Much of the political world’s focus last week was focused on an ill-defined “controversy” surrounding the Clinton Foundation, springing from a single Associated Press article. The AP, looking for evidence of influence peddling involving foundation donors and Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State, didn’t find evidence of wrongdoing, but the news service nevertheless published an overwrought story that dominated campaign coverage.
The piece, however, was a complete mess, accompanied by a demonstrably false claim the AP published on Twitter – which still hasn’t been deleted. Nevertheless, for campaign watchers, one of the key takeaways from last week is that Clinton is now burdened by a new “scandal,” even if she didn’t do anything wrong and the allegations crumbled under scrutiny.
This week, it’s apparently time for a new not-so-controversial controversy. Politico reported this morning that Bill Clinton’s staff “used a decades-old federal government program, originally created to keep former presidents out of the poorhouse, to subsidize his family’s foundation and an associated business, and to support his wife’s private email server.”
Politico added that its review “does not reveal anything illegal,” and deep into the piece, in the 24th paragraph, the article explains that the payroll system Clinton set up is actually permissible and perfectly understandable given the logistical challenges of his schedule.
Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum summarized just how meaningless these revelations are.
…Clinton gets the princely sum of $96,600 each year for staff, and tracks the work these staffers do in his capacity as ex-president. He bills the GSA for that work, and bills other organizations when the staff does work for them. This is bog standard stuff. Staff time is tracked, and then charged out. This is not just “not illegal,” it’s the way pretty much any similar kind of operation works. […]There’s really nothing even remotely blurry or scandalous or shady or anything else. It’s just the standard way anyone operates who has multiple interests, multiple funding sources, and staffers who do work for multiple organizations. There’s no hint that any of the charges were incorrect, or that any of the purchases were misallocated.
It doesn’t help matters that Politico was forced to “tweak” the piece to correct details it original worded incorrectly.
The larger point, meanwhile, is that the search for new Clinton-related allegations has led to some unfortunate reports in recent months. TPM had an interesting item yesterday about the New York Times running nearly two dozen pieces since early May alerting readers to “clouds” or “shadows” surrounding the Democratic presidential nominee – each involving allegations that may appear controversial, even if Clinton didn’t actually do anything wrong.
Vox had an important piece in July about the “Clinton Rules,” which are defined by a few key tenets, including:
1) Everything, no matter how ludicrous-sounding, is worthy of a full investigation by federal agencies, Congress, the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” and mainstream media outlets.2) Every allegation, no matter how ludicrous, is believable until it can be proven completely and utterly false. And even then, it keeps a life of its own in the conservative media world.3) The media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there’s hard evidence otherwise.
It’s worth keeping these “rules” in mind as the election season progresses.