The author of a new book on Bill Clinton’s post-presidency says the media has dropped the ball in its coverage of the Clinton Foundation, downplaying the positive work it has done in favor of pushing inaccurate supposed “scandals” about the organization.
Joe Conason, a veteran author of several political books and editor of The National Memo, recently released Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton.
The book lays out many of Clinton’s efforts since he left office in 2001, largely focused on the Clinton Foundation and the former president’s philanthropic work.
In a recent interview with Media Matters, Conason highlighted how Clinton’s work since leaving the White House is often under-reported and wrongly portrayed. He said much of this is due to conservative media either misrepresenting the facts or spreading untruths.
“I think given the scale of what he has done, very few people understand how important it was,” Conason said. “I lay that on the news media in general, which has been friendly to him at different times and at times less-friendly.
“Certainly, very few people understand the importance and the scale of what he did in the AIDS fight alone, the fight to stop the AIDS pandemic. He was one of the first major public figures along with Nelson Mandela to say that we needed to do something to help the millions of people who were going to die from AIDS in the developing world.”
In addition, Conason said alleged scandals by Hillary Clinton get a major boost from many on the right, usually without a basis in fact.
“Meanwhile, they’re obsessed with every moment of anything political about Hillary Clinton or about him or a scandal or any of that stuff and it’s unfortunate and it is unbalanced,” Conason said. “The problem is that the level of skepticism that ought to be applied by our colleagues to a report in a place like Drudge is just absent.”
As an example, Conason cited the popular conservative lie – which was repeated by Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence in a debate – that the Clinton Foundation does not actually devote much money to charity.
“There was one sort of amazing myth that was put out, it was put out by Carly Fiorina and by various right wing authors and websites and news outlets that the Clinton Foundation wasn’t really a foundation at all because they were only spending nine percent of their assets on charity and the rest of it was going to somewhere else,” Conason explained. “The truth was they were reading the tax returns wrong. It was true that the Clinton Foundation was only giving about nine percent of its assets in grants annually. But it is an operating foundation. The main thing they do isn’t making grants like the Gates Foundation or the Ford Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation.
“They are using their money to pay for programs that the Clinton Foundation is doing through its various initiatives. So they misinterpreted that and they willfully did it. And Reince Priebus talked about it and Mike Pence has talked about it and they’ve been fact-checked over and over again and it’s a complete lie.”
He also cited the growing use of false equivalency among many in the press: the view that both sides are equally problematic and should be treated with a similar disdain or scrutiny despite the more egregious behavior of one of the parties.
“There’s always a tendency towards false equivalency, it’s not just with the Clintons,” he said. “This becomes more intense in campaign season because news organizations I think understandably want to feel they’ve been fair in an election and not tilted towards one side or the other.
“The problem was that for such a long time in this campaign, because the campaigns go on forever -- so for the first, let’s say year of the 2016 presidential campaign, so much of the focus was on Hillary Clinton and her problems and her faults and her mistakes. Very little discussion of the Trump Foundation or Trump’s business or Trump’s connections to organized crime or Trump’s connections to Russia and other unsavory regimes. All of that has been left sort of to the end.
“We‘ve had some very good coverage of those stories in the last few months. But the problem is the cake was kind of baked before that by all of the coverage of her and the emails, excessive coverage of the emails in my view compared with the failure to adequately explore Trump beginning when it was clear he was going to be a dominant figure in the Republican primaries.”
Conason also slammed the recent coverage of the FBI letter that indicated it had found new emails that “appear to be pertinent to the” investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, but failed to provide specifics, thus sparking wild speculation by many in the media that turned out to be incorrect. (Comey announced Sunday -- after my conversation with Conason -- that the FBI had again cleared Clinton.)
“The press’ job is to make sure that this is presented in a context that voters and all citizens can understand,” he said of the email letter reporting. “And I think many of them failed to do that in the first instance.”
Then there is coverage of Conason’s book itself, which has not gotten as much attention as the sensationalist and error-filled Clinton Cash by conservative activist Peter Schweizer.
“It received about one percent of the coverage of Clinton Cash I would estimate,” he said. “My understanding and I think I said this in my book, dark money from the Republican side put about $1 million into promoting Clinton Cash aside from whatever the publisher was going to do and that makes a big difference. So I don’t know what they spent that money on but they said ‘we’re going to promote this book,’ and Steve Bannon, who was the head of the think tank that produced that book, the Breitbart-type think tank and is now running the Trump campaign, they put together a million dollars from their dark money donors. That think tank, which is also a tax-exempt foundation, doesn’t have to report who the donors are, unlike the Clinton Foundation which has disclosed 99% of its donors, they don’t have to disclose anything.
“So I don’t know who did this, they put a lot of money behind it and the result was that Clinton Cash was all over CNN, all over the networks, all over the radio. I’ve gotten some good coverage, I don’t want to whine, but nothing like -- I went on CNN one time, that doesn’t make any sense.”