New York Times shrugs off Trump campaign lawbreaking, crucified Al Gore for less

Hatch Act double standard

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Signaling its complete disregard for laws, statutes, protocols, and tradition, Trump's Republican Party has spent convention week gleefully violating a long-standing law prohibiting federal employees and property from being used for political purposes, and specifically used to try to sway an election. In defiance of that, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been used as a central prop for the GOP convention.

"In open violation of the Hatch Act, President Trump turned the White House into a convention stage," noted Jonathan Chait in New York. "He even held an immigration ceremony on camera, and had his secretary of State deliver a speech in explicit violation of State Department regulations." This comes after Trump has routinely used his office and taxpayer money for campaign events.

Republicans used to care about the Hatch Act. As then-Congressman David McIntosh (R-IN), insisted when there was a Democrat in the White House, "Very clearly, it is wrong to use government property, government assets for political purposes."

Not anymore. "Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares," claims Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, when asked about the Trump administration's obvious disregard in keeping government and politics separate.

Like Republicans, the press today tends to dismiss Hatch Act abuse. Increasingly immune to Trump administration lawbreaking, the political press seems uninterested and underwhelmed by the corruption. The New York Times recently reported that White House aides say they gleefully violate the Act at every possible turn. Yet that cavalier revelation was buried two-thirds into the Times article, and not treated as important news.

This week, the Times' published a passive headline, "At RNC Trump uses tools of presidency in aim to broaden appeal," as if violating the Hatch Act is the norm in American politics.

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"Of course, much of this is improper, and, according to most every straight-faced expert, it’s a violation of the Hatch Act," Politico conceded on Tuesday. "But do you think a single person outside the Beltway gives a hoot about the president politicking from the White House or using the federal government to his political advantage?"

Somebody tell Al Gore.

Because the same Beltway press corps that today waves off concerns had a much different response when Democrat Gore was accused of violating the Hatch Act for making campaign fundraising phone calls from his White House office as Vice President. Compared to Trump's pay-for-play corruption of today, Gore's alleged sin seems quaint. At the time though, the story was treated as a Major Scandal. It generated endless, scolding media coverage and was kept in the headlines for years by eager journalists.  

The New York Times editorial page actually called for an independent counsel to launch a sweeping investigation into Gore's actions. "The extent to which Mr. Gore's admission dented his own Presidential hopes cannot be known immediately," the paper warned. "Mr. Gore now bids to be remembered as the Vice President who went a clear step beyond what previous Vice Presidents and Presidents were willing to do." 

Republicans jumped on the media bandwagon. The GOP-led Senate held three months worth's of hearings, and Republicans in the House spent $7.4 million investigating Gore's phone calls.

The whole scandal was over optics for both Gore and Bill Clinton fundraising. "The scrutiny of the Democrats has turned both on the legality of some of the donations they received and on the seemliness of Mr. Clinton's use of his incumbency to raise money," the Times reported. It turns out Ronald Reagan had also made fundraising calls from the White House.

Incredibly, the gotcha media narrative at the time was that Gore was too good at raising money for his campaign. The fact that so many people wanted to give so much money, the press suggested, meant Gore was tainted and unseemly. "Gore's facility with total-immersion fund-raising, then, may be his greatest strength. Yet it may also prove to be his greatest vulnerability," the Times warned:

Before it's all over, there will almost certainly be attack ads from foes recalling his role in the 1996 election as the Democratic Party's ''solicitor in chief,'' cold-calling donors for cash. If he does not do this, and thus move the story of his campaign away from fund-raising, the defining impression left in the minds of the electorate could simply be his ability to charm the deep-pockets crowd; that could be disastrous at a moment when his standing in the polls is anemic and campaign-finance reform is popular.

The Times warned Gore that the "defining impression" with voters would be fundraising, in part because the Times seemed determined to make fundraising the defining impression. (The Times in the 1990s, having declared war on Bill Clinton seemed anxious to take down his No. 2.)   

This is the stunning media double standard that won't go away: Republicans under Trump get a free pass, while journalists demand Democrats be honest and decent and abide by longtime rules of public discourse.

Just ask Al Gore.

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🗞 GOOD STUFF:

Speaking of the Hatch Act, longtime Trump aide Kellyanne Conway last year was found to have repeatedly violated the law when she disparaged Trump’s political opponents in her official capacity as a White House official. Nothing ever happened, of course, because the administration has eliminated those in charge of enforcing the statute. The violation also didn’t hurt Conway because the Beltway press didn’t seem to care.

In her most recent column, Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan suggests that’s because Conway has been a good source to reporters over the years:

Leaking and lying. Lying and leaking. It’s been the Kellyanne way, and the news media has largely gone along for the ride: Giving her airtime on news shows, failing to forcefully call her out for her continued violations of the Hatch Act, and offering kid-glove treatment in exchange for her inside information.

Perhaps more than any other Trump official, she has undermined the entire notion that truthful information should be expected from the White House and that public officials at the highest level should be held accountable for their words and deeds.

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🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

The Mavericks, "Recuerdos"

They finally did it. The always eclectic, always electric Mavericks, who sprang to life as a country-rock band via Miami of all places, have made a album sung entirely in Spanish. Marinated in lush harmonies, horns, accordions, and twelve-string guitars, it’s fantastic, and conjures up sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club.

The Mavericks rank as one of my favorite bands over the last many years, producing consistently stellar music that swings with abandon. They’re fronted by Raul Malo, one of the all-time great voices in rock, country, and now Spanish music.

“I’m a first generation Cuban-American, and some of these songs are songs my family would play and sing on weekends at family parties and get-togethers,” he recently told Rolling Stone. “But it’s not all nostalgia either. There are plenty of new original songs that put this record squarely in the moment for us.”

When this pandemic ends, go see the band live. You won't regret it.