You aren't encouraged to ask: Coverage of the current campaign has put some traits of the mainstream press corps on vivid display:
Their enduring love of the latest new polls; their headlong flight from matters of substance; their endless desire to sustain the credibility of the Clinton sex accusers; their failure to come to terms with Candidate Trump's endless, repeated misstatements...
That said, we've also been struck by the press corps' approach to the Clinton Foundation. For all the flogging the foundation has received, it's amazing to see the way the corps avoids discussing what it actually does. For all the savaging it has received, it's amazing to see how little attempt has been made to report on its work.
In his latest column, Gene Lyons discusses the snarky treatment the foundation received in a recent book review. The book in question is Joe Conason's Man of the World, an account of Bill Clinton's life since leaving the White House. We discussed that same book review here.
For ourselves, we were intrigued by Lyons' analysis of the press corps' apparent resentment concerning the Clinton Foundation. According to Lyons' analysis, they may be angry because Bill Clinton cares about dying African children and they and their ilk do not:
LYONS (10/12/16): [R]eading a peevish, small-minded Washington Post review of Conason's book by one Carla Anne Robbins, I wondered if the journalistic phenomenon I call "The Clinton Rules" isn't mainly a defensive reaction.As happenstance would have it, we spoke with Lyons telephonically as he was writing his column. He voiced his reaction to one part of Conason's book—to the part which describes the annual summer trip of Clinton, an older man with a heart condition, to distant outposts in Africa.
See, if the former president of the United States, aged 70, can devote his time between heart surgeries to exhausting tours of remote African villages checking on the Clinton Health Access Initiative' progress in saving millions of children from the ravages of HIV/AIDS, then what's your excuse?
Far better to maintain your moral superiority with sniffish references to Monica Lewinsky...
Lyons was struck by the fact that an older man with a heart condition would put himself through such exertions. We offered a possible explanation: Maybe he actually cares about dying children in African villages.
For the record, we don't know why Clinton takes those trips. But if you read Conason's book, you can read his description of the trips in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
You can read about the real African children whose real lives were actually saved. In some cases, you can read about their repeat interactions with Clinton when they were a little bit older, after they'd come to understand that their lives had been saved.
By way of contrast, if you read the mainstream press, you'll typically read the one mandated sentence about the good work the Foundation does. After that, you'll read the latest attempt to discern scandalous conduct in its workings.
It's a bit like Reagan's pony. By the basic rules of the game, there must be a scandal in there!
Truthfully, no one cares about African children, certainly not in the press corps. Is it possible that Bill Clinton does?
Conason writes about the way some journalists covered those Clinton trips. He praises the New York Times' Celia Dugger for her lengthy, well-informed, challenging report about the 2006 trip. (Warning! Lengthy, well-informed, challenging news report!)
Without naming her name, he criticizes Anne Kornblut, then of the Washington Post, for her coverage of the trip in 2008. For Kornblut's initial report, click here. For a vintage example of press self-involvement, check this grumbling essay for the Style section about how inconvenient everything was on the endless, exhausting trip.
Let's be fair! We had a tiny interaction with Kornblut in 2004 as she bailed on a Boston comedy event in which she was scheduled to perform. With empathy which impressed even us, we skillfully let Kornblut slide.
In our view, Kornblut is a genuine flesh-and-blood person. That said, everyone who's part of the guild is diminished somewhat by its culture.
Does Bill Clinton care about African children? In our view, scribes don't like to consider that possibility. That said, it's a safe bet that pretty much no one else does!
Undisclosed personage speaks: Who said it? As quoted by Conason:
"I have never met anybody who spent all their time talking about everybody's motives who, at the end of their life, could talk about how many lives they had saved."