On the Clinton Foundation, Why Are Journalists Telling Us to Look the Other Way?

Hillary Clinton’s media sycophants appear to have forgotten how political corruption works.

Joel Bleifuss September 14, 2016

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks with reporters following a National Security Working Session at the New York Historical Society Library on September 9, 2016 in New York City. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It’s one thing for media pun­dits to stand tall and proud and sup­port Hillary Clin­ton as the can­di­date best suit­ed to be pres­i­dent. It’s anoth­er for jour­nal­ists to sup­pli­cate them­selves before the pre­sump­tive occu­pant of the world’s most pow­er­ful office in the hope that one day they might join Sid­ney Blu­men­thal (In These Times’ for­mer Boston cor­re­spon­dent) as a palace favorite.

The issue here is not whether we can find a smoking gun establishing a quid pro quo exchange. Principled public officials avoid the mere “appearance of impropriety” lest they expose themselves to reasonable inferences of corruption.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as we head to Elec­tion Day, the ranks of the aspir­ing courtier press are full to burst­ing. Take the alle­ga­tion that the van­i­ty char­i­ty of America’s most promi­nent polit­i­cal fam­i­ly solicit­ed mon­ey from the world’s rich and pow­er­ful, who in turn asked favors from that fam­i­ly. Here’s how three media mavens spun it:

  • Matthew Ygle­sias of Vox: There has been a lot of dis­cus­sion around poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est relat­ed to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, so the absence of any clear evi­dence of actu­al mis­con­duct is a use­ful con­tri­bu­tion to our understanding.”
  • Ruth Mar­cus of the Wash­ing­ton Post: The nat­ur­al instinct of the smart politi­cian — an instinct and activ­i­ty not unique to Clin­ton — is to accom­mo­date donors to the extent permissible.”
  • Kevin Drum of Moth­er Jones: It’s the kind of thing that hap­pens all the time. … So tell me again what the issue is here?”

The issue here is not whether we can find a smok­ing gun estab­lish­ing a quid pro quo exchange. Smart oper­a­tors (like Gulf State auto­crats and their con­tacts in the State Depart­ment) don’t pro­duce paper trails of receipts or mem­o­ran­da con­firm­ing trans­ac­tion­al cor­rup­tion. For this rea­son, prin­ci­pled pub­lic offi­cials avoid the mere appear­ance of impro­pri­ety” lest they expose them­selves to rea­son­able infer­ences of cor­rup­tion. This is a tenet that any judge who has recused her­self from a case under­stands — and with which any grad­u­ate of Yale Law School is familiar.

What clear-eyed observ­er would deny that the U.S. fail­ure to strong­ly con­demn Bahrain’s oppres­sion of its Shia major­i­ty might some­how be relat­ed to the warm rap­port between the Bahrain­ian monar­chy and Amer­i­can elites — ties nur­tured through many rela­tion­ships, includ­ing, per­haps, through Crown Prince Salman’s con­tri­bu­tions to the Clin­ton Glob­al Initiative?

It’s an econ­o­my of pow­er that is cor­rupt … and that cor­rupts. But sys­tems can be changed. When In These Times was found­ed 40 years ago, we pledged to con­front the polit­i­cal taboo” of cor­po­rate capitalism.

In These Times’ final edi­to­r­i­al of 1976, in the spir­it of the Bicen­ten­ni­al, turned to John Adams, our 2nd pres­i­dent, who warned that con­cen­trat­ed wealth would trans­form the repub­lic into an oli­garchy. We wrote: 

Adams also held that the leg­isla­tive branch should be in minia­ture an exact por­trait of the peo­ple at large. It should think, feel, rea­son and act like them.” … Cor­po­rate pow­er is accus­tomed to vir­tu­al monop­oly in the mar­ket and over gov­ern­ment. It is time to break up the cor­po­rate monop­oly, not by anti-trust suits, but by begin­ning to retrieve the leg­isla­tive branch to the peo­ple and mak­ing it the cham­pi­on of the sov­er­eign­ty of the peo­ple and their hap­pi­ness, against the usurpa­tions of oli­garchic cor­po­rate power.

If our 45th pres­i­dent-to-be and her media courtiers don’t under­stand this, it’s our job to make them.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

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