Part 3—Clinton’s $2.5 billion: The horrific state of New York Times journalism can’t be discussed in the press.
The guild has rules—and a code of silence. That code is strictly observed.
That said: Even by New York Times standards, last Saturday’s “Happy Hearts Fund” front-page news report was a masterwork of insinuation. For starters, let’s consider the way it began.
Insinuation watch: Please cry for Indonesia
Deborah Sontag’s front-page report was the latest attack on the obvious greed of You Know Who and her “distasteful” husband.
By her second paragraph, Sontag was sliming a former model who has trafficked with the beast. By paragraph 4, she was crying for Indonesia.
This is how Sontag’s report began. Insinuation in bold:
SONTAG (5/30/15): To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Petra Nemcova, a Czech model who survived the disaster by clinging to a palm tree, decided to pull out all the stops for the annual fund-raiser of her school-building charity, the Happy Hearts Fund.In the highlighted sentence, Sontag shot and scored.
She booked Cipriani 42nd Street, which greeted guests with Bellini cocktails on silver trays. She flew in Sheryl Crow with her band and crew for a 20-minute set. She special-ordered heart-shaped floral centerpieces, heart-shaped chocolate parfaits, heart-shaped tiramisù and, because orange is the charity’s color, an orange carpet rather than a red one. She imported a Swiss auctioneer and handed out orange rulers to serve as auction paddles, playfully threatening to use hers to spank the highest bidder for an Ibiza vacation.
The gala cost $363,413. But the real splurge? Bill Clinton.
The former president of the United States agreed to accept a lifetime achievement award at the June 2014 event after Ms. Nemcova offered a $500,000 contribution to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. The donation, made late last year after the foundation sent the charity an invoice, amounted to almost a quarter of the evening’s net proceeds—enough to build 10 preschools in Indonesia.
Would that $500,000 donation have been “enough to build 10 preschools in Indonesia?” Let’s assume it would have been.
Presumably, it will also be enough to pay for the joint projects in Haiti these two foundations have agreed to pursue. The money won’t be spent in Indonesia. It will be spent in Haiti instead!
That said, you have to read further in Sontag’s piece to get clear about this agreement. Right up front, she seems to insinuate that the money was stolen from Indonesia in some unexplained manner.
Why was that jibe about Indonesia in that passage at all? Sontag never explains! Later in her report, she does say this about the Happy Hearts Fund:
“Most of the charity’s building has been in Indonesia after the earthquakes of 2006 and 2009.”
But then, she quickly adds this note about Nemcova, the vampy-and-trampy former model who consorts with You Know Who:
“After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Ms. Nemcova turned her attention to that small island nation, where both Mr. Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretary of state, played outsize roles in the earthquake relief effort and the more problem-filled reconstruction.”
In short, Nemcova and the Happy Hearts Fund have been active in Haiti for years. What explains that early insinuation about Indonesia getting hosed?
Sontag never explains. That early jibe was insinuation, plain and simple. Insinuation—full stop.
Alas! Sontag’s lengthy front-page “news report” is larded with insinuations. In a slightly rational world, she and her editors would be happily shown the door. Her “news report” would be sent to the International Insinuation Museum, where it would go on display as a warning to the world’s schoolchildren and to graduate students at the CSJ.
We don’t live in that world. We live in a world where work of this type will not be discussed within the upper-end press corps. For that reason, Sontag was free to end her lengthy, gong-show report with an even more naked insinuation, as we’ll see below.
On a purely journalistic basis, how egregious is the campaign reporting at the New York Times? Quite routinely, the reporting is comically awful. Just consider that $2.5 billion—the $2.5 billion the Times gave to the Clinton campaign, then rudely took away.
Inflated estimate watch: Where does big campaign money come from?
We’ll start with a front-page report from last Sunday’s Times. According to Lichtblau and Confessore, the Clinton campaign has struggled to find billionaire donors to match those who are giving big bucks on the Republican side.
We don’t know if that’s accurate. But along the way, the reporters shot down a “widely circulated” fund-raising estimate—an estimate they described as bogus:
LICHTBLAU AND CONFESSORE (5/31/15): Inflated estimates of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign budget—a figure of $2.5 billion was widely circulated—have also been a headache for her campaign and for Priorities USA. A more realistic fund-raising target for her campaign, they say, is around $1 billion.By now, everyone has heard the claim that Candidate Clinton is planning to raise $2.5 billion for her White House campaign. In the current climate, the claim is used to denounce Clinton as a grasping, greedy captive of big money.
Alas! That estimate was an “inflated estimate,” the two reporters now said. Because we knew the source of that estimate, we emitted low mordant chuckles.
Perhaps a month before, we had Nexised that widely circulated claim, wondering where it had started. That Nexis search made the answer fairly clear.
That “inflated estimate” had started—where else?—in a New York Times news report! It started with an absurdly unsourced statement by the crack reporting team of Chozick and Haberman:
CHOZICK AND HABERMAN (4/11/15): In the early months of the Democratic primary contest, Mrs. Clinton's campaign hopes to capture some of the magic of her successful 2000 run for the Senate in New York...Needless to say, the claim was used to help us see how phony Clinton is. That said, a Nexis search makes it clear. Within the realm of the press corps, that’s where the “inflated estimate” got its start.
But even as Mrs. Clinton attempts to set aside her celebrity and offer herself as a fighter for ordinary voters, her finance team and the outside groups supporting her candidacy have started collecting checks in what is expected to be a $2.5 billion effort, dwarfing the vast majority of her would-be rivals in both parties.
The Clinton campaign's fund-raising staff and other aides have already started working out of a new headquarters in Brooklyn, with almost the entire team working there on Friday.
Seven weeks later, two other Timesmen shot it down. They failed to say where it started.
Please note the absurdity of Chozick and Haberman’s style of “reporting.” They made no attempt to state a source for the giant figure they introduced. They merely described the giant figure as “what is expected.”
Expected by whom? The reporters didn’t say. But so what? Their editors waved their claim into print, and the claim started to circulate.
Credit where due! Virtually no other reporters repeated this unsourced claim. Within their news divisions, other newspapers took a pass on this unsourced assertion.
The absurdly unsourced estimate began to “widely circulate” the old-fashioned way—through a screeching column the very next day by one of the press corps’ most deranged Clinton/Gore/Democrat-haters.
Her column was titled “Grandmama Mia.” As she complained about Clinton’s banality, Maureen Dowd repeated the claim, adding the word “obscene:”
DOWD (4/12/15): ...On the eve of her campaign launch, she released an updated epilogue to her banal second memoir, ''Hard Choices,'' highlighting her role as a grandmother.Just like that, the unsourced $2.5 billion had become “obscene.” The “wide circulation” of the claim got its start right there.
''I'm more convinced than ever that our future in the 21st century depends on our ability to ensure that a child born in the hills of Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or the Rio Grande Valley grows up with the same shot at success that Charlotte will,'' she wrote, referring to her granddaughter.
This was designed to rebut critics who say she's too close to Wall Street and too grabby with speech money and foundation donations from Arab autocrats to wage a sincere fight against income inequality.
But if Hillary really wants to help those children, maybe she should give them some of the ostensible and obscene $2.5 billion that she is planning to spend to persuade us to make her grandmother of our country.
Charles Krauthammer followed with a similar column repeating the unsourced claim as fact. When Candidate Rubio made a joke about the $2.5 billion—“That’s a lot of Chipotle,” he wonderfully quipped—TV news divisions had a way to broadcast the claim without having to state it themselves.
(In Campaign 2000, Bob Dole’s inaccurate joke about the Buddhist temple played this same role. Dole’s joke enabled a primal press corps longing—the desire to circulate bogus claims which drive preferred story lines.)
How much money does the Clinton campaign actually hope to raise? We don’t have the slightest idea! Lichtblau and Confessore gave a new, vastly smaller estimate, which could of course be a confection.
They at least seemed to source their estimate to the Clinton campaign and Priorities USA. That said, the antecedent for their use of the word “they” was wonderfully unclear.
At any rate, we mordantly chuckled on Sunday morning as we read that front-page report. Two Times scribes were rolling their eyes at an inflated estimate which had received wide play.
As the reporters surely knew, the wildly inflated estimate got its start in their own newspaper! Their famous paper had cited no source for the claim.
Insinuation watch: The cries of the Haitian protesters
A code of silence keeps other “professionals” from discussing the work of the Times. The Times should thank the gods for this, because the paper’s “campaign reporting” is horrific, disgraceful, god-awful.
Consider the naked insinuation which closed Sontag’s front-page report about You Know Who’s “distasteful” transaction with the Happy Hearts Fund.
Sontag had finished listing Nemcova’s various boyfriends. She had finished fingering the model’s vampy conduct.
But alas! More than 2000 words later, she still hadn’t explained the problem with the “distasteful” transaction. A whole lot of insinuations had flowed over the dental dam. But Sontag still hadn’t managed to describe an actual problem:
Happy Hearts had donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In return, the world’s most famous person had headlined the smaller org’s annual fund-raising event.
The two orgs had agreed to spend the money on joint projects in Haiti. Thanks to Sontag’s pseudo-reporting, we still had no earthly idea what the problem was.
Neither did Kevin Drum! “What am I missing,” he sensibly asked.
Sontag decided to close her report with a piteous irony. The irony took the form of a completely unexplained insinuation.
We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a more naked play of this type. As she closed, Sontag returned to the Happy Hearts fund-raising dinner and pretended to cry for Haiti.
She made exactly zero attempt to explain what she wrote. In what world does an editor wave garbage like this into print?
SONTAG: “Petra did not have to devote 10 years of her life to building these schools,” Mr. Clinton told the crowd. “But what she has done is a symbol of what I think we all have to do.”How ironic! Inside the gala, Clinton was praising the morals of the vampy Nemcova. But out on the street, Haitian protesters seemed to suggest that somebody’s money had gone into somebody else’s pockets—presumably, into Bill Clinton’s!
Outside [the event], protesters, mostly Haitian-Americans frustrated with the earthquake reconstruction effort, stood behind barricades holding signs.
“Clinton, where is the money?” they chanted. “In whose pockets?”
What were those protesters talking about? What there any actual merit to this implied accusation?
Sontag made no attempt to explain. She simply closed with this one last play, with insinuation full stop.
Work like this is routine at the Times. Thanks to a vibrant code of silence, no one discusses this parody of campaign reporting which, just as a matter of fact, has left people dead and dying all across the world.
Tomorrow: In the aftermath of the bombshell report, the Times discusses disclosure