In the midst of the media feeding frenzy over Michael Wolff's gossipy and fact-mangling book on the Trump White House, another piece of news broke. On Jan. 5, it was announced that the FBI has returned to investigating The Clinton Foundation. Yawn. First, the media ignored it. Then, they touched on it for half a story, after which pundits insisted that there is "nothing new," as if they have access to the factual evidence being sought by the FBI.
Does the "nothing new" response ring a bell? It should.
Last year, some reporters stared at the clear evidence of corporate donations to The Clinton Foundation following State Department actions under Hillary Clinton and claimed there was "no evidence" of a pay-to-play scheme. Let's explore the depth of the investigations giving them the authority to make such pronouncements.
In October 2016, NPR's Joel Rose acknowledged that some donors were awarded meetings with Clinton when she was secretary of state but that "there's no evidence that big donors got any special favors from the State Department." Rose didn't even bother to look at NPR's own reports. A few months earlier, NPR's Scott Detrow had laid out the 2009 case of the Swiss bank UBS and its problem with the IRS. The tax collectors wanted the identities of Americans with secret bank accounts. Clinton brokered a tentative deal with the bank, and it agreed to turn over a small fraction of the information the IRS sought. Then, presto! The bank's Clinton Foundation donations grew from less than $60,000 to about $600,000 by the end of 2014. It also showered Bill Clinton with $1.5 million for a series of speeches.
But there's "no evidence" of favors.
On Jan. 6, "CBS This Morning" brought on Kathleen Kingsbury, deputy editor of The New York Times editorial page. "I think that given the fact that there doesn't seem to be new evidence on the table, the only conclusion we can come to is that this is a political vendetta brought on by the White House," she blustered. "The FBI looked into these allegations in 2016 and said there wasn't enough evidence to actually bring charges. So, what's new now?"
A perfectly Clintonian summary. Hillary would be proud.
On ABC, Cokie Roberts seconded that emotion, saying: "whether they've learned anything new is the real question there. Why would it continue now, when they've already been investigating it for a good long time? So there is certainly at least a whiff of politics here."
On Jan. 7, NBC morning anchor Morgan Radford implied that bad news for the Clintons is "fake news." She asked moderator Chuck Todd: "So break something else down for us, this real versus fake news. We've learned this week about developing investigations into The Clinton Foundation and the author of that controversial dossier, but is this a real investigation, or is that just a political sideshow?"
Todd agreed it "could be a political sideshow." Whitewater, perjury, pay to play — it's always a "sideshow."
Journalists would probably excuse their boredom by saying, "She's not president." But history strongly suggests they would be just as bored (or twice as hostile) to a Clinton Foundation probe if she had actually won the election. We can just as easily guess that if Donald Trump had narrowly lost the election, the media would still be investigating his alleged Russia collusion.
Any voters outside the Clinton bubble who negotiated their way around the "who cares?" media in 2016 could clearly see that the Clintons have filled a 50-car train with scandal baggage over the decades. But our "real news" reporters live in perpetual denial.