Suddenly under scrutiny for her $250 donation to the Clinton Haiti Relief Fund in 2010, Judy Woodruff, the co-anchor and managing editor of PBS NewsHour, issued a statement late last week defending her modest giving. “I made the gift in response to an urgent joint appeal from former President Clinton and then-President George W. Bush for aid to the victims of the Haiti earthquake,” Woodruff explained in an email to the Wall Street Journal. “Seeing the massive loss of human life and the terrible conditions for survivors, I wanted to make a contribution and saw this as a way to do that.”
So it's come to this: A member of the media forced to defend her decision to give $250 to a bipartisan earthquake relief fund five years ago, to help an impoverished island nation.
Woodruff faced questions, of course, because amidst the current frenzied atmosphere, anything connected with the Clinton Foundation has officially been deemed tainted by the Beltway press. The media have teamed up with the GOP to cast every possible aspersion on the $2 billion global charity that helps people with AIDS/HIV around the world get cheaper, better medicine, battles economic inequality, childhood obesity, climate change, and fights for health and wellness. (No, the Clinton Foundation doesn't spend 85 percent of its budget on “overhead.” Good grief.)
In recent days, the churning foundation storyline made an odd jump. It moved from the unproven allegations that the Clintons used the foundation to cash in government favors, and shifted to focus on the mere act of giving. Sparked by the revelation that ABC News' George Stephanopoulos had previously given generously to the foundation and hadn't disclosed that fact while reporting on foundation activities, the press began to circle donations and viewed them as potentially problematic.
It's clear Stephanopoulos should have disclosed his donations when the foundation became news and the target of endless Republican and media attacks.
But the overheated narrative now stretches beyond the issue of disclosure. Stephanopoulos was not only criticized for failing to reveal his donation, he was widely condemned for making the donation at all. Media watchdogs were swift: It was completely out of bounds for Stephanopoulos to donate to the Clinton Foundation. Why? Because it's run by the Clintons, which means it's obviously stained, right?
Mission accomplished for Republicans.
“He erred in judgment by making contributions to a charity headed by the country's premier Democratic family,” alleged Erik Wemple in the Washington Post.
“For George to give money to the Clinton Foundation, out of all possible charities, knowing full well that Hillary was gearing up to run, is a grave error in judgment,” agreed Howard Kurtz at Fox News.
“In shelling out $75,000 to the politically identified Clinton Foundation, Stephanopoulos has betrayed that compact, torched the journalism-cred he has acquired in the past two decades,” added Jack Shafer at Politico.
In the current, frenzied environment, donations given to a world-class charity are viewed as suspect. (Under intense media and political pressure, Stephanopoulos eventually said the donation itself was a mistake, which I think sends an unfortunate signal about charitable giving.)
Well, almost all donations are viewed as suspect. Note that Rupert Murdoch's News Corportation Foundation and his son James Murdoch have given more than one million dollars to the Clinton Foundation. If the press' working assumption seems to be that everyone who gives to the Clintons expects a favor in return (wink, wink), what did the owners of Fox News expect from their contribution? Not to mention possible Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump, who also donated. My guess is they gave for the same reasons so many others have given: They support the goals of the foundation.
Are the Clinton Foundation and its famous founders legitimate news targets this campaign season? Yes, in part because their philanthropic empire represents “possible conflicts of interest,” noted Mother Jones, which represents a fair and accurate assessment, if you acknowledge the “possible” portion.
If there's evidence to support conflicts of interest claims, that would be news. If there's any evidence that donations to the foundation resulted in a change of policy at Hillary Clinton's State Department, that would also be news.
But instead of pulling back on the story, the press continues its breathless speculation, producing at times deeply illogical results, to the point now where it's being suggested that there might be something suspicious about donating to a global charity, including a $250 check written to an earthquake relief fund spearheaded by former presidents Clinton and Bush.
Speaking of Bush, if you want to find out all of the donors, and countries, that have given generously to the George W. Bush Foundation in an effort to possibly influence the famous political family (including likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush), you're basically out of luck. That's because nonprofits like the George W. Bush Foundation are not obligated to reveal all their fundraising sources. But the Clinton Foundation has been revealing its donors since 2008, when Hillary Clinton was nominated to become secretary of state.
Meanwhile, “Does anybody really think that Stephanopoulos will somehow tilt ABC's coverage of the Clintons because he gave them some money?” asked an incredulous Michael Kinsley in Vanity Fair, among a minority of commentators baffled by the Stephanopoulos “scandal.” Indeed, in this case the quid pro quo formula runs completely backwards: Stephanopoulos would tilt coverage in favor of the Clintons after he gave money to their foundation? (Aren't payoffs supposed to work the other way around?)
Looking back, “Perhaps he figured you can't get into much trouble for giving money to charity,” wrote Kinsley.
Good question: Why did people, including media stars, ever think it was okay to donate to the Clinton Foundation? Maybe because prior to this campaign cycle the organization was often treated and viewed for what it was, a charity, and not treated the way Republicans want in to be viewed, as a slush fund.
For instance, from earlier New York Times coverage:
Since he left office more than five years ago at age 54, one of the youngest former presidents ever, Mr. Clinton has made a lasting mark in a cause that he came to only late in his presidency: fighting the AIDS pandemic across Africa and the world.
More Clinton Foundation coverage from the Times' archives [emphasis added]:
Dr. Bruce Charish, a Manhattan cardiologist, founded a new nonprofit group, Doc to Dock, to send medical tools and supplies to hospitals and clinics in Africa.
Maria Otero, who heads Accion, described how her nonprofit group and another, Unitus, have taken steps to fulfill their promise to provide small loans and other financial service to millions of poor people in India by 2015.
Nancy Kete, the director of Embarq, founded with a grant from the Shell Foundation, is wo, irking with Porto Alegre, Brazil, to develop mass transit powered by low-polluting buses.
Helping AIDS sufferers, trying to rebuild Haiti, supplying hospitals in Africa, extending loans to poor people in India. Does any of this sound remotely controversial? Do any of these relief efforts represent cause for contributors to be concerned?
No and no. But the press has declared open season on the Clinton Foundation.