THE PSEUDOJOURNALISM RULES: Missing from the bombshell report!


Part 3—Basic questions the Times didn’t ask:
Has the New York Times published a “bombshell report” about the greedy Candidate Clinton?

Based on its length and its massive layout, that’s plainly the way the Times report was sold. Beyond that, many major mainstream pundits have viewed the massive report that way. Chris Hayes even called it “a bombshell report” on his cable program last week.

For ourselves, we very much wouldn’t call it a bombshell report. We’d be more strongly inclined to describe the report as the latest result of the pseudo-journalism rules which now direct much of our discourse.

Whatever one wants to call the report, the following point is clear. The report is built around an insinuation about a Cold War tale.

In the frightening Cold War tale, Vladimir Putin, cast as Dr. Evil, seizes control of the world uranium supply. He accomplished this in 2010. (We’re exaggerating, but only slightly.)

In the insinuation about that tale, Hillary Clinton approves this deal because her husband has been paid big amounts of cash, largely in the form of donations to the Clinton Foundation.

To state the obvious, this is a startling insinuation. According to this scenario, a secretary of state disregarded or undermined the national interest in exchange for barrels of cash.

You’d almost think a major newspaper would be extremely careful in its journalistic practices when it decides to float such a suggestion. The New York Times isn’t that paper!

For today, let’s consider some basic information the Times' lengthy bombshell omits. Let’s also consider a type of writing we’d describe as “slippery disguised disclosure.”

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the bombshell report’s apparent errors, one of which seems completely remarkable. For today, let’s consider real information which is omitted or glossed.

To state the obvious, there’s no “there there” in the bombshell report unless the deal that Clinton approved was believed to be a bad deal at the time. If the deal seemed like a good deal, why would she have to be bribed?

There’s also nothing to this report if Clinton actually played no role in the deal’s approval.

So how about it? Back in 2010, did anybody think the deal in question was bad for the national interest? And is there any reason to believe that Clinton actually played a role in approving the deal?

What kind of deal are we talking about? Below, you see the way the Washington Post summarized the Times report in its featured editorial this Sunday.

In our view, the Post provides a fairly good summary of a lousy report:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (4/26/15): According to a lengthy account published Friday by the New York Times, Bill Clinton accompanied a Canadian mining executive, Frank Giustra, to Kazakhstan in 2005, after which Mr. Giustra acquired valuable Kazakh uranium assets. Mr. Giustra donated millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. The mining company merged and expanded, and it became known as Uranium One. It bought uranium exploration properties in the United States, and ownership was partially sold to a subsidiary of the Russian state atomic energy agency.

When the Russians sought to expand their holdings to 51 percent of the company, it required approval of the U.S. government, including the State Department, when Ms. Clinton was secretary of state. The transaction was approved in 2010. More donations to the Clinton Foundation—millions of dollars—flowed from people connected to Uranium One. The same month the sale went through, the former president gave a talk in Moscow sponsored by an investment bank for $500,000. The investment bank was promoting stock in Uranium One. Though there is no evidence of a quid pro quo, on the merits the deal was bad for U.S. interests: Vladimir Putin can now boast of control of more than a fifth of U.S. uranium reserves.
There you see the way the Post summarized the Times report. Let’s cut to the chase about this scary uranium deal, which was bad for U.S. interests:

To complete their transaction, the Post reports, the Russians needed “approval of the U.S. government, including the State Department, when Ms. Clinton was secretary of state.”

On the merits, the deal “was bad for U.S. interests.” But the Russians got that approval anyway, even as big major cash kept flowing to President Clinton!

“There is no evidence of a quid pro quo,” the Post explicitly says. As such, we’re dealing with an insinuation—a suggestion that conduct which is virtually treasonous may have occurred.

That first paragraph from the Post is a bit hard to follow. This is especially true if you know that President Clinton apparently didn’t “accompany Giustra to Kazakhstan in 2005,” an apparent error in the Times’ report which we’ll review tomorrow.

If that’s an error by the Times, it’s a stunning error. For today, let’s move right along.

In its editorial, the Post told readers that the deal which got approved in 2010 “was bad for U.S. interests.” The Post also seemed to suggest that Hillary Clinton approved this bad deal.

We’d say that’s a fair account of the story the Times seems to tell in its sprawling, bombshell report. But what if both claims are inaccurate?

Let’s start with the claim that the deal “was bad for U.S. interests.”

Was this scary uranium deal bad for American interests? We have no idea! In the Times, Becker and McIntire go to lengths to give that impression. But their journalistic techniques are slippery, and the point is in no way clear.

