In the past two months, Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza has used his platform at The Fix to obsess over the question of whether Hillary Clinton has sufficiently explained her family's wealth, dismissing Clinton's comments on income inequality while offering conflicting advice on how she should answer the question in a way that satisfies Chris Cillizza and The Washington Post.
Cillizza's latest post came in response to an interview Hillary Clinton gave to Fusion TV host Jorge Ramos that aired July 29. "Hillary Clinton still hasn't found a good answer to questions about her wealth," according to the July 29 headline over at The Fix. After crediting GOP opposition research firm American Rising with focusing his attention on Clinton's wealth, Cillizza concluded: "Until she finds three sentences (or so) to button up any/all questions about her wealth, those questions will keep coming. And that's not the way Clinton wants to run-up to her now all-but-certain presidential bid."
This is the third time in two months that Cillizza has posted a column fixated on Clinton's wealth and his belief that she is struggling to explain it -- and the third time since June 22 that The Fix has turned to America Rising to help define Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, a June NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll found that 55 percent of Americans say that Clinton relates to and understands average Americans.
"The Clintons are not 'average' people," Cillizza warned just a week before that poll came out. He concluded by advising Clinton to stop talking about her wealth and move on: "Instead of spending her time litigating just how wealthy she is, Clinton should acknowledge her wealth and then spend the vast majority of her rhetorical time making the case that through the policies she has advocated and pursued, she has never lost sight of the middle class."
The reality is that Clinton has already done exactly what Cillizza advises; he just largely chooses to dismiss it. When Clinton has been asked about her wealth, she has consistently paired her personal finances with discussing her lifelong advocacy and work on behalf of the poor and middle class.
From the July 25 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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In the thirteen months directly prior to kicking off his Republican presidential campaign in February 2007, Rudy Giuliani earned more than $11 million dollars giving paid speeches. The former New York City Mayor, who was thrust into the national and international spotlight after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, typically charged between $100,000 and $300,000 for his speeches and spoke more than 120 times.
According to one speaking contract published at the time, Giuliani required clients pay for meals and lodging for himself and four travel companions. Giuliani required a two-bedroom suite (with a king-sized bed) for his overnight stays; a suite preferably located on an upper floor with a balcony. Clients also had to pay for four additional rooms to house Giuliani's entourage.
As for travel, the contract stipulated that clients "should provide Mr. Giuliani with first class travel expenses for up to 5 people to include a private plane." What kind of private plane? "Please note that the private aircraft MUST BE a Gulfstream IV or bigger."
Note that along with the $11 million in speaking fees Giuliani pocketed in 2006, he also earned $8 million on the speech circuit in 2002. If Giuliani was able to average between $8 and $11 million in speaking fees from 2002 until he announced his candidacy in early 2007, he would have earned more than $40 million giving speeches in the five years prior to his White House campaign. (Speaking fees represented only part of his income.)
What's newsworthy about that today? Simply the fact that back in 2007 when a wealthy Republican became a presidential hopeful the Beltway press didn't care that he'd earned an eight-figure income giving 45-minute speeches. (With an additional 15 minutes allotted for Q & A.) Indeed, Giuliani's financial revelations barely registered with pundits and reporters who gave the information little time and attention. The Washington Post, for example, published just three mentions of Giuliani's multi-million dollar "speaking fees."
The press certainly never elevated the issue to a defining narrative for the Republican's campaign. Perhaps they realized there was nothing intrinsically wrong with a speaker being paid what organizations are willing to offer them.
Compare that collective shoulder shrug with the nearly month-long media fascination still churning over Hillary Clinton's speaking fees; a fascination that's part of a larger, misguided media obsession over the issue of Clinton wealth. ("Speaking fee" articles and columns published by Post so far this year regarding Clinton? 28.)
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has attempted to scandalize the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation in two consecutive columns, even as colleague Nicholas Kristof prepares to participate in the Clintons' charitable events for the sixth straight year.
Dowd's attacks on the Clinton Foundation are the latest salvo in her decades-long anti-Clinton campaign.
In her July 19 column, Dowd baselessly criticized the "foundation dishabille" as part of the "percussive drama" that supposedly surrounds the Clintons. Dowd devoted her July 12 column to lashing out at Chelsea Clinton for giving paid speeches and donating the fees to the Clinton Foundation, an activity which Dowd described as somehow "unseemly."
The Clinton Foundation's website says its mission is "to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment." But Dowd baselessly smeared the Foundation as a phony organization intended solely to benefit the Clinton family, claiming that Chelsea Clinton was "joining her parents in cashing in to help feed the rapacious, gaping maw of Clinton Inc." by giving her speaking fees to the Clinton Foundation rather than donating the proceeds to "some independent charity not designed to burnish the Clinton name as her mother ramps up to return to the White House and as she herself drops a handkerchief about getting into politics."
Dowd's criticism raises questions about The New York Times' position on the Foundation given Dowd colleague Nicholas Kristof's involvement in Clinton charitable events through the Clinton Global Initiative. Founded by President Clinton in 2005 and merged into the broader Clinton Foundation last year, CGI brings together global leaders from the public, nonprofit, and private sectors to help solve pressing international issues.
Kristof has participated in CGI's annual meeting in each of the last five years, either by delivering remarks or moderating panels. In a 2010 "CGI Stories" video, Kristof praised the group, saying, "There has been a bit of a change in how global poverty and global health is perceived and I think what's happening at CGI both reflects that and also helps shape it."
In an interview with Media Matters, Kristof said CGI events give him "a chance to meet people who converge from around the world" that are focused on issues that interest him, such as global women's rights, development, and education. He said that he plans to attend the group's annual meeting in September if he is invited. He declined to comment on Dowd's work.
The Times also declined to comment on the tension between Dowd's campaign to scandalize the foundation and Kristof's continued relationship with it.
The paper's Ethical Journalism handbook suggests that the paper has not institutionally adopted Dowd's critique. It states that Times journalists "must consult with the standards editor or the deputy editorial page editor" before addressing "groups that might figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise, especially if the setting might suggest a close relationship to the sponsoring group." It also bars them from accepting "invitations to speak where their function is to attract customers to an event primarily intended as profit-making."
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who criticized Chelsea Clinton's speaking fees as "unseemly," brings home less than half as much as the former first daughter for her own paid engagements.
American Program Bureau, one of two speaking bureaus that broker speaking appearances for Dowd, said she receives an average of $30,000 per appearance, plus travel expenses. An APB agent who requested anonymity, confirmed Dowd averages at least eight to 12 such appearances per year.
Dowd's other speaking bureau, All-American Speakers, declined to release fee information for Dowd.
This is less than half of the $75,000 Chelsea Clinton receives per event according to a previous New York Times story. That article noted that all of her fees go to the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, which "works to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment."
Dowd, who has a decades-long history of viciously criticizing President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, took on their daughter this past Sunday in a column that said there was "something unseemly" about the younger Clinton being paid to speak:
Why on earth is she worth that much money? Why, given her dabbling in management consulting, hedge-funding and coattail-riding, is an hour of her time valued at an amount that most Americans her age don't make in a year?
Dowd went on to write that if Clinton "really wants to be altruistic," she should "contribute the money to some independent charity not designed to burnish the Clinton name" or "speak for free."
Could the same be said of Dowd's own work on the paid speaking circuit? She has appeared at college campuses ranging from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to Hofstra University and the University of Rochester in the past. Her paid appearances have also spanned the likes of the Philadelphia Bar Association and Temple B'nai Abraham in Livingston, N.J.
"We don't pay all of our speakers, but in her case I am sure we did," said Dan Anderson, vice president for university relations at Elon University in Elon, N.C., where Dowd spoke in 2012.
Dowd did not respond to a request for comment seeking to determine whether she donates her speaking fees to charity.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd posited that there is "something unseemly" about recent reports Chelsea Clinton gives speeches that raise up to $75,000 per appearance for the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
A July 9 article in The Times discussed Clinton's foray into public speaking appearances on behalf of the Clinton Foundation. The Times quoted a Clinton spokesperson who explained that "100 percent of the fees" Clinton receives are "remitted directly to the foundation," and that "the majority of Chelsea's speeches are unpaid." According to The Times, "Ms. Clinton's speeches focus on causes like eradicating waterborne diseases." (The Clinton Foundation's website says its mission is "to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment.")
In a July 13 column, Dowd took issue with Clinton's speaking arrangements, writing that the former first daughter is "acting out in a sense now, joining her parents in cashing in to help feed the rapacious, gaping maw of Clinton Inc." Dowd also suggested that Clinton's speaking fee means she has "open[ed] herself up to criticism that she is gobbling whopping paychecks not commensurate with her skills, experience or role in life."
"There's something unseemly about it," Dowd continued, "making one wonder: Why on earth is she worth that much money? Why, given her dabbling in management consulting, hedge-funding and coattail-riding, is an hour of her time valued at an amount that most Americans her age don't make in a year?"
The media's fixation on comments Hillary Clinton made during recent interviews responding to questions about her family's wealth has obscured the substantive issues Clinton talked about during nearly four hours of interviews.
Clinton's interviews on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, PBS, and NPR lasted for more than three hours and 45 minutes, not including commercials, according to a Media Matters analysis.
In the weeks since Clinton began promoting her book, the media has endlessly fixated on whether Clinton committed a "gaffe" when responding to questions about wealth.
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler misquoted Hillary Clinton while criticizing her recent and accurate comments about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.
Kessler specifically took Clinton to task over a comment she made during the Aspen Ideas Festival:
CLINTON: It's very troubling that a salesclerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception, which is pretty expensive, is not going to get that service through her employer's health-care plan because her employer doesn't think she should be using contraception.
But in taking issue with the portion of Clinton's remarks about the affordability of contraception, Kessler actually misquoted what she said:
As for "very expensive," this is in the eye of the beholder. Studies have indicated that when times are tough, women have tried to save money by skimping on birth control, such as skipping pills and delaying prescription refills.
Clinton never said that contraception is "very expensive." She said it was "pretty expensive." The distinction is meaningful in light of the fact that Kessler specifically went on to criticize Clinton for not being careful while making extemporaneous remarks.
Kessler also criticized Clinton for observing that a Hobby Lobby sales clerk would not be able to access contraception because her employer doesn't think she should be using it. Here's Kessler's rationale:
In the specific case, the company on religious grounds objected to four of 20 possible options, leaving other possible types of contraceptives available to female employees -- though not necessarily the most effective or necessary at the moment.
Contrary to Kessler's reasoning, it's entirely accurate to say that a sales clerk could decide in consultation with her doctor that a valid form of contraception is the best option for her health needs and yet be denied access because her boss doesn't think she should be using it.
Kessler addressed similar criticism from readers in an update, calling it an "interesting parsing" but standing by his original analysis.
After spending much of the last two weeks criticizing Hillary Clinton for supposed "gaffes" about her wealth and claiming she's increasingly out of touch with voters thanks to the combined earnings of herself and her husband, Beltway pundits are confronted with a new poll that shows that despite days worth of media attacks on Clinton's money comments, a clear majority think the former secretary of state relates to "average Americans" and the problems they face.
The findings from an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey forcefully debunk the punditry's conventional wisdom that by being "rusty" while discussing her wealth during her recent book tour, Clinton inflicted potentially deep damage to her possible presidential run by being so "out of touch."
The recent wealth coverage continued the Beltway press' long tradition of parsing portions of Clinton comments taken from hours worth of long-form interviews and spinning then in the most unappealing way, and by claiming Clinton's word choice and "tone" is all wrong. (CNN even altered a Hillary quote about money last week to make it more incriminating and newsworthy.)
To date though, voters don't seem to mind when Hillary Clinton talks about money.
Nonetheless as the Washington Post's Dan Balz noted, Clinton's "comments about being "dead broke" upon leaving the White House and not being among the "truly well off" today have triggered an avalanche of coverage raising questions about whether she has lost touch with the lives of ordinary Americans."
Just yesterday, Balz's colleague Ruth Marcus detailed what she called "Hillary Clinton's money woes," and warned the former first lady that the problem might get "worse" because she risks being viewed by voters as "greedy," "defensive," "whiny," and "out of touch."
How was Marcus so sure that voters would deeply resent the Clintons' wealth if Hillary ran for president? Or specifically, that they'd resent how she talked about her wealth. Did Marcus cite polling? Did she interview voters? No, she just knew. Or she thought she knew.
According to the new NBC/WSJ poll, none of Marcus' characterizations are accurate.
And that's why the red flag of the wealth coverage was always the question of whether voters were as deeply offended by Clinton's wealth as the Beltway press is. (MSNBC's Chuck Todd recently dismissed the Clintons' earnings from giving speeches by insisting, "It's not like they have acquired their wealth from hard work.")
Despite being exposed as a self-promoting smear peddler after having his work repeatedly debunked, discredited author and conspiracy theorist Ed Klein has been repeatedly given a platform by many in the right-wing media. Here are the top five reasons the media should not trust Klein's shoddy work.
The Washington Free Beacon's claim that it's being singled out by the University of Arkansas Library for unfair treatment in its reporting on Hillary Clinton-related documents was debunked by CNN, which confirmed it followed the same rules the Free Beacon was punished for not following.
The Free Beacon was informed on June 17 by the library that its access to their archives had been suspended because Free Beacon researchers had not followed standard procedures for gaining permission to publish library documents related to Clinton back in February. The Free Beacon suggested the revocation of their access was political retribution.
