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.
Syndicated columnist George Will claimed that fossil fuel divestment is an ineffective exercise in "right-mindedness" that will only serve to harm universities' endowments, returning to arguments he made almost 30 years ago to dismiss divestment from apartheid South Africa. But many financial analysts have determined that divesting from fossil fuels has a negligible or even positive impact on institutions' investment portfolios, and the track record of past divestment campaigns -- including in South Africa -- suggests that the current movement can be successful by stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry.
Media outlets trumpeted likely Republican presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie as striving to be "authentic and brave" for proposing harmful cuts to Social Security benefits that would include raising the retirement age.
Speaking in New Hampshire on April 14, the New Jersey governor laid out a series of proposed broad changes to Social Security benefits, including means tests for seniors making $80,000 a year in non-Social Security income and a phase-out of all payments for those making above $200,000. Christie also proposed raising the retirement age at which seniors can receive benefits to 69 and the early retirement age to 64.
Many media outlets characterized Christie as a straight-shooter for his proposal, describing him as attempting to paint himself as a teller of hard truths.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, wrote that Christie had "moved to depict himself as the fiscal truth-teller of the Republican presidential field" with his proposal, calling it "provocative, and risky." A Washington Post opinion piece said Christie was "positioning himself, like other would-be presidents of the past, as the one guy willing to talk straight about the government's unsustainable finances." An NBC News article on the proposal was titled "Chris Christie Sells 'Hard Truths' on Social Security Reform," while a Business Insider headline declared, "Chris Christie's plan to win the White House is to tell people what they don't want to hear." Fortune's Nina Easton claimed on Fox News' Happening Now that Christie's proposal "plays into the narrative that he's authentic and brave and tells it like it is."
Painting Christie as seeking to be seen as a "brave" and "authentic" truth-teller in coverage of his proposed Social Security cuts not only helps the likely GOP candidate spread his desired narrative, but it masks the harmful impact such cuts would have on the poor and middle class.
"Raising the retirement age is terrible for the poor," Vox explained, despite Christie's contention that his plan would only affect the rich. Raising the retirement and early retirement age would effectively constitute "an across-the-board benefit cut of almost 10 percent in Americans' lifetime Social Security benefits." As economist Teresa Ghilarducci told PBS Newshour, "Evidence shows that many older workers are simply not able to work past traditional retirement age without substantial suffering. Reducing their retirement income and throwing them off medical insurance will create a new cohort of impoverished elderly, reversing the tangible gains in reducing old age poverty made since the Great Depression."
What's more, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted, cutting benefits for those making over $200,000 is unlikely to save the program much money, given how few recipients earn that much. His estimations are backed up by a 2011 Center for Economic and Policy Research study, which found that 90 percent of Social Security recipients earn less than $50,000 in non-social security income.
When it comes to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who announced his presidential campaign this week, over and over the press' to-go description is "charismatic." That adjective has been making the rounds in the Financial Times, Vox, NPR, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. There's been heated agreement among reporters and pundits that Rubio is unquestionably magnetic and alluring.
For candidates, of course, "charismatic" represents a coveted label that elevates a politician above the ordinary. It signals that he or she is a bold communicator who can tap into voters' emotions; who can inspire and motivate in a way most mundane practitioners cannot.
There's certainly nothing wrong with dispensing compliments to politicians. But as the campaign season unfolds and media memes are formed around candidates (Al Gore never shook the press' "exaggerator" tag), it seems worth noting, as New York magazine highlighted, how the Beltway press years ago concluded that the much sought-after "charismatic" tag would be applied to Rubio, and it would be applied to him no matter what trajectory his career was on.
The "charismatic" term is clearly subjective and is used by journalists who seem to consider Rubio to be a transcendent speaker and politician. What's curious though, is that journalists often don't point to speeches or events in Rubio's past that confirm his "charismatic" status. Instead, the compliment has been doled out for years matter-of-factly. For instance, from the New York Times and Washington Post:
* "Marco Rubio, the charismatic senator-elect from Florida" (Nov. 26, 2010, New York Times]
* "Mr. Rubio, a charismatic Latino senator from a crucial swing state" (March 29, 2012. New York Times)
* "[A] charismatic young Republican senator from Miami, Marco Rubio" (March 22, 2015. New York Times)
* "Marco Rubio, the charismatic young Cuban American who has captured the hearts of conservatives around the country" (April 10, 2010. Washington Post)
* "The charismatic Cuban American lawmaker from Florida," (Oct. 26, 2011. Washington Post)
* "The 43-year-old senator from Florida and charismatic son of immigrants" (April 6, 2015. Washington Post)
Note that there are no caveats. The Times and Post usually don't suggest that it's supporters who see Rubio as "charismatic." And they don't use the adjective to describe a Rubio speech. Instead, for the Times and Post (and many, many other news outlets), Rubio's "charismatic" nature is simply presented as fact, like his age or hometown.