That said, even Becker and McIntire slip in a key distinction. Some experts rue the deal today, they say. But in real time, they seem to say, the deal may have seemed routine—a matter of basic policy.

Here we encounter the technique we’d describe as “slippery disclosure.” If you read the Times report with obsessive care, you may notice a few fleeting accounts which suggest that the uranium deal might have seemed routine in real time. The first such fleeting suggestion flies by in paragraph 14:
BECKER AND MCINTIRE (4/25/15): When the Uranium One deal was approved, the geopolitical backdrop was far different from today’s. The Obama administration was seeking to “reset” strained relations with Russia. The deal was strategically important to Mr. Putin, who shortly after the Americans gave their blessing sat down for a staged interview with Rosatom’s chief executive, Sergei Kiriyenko. “Few could have imagined in the past that we would own 20 percent of U.S. reserves,” Mr. Kiriyenko told Mr. Putin.
Interesting! At the time the deal was approved, the Obama administration was trying to create a partnership with Russia as a matter of basic policy.

That suggests a possible assumption, in real time, in favor of the deal. If you read all the way to paragraph 60, the reporters run that possibility by you again:
BECKER AND MCINTIRE: If doing business with Rosatom was good for those in the Uranium One deal, engaging with Russia was also a priority of the incoming Obama administration, which was hoping for a new era of cooperation as Mr. Putin relinquished the presidency—if only for a term—to Dmitri A. Medvedev.

“The assumption was we could engage Russia to further core U.S. national security interests,” said Mr. McFaul, the former ambassador.
Separated by 46 paragraphs, the reader receives those two suggestions—at the time, the deal may have seemed routine. That said, these suggestions are dwarfed by the silly twirling of Russian mustaches which lard the telling of the reporters’ frightening Cold War tale.

Even in paragraph 14 (see above), Becker and McIntire pair their first fleeting disclosure with an instant image of a “staged interview” in which Kiriyenko, Rosatom’s chief executive, boasts that Mother Russia has taken over the world. On balance, the suggestion that this deal may have seemed routine is overwhelmed, in this lengthy report, by such frightening Cold War images and by lengthy claims that the deal has turned out to be bad.

The Times report includes a few suggestions that the deal may have seemed routine. This allows a reporter to say that the idea was included in her report—but on balance, those suggestions are overwhelmed by the Times’ scary Cold War tale.

We’d call that a slippery disclosure. Let’s move on to the many issues the report omits and ignores.

When the Post summarized the report, it got a bit slippery itself. It said the Russians needed “approval of the U.S. government, including the State Department” (our emphasis).

The Post specifically says that “Clinton was secretary of state.” But uh-oh! It doesn’t say that she was the person who approved the deal at State.

With this, we reach one of the slickest parts of the Times’ very slippery report. We ask you to consider two basic questions:
Questions for your perusal
First, in what way was approval granted by the U.S. government?
Second, is there any reason to think that Clinton actually played a role in granting that approval?
The Times reporters are quite slippery concerning both these points. Consider an entity they finally name in paragraph 38—the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Alas! It is that entity which approved the scary uranium deal. In paragraph 38, the reporters finally name and describe this entity, but not without encasing it in a piece of silly misdirection, sometimes known as gorilla dust:
BECKER AND MCINTIRE: When a company controlled by the Chinese government sought a 51 percent stake in a tiny Nevada gold mining operation in 2009, it set off a secretive review process in Washington, where officials raised concerns primarily about the mine’s proximity to a military installation, but also about the potential for minerals at the site, including uranium, to come under Chinese control. The officials killed the deal.

Such is the power of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The committee comprises some of the most powerful members of the cabinet, including the attorney general, the secretaries of the Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce and Energy, and the secretary of state. They are charged with reviewing any deal that could result in foreign control of an American business or asset deemed important to national security.
Sad. Before they deign to describe the committee which actually approved the uranium deal, they tell another Cold War tale, this time about a scary deal involving the Chinese.

They described officials “killing the deal” in a “secretive review process.” Novelistically, this foreshadowing makes you gape when the next scary deal goes through.

Whatever! In paragraph 38, the reporters finally describe the entity which gave Putin control of the world. They say the committee includes, but is not limited to, the attorney general and the secretaries of six other cabinet agencies, including State.

They specifically say that “the secretary of state” is part of the committee. This begs a fundamental question, one the reporters postpone until paragraph 67.

