Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Update on the Clinton Foundation: How the Associated Press manufactured a scandal

I'll make this short. (Well, I'll try.) If you want the longer version, check out the report at Blog for Arizona by AZBlueMeanie, How the AP manufactured a ‘scandal’ with false reporting last week. Here are some snippets from one of his sources, the Political Animal blog at the Washington Monthly, How the AP Spun the Story About the Clinton Foundation.

... here is where the AP blew their story. In an attempt to provide an example of how this becomes an “optics” problem for Hillary Clinton, they focused much of the article on the fact that she met several times with Muhammad Yunus, a Clinton Foundation donor. In case you don’t recognize that name, he is an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as a way to fight poverty, and founded Grameen Bank. For those efforts, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

One has to wonder why the AP chose [the] story of Clinton’s 30+ year relationship with a Nobel Peace Prize recipient committed to combating global poverty as the one to highlight in their efforts to suggest that the Secretary of State met with people because of their donations to the Clinton Foundation. I can’t imagine a more flawed example.

It gets worse. The AP focussed on 154 donors out of over 7000. Half of 154 (who AP claimed met with Clinton) is about 1% of 7000. On top of that, there is no evidence that any of those persons who met with Clinton got anything in return.

In other words, what it comes down to is “it just plain looks bad.” That is basically what most every drummed up “scandal” against Hillary Clinton comes down to: from the perspective of the people judging her – it looks bad. Welcome to the world of optics as scandal.

But none of these arguments will make a damn bit of difference given that the media echo machine has bought into the flawed AP narrative.

So the Clintons are reduced to trying retroactive remedies such as the one suggested by Doyle McManus at the LA Times (and in yesterday morning's Daily Star editorial), One thing is certain in the Clinton Foundation scandal: Hillary didn't avoid the 'appearance' of conflict.

Granted, there’s no evidence that any Clinton Foundation donors got tangible favors in exchange for their generosity. Clinton may have been close to the mark when she said last week, “I know there’s a lot of smoke, and there’s no fire.”

But that’s still a problem. A good synonym for “smoke” in this context is “appearance” – exactly what Clinton promised to avoid.

Meanwhile, the Clintons have taken some steps to allay concerns – while insisting nothing was wrong in the first place.

Bill Clinton has announced that if his wife is elected president, he will resign from the boards of the Clinton Foundation and its affiliate, the Clinton Health Access Initiative. The Clintons’ daughter Chelsea will remain on both boards.

The Clinton Foundation will stop accepting foreign donations and corporate donations; the health initiative, which depends heavily on foreign government funds, will not.

But those limited measures won’t solve the whole problem. Donors and fundraisers will still be tempted to see the foundations as a channel for currying favor with the new president if Clinton is elected.

Here’s one modest further step recommended by Norman L. Eisen, President Obama’s former ethics officer: Clinton should sign a strong ethics agreement barring herself and her closest aides from discussing foundation business with anyone, including her husband and daughter. And she should impose tough transparency rules to guarantee that if donors get access, it’s quickly made public.

There’s nothing preventing the Clinton campaign from announcing that kind of rule now – the sooner the better.

Until then, Clinton supporters, including reluctant Bernie Sanders voters, have been reminded again of all the things they didn’t love about Hillary Clinton.

Lucky for her she’s running against Donald Trump – who has been even less transparent about his own tax returns, business dealings and foreign interests than she has.

The problem, you see, is not that Clinton gave Foundation donors special favors or even moved them to "the head of the line." The problem that McManus wants to fix is the "appearance". As long as the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton share the same name, the Trumps of the world will pervert the good works of the Foundation and use them to manufacture scandals. The media represented by the AP, ever preferring lurid to lofty, will continue to provide the scandals their life blood. And I do not know what can be done about that.

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