Supplemental: Is the Times waging total war?

MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2015

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

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?
(Precise word-count, according to Nexis: 2177 words.)

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.


  1. Is Steve Benen part of the reason Rachel Maddow says nothing about how the NY Times has been behaving? He is a diehard Obama supporter who banned Hillary supporters from his blog during the 2008 primaries. Maybe he is happy about what is going on.

    1. One possible reason is that Benen is a consummate Beltway denizen. He, like the the other purveyors of conventional wisdom are much more concerned with the weekend DC cocktail party itinerary than how the Times and Wapo treats "those people." Do you see much outcry either now or in the past about how the Times has gone after the Clintons from these "serious" people?

      As far as Rachel Maddow is concerned, she has bigger fish to fry ie. dealing with sub-basement ratings on a flailing cable channel in the context of her current salary.

      But if you want to blame it on President Obama, join the ever-expanding queue.

    2. Well, the Sanders campaign has a bunch of Obama people working for it. Hard not to see him as a proxy for lingering animosities.

    3. This might surprise you, burt a whole bunch of "Obama people" are working for HLC too.

      Deal with it.

    4. That should be HRC.

    5. The difference is that the Obama people working for HRC are trying to get her elected, not someone else.

    6. Our guess? Such cluelessness from Clinton supporters may represent her “biggest problem.”

  2. Bob Somerby writes:

    [QUOTE] 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.

    Maybe some of us think "rah-rahing" for whichever neo-liberal Democrat is polling the best isn't the strategy we want to be wed to 24/7/365 except during those years when we're expected to do it 24/7/366.

    By the way just who is it these days who should be staking out the political vision people who loved George McGovern might be interested in and when should this vision be on offer? Does Bob Somerby think that's a job some corporate television pundit or some tenured professor, whose political tracts are read by the masses, should be doing every four years between the day after a presidential election but before the following inauguration so as not to interfere with some leading neo-liberal Democrat's realistic legislative agenda?

    1. You're not making any sense. People are not supporting Hillary because she polls well. She polls well because lots of people support her.

      Please stop calling her neoliberal. That is grossly unfair given her voting record and actions in and out of office.

      Politics is the art of compromises. Despising those who do compromise to accomplish their goals makes you a child, not a better liberal (or whatever ideological territory you are staking out).

    2. With all due respect, 805, I see no indication from his/her/its post of CMike despising anybody, whether you like a particular term or not. I do agree the Hillary's polling numbers shouldn't be perceived as a causus belli - it should be viewed as a positive.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. 8:05 PM, the chastised child like or whatever CMike here. Did you read the part where Bob Somerby wrote:

      [QUOTE] 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.
      [END QUOTE]

      So, wanna try again? (Oh, and isn't Hillary Clinton all about market based solutions and good riddance to "the era of big government?" What are you adults calling that kind of talk these days- populism?)

    5. No, that isn't what she's all about.

    6. She lives the lifestyle of Meredith Vieira.

      No, I take that back. It is more like Diane Sawyer.

  3. It's not a new experience for the Clintons. The same poisonous dirty-tricks smear campaigning Lee Atwater was known for, and George W. Bush partook in for his father, was done to Al Gore and John Kerry, and now comes from the GOP as a whole against Hillary (surely to switch to anyone who replaces her as the Democratic nominee). Vince Foster's suicide note said it best: "Here ruining people is considered sport."

  4. Enjoyed the reference to the comments over at Drum's place. Several of his "regulars" used to make comments here. My favorites are the exchanges between a commenter named Art, Gyrfalcon, and someone calling himself bobsomerby over whether Bob Somerby here at the Howler had lost his mind.

    The guy called bobsomerby denounced "Soviet-style psychiatric analysis." I think that comment was written the very day the Bob Somerby here called Ruth Marcus's column "lunatic" and a "nervous breakdown."

    1. Somerby comes across pretty well in that thread (which included the Black Swan event of someone apologizing for what they said on the internet). Guess that's why you didn't provide a *LINK* to comment 2052338372.

    2. Bob Somerby could fall down dead drunk in a mud puddle in front of a church on Sunday morning wearing only his underwear, and a true believer will always say "Somerby comes across pretty well."

    3. 8:09 AM,

      Here's hoping things start to turn around for you.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Kevin Drum is being too cute here.

    "I'm racking my brain here."

    Sure you are. Don't hurt yourself thinking too hard.

    "I know I'm partisan about this..."

    Of course you are.

    "....and would just as soon not attribute dark motives to Clinton."

    But you're certainly willing to keep an open mind about it.

    "What am I missing?"

    How about the entire last 25 years of republican ratfucking.

  6. Regardless whether you personally like HRC or believe that how the Clintons raise money is "unsavory", it makes no sense that anyone who truly supports progressive causes would want the NY Times to play along with the made-up scandal mongering that is characteristic of modern political dialogue. If you want to criticize HRC, criticize her public policies and leave the rest alone.

    1. Tell it to David Sirota and Meredith McGehee, for starters.

  7. I wonder if TDH has read Noam Chomsky's writings on Bosnia and Haiti. He's probably not as personable as Nader, but 1. He agrees with strategic voting for Democrats, as he puts it "hold your nose and vote" and 2. He wrote some of the most serious criticisms of Democrats while staying critical of the wealthy and corporate power.

    Chomsky on Bosnia:
    Within NATO, there was a debate about how to proceed. The United States and Britain advocated force. NATO powers, including Britain, wanted to get UN authorization for sending unarmed monitors. The United States refused to allow the "neuralgic word 'authorize'," the New York Times reported. The Clinton administration "was sticking to its stand that NATO should be able to act independently of the United Nations." We carried out the bombing, even with the expectation of increased atrocities, in order, in part, to preserve the "credibility" of NATO.

    Chomsky on Haiti:
    For example, "As democracy is restored by Clinton's intervention, Aristide's earlier proposal to increase the Haitian minimum wage has become a "non-issue," World Bank official Axel Peuker observes, and other social measures are "not on the agenda," he said, as we march towards "democracy and capitalism."

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