James Carville is a guest contributor to Media Matters.
On March 12, I posted on Media Matters to discuss what I called the Clinton Rule. The Clinton Rule is as follows: There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Well this week we got the ultimate proof of the Clinton Rule when The New York Times got its hands on a copy of Clinton Cash, a forthcoming book which purportedly claims that the State Department received favors from foreign entities that donated to The Clinton Foundation. Now, I wasn't the least bit surprised that the conservative media echo chamber immediately reverberated with cries of the "very damning" "bombshell," of a book that "could threaten [Hillary's] campaign." And I say purportedly because almost no one has read the book yet.
Here's the thing that did surprise me:
Never have we seen a more instant classic for followers of the Clinton Rule than with this latest tome. The book isn't even slated to be released for several weeks and yet The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Fox News are in cahoots with the author -- reporting on what might be inside. I'll run you through the playbook.
Let's start with the facts. The star of this latest instance of the Clinton Rule is the author, Peter Schweizer. He's a discredited fringe conservative activist and former political aide to the likes of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Bobby Jindal. That's a trifecta that pays a high dollar for pushing right wing conspiracies. Schweizer has worked for such "reputable" publications as Breitbart.com -- the same Breitbart.com that once called gun safety advocate Gabby Giffords a "human shield" for the gun safety movement. His right wing bona fides don't end there. Schweizer is even listed as a contributor to one of former Fox News host Glenn Beck's books.
Speaking of Schweizer's work -- back in 1998 he took on the "gay subculture" that was "blossoming" at Walt Disney World. In Disney: The Mouse Betrayed -- which is not listed on Schweizer's website with his other works -- he attacked the "gay activism" at the theme park, with special attention for the annual Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom. "There is a lot of openly displayed affection during the event -- holding hands, kissing, and the like," Schweizer wrote. God forbid.
Here's the deal, Peter Schweizer's new book out May 5 is likely to have serious problems -- one embarrassing error has reportedly already been found. As Media Matters noted this week, Schweizer has been called out at least ten times by journalists and independent fact checkers for getting his facts wrong in his previous articles and books. His past work has been called "incorrect," "bogus," and "a fatal shortcoming in journalism 101." In short, he's a SERIAL MISINFORMER.
Yet, The New York Times, Washington Post, and Fox News have all made exclusive agreements with Schweizer for early access to pursue "the story lines found in the book." I'm not shocked that Fox News took the shady deal here since Harper Collins, which is publishing Schweizer's book, is also owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and is the sister company of Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox. But I'm hard pressed to find any reason why The New York Times and The Washington Post would do the same except for the Clinton Rule.
The rule where every piece of nonsense the press can grab onto about the Clintons gets headline after headline.
But here's the thing, friends. The last time I remember a major media outlet hyping a right wing book this much was when CBS' 60 Minutes got duped by a guy whose tall tale included him scaling a 12 foot wall on the side of the diplomatic compound in Benghazi and dispatching a terrorist with his rifle butt. We all know how that ended: a book pulled from publication, a 60 Minutes report retracted, and a "journalistic review" which ended with a CBS reporter and producer taking a leave of absence.
All I'm saying here folks is this: The bottom line is that mainstream media must be up for the challenge. To all the reporters wanting to push the limits and take an advance look into the claims of a guy whose history of reporting is marked by errors and retractions, I say it's time to break the Clinton Rule. But in this case, I'm afraid the smarter bet is that we are going to see the same playbook over and over again.
Again, let me repeat what the Clinton Rule is: There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons. After the latest antics on the part of The New York Times I am forced to add to the Clinton Rule. At The New York Times when it comes to the Clintons, there are no rules.
From the April 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
Sean Hannity falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton's campaign admitted to paying female staffers less than male staffers while she was a senator, when in fact the opposite was true. Clinton's campaign reported that she paid men and women equally.
On the April 22 edition of his radio show, Hannity said that the Clinton campaign had "confirmed the accuracy" of a report from the conservative Free Beacon that Clinton had paid female staffers less than male staffers in her senate office:
HANNITY: There is another story I wanted to bring up about Hillary, and her campaign confirmed the accuracy of which to the Washington Free Beacon -- an analysis that showed that women working in Clinton's senate office were paid 72 cents for each dollar paid to men. The campaign told FactCheck.org that it does not dispute the accuracy of the report, which analyzed the office's publicly available disbursement forms from fiscal years 2002 to 2008, and found that men working for Clinton had a median salary of $15,708 higher than women.
In fact, the campaign told FactCheck.org that the Free Beacon analysis had been based on "incomplete" information and provided data showing that Clinton paid women equally. From the FactCheck.org article:
"The Free Beacon based their analysis off an incomplete, and therefore inaccurate set of numbers," said Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign. "The fact is, Hillary paid full-time men and women equally."
The FactCheck.org article states that the campaign supplied Clinton's senate staff employment records, which show that female staffers' median salaries were "virtually identical" to the male staffers' salaries. Those records also indicated that Clinton hired twice the number of women as men.