On Equal Pay Day, The New York Times and The Washington Post highlighted the importance of addressing gender pay inequality, illustrating how women still earn less than men in almost every occupation and providing a refreshing counterpoint to conservative media's consistent downplaying of the issue.
Media have largely ignored news that likely Republican presidential contenders in 2016 are using dark money and secretive nonprofit groups to sidestep campaign finance laws, despite continuing to scandalize publicly disclosed charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation in anticipation of Hillary Clinton's bid for president.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the latest GOP presidential hopeful linked to a "secret money" nonprofit groupsupporting his 2016 aspirations, according to a National Journal report on April 10. The nonprofit Conservative Solutions Project Inc., which shares a name and founder with Rubio's official super PAC, will not have to disclose donors and expenses as does the super PAC, and already the group has "commissioned a minutely detailed, 270-page political research book on early-state primary voters last year" from a firm on Rubio's payroll. National Journal noted that while nonprofits cannot legally coordinate with campaigns, the dark money group released their extensive research to the public so that Rubio's campaign may access it.
Yet media have been largely silent on National Journal's revelation about Rubio's dark money connection, just as they've neglected to cover the growing list of Republican presidential contenders utilizing secret-money nonprofits to boost their candidacies with large, undisclosed donations.
Former Republican Florida governor Jeb Bush gave "his tacit endorsement" to the dark money group Right to Rise Policy Solutions, a nonprofit established by a former Bush staffer which shares a name with two Bush-affiliated political committees, The Washington Post reported in March. Like the Rubio-linked nonprofit, this group allows Bush to work around disclosure requirements and campaign finance laws that cap donations from individual donors. Yet news of Bush's shadow campaign group failed to garner significant media attention, with just a scattering of articles outlining the dark money connections and merely two segments running on broadcast and cable news the day following the Washington Post report, both on MSNBC, according to a search of Nexis and Media Matters internal archives.
Media similarly ignored allegations that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) participated in a pay-to-play dark money scheme, allegedly providing special tax credits for the company of the "richest man in Wisconsin" after he made secret donations to a Walker-linked political advocacy group. After Yahoo News reported the revelations on March 23, the news went unmentioned on broadcast and cable news aside from a single segment on the March 24 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, and received only scant newspaper coverage.
The lack of coverage stands in stark contrast to the weeks of analysis spent speculating about donations to the Clinton Foundation in advance of Hillary Clinton's 2016 bid, despite the fact that those donations were publicly disclosed. Attacks on the Clinton Foundation have become a lead talking point for the GOP, and with the media largely ignoring Republicans' increasing dark money problem, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is given a pass for his simultaneous attempts to further scandalize Clinton Foundation donations.
Most of the largest newspapers in the Northeast corridor did not publish a single piece covering this winter's major snowstorms in the context of global warming, despite strong scientific evidence that climate change creates the conditions for heavier snowstorms. The major broadcast networks and cable news channels also provided scant mention of climate change in their discussions of the snowstorms, with the notable exception of MSNBC, which provided extensive coverage of the topic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox News, the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal featured content that used the snowstorms to deny climate science.
Mainstream media outlets are pushing the campaign message from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) that he is inclusive and is reaching out to diverse voters, including minorities, women, and low-income Americans, while ignoring his extreme policy positions that may adversely affect those voters.
Right-wing media have praised former Florida Governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's 1999 executive action eliminating race-based affirmative action in higher education admissions. Now, a new report from The Washington Post finds that black student enrollment is in decline at two of Florida's largest four-year schools.
A new survey of firearm experts reveals a consensus debunking the myths the gun lobby and conservative media use to try to infect the national dialogue on gun safety to create the appearance of legitimate debate.
Mainstream press are relying on a flawed timeline to suggest former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of an iPad to send State Department emails is a contradiction to her explanation that she established a private email account in order to use only one mobile device to conduct email correspondence. But such speculation ignores the fact that the iPad did not exist until the year after Clinton's private email account was established
Media outlets have argued that Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) mirrors RFRAs passed in other states as well as the federal RFRA signed into law in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton. In fact, Indiana's RFRA is broader than other versions of the law, and experts say it could allow private businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers on the basis of religion.
George Will ignored Hillary Clinton's substantial accomplishments as secretary of state, senator, and first lady in order to suggest that her support from Democrats is due solely to "identity politics."
In his latest Washington Post column, Will describes the Democratic Party as "adrift in identity politics, cling[ing], as shipwrecked sailors do to floating debris, to this odd feminist heroine," and writes that Clinton's "performance in governance has been defined by three failures." Will goes on to cherry-pick instances from Clinton's career, ignoring her achievements in the White House, Senate, and at State to portray her as a failure.
In citing Clinton's time as first lady, he omits, for example, Clinton's role in the passage of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which expanded health insurance for children in lower-income households. Will also ignores her pivotal role in the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which eased processes allowing the removal of children from abusive situations.