In that 38th paragraph, it becomes clear that the State Department was only one of many agencies on the committee which approved the uranium deal. This raises an obvious set of questions—questions the Times reporters never quite manage to ask:

In what manner did the Committee on Foreign Investment decide to approve the deal? Was it done by majority vote? Did anyone actually vote against the scary uranium deal?

In their sprawling bombshell report, the reporters never address these blindingly obvious questions! They never even provide a full list of the members of the committee. Elsewhere, we’ve seen it said that the Committee on Foreign Investment has nine members. But in all their 4400 words, the reporters never get that specific.

More importantly, they never report that any agency on the committee actually opposed this uranium deal. They never report that the judgment of this committee was anything short of unanimous!

Did anyone oppose this deal? Because we get our “news” from the Times, we have no idea! Much later, in paragraph 63, the reporters offer this:
BECKER AND MCINTIRE: Two months later {in August 2010], the deal giving ARMZ a controlling stake in Uranium One was submitted to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States for review. Because of the secrecy surrounding the process, it is hard to know whether the participants weighed the desire to improve bilateral relations against the potential risks of allowing the Russian government control over the biggest uranium producer in the United States. The deal was ultimately approved in October, following what two people involved in securing the approval said had been a relatively smooth process.
“It is hard to know” what happened in the committee, the reporters sadly say. That said, they do report that two people say it was “a relatively smooth process.”

Might that mean that everyone voted yes? Don’t ask us—we read the Times!

Did anyone vote against the deal? If not, it’s hard to see why Clinton would have to be bribed to agree with the decision. But then, it isn’t even clear that Clinton took part in this process at all!

Below, you see a type of denial which the reporters, in a stunning journalistic decision, withheld from readers of the Times under paragraph 67. Did Clinton take part in this process at all? This is what we’re finally told in paragraphs 64-68:
BECKER AND MCINTIRE (continuing directly): Not all of the committee’s decisions are personally debated by the agency heads themselves; in less controversial cases, deputy or assistant secretaries may sign off.


The Clinton campaign spokesman, Mr. Fallon, said that in general, these matters did not rise to the secretary’s level. He would not comment on whether Mrs. Clinton had been briefed on the matter, but he gave The Times a statement from the former assistant secretary assigned to the foreign investment committee at the time, Jose Fernandez. While not addressing the specifics of the Uranium One deal, Mr. Fernandez said, “Mrs. Clinton never intervened with me on any C.F.I.U.S. matter.”

Mr. Fallon also noted that if any agency had raised national security concerns about the Uranium One deal, it could have taken them directly to the president.
Say what? In that highlighted passage, Fernandez seems to say that he, not Clinton, provided the State Department’s approval, if approval was actually given. As quoted, his statement is imprecise. But he seems to say that the scary deal didn’t rise to the secretarial level.

In the material we’ve deleted above, Becker and McIntire offer various speculations suggesting that Clinton simply must have made the decision. But these are pure speculations, of the type pseudo-journalists love. There isn’t a word in this endless report which directly challenges the suggestion by Fernandez.

Plainly, Becker and McIntire couldn’t find anyone who said that Clinton actually took part in this process. They also couldn’t find anyone who said that any department opposed this deal, despite how bad it was.

For all we can know from their “bombshell report,” every agency on the committee approved the scary Cold War deal, and Clinton didn’t take part. In our view, this isn’t “bombshell reporting.” On a journalistic basis, we’d call it the latest Rolling Stone-ish scam.

As we’ve noted, this bombshell report runs 4400 words. It’s crammed with useless gorilla dust and other confusing filler. It would have been easy to add more text, just by killing one of the seven photographs which let the piece devour two full pages inside the hard-copy Times.

Despite this, there is no sign that Becker and McIntire ever asked anyone if Clinton took part in this process. There’s no sign they asked those other departments if they opposed the deal.

(They may know that no one opposed the deal. If so, they aren’t telling.)

It’s amazing to think that Fernandez’s statement about Clinton’s role got pushed all the way to the end of this endless report. Rather, this decision would be amazing in an attempt at performing actual journalism.

Did anyone think this deal was bad? In the New York Times bombshell report, there’s no sign that anyone did!

Did Clinton take part in approving this deal? Aside from all those speculations, there is no sign that she did!

It’s possible that Clinton took part, of course. It’s also possible that someone opposed this deal.

But there is no evidence in this report that either thing occurred. The Times has provided no such reporting. Its 4400-word bombshell report largely ignores these stone-cold basic questions.