The article explains that the Free Beacon used a different data set to arrive at its conclusion that women were paid less - and quoted American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein, who said he "believes the Clinton campaign methodology provides a more accurate measure of her record on pay equity."
From the April 21 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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Discredited Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a conservative group with close ties to a billionaire family funding Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential run. GAI has also received substantial support from groups backed by Charles and David Koch.
Schweizer's upcoming anti-Clinton book has garnered widespread media attention, despite the author's long history of criticism from reporters for blatant errors, retractions, and reliance on sources that "do not exist."
Schweizer's GAI, which was behind one of the "bogus" reports Schweizer has been excoriated for, bills itself as a nonprofit devoted to investigating "cronyism and government corruption" and protecting "free markets."
But as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow explained on her show, "[W]hen you take a closer look at Mr. Schweizer's organization and who is backing him, it is a who's who of big right-wing funders, including one of the guys behind the right-wing media site Breitbart.com, for which Mr. Schweizer has previously written -- also the billionaire family that is currently bankrolling Ted Cruz's presidential run."
Indeed, as Crooks and Liars also noted, IRS tax forms reveal GAI is funded by some of the top donors on the right, including the billionaire Mercer family.
Robert Mercer was described by Bloomberg News as the "ultimate behind-the-scenes kingmaker" during the 2014 midterm elections. His daughter, Rebekah Mercer, runs the Mercer Family Foundation, which "has also supported a slew of conservative causes."
According to IRS filings, the Mercer Foundation donated $1 million to GAI in 2013 alone. (Rebekah Mercer was listed on the GAI's board of directors in its 2013 tax documents, but is not currently listed among board members on the group's website.)
Rebekah Mercer has close ties to potential Clinton opponent Ted Cruz. The same day Cruz announced his bid for the presidency, Mercer reportedly threw him a cocktail party at her New York City apartment to launch his fundraising tour.
Schweizer's GAI has also benefited from substantial donations from other Koch-linked groups. Donors Trust, described by Mother Jones as the "dark-money ATM of the right," gave $1,500,000 to GAI in 2013. Donors Trust provides individuals and organizations a way to hide their donations to various right-leaning causes and media outlets, and as Mother Jones noted, they are a key funnel for Koch funds.
Donors Trust has also heavily funded the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, which itself has donated substantial sums to GAI, including $2 million in 2012.
As Media Matters has noted, Schweizer gave a February 2014 address to the Charles Koch Institute. He also spoke at an undergraduate Koch Leadership program at Regent University, and according to documents originally obtained by The Nation, he spoke at the Koch's brothers "secret billionaire summit" in June 2014. At the conference, attendees reportedly "discussed strategy on campaign finance, climate change, healthcare, higher education and opportunities for taking control of the Senate." Schweizer previously served as a speechwriter for the Bush White House, as an adviser to Sarah Palin, and as a headliner for multiple Republican Party fundraisers.
From the April 21 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the April 20 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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From the April 20 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd advised Hillary Clinton "how to campaign as a woman," using a series of sexist tropes in line with her more than 20 years of gendered attacks on the former secretary of state.
In an April 19 op-ed for The New York Times, Maureen Dowd wrote that Hillary Clinton is a "granny" who "can't figure out how to campaign as a woman" after she "scrubbed out the femininity, vulnerability, and heart" required to do so during her 2008 presidential run. Claiming Clinton is now trying to shift her image after she "saw the foolishness of acting like a masculine woman," Dowd asserted that the candidate "always overcorrects," and is now "basking in estrogen." Dowd concluded, saying hopefully Clinton will "teach her Republican rivals...that bitch is still the new black" instead :
Hillary always overcorrects. Now she has zagged too far in the opposite direction, presenting herself as a sweet, docile granny in a Scooby van, so self-effacing she made only a cameo in her own gauzy, demographically pandering presidential campaign announcement video and mentioned no issues on her campaign's website.
In her Iowa round tables, she acted as though she were following dating tips from 1950s advice columnists to women trying to "trap" a husband: listen a lot, nod a lot, widen your eyes, and act fascinated with everything that's said. A clip posted on her campaign Facebook page showed her sharing the story of the day her granddaughter was born with some Iowa voters, basking in estrogen as she emoted about the need for longer paid leave for new mothers: "You've got to bond with your baby. You've got to learn how to take care of the baby."
Let's hope that the hokey Chipotle Granny will give way to the cool Tumblr Chick in time to teach her Republican rivals -- who are coming after her with every condescending, misogynist, distorted thing they've got -- that bitch is still the new black.
Dowd's advice for Hillary Clinton relied on the same kind of sexist tropes the columnist has spent more than twenty years using to attack the former secretary of state. According to a Media Matters analysis of 195 of Dowd's columns written during her tenure at the Times, 72 percent painted Clinton in a negative light. In those columns, Dowd repeatedly accused Clinton of being an enemy to or betraying feminism (35 columns, 18 percent of those studied), power-hungry (51 columns, 26 percent), unlikeable (9 columns, 5 percent), or phony (34 columns, 17 percent).
