transition is on the right track. Now that's pretty good, but an NBC News Wall Street Journal poll showed earlier that that number was more like three quarters of the people that had responded. Is the Blagojevich scandal and the surrounding questions, no matter what the answers are, if they remain unanswered, is it likely to affect how people view this transition?

    This is a completely invalid point. Brewer is comparing the results of two different polls conducted by two different polling organizations and purporting to show a trend as a result.

    Hey, look, this fruit has red skin, while that fruit has orange skin! Right ... one is an apple, and one is an orange.

    But Brewer didn't merely err in comparing the results of two different polls. She portrayed the Marist poll as "new," and suggested the results reflect the "time for doubts to arise."

    Well, guess what? The Marist poll was released today ... but it was conducted December 9th and 10th. That's the day charges were filed against Blagojevich, and the next day. In fact, the Marist poll began the day after the NBC/Wall Street Journal ended.

    So Brewer is comparing two polls, by two different polling firms, which were conducted on consecutive days, both of which were completed more than a week ago, and both of which were completed before the Blagojevich story was 48 hours old - and in doing so, she is purporting to show an erosion in Obama's public standing as a result of "doubts" that have supposedly arisen in the past week.

    Later, Brewer told Stoddard: "I know there are journalists who are taking a lot of heat for not being aggressive and tough with Obama."

    Yeah, and there are journalists who are taking heat for being unfair to Obama by obsessively and misleadingly covering the story, despite the fact that there is no allegation that Obama or any of his staff has done anything wrong. But Brewer didn't mention that.

  • The media's new meme: Obama is too boring

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Because after all, these are such dull times. I mean, with the economy careening to new, historic depths and millions of Americans struggling to remain employed and in their homes, it's no surprise the Beltway press laments how there's not enough drama--enough entertainment--in the air.

    Let's double dip into Dana Milbank's dreadful work in the Post today, as he mocks Obama's boring presser on Tuesday [emphasis added]:

    Next up in Obama's insomnia treatment was an acceptance speech by the previously unknown nominee, followed by the president-elect's own blend of convoluted and passive answers to questions...The whole thing might have ended in snores if [Chicago Tribune reporter John] McCormick hadn't piped up about Blagojevich.

    For Milbank and his colleagues, the only interesting part came when somebody asked about Blago. (Finally!)

    Gene Lyons also noticed Milbank playing the bored care:

    My personal favorite, however, had to be the Post's ubiquitous TV talking head Dana Milbank. Reacting on CNN to the disappointing news that Fitzgerald has asked Obama to delay releasing a list of staffers who'd discussed the coveted Senate seat, Milbank complained that the president-elect was trying to bore Americans to death by appointing obscure nobodies to posts like secretary of energy.

  • MSNBC peddles bogus pro-Bush terrorism spin

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    MSNBC's John Yang, just said in previewing President Bush's speech today: "The president has said in his interviews, his exit interviews as he calls them, that one of his greatest, the achievement he is proudest of is the fact that there has been no attack on US soil, no terrorist attack since September 11, 2001."

    Journalists keep repeating this Bush spin, but it just isn't true.

    You'd think an MSNBC reporter would remember the anthrax mailings that targeted Democratic members of congress as well as several news organizations - after all, one of the letters was sent to NBC.

    Maybe John Yang should check in with Casey Chamberlain, the NBC employee who opened a letter containing anthrax. She understands that there has, in fact, been a terrorist attack since September 11, 2001; in 2006, she wrote an account of her experiences for MSNBC's web page:

    Every September, like many, I feel sick and frightened around the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. But it was the weeks following September 11th that would forever change my life. During that time, I was the victim of terrorism when I opened a letter containing a lethal amount of anthrax.

    You may remember hearing about Tom Brokaw's assistant who got sick after coming in contact with a letter containing a deadly amount of anthrax. I was the person who first opened that letter, before Tom's assistant became sick. You have not heard my story.


    A week or so after I was sick, Mr. Brokaw's assistant became sick. Both of our symptoms were unusual. Authorities became involved. When Bob Stevens died at the American Media Building in Florida at the end of September, the pieces slowly began to come together.


    The events over the next few months changed my life. I had carried anthrax back on my clothes and had contaminated my home. I chose to have all of my things destroyed. I lost my most personal belongings. All my precious pictures and mementos. I worried I might die. I'll have to see doctors the rest of my life.


    Every time I hear the word terrorism or anthrax, it makes me sick. I often become a bit paranoid and feel as if people are staring at me. Whenever various media outlets alert Americans about "a white substance" that was found or some chemical smell or spill, the speculation that these things might be anthrax conjures up many negative emotions. I'll never have an overall sense of security again.

    The next time John Yang feels like mindlessly repeating Bush administration talking points, he should give his colleague Casey Chamberlain a call first.

    Or he might think about Greg McKendry, an usher at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church who died while shielding others from gunfire when Jim Adkisson opened fire during a children's musical performance.

    Despite what much of the media seems to believe, not all terrorism is committed by people from Saudi Arabia

  • Peter Baker's bizarre view of impeachment

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    On Sunday, Kevin Drum noted that the New York Times Peter Baker ignored the media's role in hyping the Blagojevich scandal as a problem for Barack Obama. As Drum explained:

    it's a little odd that Baker leaves out the role of the press in all this. I'll let Bob Somerby do the heavy lifting here, but I've lost count of the number of op-eds and TV talking head segments over the past week that have started out with something like this: "There's no evidence that Barack Obama was involved in Rod Blagojevich's pay-to-play scheme - in fact just the opposite - but...." After the "but," we get a couple thousand words with some take or another on why this is casting a "lengthening shadow" over Obama even though there's precisely zero evidence that he had even a tangential involvement in the whole thing.