Instead, the reporters pushed ahead with insinuations of treason. The pseudo-journalism rules have made such work fairly routine.

Tomorrow: The scent of Rolling Stone


  1. Newsmax April 27 (Christopher Ruddy):

    Well, if there’s smoke — there’s fire? Perhaps it’s better to say, Where there’s smear, there’s not always fact.
    I think the imperative for journalists is more appropriate: Follow the money. So let’s do that.
    The sister companies of News Corp and 21st Century Fox own HarperCollins, which published Peter Schweizer’s book; they own The Wall Street Journal, which first raised the issue of the foreign donations; they own the New York Post, which broke the details about the Schweizer book; and they own Fox News, which gave the story oxygen and legs.
    With so much media mojo from one company, there is no doubt they will be doing some pretty good "cashing in" from the many millions of dollars their new best-seller will generate.

  2. If you distrust the Clintons and are presented this report with an invitation to speculate, you are likely to be suspicious that they deliberately undermined national interests. Or that the possibility is likely enough that you cannot vote for them. You might be right.

    If you trust the Clintons, you are likely to view the insinuations in the report as unfair and farfetched. You might be right.

    1. What if you distrust the results of the Citizens United case?

    2. You are unlikely to be sent to FEMA camps in the final weeks of the Obama administration when, to offset the impact of voter ID laws, they try to help Clinton get over the top.

    3. Re: the analysis of Anonymous @ 1:24.

      I believe the people who distrust the Clintons fall into two groups.

      Those who fear she and Bill are palling around with evil foreign dictatorships.

      Those who fear she and Bill are palling around with evil foreign plutocrats.

      That said, her biggest problem may be her clueless supporters.

    4. The word "might" in "might be right" is a bit vague. You can assign probabilities in both cases. Given that in the past the Clintons have been cleared of every allegation of wrongdoing except Monica's blowjob, the likelihood that this allegation is correct is very small. Probabilities are determined by past events. There is a track record of this stuff having no substance. That must be taken into account when evaluating what "might" be right.

      Then there is the degree of trust that can be placed in the NY Times reporting and in the competence of the author of this new book. Neither of them have a good track record so the likelihood that their current allegations are true is diminished. You don't have to trust the Clintons to know that a partisan book attacking them is unlikely to have much truth. Look at past books, specifically past books by this author.

    5. As an expert in cluelessness, 2:56 PM, I'll take your word for it.

    6. 3:10, agree with the first part of your comment but not so much the second. You don't have to accept all of the NY Times insinuations, only some of their facts. From there, you still have the problem of whether or not to believe what actually happened indicates a red flag. It might be true the Clintons have always been cleared of wrongdoing, but most of us regular folk have a built in mistrust for the very very rich and very very powerful and very very influential, particularly if they're politicians.

    7. Why should I believe any of their facts when they claim that Bill Clinton took a trip to China that he did not in fact take? Their facts apparently come from a book they did nothing to check. I would have to accept the facts of a political operative who has been shown to be wrong on other occasions.

      If you are going to mistrust powerful people then you should mistrust all politicians equally. Normal people don't run for office. If you were not very very influential after being first lady (or president or secretary of state) something would be very wrong with you.

  3. The Clinton scandals reported by David Sirota and The Intercept are much more damning. They involve actual US client states, so naturally the Times and Post need to change the topic to Russia.

    1. "At the same time that Clinton's State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation, the family’s global philanthropic empire.

      The details of these financial dealings remain murky, but this much is clear: After millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation -- supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself -- Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact. Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, she now promoted it, calling it “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.” The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra."

    2. more bullshit innuendo.

      News Flash: Hillary Clinton was not President at the time.

      During the Democratic primary, Clinton and Obama both said they opposed the deal.

      The Obama administration said it changed its position only after Colombia made additional commitments about labor rights. And that push was not led by Hillary Clinton, but by then-U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, a campaign aide said.

      Clinton's support for the free trade agreement was in line with that of the White House.

    3. mm agrees with @ 2:28.

    4. "mm agrees with @ 2:28.", which is either on another blog or is non-existent.

      Another fact-based "voice" from the peanut gallery.

    5. It is two comments below this one as I write.

      Another perceptive blog commenter.

    6. Touche - that's what I get for reading top to bottom.

      Comment @ 3:10 PM withdrawn.

    7. No I don't agree, that is ridiculous.

      She was Secretary of State. As such she executes the President's policies, like every other SoS.

      And as usual, you ain't got shit. She's either corrupt or she's a dumb figurehead. Jackass.

