Monday, September 5, 2016

A sick, sinking feeling ...

... that the 2000 election is playing out again. Paul Krugman explains in the New York Times, Hillary Clinton Gets Gored.

You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration — an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.

Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore — whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate — as slippery and dishonest. Mr. Gore’s mendacity was supposedly demonstrated by trivial anecdotes, none significant, some of them simply false. No, he never claimed to have invented the internet. But the image stuck.

And right now I and many others have the sick, sinking feeling that it’s happening again.

True, there aren’t many efforts to pretend that Donald Trump is a paragon of honesty. But it’s hard to escape the impression that he’s being graded on a curve. If he manages to read from a TelePrompter without going off script, he’s being presidential. If he seems to suggest that he wouldn’t round up all 11 million undocumented immigrants right away, he’s moving into the mainstream. And many of his multiple scandals, like what appear to be clear payoffs to state attorneys general to back off investigating Trump University, get remarkably little attention. [Scriber: More on that below.]

Meanwhile, we have the presumption that anything Hillary Clinton does must be corrupt, most spectacularly illustrated by the increasingly bizarre coverage of the Clinton Foundation.

Step back for a moment, and think about what that foundation is about. When Bill Clinton left office, he was a popular, globally respected figure. What should he have done with that reputation? Raising large sums for a charity that saves the lives of poor children sounds like a pretty reasonable, virtuous course of action. And the Clinton Foundation is, by all accounts, a big force for good in the world. For example, Charity Watch, an independent watchdog, gives it an “A” rating — better than the American Red Cross.

Now, any operation that raises and spends billions of dollars creates the potential for conflicts of interest. You could imagine the Clintons using the foundation as a slush fund to reward their friends, or, alternatively, Mrs. Clinton using her positions in public office to reward donors. So it was right and appropriate to investigate the foundation’s operations to see if there were any improper quid pro quos. As reporters like to say, the sheer size of the foundation “raises questions.”

But nobody seems willing to accept the answers to those questions, which are, very clearly, “no.”


So I would urge journalists to ask whether they are reporting facts or simply engaging in innuendo, and urge the public to read with a critical eye. If reports about a candidate talk about how something “raises questions,” creates “shadows,” or anything similar, be aware that these are all too often weasel words used to create the impression of wrongdoing out of thin air.

And here’s a pro tip: the best ways to judge a candidate’s character are to look at what he or she has actually done, and what policies he or she is proposing. Mr. Trump’s record of bilking students, stiffing contractors and more is a good indicator of how he’d act as president; Mrs. Clinton’s speaking style and body language aren’t. George W. Bush’s policy lies gave me a much better handle on who he was than all the up-close-and-personal reporting of 2000, and the contrast between Mr. Trump’s policy incoherence and Mrs. Clinton’s carefulness speaks volumes today.

In other words, focus on the facts. America and the world can’t afford another election tipped by innuendo.

Related story: "Crooked Hillary" pilloried, Dirty Donald given a pass

Regarding the Bondi-Trump affair (IMO bribery-coverup scandal) that the mainstream media has let alone: Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo documents the scandal and how the media has pretty much ignored it in About As Clear Cut as They Get.

Yesterday I pressed the point of the wildly dissimilar campaign coverage of Trump and Clinton, particularly the continuing saturation coverage of Clinton 'scandals' in which she's actually being exonerated and virtually no coverage of a pretty cut and dry pay-for-play story with Trump, his foundation and his efforts to protect himself legally from the fallout of the exposure of his real estate seminar scam business, 'Trump University'. But the case with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is more serious than that. We usually use the phrase 'pay-to-play' when talking about money for access, money for government contracts or friendly interventions in the legislative process. The Trump-Bondi case looks like money in exchange for killing an investigation and possible lawsuit against Trump. It would be like Hillary Clinton making a cash payment to Loretta Lynch or James Comey during the email probe.

First, a small point: In the context of chatting about this on Twitter and with colleagues, I took the step of searching The New York Times website to see how much they'd written on the Trump-Bondi story. It first got attention in March and then again in June. So I figured at least a couple short mentions. It turns out the Times, at least according to a full search of "Trump University" and "Pam Bondi", has literally never published anything on the topic at all.

That seems like a real problem.

Sure does, and I don't see it as a "small point". It would not surprise me to learn that Trump threatened the Times with a lawsuit. That would be in character and character is what this is about. Only one candidate has been fined for campaign violations. And only one foundation has been rated "A" and has done global good.

Trump as president? Think of an imminent Watergate, a Watergate on steroids.

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