Clinton also helped to create the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women and used her platform to raise the issue of abuse against women internationally, telling the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in China that, "It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights."
Will says Clinton's tenure in the Senate was "an uneventful prelude to her 2008 presidential quest," failing to note that she sponsored or co-sponsored 54 bills that eventually became law. These including writing a section of the No Child Left Behind law addressing recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers; co-authoring a law compelling drug companies to conduct pediatric safety tests on products prescribed for children; working with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on language in a defense authorization bill giving members of the military access to the Tricare health system even when they aren't deployed; and sponsoring a bill which would mandate more efficient distribution of flu vaccines.
Going on to describe her appointment as Secretary State as a "consolation prize," Will downplays Clinton's accomplishments during her years in the position. These include opening up Myanmar as the first secretary of state to make an official visit there since 1955, negotiating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas with the help of Egypt in 2012, and tightening international sanctions on Iran to their highest level ever with nearly a dozen countries significantly reducing their purchases of Iranian oil in 2012.
Will concludes by ominously noting, "Another Clinton presidency probably would include a reprise of the couple's well-known patterns of behavior." But readers won't get a clear picture of those "patterns" by reading Will's dishonest column.
The press has almost entirely ignored the revelation that after the "richest man in Wisconsin" made secret donations benefitting Republican Governor Scott Walker, his company received special tax credits for that same donor's company.
By contrast, the media have frequently invoked donations to the Clinton Foundation in their coverage of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, baselessly suggesting that those donations create conflicts of interest.
Yahoo News reported March 23 that John Menard Jr., the billionaire owner of a chain of hardware stores in the Midwest, donated over $1.5 million to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which "pledged to keep its donors secret." Walker helped generate large, undisclosed donations for the group, according to records unveiled as part of a criminal investigation into whether the interactions of such groups with Walker's campaign committee violated state campaign finance laws. The Club defended Walker in the 2012 recall election, where he prevailed.
Since then, Menard's company "has been awarded up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from a state economic development corporation that Walker chairs, according to state records." Walker appointees also scaled back enforcement actions by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, "a top Menard priority."
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow gave a detailed account of the story on her March 24 broadcast:
Yet the pay-to-play allegations swirling around Walker, a possible Republican presidential candidate, have been widely ignored by others in the media.
The story hasn't been covered on the three major broadcast networks, CNN, or Fox News, according to a search of Nexis and Media Matters' video archives. The Rachel Maddow Show appears to be MSNBC's only mention of the story. Besides a reprint of an Associated Press article noting a denial of wrongdoing from the Walker administration, the New York Times hasn't covered the story. And the only references from The Washington Post are in a post on the progressive Plum Line blog and the same AP story the Times reprinted.
By contrast, the media has repeatedly raised the specter of "ethical concerns" over donations to the Clinton Foundation by foreign governments and individuals, among others. They have persisted with this coverage despite the clear indications from Hillary Clinton's record as secretary of state that the donations did not influence her politically and the reality that the donations went to a global charity, not a fund benefiting her election.
Loretta Lynch, President Obama's pick to replace Eric Holder as the U.S. attorney general, is a highly regarded and well-qualified federal prosecutor who has support from law-enforcement authorities and politicians on both sides of the aisle. But that hasn't stopped right-wing media from mounting a smear campaign to thwart Lynch's nomination. With reports indicating that GOP leadership may yet again block an up-or-down vote on Lynch's nomination, here are some of the most nonsensical arguments against her confirmation and facts that media outlets have missed -- or misrepresented -- about Lynch.
In a rush to find fault in Obama's well-qualified nominee, the right-wing website Breitbart.com managed to attack the wrong Loretta Lynch, not once, but twice. In a November 8 post, Breitbart.com writer Warner Todd Huston claimed that "few are talking about" the fact that Lynch defended the Clintons during the Whitewater probe in 1992 -- probably because it wasn't the same Loretta Lynch who was nominated. After learning of the mistake, Breitbart.com noted at the bottom of the one article that was not taken down, "The Loretta Lynch identified earlier as the Whitewater attorney was, in fact, a different attorney."
Right-wing media have also tried to paint Lynch as a dangerous partisan. National Review's Hans von Spakovsky characterized Lynch as "on the side of radical" because she supported the Department of Justice's legal challenges against strict voter ID laws, which are based on half a century of modern civil rights precedent. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs complained that Lynch's membership in the historically black sorority Delta Sigma Theta was "controversial" because Holder's wife pledged at the same time. It is true: At times, she has defended civil rights, and she once belonged to a well-known sorority.
Senate Republicans turned to some of right-wing media's go-to contributors to turn Lynch's confirmation hearing into what Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called a "sound bite factory for Fox News." The Republicans' witness list included:
When Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked if any of them had a problem with Lynch's nomination for attorney general, none of them raised their hands -- they were there to complain about their favored right-wing media topics, and they did.