The Associated Press ran with a story about the Clinton Foundation this past week. That story has now been spread far and wide, with spins and hot takes all around. There’s just one problem: there’s nothing there.
Entitled “Many donors to Clinton Foundation met with her at State,” the implication of impropriety is obvious in the headline. Doesn’t it sound shady? The Secretary of State met with people who donated to the Clinton Foundation! Gosh, what might that suggest? Did they buy their way into the company of Secretary Clinton?
Let’s start with the first word in the title: many. How many is “many”? The AP at least puts a number to it:
At least 85 of 154 people from private interests who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs, according to a review of State Department calendars released so far to The Associated Press. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million.
This might sound damning, until we realize that most of these people are long-time friends of the Clintons who didn’t need to donate money to get access. They already had access. They donated to the Foundation because that’s what people with money generally do for their friends and colleagues. They got to spend time with Hillary Clinton because they had existing relationships.
But to take the AP’s spin, people paid money and got access to the Secretary of State. This also implies they sought and possibly received favors. Let’s look, again, at the AP’s version:
The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Clinton and former president Bill Clinton signed before she joined the State Department in 2009. But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and **fuels perceptions** that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton. Her calendars and emails released as recently as this week describe scores of contacts she and her top aides had with foundation donors.
The emphasis there is mine. “Fuels perceptions.” In other words, this is about how something looks, not what something is. Did Hillary Clinton give access to people on the basis of them donating to the Clinton Foundation? There is no evidence that any such trading of money for an audience with the Secretary occurred. Did anyone get favors or anything remotely illegal or unethical as a result of their donations? The AP found absolutely nothing of that nature.
What is the point, then, in running a story like this? The headline might as well be, “Clinton investigated for corruption; no evidence found.” Because that’s exactly what happened here. The AP and the reporters involved no doubt spent time and money researching and building this story, so I’m sure they didn’t want to just bury it by acknowledging they failed to find anything. But this is terribly irresponsible and lacks the integrity a news organization like the AP is expected to demonstrate.
It might be different if this story was a one-off, but it’s not. Stories like this pop up about Hillary Clinton all the time, and have done so ever since she first reached the national stage as First Lady over twenty years ago. She was chastised for wanting to be more than a pretty face when her husband was President, criticized as not feminine or motherly enough. When she ran for the New York Senate, she was called a carpetbagger, an opportunist who came to the state only as a stepping stone to the Presidency–as if other politicians don’t seek promotions, don’t seek higher offices. Somehow, there’s something uniquely sinister about Hillary Clinton’s pursuit of her career.
After millions of dollars and multiple investigations, Congressional Republicans came up with nothing, no matter how hard they tried to prove that the Benghazi attacks were somehow her fault, that she purposely or through negligence got Americans killed at our consulate in Libya. The email investigation produced similarly underwhelming results. Media outlets continually push these stories that imply a certain untrustworthiness about Hillary Clinton. The suggestion is always there: she is somehow corrupt, power hungry, deceitful.
All the available evidence shows a remarkably honest and dedicated public servant who has spent her adult life trying to make this country a better place to live. Is she perfect? Certainly not. What politician, what person, ever is? But there comes a point where we must ask whether this endless perception problem ultimately has anything to do with its target. I have made this point before: Hillary Clinton is not the problem. Would these stories exist if she were male?
Perhaps her being a Clinton has something to do with it, too. I’d be willing to call it an even split between sexism and Clintonphobia. But here, again, we see a trend that is utterly out of proportion with the facts. The worst thing anyone was able to determine after spending years investigating and attacking Bill Clinton and his wife was that Bill lied–admittedly under oath!–about receiving oral sex from a White House intern. Such behavior is indefensible and embarrassing, but let’s be clear about a few things:
1. The issue only came up at all because Special Prosecutor Ken Starr, [now disgraced](http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2016/06/09/voices-rise-and-fall-kenneth-starr/85471772/), failed to find any real wrongdoing and so went on a witch hunt to dig into unrelated matters. The only reason Clinton even had the opportunity to lie under oath was because the prosecution had run amok, well beyond its original mandate. 2. This became a national drama entirely because Congressional Republicans were intent on making it one, due to their unabashed loathing of the Clintons. Despite Bill Clinton's enormous popularity at the time, Republicans sought to have him removed from office. 3. Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton's infidelities and personal foibles, Hillary Clinton is not responsible for them.
I consider the last point especially important, given how transitively many people seem to view Bill Clinton’s behavior, as if his wife is either responsible for things he did wrong, or is a weak, unprincipled person for refusing to abandon him. I have encountered people with both perspectives and I find both erroneous, even mean-spirited. It is holding Hillary Clinton to an impossible standard because she’s a woman.
I’m tired of news stories that attempt to create the perception of smoke so that the public will imagine fire. The bottom line is that there’s been no smoke found, much less any fire. I even see relatively well-meaning liberals asking questions about these events, wondering aloud if maybe there’s something to it, maybe she really isn’t untrustworthy. Maybe she really is hiding something.
But she isn’t. It would be impossible for someone to hide any deep, dark secret after being subjected to so much intense scrutiny for so many years. There has been no American politician in living memory put under the microscope as much as Hillary Clinton. And what has she done in response? She has persevered, done her job with distinction at every turn, and continues to work toward a better future.
I’m doubtful that I possess such fortitude within myself, and I certainly admire it within her. There are political questions on which I sharply disagree with her, but I can’t help but respect the ways in which she has continued to push forward no matter how often gutless media organs present paper-thin punditry suggesting she may be doing something shady somewhere, at some time, with somebody, and we’ve somehow just not managed to find it yet.
Forget how bad Donald Trump is for a moment: America is lucky, under any circumstance, to have someone as dedicated and qualified as Hillary Clinton running for the Presidency. Maybe someday the media will realize it, too, but I’m not going to hold my breath.