Polman: Chewing the Clinton Foundation nothingburger
The mainstream media has a tough time "balancing" the coverage of a presidential campaign where one candidate is temperamentally suited for the Oval Office and the other candidate belongs in a middle school locker room, snapping wet towels.
But in the service of "balance," the media is trying its best nonetheless. This week, for instance, The Associated Press has targeted the Clinton Foundation — isn't everyone? — looking for the ever-elusive smoking gun, the incontrovertible evidence that Hillary turned the State Department into a "pay for play" playground for the fat cats who pumped money into her family's charitable group.
The AP found zilch.
People who think the mainstream press is "in the tank" for Hillary should check out the AP's social media drumbeat. When the story was posted on Tuesday afternoon, it was accompanied by two promotional items that were designed to rivet our eyeballs:
"AP analysis: More than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation."
"At least 85 of 154 people who met or had phone conversations with HC while she was SOS donated or pledged commitments to her family charity."
Wow, more than half! 85 of 154 people! That looks really bad — until you stop and think and say to yourself, "Wait a sec. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State for four years...and in all that time she met or had phone chats with only 154 people? Is that really true?"
Of course not. You rack up the hits on social media only if you keep things simple. Nuance is the enemy.
By all accounts, Clinton during her tenure met worldwide with roughly 1,700 people. The AP simply decided to eliminate, from its tally, everyone who worked in any capacity for any government, foreign or domestic. That's how the AP got it down to 154. In other words, during Clinton's four-year tenure, 85 of the 1,700 people she dealt with — a mere five percent — had donated or pledged to the Clinton Foundation.
Which in itself should not be surprising, because the foundation does good works around the world (fighting poverty and AIDS, stuff like that), and any State Department leader is destined as a matter of course to encounter philanthropists and other heavy hitters who have an abiding interest in those good works.
You might ask, "OK, but what about those 5 percent? That's still 85 people. That's enough to show a pattern of pay-to-play, the trading of cash for favors."
Which brings us to the case of Muhammad Yumus. This was the AP's showcase attempt to prove pay-to-play.
Yumus is an anti-poverty activist and economist based in Bangladesh. He gave money to the Clinton Foundation — not personally, but through a nonprofit bank that he chaired. During Hillary's time at State, he was clashing with the Bangladeshi government over his tenure on the nonprofit bank board. He asked for her help in three meetings, and, as the story reported, "she ordered aides to find ways to assist him." He later resigned from the board, and Clinton emailed one of her aides, "Sad indeed."
Somehow, this revelation has failed to take my breath away.
I suppose you could argue that she wanted to help Yumus because his bank had donated to the foundation. But it's way too facile to say that he bought access. Thing is, you could just as easily argue that she wanted to help him because (1) he's the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, (2) he has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, (3) he has been awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, (4) he has been listed as one of Foreign Policy magazine's "top 100 global thinkers," ranking one notch from the very top, and (5) he has served on the board of the United Nations Foundation.
Granted, the Clintons made things worse for themselves by running a charitable group while Hillary was in office, the kind of arrangement that typically (as the AP put it) "fuels perceptions" of derring do. But there is no "growing proof of pay-to-play," despite all the mainstream media's exertions to "balance" campaign coverage.
Someone should also remind Reince Priebus that Donald Trump has given $110,000 to the Clinton Foundation (and has received no favors in return), and presumably he has done so because, in the words of current campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, the Clinton group "does a lot of good work."
Now there's a revelation. Even a Trump spinner will occasionally let slip the truth.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Pennsylvania.