Who will warn the public: Deborah Sontag’s front-page report from last Saturday’s New York Times strikes us as journalistically clownish.
For background, see this morning’s report.
Sontag’s attempt to generate scandal of a preconceived shape seems especially transparent. It’s hard to see what’s supposed to be wrong with the transaction she described in her lengthy report. But she seemed to work especially hard to make her story fit a pre-existing narrative about the greedy You Know Who’s and their “distasteful” behavior.
Bill Clinton engaged in a “quid pro quo,” she sillily suggested. She even threw Frank Giustra’s name into the stew at one point, in a completely irrelevant way. She seemed to be leaving no stone unturned in the desire to link this event to a pre-existing scandal story-line.
Sontag’s 2200-word report appeared on the front page of Saturday’s hard-copy Times. On Friday afternoon, the piece had appeared on line. When it did, Kevin Drum was puzzled by its logic, as we were when we read it that same day.
As we’ve long noted, Drum is just about our favorite political writer—except on matters involving the press, where he think he tends to be maddeningly soft. He’s currently dealing with a serious health issue. Everyone is hoping and praying, and expecting, that his progress will continue.
Last Friday, Drum did a short post describing his puzzlement about the Sontag report. Sardonic headline included, this was his full post:
DRUM (5/29/15): News Flash: Bill Clinton Has a Pretty High Speaking Fee(Precise word-count, according to Nexis: 2177 words.)
Over in the New York Times today, Deborah Sontag has a 2,000-word piece about a charity called the Happy Hearts Fund. There seem to be two big takeaways: (a) celebrities use their fame to promote their charities, and (b) Bill Clinton usually won't appear at your event for free. His speaking fee is a donation to the Clinton Foundation. In this particular case, Happy Hearts donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation, and in return Clinton appeared at their event to receive a lifetime achievement award.
I'm racking my brain here. I know I'm partisan about this and would just as soon not attribute dark motives to Clinton. But even putting that aside, what's the story here? Celebrities use their fame to promote their pet causes? Bill Clinton commands a high speaking fee? Is there something that's even unsavory about this, let alone scandalous? Is there something that's out of the ordinary or not already common knowledge? If the story featured, say, George W. Bush instead of Clinton, would I be more outraged? What am I missing?
Basically, we agree with Drum. It’s hard to see an actual problem with the transaction in question.
As Sontag reports the matter, $500,000 was transferred from a smaller charitable organization to a larger charitable org. In the process, the smaller org got the world’s most famous person to headline its annual fund-raising event.
The two orgs agreed that they would use the $500,000 on joint projects in Haiti. Presumably, this connection might heighten the visibility of the smaller org.
Regarding Drum’s post, We’re with Lucid! It’s hard to see why we’re supposed to be outraged by these events. Clearly, though, that’s the way Sontag played it—and she spun it very hard, at substantial length.
Of course, it’s hardly surprising to see such work on the front page of the Times. When it comes to You Know Who and her “distasteful” husband, this has been the norm at the Times for a very long time.
Some date the start of this apparent war to January 1992. At that time, bungled front-page reporting in the Times introduced the country to the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, the event which gave its name to an era of bungled scandal claims. When Gene Lyons wrote the book on this matter, the liberal world ignored it.
We think Drum’s post is interesting in itself. It’s also interesting for its comments, which we found intriguing.
In comments, some of Drum’s regular readers seem to agree—you can’t believe a thing the Times says about the Clintons. As we read their exchange, we were struck by the dog that didn’t bark, by the questions which didn’t get asked:
Discussions in comments are well and good. But when will the public be told about this state of affairs? When will the public be warned that they should be extremely skeptical of the work the New York Times does about the Clintons?
We’ve been asking those questions for a very long time now. We’ve been naming the names of the major figures who simply refuse to tell the public about the mainstream press corps’ long-running war against both Clintons and Gore.
We were pleased to see Drum’s regular readers talking about this journalistic pattern. We wished we saw them strategizing about the best ways to warn the world.
One of Drum’s commenters said that people already know that you can’t trust the Times when it dogs the Clintons. That strikes us as a fantasy of the highest order.
For decades, people have heard about the “liberal bias” of news orgs like the Times. Very few people have ever heard that there is an issue about the paper’s coverage of the Clintons and Gore.
You won’t hear Sontag’s report discussed on MSNBC tonight. Similarly, you didn’t hear about the paper’s 4400-word front-page report about that scary uranium deal—except from Chris Hayes, who dubbed it a “bombshell report” and found a way to endorse it.
Unlike Ruth Marcus, we aren’t “fans of Hillary Clinton.” Our presidential politics are very simple—we want the Democrat to win, the Republican to lose.
Clinton is likely to be that candidate—and the rest of the Democratic field seems extremely weak to us in terms of electability. Is the Times now doing to Candidate Clinton what it did to Candidate Gore? When will liberals insist that people like Maddow and Hayes address such obvious questions?
We got the smell of total war from Sontag’s lengthy front-page report. The Times played it this same way four White House campaigns ago. People are dead all over the world because liberals and Democrats just sat around and let them.
We agree with Drum. It’s hard to see what the problem is with the transaction Sontag reported.
That said, the Times gave it 2200 words, splashing it hard on the front page. We’re fairly sure that we’ve seen this very bad movie before.
It was met with silence then. Except in comment threads, it’s being met with silence again today.
Concerning electability: All in all, we love Bernie Sanders’ politics. On Election Day, he will be a 75-year-old self-described socialist with a Brooklyn accent.
That doesn’t mean he couldn’t win. It does suggest possible problems.
We loved Candidate McGovern too. People, we’re just saying.