The upcoming anti-Clinton documentary Clinton Cash largely rehashes the shoddily-researched conspiracies from the 2015 book on which it’s based.
Media Matters attended a screening of the film Thursday in New York City ahead of its release. Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon – who co-wrote and co-produced the film -- were on hand to promote it to an audience that included Fox News personalities Bill Hemmer and Brian Kilmeade.
When the book -- which largely pushes the evidence-free claim that while serving as secretary of state, Clinton did favors for foreign entities that donated to the Clinton Foundation -- was published last year, Schweizer, a Republican activist with a history of factual problems, was criticized by Media Matters and other outlets for a series of sloppy errors. Some of the errors were later corrected in the Kindle version of the book.
Clinton Cash also heavily relied on innuendo in the absence of solid proof for its central allegation that the Clintons have traded favors for money. As Slate writer Jamelle Bouie put it, “Peter Schweizer’s attack on the Clintons leads with his conclusions and never connects the dots.”
The film has many of the same factual problems. For example, a key accusation lobbed at the Clinton Foundation in the film in order to undermine the idea that it does important charitable work is the claim that only “10 percent” of its donations actually go to charity.
Schweizer repeatedly relied on this talking point while on the Clinton Cash book tour last year, claiming that other than the 10 percent the Clinton Foundation gives to “other charitable organizations, the rest they keep for themselves.”
But the “10 percent” statistic is deceptive -- even Fox News labeled it “incredibly misleading.” Network correspondent Eric Shawn explained in a report last year that the Clinton Foundation doesn’t “give grants to other charities. They do most of it themselves." He also cited IRS figures indicating the foundation has a “rate of spending of about 80 percent” and "experts for charity say that's very good.”
The film uses big headlines and grainy news clips to paint the Clintons as being in the pocket of anyone who pays for a speech or donates to the Clinton Foundation, but still fails to connect the dots with substantial evidence.
“You have money coming at certain times and then you have policy decisions that are made that affect the people that sent the money, then people are left to the question: is this all coincidence or is this a case of follow the money,” Schweizer told Media Matters after the screening. “I just don’t believe it’s coincidence.”
The film doesn't feature interviews with sources or people with direct knowledge of the events that Clinton Cash claims prove a quid pro quo arrangement.
“That was intentional,” Schweizer said about the missing outside voices. “We simply wanted to narrate the stories as they came through and explain to people how it rolled out. We didn’t want it to be talking head.”
Following the screening, Bannon said the film is going to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, and that the producers are “in discussions with people approaching us to get this out before the [Democratic] convention.”
Bannon added, “We may cut a TV deal with a broadcast or a cable network like Yahoo or Netflix, we are in discussion with people to get this out to a broader audience.” He later joked, “We’re open for bids right after this.”
He said the movie “cost a couple million bucks” to make, but did not elaborate on the funding sources.
Schweizer claimed the documentary is not designed to just throw “red meat” out to a conservative audience, instead suggesting the filmmakers are trying to dissuade people outside the Republican party from supporting Hillary Clinton.
“This is really designed to appeal to people in general, who may not know much about how the Clintons have operated,” Schweizer said. ”You can have a business model that says ‘let’s throw red meat out there that make a lot of money,’ or you can create a documentary film that’s designed to inform people who may not necessarily agree with your point of view and get that information out.”
When Bannon was asked by an audience member about the reaction to the book, he turned defensive, claiming the mainstream media was ignoring the findings. He also criticized the Democratic primary debate panelists for not raising any of the issues in the debates.
“12 to 14 debates, 35 to 40 hours of prime time debates, not one question about anything in this film,” Bannon said. “That’s an indictment on the mainstream media and that’s an indictment of everybody who had a debate.”
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has recently indicated that he plans to use the claims from Clinton Cash in a likely general election matchup with Clinton. In an interview with Breitbart News this week – where Schweizer also serves as senior editor-at-large – Trump called the Clinton Cash book “amazing” and said he is sure the movie “will be good” because of Bannon’s involvement.
Breitbart News has faced widespread criticism over the past year for its Trump cheerleading. Last year, Buzzfeed reporter McKay Coppins reported that “many” people inside Breitbart “believe Trump has provided undisclosed financial backing to the outlet in exchange for glowing coverage.” (Bannon called the allegation “a lie.”)
After the screening, Schweizer said Trump and his campaign had “zero” involvement with the film, and said that because of his role as president of the non-profit Government Accountability Institute, “we are not allowed to do that.”
When asked what he thought of the reaction the book got and if he was disappointed with all of the criticism, Schweizer said, “I think we got good media coverage. Some people in your organization have disagreements on some of these matters, the interpretations."
Media Matters’ fact check of Schweizer’s book can be read here.