Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT
The curious revelation that reporters from nine news organizations recently attended Charles and David Koch's political summit and voluntarily agreed not to identify key donors in attendance provided a helpful look into the double standard that the media often use when covering conservatives vs. covering the Clintons.
Willing to temporarily look away from the donor news behind the Koch brothers push to remake American politics in their billionaire image (and to bankroll the GOP's 2016 nominee), several of the same outlets have spent months this year needling Bill and Hillary Clinton for not being transparent enough about donors to the charitable Clinton Foundation.
To hear much of the press' often fevered coverage of the Clinton Foundation, it's simply unacceptable and downright deceitful to hide the names of wealthy people who give. Yet many of the same class of reporters volunteered not to disclose Koch donors who mingled among journalists all weekend at the five-star GOP summit?
Given that willingness to look the other way, it's difficult to take seriously the media's incessant demands that the Clintons be more transparent about their donors; donors who give to a charity devoted to help poor people around the world, not devoted to electing U.S. politicians, which is what Koch donors are all about. (The Koch brothers, and affiliated groups, are expected to spend $889 million on the 2016 race, after having raised $400 million on the 2012 contests.)
Moreover, the Clinton Foundation has actually done more than most charities do to disclose their donors. Though a few of their affiliates have not revealed some donors (in part because of differing laws in other countries), the charity has gone to great lengths ever since Clinton first became secretary of state: "In posting its donor data, the foundation goes beyond legal requirements, and experts say its transparency level exceeds that of most philanthropies," the Post previously reported.
Yet try to image the universal, all-encompassing, hour-after-hour pundit outrage that would be unleashed if the Clinton Foundation held a political summit this year and demanded journalists hide the identity of key donors who attended. The same Beltway media have no problem with the Kochs hiding 450 of their big, dark-money donors -- and hiding them in plain sight.
The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone spelled out the obvious ethical troubles raised by stipulations attached to the formerly closed-to-the-press Koch summit, where key Republican politicians were invited to address conservative billionaires:
The problem is that the ground rules could restrict journalists from reporting what's right in front of their eyes. If, say, Rupert Murdoch, or even a lesser-known billionaire, walked by, they couldn't report the person's attendance without permission. So it's possible journalists end up reporting largely what the event sponsors want, such as fiery speeches and candidate remarks criticizing Democrats, but less on the power brokers attending who play key behind-the-scenes roles in the 2016 election.
By playing by the Koch's rules, the press left itself open to some sizeable bouts of hypocrisy.
Recall that in April, Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins published partisan author Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash, a sloppy, book-length attack on Clinton Foundation donors. The book purported (and failed) to show how foundation donations corrupted Clinton's decisions during her time as secretary of state. Media Matters documented nearly two dozen errors and distortions in the book.
But that didn't stop key outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post from teaming up with Schweizer and helping to push his lines of attack. At the time, here's how the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza's defended the immediate embrace of Clinton Cash:
The most foundational principle of covering a presidential campaign (or anything, really) is trying your damnedest to give people the fullest possible picture of the candidates running to represent them. The more information you have at your disposal then, the better.
Added Cillizza, "We are information-gatherers at heart."
So when the issue at hand was donors to the Clinton Foundation, the Washington Post sounded a clarion call, urging reporters to look at the all the information in order to give readers the "fullest possible picture of the candidates running." (And who might be trying to buy their influence.)
But last weekend, when the issue at hand was Koch summit donors, the Washington Post quietly demurred and apparently concluded not all information needed to be shared with voters.
It seems clear that the Clinton Foundation feeding frenzy sprang from the media assumption that the Clintons are hiding something, they aren't truthful, and they cannot be trusted. As Vox's Jonathan Allen asserted, detailing the press corps' "unspoken rules" to covering Hillary, "the media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there's hard evidence otherwise."
By contrast, what explained the pass given to the Kochs? Was it fueled by an inverse press assumption that the Kochs are forthright, they're honorable men, and of course they play by the rules?
If donors are deemed the targets of intense media scrutiny, the press should apply the rules fairly to both sides