But CNN officials confirmed to Media Matters that its researchers were required to fill out permission forms to first gain access to the library's collection of private documents in February related to Hillary Clinton, and later submit separate requests for approval to publish the documents on its website.
"We do have policies that are in place for all researchers and we expect all of our researchers to comply," said Laura Jacobs, associate vice chancellor for university relations for the University of Arkansas. "The idea that we would single out any researcher is false. It is unfortunate that we have been characterized as trying to stifle academic freedom. It is one of the core tenets that we take seriously. Frankly, this is a simple procedural matter."
In a story on June 20 about an interview Clinton had given in the 1980's, the Free Beacon claimed it was never told to file any forms or seek permission.
"I find that hard to believe," said Jacobs. "The process is when you come in to research in our special collection, you sit down with the research manager, you sign something saying you will comply with our policies, you tell the reading room manager materials you would like to access and it is pro forma."
In fact, the University of Arkansas Library provided Business Insider with copies of the request forms that Shawn Reinschmiedt, a GOP operative who worked with the Free Beacon to provide research for the story, signed, including an email that noted that he would be required to fill out an additional form if he wished to publish.
The Free Beacon did not comment on the forms, but told Business Insider they did not believe the University had the right to restrict publication of the documents.
"You can get materials for personal use, we will provide materials for you all day long," Jacobs added. "When you ask us to duplicate materials, if you intend to publish them you are required to complete the permission to publish form."
CNN officials on Monday confirmed CNN researchers who posted a similar story in February did file such forms and requests for permission and were granted approval.
CNN anchor Miguel Marquez misquoted Hillary Clinton this morning, claiming she told the Guardian newspaper that she and her husband are "not truly well off." That's inaccurate. What Clinton told the Guardian was that unlike "a lot of people who are truly well off," she and her husband "pay ordinary income tax."
Here's the full context from The Guardian interview [emphasis added]:
America's glaring income inequality is certain to be a central bone of contention in the 2016 presidential election. But with her huge personal wealth, how could Clinton possibly hope to be credible on this issue when people see her as part of the problem, not its solution?
"But they don't see me as part of the problem," she protests, "because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we've done it through dint of hard work," she says, letting off another burst of laughter. If past form is any guide, she must be finding my question painful.
CNN's false quote fits with the interpretation that many in the media have made, which is that Clinton was contrasting herself with the "truly well off."
A headline from The Week:
Hillary Clinton Explains How She and Bill Aren't 'Truly Well Off'
Hillary Clinton: We're Not 'Truly Well Off'
But at least as good an interpretation of the quote is that Clinton included herself and her husband among the "truly well off," but was saying that unlike many of them, they pay ordinary income tax.
During the 2012 campaign, Mitt and Ann Romney came under scrutiny for taking most of their income as capital gains and dividends, therefore paying a much lower tax rate of 14 percent.
The gaffe police were on vigilant patrol last week, keenly monitoring Hillary Clinton's book release media tour and pronouncing much of it to be a failure.
The former first lady, senator, and secretary of state sat for a series of lengthy interviews that covered an array of topics, from the Iraq War to transgender rights, and spoke for hours to some the country's leading journalists during long-form Q&A's. (So much for the claim that Clinton shields herself away from the news media.)
By setting aside the substance and parsing Clinton's words in search of stumbles, the press announced Clinton suffered a "rough week" because of two alleged miscues: She spoke accurately about the state of her personal finances in early 2001 when she and her husband Bill Clinton were "broke." And she pushed back against National Public Radio's Terry Gross when she repeatedly tried to pigeonhole Clinton on the sensitive and personal issue of gay marriage. (i.e. Hillary got "testy" according to the GOP operatives who circulated the audio and much of the media who reported on it).
Those were the "gaffes" that earned her a mostly thumbs down review from the theater critics who pass as Beltway political pundits and who declared her performance was "rusty"; that Clinton had become "rattled" and emotional, according to Maureen Dowd. (Texas Governor Rick Perry last week likening homosexuality to alcoholism? That wasn't really treated as a major political gaffe for a possible 2016 candidate.)
Bloomberg's Albert Hunt summed up the agreed-upon conventional wisdom nicely when he wrote that Clinton suffered a "rough rollout for her new book" because the week contained "gaffes" and "awkward answers."
Well, at least she didn't cackle.
Note that the "broke" "gaffe" consisted of Clinton repeating commonly known facts about her at-times precarious finances more than a decade ago; facts that have been reported many times in the press. The Clintons, the New York Times noted on September 19, 1999, "are the least prosperous couple to live in the White House in many years." The Times noted "the Clintons have slightly more than $1 million in assets, but are still saddled by a $5 million legal debt." (In 2001, The New Yorker pegged the Clinton's legal bills at "eleven or twelve million dollars.")
