The Journal is troubled by undue influence of the rich and powerful — but only when it comes to the Clinton Foundation

August 6th, 2015 · 2 Comments · campaign finance reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Unbelievable!

I mean that literally. Sometimes what I happen upon in the Albuquerque Journal is not to be believed. Well, in truth the Journal publishes material every day for which grains of salt are recommended, but what happened today (August 6) was so blatant and egregious as to elicit that “Unbelievable!”

Or, in comic book parlance, “Aaaaaargh!”

Consider the editorial published Thursday, August 6, under the headline, “Clinton Foundation lures largess from the powerful”. It argues that donations to the Clinton Foundation even as Hillary Clinton runs for president, while perhaps legal, are “a questionable practice ethically.”

As a citizen, I largely agree with that but the editorial’s ostensible argument is quite beside the point.

The point, to be revealed further down in this essay after we have adduced some evidence and offered context, is – rest assured – journalistic.

But back to the editorial in which the Albuquerque Journal says it’s very concerned with “powerful and politically connected people” donating to the Clinton Foundation just as Mrs. Clinton is “ramping up her presidential campaign.”

An Associated Press analysis, the editorial continues, shows that some of her old supporters, corporations and foreign governments “with interests before the US government” increased their contributions. Among them were major corporations like Barclays, Citigroup, and HSBC banks, Duke Energy, Cisco, Cheniere Energy (LNG terminals), Toyota and Chevron.

“Donations to campaigns,” the editorial asserts, “have their limits and reporting is required. This avenue toward trying to ensure future favorable treatment is allegedly cleaner and separate from the less pristine path of donating directly to a campaign.”

“While it may be all legal, it is a questionable practice ethically.”

Talk about out of an orange-colored sky! I never saw that coming.

The Albuquerque Journal, which has editorially championed the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, now worries about donors currying favor with politicians?

Hurrah! Better late than never. As a citizen I am delighted to welcome the Journal to the cause of democracy. And I am touched by the Journal’s recognition that there are “powerful and politically-connected people” whose influence should be curbed.

Well, I would be if I believed the newspaper meant it.

For while the Albuquerque Journal editorializes about its concern with dollars going to the Clinton Foundation, it has demonstrated no interest whatsoever in the cash flowing to the Republican presidential candidates or in a campaign finance system involving Super PACs and other schemes by which the most affluent can purchase government no matter which party holds power.

Let me sharpen that. The Journal has run no stories about the big money behind the Republican candidates. None. More importantly, it has run approximately the same number on the systemic corruption of our elections. That’s no surprise; it has editorialized in favor of Citizens United and the Journal’s editorial agenda correlates with its story selection. But going after the Clinton Foundation while giving the system and her opponents a pass is…

Aaaaaargh!

And this, on the heels of what most news people would call a big story and what many American citizens would call a scandal:

A few fabulously wealthy Americans are dominating the 2016 presidential campaign.

Nearly 60 donors give one-third of all 2016 campaign cash” was the headline on AP’s Aug. 3 AP report, which opened:

“WASHINGTON (AP) — It took Ted Cruz three months to raise $10 million for his campaign for president, a springtime sprint of $1,000-per-plate dinners, hundreds of handshakes and a stream of emails asking supporters to chip in a few bucks.”

“One check, from one donor, topped those results.”

“New York hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer’s $11 million gift to a group backing the Texas Republican’s White House bid put him atop a tiny group of millionaires and billionaires whose contributions already dwarf those made by the tens of thousands of people who have given to their favorite presidential candidate.”

The story leaned on an AP analysis of fundraising reports that found nearly 60 donations of a million dollars or more added up to about a third of the total dollars given so far for the 2016 presidential race.

“That concentration of money from a small group of wealthy donors,” AP explained, “builds on a trend that began in 2012, the first presidential contest after a series of court rulings and regulatory steps that created the super PAC. They can openly support candidates but may not directly coordinate their actions with their campaigns.”

Journal editors didn’t run that story. Nor did they pick up another AP story Friday, July 31, with the rubric, “ Democrats far behind GOP in raising money for ’16 super PACs” that opened:

“WASHINGTON (AP) Hillary Rodham Clinton has a message for the country’s wealthiest Democrats: I need you, unfortunately.

“We’re going to have to do what we can in this election to make sure that we’re not swamped by money on the other side,” the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination said Thursday.

But when asked how she feels about encouraging large contributions to a group supporting her candidacy, she replied: “Do I wish that we didn’t have to be doing this? Yeah, I do.”

“Clinton’s paradox when it comes to fundraising explain why, six months into the 2016 race for president, Democrats are barely in the conversation when it comes to the groups known as super PACs.”

“Less than 9 percent of the money given to candidate-specific super PACs so far will benefit Clinton and her rivals for the Democratic nomination, according to an Associated Press analysis.

“The main pro-Clinton group, Priorities USA Action, raised $15.6 million in the first half of this year. That puts it behind super PACs pledged to support five contenders for the Republican nomination, including one whose polling numbers are so weak that he may not even qualify to take part in next week’s GOP debate.”

For the record and because the Journal won’t tell you, the Clinton PAC’s $15.6 million compared with Jeb Bush’s (record) $103 million, Ted Cruz’s $38 million, Scott Walker’s $16 million and Rick Perry’s $16.8 million.

At the risk of belaboring the point, the Albuquerque Journal has published none of that, studiously refraining from…what’s the word? Oh yes, journalism. In doing so the Journal passed not only on AP pieces, but an excellent account in the Washington Post July 31 headlined “Million-dollar donors pump huge sums into 2016 White House race”.

As a former editor, I’d find it difficult to spike a story with this gem:

“Never before has so much money been donated by such a small number of people so early. The massive sums have empowered outside groups that face no contribution limits and are now serving as de facto arms of many campaigns.”

But I was an editor, not a political commissar.

NY Times readers (I’m one) probably appreciated a Sunday, Aug. 2 piece that ran under the rubric, “Small Pool of Rich Donors Dominates Election Giving” by Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourishaug. Alongside, it listed donors who gave a million or more to candidates of both parties.

So you see what the Albuquerque Journal perpetrated in that Clinton Foundation editorial. Cloaking itself in a public interest mantle, admitting there are powerful people (JournalThink rarely admits power exists) and citing self-interested corporations (a JournalThink no-no), it raised perfectly reasonable questions about the enemy’s practices while throwing an Invisibility Cloak over what its friends are doing.

And the Journal managed again to spare its readers criticism of the system by which most of us are disenfranchised – even if we vote!

Aaaaargh!

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Gen13Gent

    I second your “Aaaargh”!

    One of the most common and sneaky ways the Journal biases its coverage is by NOT covering, that is omitting, material contrary to its editorial biases. This is extremely effective and most difficult to detect. Thank you for pointing this out and documenting it.

  • D Chester

    The Journal gets worse every year.

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