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
From the August 20 edition of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports:
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In a January 8 Politico article, Kenneth Vogel writes:
No one has been less forgiving than Glenn Beck when it comes to Democrats with tax problems. Not just the well-known ones like Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, but less serious ones such as Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, whose husband only recently paid off $6,400 in tax liens on his auto repair business, and Nancy Killefer, who withdrew her nomination to be White House chief performance officer, citing a $946.69 tax lien on her Washington home.
Their tax issues are just one indicator of "a culture of corruption among some of the left," Beck declared just last month in a segment on his hugely popular Fox News television show, in which he branded Geithner, Killefer, Solis and a handful of other Obama nominees "tax cheats," whom he wouldn't trust "with my children, let alone my children's future."
Mocking the excuses offered by the nominees, Beck sarcastically intoned "Oh, the tax thing, it was an accident. It was my husband's fault. I didn't do it, he did it. I didn't mean to do it. I was just working hard for the people."
So what to make, then, of the fact that Beck has had his own minor tax problems over the past few years?
Vogel goes on to write that Beck's production company, Mercury Radio Arts, "has at times struggled to keep up with the heightened tax and filing demands accompanying his success."
In October 2007, New York City issued a tax warrant against Mercury Radio Arts, indicating that the company had been penalized $10,927.49 for overdue 2006 general corporation taxes, and still owed $7,111.03, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.
The source with knowledge of the situation explained the issue "arose during the process of the company's transition from Philadelphia to New York" in 2006 - after Beck began hosting a daily news and commentary television show on CNN's Headline News - and was "immediately addressed." Two weeks after the warrant was issued, New York City released it, indicating in a filing obtained by POLITICO that the debt was satisfied.
The source said Mercury's relocation also resulted in confusion over the company's unemployment insurance, culminating in the New York State Workers Compensation Board in July 2007 issuing a judgment obtained by POLITICO assessing an $8,250 fine against Mercury for failure to carry workers' compensation insurance from March 31, 2006 through February 25, 2007.
But, less than three months later, the board issued a notice indicating that the "judgment has been fully satisfied." And board spokesman Brian Keegan explained that the board rescinded the penalty after determining that Mercury had carried the appropriate insurance since it began doing business in New York in 2005 and that Mercury's insurance carrier had merely failed to submit proof of coverage to the board.
On a Hardball segment concerning the chances that Sen. Barack Obama would select Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) as a running mate, Ken Vogel said: "[L]et's not forget that Obama, too, was the subject of a story in The Washington Post, actually, suggesting that he got a good deal on his mortgage. So unless they want an all-sweetheart-mortgage ticket, I think this is probably not the way to go." In fact, the Washington Post article provided no evidence that Obama had received preferential treatment in obtaining his mortgage.
On Fox News' America's Election HQ, GOP strategist Terry Holt said that Al Gore "claimed to have invented the Internet," and on Fox News' On the Record, Politico reporter Ken Vogel stated: "And they're going to try to show him [Sen. Barack Obama] as a chronicle -- a chronic exaggerator, like they did with Al Gore in 2000, when they seized on his every claim, starting memorably with his claim that he invented the Internet, as some say that he said." In fact, Gore did not claim that he "invented the Internet." Rather, he said: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."