    8. The fact that a human rights abuser can sit on the Hillary Clinton board is already a scandal, that's the kind of elite shenannigans that goes back to at least JP Morgan two generations ago. A professional journalist would try to hold such a person accountable, not flame them with poorly researched partisanship like the Times did. When asked by the IB Times reporter, "The State Department declined to provide IBTimes with the names of sources or evidence used to determine that the Colombian military was in compliance with the human rights goals set out by Congress."

    9. Hillary Clinton has a board?

    10. Shockingly yes, the Clinton Foundation is connected to Hillary Clinton donors. See the recent post in Politico entitled "Bill "Clinton's Africa entourage Donors and big campaign fundraisers join him on his annual foundation trip abroad."

    11. Ho hum, another innuendo laced evidence free article about that evil philanthropist Frank Giustra. You want me to believe she sold out her life long support for human rights in exchange for donations to the CGI?

      See, the problem with you deranged Clinton haters is that most rational persons do not have these visceral physical negative reactions when the name President Clinton is mentioned.

      In the mean while, the entire Republican party has been actively and quite openly and successfully working IN OUR OWN COUNTRY to bust unions from Wisconsin to New Jersey. Republicans have a guy from Wisconsin running for president who actually compared the teacher union in his state to Islamic terrorists.

      The governor from NJ is openly and proudly hostile to teachers unions in his own state.

      Thank you very much for your concern, I'll take my chances with a progressive Democratic leader with a life long history and record of support for progressive causes in this country.

    12. The politico story is factual. It shows that Hillary's campaign is involved with her family's charity.
      I think we need to do away with assumptions that if we criticize Democrats we're ignoring Republicans. Also, we should recall that philanthropists historically are often very shrewd businessmen, such as Andrew Carnegie.

  4. Regardless of what you think of the Clintons, this report wants you to believe that Hillary and Hillary alone made this deal happen. If she's so powerful, why does she need to run for president? She clearly already controls the US.

    1. I believe Ms. Clinton was mostly a figurehead. Anything she supported as Secretary of State I disapprove of was her simply being a loyal member of the Obama administration team. as all Cabinet members must be. Anything controversial which happened below her was the work of careerists from the long period when Reagan/Bush/Bush larded the foreign service with Bob Jones and Liberty U. grads.

    2. It is the role of Secretary of State to execute the policy of the president while supervising the activities of the Ambassadors and duties of the State Department. As such she did that job fully -- she was not a figurehead -- a term that implies she did not do the regular job of Secretary of State. It is grossly unfair to suggest that because she was not involved in nor responsible for this one particular decision she therefore did not do the job to which she was appointed.

  5. Mr. Somerby, please forward your analysis to the NY Times Pubic Editor. I would really love to see their explanation for the horrible journalism contained in their "blockbuster" story.

    1. I really can't wit for them to explain the unwritten Clinton Rules which have been put on paper by Bob and Professor Krugman. It certainly goes against everything taught in journalism class by Dr. Dean.

    2. Well mm, Bob may be a little slow getting the Public Editor to do your bidding. It seems Becker and McIntire had another article yesterday.

    3. All this says is that Bill Clinton did some charity fundraising in Canada. None of the questions Somerby raised are addressed. There isn't even evidence of an attempt to shield contributions since the Canadian law was unclear. Most large corporations donate to charities for tax purposes. It would have been wrong to expect the Clinton foundation to cease operation because Hillary was Sec of State. That means there will inevitably be some tenuous connection that conservatives can point to. Without a quid pro quo it is just an attempted smear.

  6. "Was this scary uranium deal bad for American interests? We have no idea! "

    Nothing could be less relevant to American interests. There's no shortage of uranium and there never will be. People prefer to mine for uranium in Kazakhstan or Canada because it's cheaper. But the cost of uranium is insignificant in even the operation of a nuclear power plant and completely insignificant in the production of a weapon.

    The article alludes to, but doesn't name, the most successful decommissioning/non-proliferation program ever: Megatons to Megawatts. That program saw Russia supply 40% of US nuclear power generation's uranium needs for 20 years from 1993-2013. And all their supply came from decommissioned nuclear weapons. So it's pretty crazy to make a case that raw uranium supply is seen as a strategic asset by Russia.

    Very, very bad faith reporting by the NYTimes on this one-- uranium sounds scary. But as far as mining is concerned, it' s easy to find--it's just found in very low concentrations. The uranium mining industry is small because there's not a big market for its product and it's not very profitable because there is little barrier to entry.

    Excellent work by TDH, hooray.