Why 2016 press failures keep haunting the Beltway media

Refusing to deal with pass mistakes means the press just keep repeating them

The Hillary Clinton exoneration tour continues, and with it comes the deafening silence from news organization that gleefully bought into GOP attacks on her during the 2016 campaign. Determined to never acknowledge its sweeping failures during the last presidential cycle, the Beltway media show no signs of having learned anything over the last four years. Indeed, newsroom refuse to be transparent about what kinds of changes, if any, have been put into place to make sure the epic failures of 2016 are not repeated this election cycle.

After Trump's partisan Justice Department launched an investigation of the Clinton Foundation, in an obvious effort to "mollify conservatives" still obsessed with Clinton bashing, the inquiry has produced no proof of any wrongdoing, the Washington Post recently reported. The Clinton Foundation was a GOP manufactured gotcha story that the press gleefully amplified for 18 months between 2015 and 2016.

During that time, the New Times and Post published more than 200 articles about the Clinton Foundation, according to Nexis.

Yet even today, you often get a blank stare today when you ask journalists about the 2016 media fiasco. They simply don't see the failures, or won't admit to them. Note that the editor who oversaw the Times' disastrous campaign coverage four years was recently elevated up the newspaper's masthead, landing one of the most exclusive positions at the newspaper. Institutionally, you certainly don't get the feeling that the Times feels like it did anything wrong in 2016.

For lots of Democrats and liberals the failures of the 2016 coverage are obvious for all to see, as the press treated Trump like a celebrity, held Clinton, the first woman presidential nominee, to ridiculous double standards. Fact: Trump refused

to make personal donations to any charities, while Clinton helped bankroll a wildly successful one. But she was the one who was relentlessly x-rayed by the press for a year on the topic of charities.

And for the record, the Times, which essentially sponsored the Clinton Foundation smear by teaming up with a Breitbart writer, still has not assigned a reporter to cover the exoneration of the Clinton Foundation. To date, the paper has only published a Reuters wire piece.

We've seen this shoulder shrug before. Last year when the a years-long State Department investigation concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information via emails sent to and from Clinton's private server while she was secretary of state, the Times covered the story on page 16 and devoted 649 words that exoneration. Recall that during the final stretch before the 2016 campaign, the Times famously crammed three separate Clinton email stories onto its front page on the same day, signaling to readers that the story had reached epic, blockbuster proportions.

Reporting on the latest Clinton Foundation exoneration, Vanity Fair last week presented the attacks on the Clinton charity as a "baseless" "conspiracy theory championed by conservatives." CNN made the same point, stressing that "Trump" in 2016 was " making the case -- with scant evidence -- that Clinton was somehow using her official office to feather her own nest."  The media in recent days have been clear, it was "conservatives" and "Trump" who made up the Clinton Foundation gotcha story during the previous campaign.

But that's only half the story. The other half — the half that the press does not want to discuss in 2020 — is that the media willingly co-cosponsored that conspiracy theory and turned it into legitimate news. It was the Beltway press, dripping for contempt for Clinton, that breathlessly hyped the non-story for weeks and months in 2015 and 2016.  Today though, the press won't come clean. Instead, the press develops amnesia and insists it was only "conservatives" and "Trump" who peddled the Clinton Foundation smear.

How did we get to such an absurd place where the press depicted a wildly successful and transparent charity as some sort of ominous web of political deceit supposedly drenched in shadowy payments?

This was part of the all-consuming narrative that Clinton was a globally powerful villain who schemed around the world to line her pockets while working 80 hours a week as Secretary of State. This is was preposterous theory that suggested that not only did she serve in Obama's cabinet but she was effectively President of the United States, and it was Clinton who dictated uranium policy and it was Clinton who single-handedly signed off on the deal, not in fact nearly a dozen federal U.S. agency. It was a deeply misogynistic narrative that depicted the first woman presidential nominee in American history as being deeply untrustworthy in a way powerful men in Washington, D.C. are never depicted. Rather than admiring Clinton's decades worth of accomplishments, those achievements were held up as scorn as the press tried furiously to concoct a storyline about her duplicitous ways, most famously surrounding her emails and the Clinton Foundation.

The latter story was concocted in 2015 when Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins published Clinton Cash by longtime Republican partisan Peter Schweizer. A sloppy, book-length attack on Clinton Foundation donors, the book tried (and failed) to show how foundation donations corrupted Clinton's decisions during her time as secretary of state; how the foundation acted as a side door for millionaires to buy influence inside the Clinton camp.  The New York Times and the Washington Post then teamed up with Schweizer and helped push his flawed Clinton opposition research.  In lots of those news accounts, the fact that the Clinton Foundation is a charity was often downplayed, including that the organization helps AIDS/HIV suffers around the world get cheaper, better  medicine. Or that the foundation battles global healtheconomic inequalitychildhood obesity, and climate change.

 “If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation,” Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch  told CNN in 2016.

Months later, after conceding that recent news reports hadn’t proven any actual wrongdoing or lawbreaking with the foundation and its connection the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state, editorials from Washington PostBoston Globe, and USA Today, among others, were nonetheless adamant: Shut it down. 

And now we know, via a Trump handpicked prosecutor, that there was never any there, there. The whole gotcha smear campaign was a joke, and the press played along. Sadly, there's no indication any lessons have been learned for 2020.


Rachel Maddow offered up an excellent overview on the Times’ chronic Clinton coverage failures: