The latest Washington Post poll released this week surveying the race for governor in Virginia found what virtually every poll has this season: Democrat Terry McAuliffe has amassed surprisingly large lead in a “purple” state and in a race that was supposed to have been a toss-up between the two parties.
McAuliffe's impressive campaign run represents what appears to be a certain Democratic victory and may be a bellwether for the 2014 midterm elections. But as a longtime confidante of Bill and Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe's imminent win can also be seen as yet another political triumph for the former president and first lady.
Yet that's not how the October 24 issue of The New Republic played the unfolding campaign. In a cover story that stressed McAuliffe's ties to the former president (he's “the consummate Washington insider, Clinton vintage”), the Beltway magazine presented an amazingly snide and insulting portrait of the Democratic candidate.
Depicted as shallow, dishonest rube who fit right in with his Clinton pals, the derogatory language used to describe McAuliffe was startling: He represents “so much of what some people find gross about the subspecies” of the Washington insider; the “shamelessness,” and the fact he's “so ardent in his lack of earnestness.” He's a man who “managed to sell a used car - himself - to the voters of Virginia.”
Imagine the tone of the coverage if the Clinton intimate were losing the Virginia race?
The New Republic's nasty piling-on of McAuliffe is just more evidence that the press, once again, may be starting to declare something of an open season on the Clintons, and those who inhabit their political universe. As Hillary Clinton segues from Secretary of State to possible presidential candidate, the Beltway media, after focusing on the rise of Barack Obama and his administration for the last six years, is also transitioning.
Unfortunately, instead of new insights and fresh perspectives, we're seeing a new generation of writers adopt the same tired, cynical tropes that the Clintons, and news consumers, have been subjected to for two decades running: Bill and Hillary are phonies who keep fooling the American public. They're relentlessly selfish people, obsessed with lining their own pockets and the source of non-stop "personal dramas."
Of course, the “drama” surrounding the Clintons often springs from the media's endless obsession with the couple, married with today's click-bait business model for news.
For instance, this summer the New York Times, having assigned a full-time reporter to the Hillary Clinton beat, produced not one but two stand-alone news stories documenting the Clintons' vacation rental plans. (“Lush landscaping, a large heated pool and eight bedrooms.”) Over at Politico, a search of its archives reveals that since the site went live in January 2007, Hillary Clinton has appeared, on average, in 1,619 articles and columns each year, for seven years running. (For Bill Clinton, it's 1,695 times each year. That's twice as many as Sen. Mitch McConnell, who's who's been one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington for that entire period.)
By all indications, since leaving the White House the Clintons have been immensely successful in their public endeavors. They're famous. They're admired, and they sponsor humanitarian work on a truly global scale. But that's not really the story the press wants to tell. It doesn't fit the preferred narrative.
Instead, the press has actually taken the Clinton's extraordinary charity work, through the newly christened Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, as well as the Clinton Global Initiative, and tried to turn it into a liability.
Think about that. The foundation isn't a greedy $400-an-hour law firm. It's not a shady real estate conglomerate or a me-first hedge fund. It's a hugely successful charity that sponsors good deeds around the world. Yet within the Beltway press, the charity is now often depicted as some sort of Death Star -- or black ops -- operation; a web of ethical conflicts around which all kinds of nefarious deals unfold and hush money is transferred.
Amy Davidson at The New Yorker recently suggested the “dubious financial arrangements connected to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation” were so problematic in terms of Hillary's possible presidential campaign, that “there's a good chance they're prohibitive.” (Davidson dismissed Hillary's possible campaign as a “predestined” “train wreck.”)
As proof of the “real,” “prohibitive” problems the foundation poses, The New Yorker writer pointed to the New York Times' attempted takedown of the foundation. But it failed to detail any “dubious financial arrangements” that would derail a Clinton candidacy. Instead, the article focused on old claims of mismanagement and detailed internal squabbling (“unease”) among senior officers. (Not surprisingly, the Times article was widely cheered by the conservative media.)
It also reported the foundation “ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in,” including deficits of $40 million in 2007 and 2008 and $8 million last year. In an open-letter response, President Clinton insisted that claim was “inaccurate,” pointing to multi-year financial commitments exceeding one hundred million dollars that were made to the foundation and had to be reported to the IRS in full in 2005 and 2006; he also said that when the final 2012 “audited financials are released, they will show a surplus.”
Additionally, Davidson linked to the New Republic's 9,000-word, “scandal” article about former Clinton aide Doug Band and announced the piece proved Band, depicted as a key figure in the launch of CGI, “seems to have been translating dollar figures into Clinton access.” (The gossipy piece was built around nearly four dozen anonymous quotes.) According to The New Yorker, wealthy donors seeming to buy access to powerful people -- absent any evidence of illegal or unethical quid pro quos -- suddenly represents a “prohibitive” problem for Hillary's presidential aspirations? That's a rather naive premise. Has that standard ever been applied to a prominent Republican politician?
For some reason, the Beltway media seems to prefer viewing the Clinton Foundation and its track record of charitable work via global health, economic inequality, childhood obesity, climate change, health and wellness as a hotbed of political pitfalls for the couple. “The foundation provides an ample target for speculation and spite,” noted Joe Conason at The National Memo. “So long as critics ignore what it actually does for people around the world.”
It's certainly been enlightening to watch reporters and pundits ignore or belittle the work of the foundation as they race ahead to attack the Clintons for alleged crimes. In the wake of the paper's misguided foundation expose, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd actually claimed that the Clintons' charity work around the world should be the real focus for anyone concerned about money in American political life.
Touting the Times' big Clinton piece, Glenn Beck's The Blaze noted the newspaper didn't “have anything nice to say about the foundation.” And The New Yorker grudgingly conceded, “The Foundation may do a lot of good.”
It may do a lot of good?
That's a strange, cynical way of putting it. Another way of putting would be to point out 5 million people and 500,000 children around the world have access to low cost and high quality AIDS treatments, thanks to the work of CGI and its supporters. Or to note that “More than 21,000 farmers in Malawi have received lower-cost, higher-quality seed and fertilizer for their crops.”
But again, in the current press telling the international humanitarian work that the Clintons oversee is deeply, deeply troubling and reflects poorly on their character. (Huh?)
When the Clintons occupied the White House, the Beltway press famously hounded the couple with often-mindless “scandal” coverage that revolved around Republican machinations and that produced no tangible results. Today, with the press itching to revive its Clinton obsession, yet without any real scandal trails to follow, even the couple's good works are being cast as suspicious and disturbing.