The press seemed especially judgmental following the NPR interview with Gross who created the false impression that Clinton had stonewalled and dodged over the issue of marriage equality, despite the fact Clinton repeatedly answered Gross' question. What's a politician supposed to do when an interviewer repeatedly tries to assign cynical motivations for a policy shift if the politician insists that motivation isn't accurate? Should the politician simply go along with the allegation or should she push back and clarify, even as the interviewer again and again clings to the same position?
Clinton response was to push back a bit on NPR: "I think you're reading it very wrong." And "That's just flat wrong."
But apparently she was supposed to roll over. Because by standing up for herself (while never raising her voice), Clinton was breathlessly tagged as combative and unnerved in the wake of a mildly contentious back-and-forth:
Instapundit called her "testy," as did MSNBC, and New York Magazine does, too, also writing that "Hillary won't say she evolved on gay marriage." The Wall Street Journal also picks up the "testy" line, while the New York Daily News prefers "lashes out" in a "tense" interview. Mediaite says she "snaps" at NPR's interviewer. Oh, and Politico prefers "testy."
The media message to Clinton was clear last week: You can't lose your cool when dealing with the press. You can't try to intimidate reporters. And you certainly can't try to bluster them off tough questions. Those are the guidelines established for Clinton if she plans to run to become the country's first woman president.
Who is allowed to do all those things? Chris Christie, for one.
More and more journalists claim to have uncovered a key story of the unfolding 2016 presidential campaign. And more and more journalists insist it's all about them. Well, them and Hillary Clinton.
Specifically, we're told that Hillary's relationship with the press is going to be the defining dynamic of the 2016 campaign season, if she chooses to run. Not her pact with voters, mind you. But her dealings with the press. (Inside baseball trumps all, apparently.) I honestly can't remember a run-up to a presidential campaign where the D.C. press spent so much time writing about the D.C. press and how it will cover a candidate who isn't even a candidate yet.
Just look at this avalanche of recent analysis:
-Here's What Journalists Really Want from Hillary Clinton [Vanity Fair]
-Don't Blame Hillary Clinton's Media Problem on the Right-Wing Press. Blame Clinton Herself. [The New Republic]
-Hillary Clinton vs. The Press [syndicated columnist Richard Cohen]
-End of an Era? Clinton Media Strategy May Be Due for an Overhaul [New York Times]
-Hillary's Armor [Fox News' Howard Kurtz]
-What Is Hillary Clinton Afraid Of? [Politico]
-Why The Clintons Can't Handle the Media [New York]
And surprise! Virtually all the examinations reach the same conclusion about the strained relationship: Clinton just has to just "deal with" her misgivings and get over it if she wants to become president.
Not surprisingly though, the onslaught of media coverage about Hillary's media coverage isn't reflective. Instead, it's mostly one-way and instructional. It's telling Clinton how she must change her behavior, or else. (Should journalists really be in the "or else" business?) There's very little contemplation about why Clinton might be wary of the manner in which the political press provides scrutiny.
Regardless, journalists are sure of one thing: Hillary (and Bill Clinton) hate the press and remain purposefully cloistered away from it.
"All politicians resent the media, but few can match the mixture of incomprehension, terror, and bitter recrimination mustered by Bill and Hillary Clinton toward the Fourth Estate," New York breathlessly announced, claiming "the various streams of thought trickling through the Clintons' brains do not converge upon any coherent strategy for dealing with the media." (That sounds bad.)
On and on the cataloging has gone in recent weeks, as news consumers are inundated with descriptions of Clinton's "fear and loathing of the media," and how she's "withdrawn into a gilded shell."
But how exactly have Hillary and Bill Clinton acted on this supposed hatred of the media?
An overwhelming majority of Americans reject Karl Rove's attempt to scandalize Hillary Clinton's health and age, according to a new poll.
Rove has suggested in several appearances this month that Clinton's age and health should be major issues if she chooses to run for president, baselessly speculating that a concussion she suffered in December 2012 could have long-term repercussions. Rove's smears were echoed by his Fox News colleagues and others in the conservative media but termed a "lie" and "dirty tricks" elsewhere.
According to polling released today by ABC News and the Washington Post, 66 percent of Americans disapprove of Rove's attack, "including 46 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of strong conservatives."
Rove's former colleagues in the Bush administration have termed his comments a deliberate effort to start a conversation that damages Clinton. That effort isn't working.