In just two days, broadcast news networks devoted more than three times as much airtime to baselessly scandalizing a flawed Associated Press (AP) report on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton than covering a story about an illegal donation by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The AP piece examined meetings Clinton took with Clinton Foundation donors as secretary of state, while the Trump story centered on an illegal donation he made to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
In the two days after the AP report was published, the broadcast news networks ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted 19 minutes and 10 seconds to covering the flawed August 23 report -- which dubiously hyped “possible ethics challenges” on behalf of Clinton. The same networks devoted merely six minutes of coverage to Trump’s illegal donation to Pam Bondi in the week following the revelation.
In the report, the AP claimed that “More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money -- either personally or through companies or groups -- to the Clinton Foundation.” Journalists and media critics widely derided the report for “ignoring well over 1,000 official meetings with foreign leaders and an unknown number of meetings with domestic US officials” Clinton held at the State Department. Some in the media -- including broadcast and cable networks -- nonetheless hyped the report for the “breathtaking” and “disturbing” “optics,” even though the report found “no evidence” of “ethics breaches.” Despite the backlash, the AP issued a statement claiming it was “transparent in how it has reported this story.”
The Washington Post reported on September 1 that the Trump Foundation paid the IRS a penalty after he illegally donated to a campaign group in 2013 for the re-election of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Post explained that Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty for “violat[ing] tax laws” with his donation. Bondi personally solicited the donation from Trump around the same time her office was considering joining the New York attorney general’s fraud investigation against Trump University. Shortly after Bondi received Trump’s donation, she decided not to join the case. Cable news hosts called the episode “ugly” and “a classic example” of pay-to-play politics.
The Trump Foundation’s donation is also yet another example of Trump’s history of “breaking campaign finance laws” and “evading” legal donation limits, as CNN’s Jeff Zeleny explained. The New York Times wrote that Trump’s donation to Bondi was part of his “decades-long record of shattering political donation limits and circumventing the rules governing contributions and lobbying.”
Media Matters searched Nexis and SnapStream for coverage of Donald Trump's donation to Pam Bondi between September 1, 2016, and September 7, 2016, on CBS, NBC, and ABC's morning, evening, and Sunday news programs using the terms: “Trump AND Bondi.” Media Matters searched SnapStream for coverage of the AP report on meetings Clinton took with Clinton Foundation donors between August 24, 2016, and August 25, 2016, on CBS, NBC, and ABC’s morning and evening news programs using the terms: “Clinton OR Clinton Foundation.”