How the Media Covers Clinton Scandals

Hillary's GOP "enemies" "seize" on foreign donations to life-saving charity "tied to Clintons."

April 20, 2015

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is facing an array of scandals related to her family’s global charity operation, the Clinton Foundation, and its shady dealings with foreign governments and oligarchs. As a result, Republicans are criticizing her. Guess which angle the media find particularly fascinating?

For example, this is the lead paragraph in a Newsweek story about Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian billionaire and Clinton Foundation mega-donor (he’s pledged almost $30 million) who has done business with Iran, potentially in violation of U.S. sanctions:

Enemies of Hillary Clinton waiting to discredit her bid for the White House are likely to seize on news that one of the biggest benefactors to the Clinton Foundation has been trading with Iran and may be in breach of US sanctions imposed on the country.

At best, this is sloppy journalism. The entire story is about Pinchuk, his donations, and his dealings with Iran via his shady pipeline company headquartered in the shady tax haven of Cyprus. In fact, the details in the story appear to have been obtained exclusively by Newsweek. It’s definitely not about Clinton’s "enemies," who are only mentioned in the lead. Why?

The cynical observer might infer that framing these unavoidably controversial revelations about a prominent Clinton Foundation donor as a partisan food fight is a clever way to soften the blow of a story that reflects poorly on Hillary Clinton. In any event, it’s a bizarre way to frame the findings of an otherwise laudable journalistic investigation.

But this happens rather frequently when the media reports on troubling revelations involving Democratic politicians. Republicans love to "seize" on these stories, and that is often considered as noteworthy as the revelations themselves. Here’s how the Times and major outlets covered the developing IRS targeting scandal in 2013:

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It’s worth noting that the mainstream media has done a decent job of investigating the Clinton Foundation in recent months, even if they didn’t show much interest while Hillary was secretary of state. Reporters will have plenty to pore over following the publication of Clinton Cash, a new book from Peter Schweizer that explores possible instances of Clinton Foundation donors receiving favorable treatment by the State Department. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times write-up, starting with the lead paragraph:

The book does not hit shelves until May 5, but already the Republican Rand Paul has called its findings "big news" that will "shock people" and make voters "question" the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton. …

The book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, asserts that foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return…

Conservative "super PACs" plan to seize on "Clinton Cash," and a pro-Democrat super PAC has already assembled a dossier on Mr. Schweizer, a speechwriting consultant to former President George W. Bush and a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution who has contributed to the conservative website, to make the case that he has a bias against Mrs. Clinton.

There you have it. A prominent enemy is talking about a book that reflects poorly on Clinton, and other enemies are planning to seize on it.

Consider how the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times framed the Clinton Foundation’s announcement that it would continue to accept donations from a handful of rich Western nations even though Hillary has formally announced a campaign for president. The WSJ headline read: "Clinton Foundation to Keep Foreign Donors." The Times headline read: "Clinton Foundation Revises Policy on Foreign Donors." And that’s just the online version. The print headline, on page A18, was even more vague and passively worded: "Group Tied to Clintons Alters Policy on Donors." It actually requires more print space to describe the "Clinton Foundation" as merely a "Group Tied to Clintons," but what difference, at this point, does it make?