And in the 2008 elections, Dowd consistently used gendered criticism to mock Hillary Clinton and her other Democratic rivals. A Media Matters review of Dowd's columns between 2007 and 2008 found she repeatedly employed gendered critiques of Clinton, referring to her as masculine and domineering, calling her "mommie dearest," the "debate dominatrix" and "Mistress Hillary."
From the April 14 edition of Fox Business' Making Money with Charles Payne:
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From the April 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the April 13 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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As Hillary Clinton announced she will run for president in 2016, right-wing media figures responded with predictable ire, from sexist comments to implications that Clinton is supported by Communists.
Hillary Clinton's race for the White House might be historic in more than ways than one. Not only would a successful presidential campaign usher in a new era of a female president, but if Clinton ends up running unopposed during the Democratic primary season it would represent a modern-day first for a non-incumbent or a non-sitting vice president.
That prospect has generated endless hand-wringing among journalists who seem nervous about covering a Democratic primary season where there are no serious Clinton challengers. But instead of acknowledging their professional desire for a story to cover ("The media wants a fight, they love a fight," notes Democratic strategist Joe Trippi), some journalists have presented their agita as concern for Clinton's political well-being. They stress that an uncontested primary would hurt her chances in 2016. And specifically, commentators suggest Clinton's press coverage would improve if she had a Democratic opponent.
The argument goes like this: If a primary challenger steps forward, the media's harsh focus would move off Clinton and onto her opponent who'd be the target of equally vigorous scrutiny.
"She needs someone else in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination -- someone to divert the news media," wrote Richard Cohen at the Washington Post. He stressed that currently, "Clinton's chief opponent is the press. It covers her like the proverbial cheap suit, if only because it has no one else to cover." The New York Times cited a Republican strategist who suggested "an absence of top-tier Democratic campaign rivals would hurt Mrs. Clinton because the glare of the news media spotlight intensifies when a single person is in it."
In other words, the current campaign dynamic of the press squaring off against Clinton and essentially acting as her opponent in the absence of a challenger is bad news for her, which is why she'd benefit from a capable opponent.
Bonus: Having a challenger would supposedly force the press to cover substantive issues as two or more candidates battled over ideas.
That all sounds logical, in theory. But somebody might want to ask Al Gore if that's what happened during the 2000 campaign when he was the prohibitive Democratic favorite and faced a single challenger, former Sen. Bill Bradley.
Ask Al Gore if the emergence of Bradley's campaign meant the former vice president's caustic press coverage suddenly lightened up as reporters scrambled to dissect Bradley with equal vigor; if Bradley's presence meant the press obediently focused on the issues instead of obsessing over trivial campaign gotcha and claims of character flaws.
They did not.
Reading the New York Times' front-page dispatches about the emerging Republican field of candidates this year, voters have learned Sen. Marco Rubio is "a charismatic young Republican senator from Miami," Sen. Ted Cruz was viewed by colleagues as "a brilliant and unusually ambitious upstart" who was "driven to advance and savvy in his tactics," and that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is "deeply religious," delivers a "a powerful message," "reads footnotes, emails frenetically and talks in full, wonky paragraphs" and is able to "showcase his social media savvy."
Times readers now also know that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is "is a gifted performer on many stages," and that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is "small-town minister's son who met his wife, a Milwaukee native, at a Wisconsin barbecue joint."
Just this week the Times front-page, still the most influential real estate in the news business, announced Walker really, really admires Ronald Reagan.
Republicans are already bashing the Times and complaining about how it covers candidates via the supposedly biased prism of the "liberal media," a catcall game conservatives have played for decades. But the opposite seems to have taken place this year: Republican White House hopefuls have received better, more sympathetic press coverage than Hillary Clinton, whose page-one coverage to date is been almost devoid of positive Times treatments.
That's not to say the Times hasn't produced a handful of page-one pieces that raised doubts or uncomfortable questions about Republican players and their record, or that many of the pieces cited above don't include negative caveats. The newspaper, for instance, pointed out that a charter school in Miami that Bush championed was forced to close its doors in 2008, that some Republicans critics think Christie and his aides operate in a "bubble," and that the Wisconsin State Supreme Court is currently considering whether to continue an investigation into alleged improper coordination from Walker's old recall campaign.
Nevertheless, since the beginning of the year, Republicans are routinely given positive characterizations and compliments, while presumptive Democratic favorite Clinton is often not -- and more often depicted on the Times' front page as either mired in setbacks, or certain to face daunting political challenges. (See here, here, and here.)
Clearly the controversy surrounding the email account Clinton used as secretary of state helped tilt the Times' coverage towards the negative recently. But that media-fueled firestorm alone doesn't fully explain the difference in tone and content.
The oddity? Recent polling suggests Clinton enjoys a sizable lead over all her possible Republican opponents, yet she's the one saddled with the bad press.