    Maybe Republicans still haven't learned their lesson from the 90s, but that's no reason the press has to follow them over a cliff once again. Cool it, folks.

    In fact, Baker's whole piece was supposedly about "lesson[s] from the 90s" - but he has drawn some bizarre conclusions from the impeachment proceedings that capped the GOP's efforts to destroy Bill Clinton.

    Baker writes:

    But the impeachment represented the triumph of partisanship on both sides of the aisle, a partisanship that remains today. Democrats made a calculated decision to stick by a president of their party no matter his transgressions and to promote partisan division in the Congressional proceedings so they could discredit the other side. Republicans were so intent on turning out Mr. Clinton that they turned away from opportunities for a bipartisan solution.

    This is deeply flawed.

    First, Democrats didn't decide to "stick by" Clinton "no matter his transgressions." They decided to "stick by" Clinton despite what his transgressions actually were. In Baker's formulation, the Democrats decided to stick with Clinton no matter what he did. That isn't what happened -- unless you believe that what Clinton did was the worst thing he could possibly have done. Washington journalists like Peter Baker always seemed to believe that, but the American people have never agreed. Nor has basic common sense.

    Second, Baker's assertion that the Democrats' decision was "calculated" is utterly baseless. The Democrats opposed impeachment - but so did literally hundreds of legal experts, constitutional scholars, and historians, as well as the overwhelming majority of the American people. It is nothing short of mind-blowing that Peter Baker doesn't even entertain the possibility that this wasn't a "calculated" political decision, but rather a sober and well-reasoned assessment that impeachment was simply not the correct remedy for what President Clinton did.

    Third, Baker's assertion that it was the Democrats who promoted "partisan division in the Congressional proceedings" is jaw-dropping. The very existence of the impeachment hearings was itself a partisan act by Congressional Republicans - a partisan act that was inconsistent with the views of overwhelming numbers of legal and constitutional experts, the American people, and even the proclamations of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had said earlier in the year that Congress would not proceed with impeachment based only on allegations relating to Lewinsky.

    House Republicans conducted the proceedings in the same heavy-handed and partisan manner that they had brought to their pumpkin-shooting pursuit of Clinton for years. It was the Republicans who decided that Ken Starr would be the only fact witness during the Judiciary hearings, for example - and who gave him two hours to deliver an opening statement, and gave Clinton lawyer David Kendall only 30 minutes to question Starr. (Eventually, committee chair Henry Hyde was generous enough to give Kendall another 30 minutes.)

    Anyone who wishes to examine the facts of the House Judiciary impeachment proceedings - and the ways in which the GOP's approach differed from the committee's inquiry into Watergate in the 1970s - can find ample evidence that the committee Republicans behaved in a shockingly zealous and partisan manner. To say the Democrats were being partisan in not going along with the GOP's lunacy is simply perverse.

    But you don't even need those facts in order to see the flaws in Baker's reasoning. Baker thinks the Democrats were being excessively partisan in not going along with the GOP's efforts to impeach Clinton ... and the Republicans were being excessively partisan in insisting on impeachment. According to this logic, the only way for everyone to behave appropriately would have been for the Democrats to support impeachment and the Republicans to oppose it. But that's nonsense. Impeachment was either the right thing to do or the wrong. If you think it was right, there's no reason to criticize Republicans for supporting it. If you think it was wrong, there is no reason to criticize Democrats for opposing it.

    Baker's formulation is typical of beltway journalists - right and wrong and policy and truth don't matter; the only way to be admirable is to disagree with one's party. Ridiculous. (Not to mention impractical: what if the majority of congressional Democrats had supported impeachment? Would it then have been the Democrats who opposed impeachment who had behaved honorably for eschewing partisanship?)

    Baker continues:

    The result has been a distaste for impeachment but little appetite for consensus. Liberal Democrats agitated to impeach Mr. Bush in connection with the Iraq war, warrantless surveillance and interrogation policies, but party leaders had no interest in going down that road again. "Although there are powerful arguments that President Bush has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, there are questions about whether it is prudent to do so," said Bruce Ackerman, a Yale Law School professor.

    Mr. Bush's defenders would strenuously disagree. In their minds, the very talk of impeachment over policy differences represents the real cost of the Clinton clash.

    Wow. Wrong again.

    For better or worse, there hasn't been any significant effort to impeach Bush. But to the extent anyone has advocated impeachment, it certainly hasn't been "over policy differences" - it has been over rampant law-breaking, constitution-trampling, and over lying in order to take the nation to war against a country that didn't attack us. Baker's framing could hardly be more Bush-friendly.

    Which isn't to say he didn't try. Baker, continuing directly:

    Mr. Bush, after all, campaigned for office promising to sweep out the toxic atmosphere in Washington, only to find that his disputed election had further polarized the capital and the nation. As he prepares to take leave eight years later, he calls his inability to change the political climate one of his regrets.

    Yeah, poor George W. Bush - he really wanted to "sweep out the toxic atmosphere in Washington," but just wasn't able to get it done. Again, Baker's framing couldn't be more Bush-friendly if he tried; he ignores everything Bush and those acting in his name did to contribute to the toxic atmosphere in Washington.

    Put it all together, and what do you have?

    House Democrats were shamefully partisan for opposing the impeachment of President Clinton (though they were joined in that opposition by basically everyone in America except Congressional Republicans and Beltway journalists.)

    And the polarization caused by his disputed election prevented President Bush from changing the tone in Washington - his own unbending partisanship had nothing to do with it.