National Security & Foreign Policy

Issues ››› National Security & Foreign Policy
  • 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.

  • Another Muslim Brotherhood Conspiracy Theorist Becomes A Trump Adviser

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is now advising Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, adding to the list of Trump influencers who have peddled the right-wing media conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin is a “Muslim Brotherhood” operative. Bachmann, who formally requested a federal investigation into Abedin and others in the federal government, joins conspiracy theory-spouting Trump associates Stephen Bannon, Sean Hannity, and Roger Stone.

  • Fox Scandalizes Report Claiming US Leveraged Payment To Iran To Ensure Prisoner Release

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Fox News host Stuart Varney mischaracterized new details about the United States’ $400 million payment to the Iranian government, claiming that the State Department admitted that the money was a “ransom payment” for American prisoners. In reality the payment, stemming from a “decades-old” agreement, was “conducted separately from the prisoner talks” and was withheld as “leverage until the US citizens had left Iran.”

    The Wall Street Journal reported on August 3 that the Obama administration “organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran.”

    Right-wing media distorted news of the cash transfer -- which related to a settlement reached in 1979 “over a failed arms deal” that was resolved in The Hague -- to falsely claim the transfer had been done in secret and that the payment was ransom.

    The Journal then reported on August 18 that the cash exchange was “specifically timed to the release of several American prisoners held in Iran.”

    State Department spokesman John Kirby reportedly said that although “the US withheld delivery of the cash as leverage until the US citizens had left Iran,” the negotiations over transferring the money were “conducted separately from the prisoner talks.”

    Fox host Stuart Varney seized upon Kirby’s statement to falsely claim that the State Department “basically admitted that the Journal story is correct,” and that “this is a ransom payment.” Varney also said, “[it’s] very difficult to say that’s not ransom.”

    But the payment indeed was not ransom, as Kirby explained in an August 18 State Department press briefing. Kirby noted that the money was given to Iran after the prisoners had been released in an effort to “retain maximum leverage,” not before, as a ransom payment typically happens.

    Kirby also noted that the payment was timed with the prisoner release because “We were able to conclude multiple strands of diplomacy within a 24 hour period, including implementation of the nuclear deal, the prisoner talks, and the settlement” in question. Kirby made clear that “we deliberately leveraged that moment to finalize these outstanding issues nearly simultaneously” because of “concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release” and “mutual mistrust” between the two countries.

  • Politico Gives Anti-Immigrant Advocate A Platform To Justify Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” Proposal

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Politico Magazine published an article written by anti-immigrant economist George Borjas, who defended Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposal to implement “extreme, extreme vetting” for immigrants, including temporarily banning refugees from an undisclosed list of countries. Borjas is linked to anti-immigrant think tanks known for shoddy research and himself has skewed information in a crusade against immigrants.

    In an August 17 Politico op-ed republished from his blog, Borjas slammed media figures for criticizing Trump’s proposals, citing a number of discriminatory policies throughout history that have blocked, deported, or discouraged certain immigrants from coming to the United States, and defending Trump’s extreme proposal by arguing that “immigration vetting is as American as apple pie.” He also refers to the 1917 Immigration Act, “which, in addition to effectively barring immigration from Asia, listed the many traits that would make potential immigrants inadmissible” as one of his “favorite examples” of “extreme vetting.”

    A 2006 New York Times profile of Borjas stated that his approach to immigration “carries an overtone of ethnic selectivity that was a staple of the immigration debates a century ago,” which “makes many of Borjas’s colleagues uncomfortable.” He also has ties to conservative think tanks known for expounding false information about immigrants, including the nativist Center for Immigration Studies and the hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which have both been described as organizations that “stand at the nexis of the American nativist movement.” Borjas continued to express these attitudes in his Politico op-ed, despite acknowledging that some immigration restrictions were rolled back “for good reason”:

    As early as 1645, the Massachusetts Bay Colony prohibited the entry of poor or indigent persons. By the early 20th century, the country was filtering out people who had “undesirable” traits, such as epileptics, alcoholics and polygamists. Today, the naturalization oath demands that immigrants renounce allegiance to any foreign state. Even our Favorite Founding Father du jour, Alexander Hamilton (himself an immigrant), thought it was important to scrutinize whoever came to the United States.

    [...]

    In other words, immigration vetting is as American as apple pie.

    [...]

    In 1882, Congress suspended the immigration of Chinese laborers, and added idiots, lunatics and persons likely to become public charges to the list for good measure.

    One of my favorite examples of the extreme vetting is the 1917 Immigration Act, which, in addition to effectively barring immigration from Asia, listed the many traits that would make potential immigrants inadmissible.

    [...]

    In other words, even a century ago we had put in place ideological filters against anarchists, persons who advocate the destruction of property, and persons who believe in overthrowing the government of the United States.

    Of course, some of these filters, such as those restricting the entry of epileptics or Asians, have long since been rolled back—and for good reason. But many of them—especially those pertaining to criminals, and people who are likely to work against U.S. interests—remain in current law, with additions that reflect the changing security landscape.

  • Media Blast Trump For Criticizing Policies He Once Supported

    Trump's ISIS Speech Ridiculed: He "Supported Every Single Foreign Policy Decision He Now Decries”

    ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    Numerous media outlets criticized and fact-checked the “contradictions” in Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recent foreign policy speech, pointing out that he once supported several foreign policy decisions that he now claims he opposed. 

  • Fox Defends Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” Proposal As Other Journalists Criticize It

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Fox News figures are praising Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposal to have “extreme vetting” of immigrants wanting to come into the United States and using questionnaires to vet their beliefs, saying “we’ve done it before,” that it “made sense,” and that it was part of a “a solution-based program.” Meanwhile, other journalists and media outlets are saying the idea “just beggars belief” and is an “impractical” attempt “to recast his Muslim ban in other, less obviously offensive terms.”

  • CBS And ABC Nightly News Ignore Trump Campaign Chairman’s Ties To Pro-Russian Ukrainian Politicians

    NBC Nightly News Only Broadcast Network Program To Cover Bombshell Claims

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    ABC and CBS broadcast nightly news programs failed to mention a New York Times report detailing alleged payments to Donald Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2007-2012.

    On August 14, the New York Times reported that Paul Manafort allegedly received “$12.7 million in undisclosed payments” from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s “pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012.”

    NBC was the only nightly news program to mention the payments on the August 15 edition of Nightly News with Lester Holt noting how the allegations "blunted" a foreign policy speech made by Donald Trump.

    KATY TUR: Trump's message on ISIS blunted today by new questions over his campaign chairman's business ties to Ukraine. The New York Times reported that Ukraine's anti-corruption task force uncovered a ledger, allegedly documenting $12.7 million in off the books cash payments from Ukraine's past pro-Putin president to Paul Manafort.

    Manafort denied receiving such payments, calling the allegation "silly" and "nonsensical."

    Though national security analysts characterized the report as “damning” and “staggering,” ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir and CBS’ Evening News with Scott Pelley did not include any mention of the payments to Manafort.

  • Fox News Virtually Silent On NY Times Report Detailing Trump Campaign Chairman’s Ties To Pro-Russian Ukrainian Politicians

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    On August 15 between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m., Fox News offered virtually no coverage of the August 14 New York Times report that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort allegedly received “$12.7 million in undisclosed payments” from former Ukrainian President Viktor “Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012.” CNN has reported extensively on the story. National security experts and foreign affairs and national security journalists are calling the Times’ report “serious” and “staggering,” with one going so far as to say, “This article alone should finish the Trump campaign.”