Just imagine if Hillary Clinton were in the following scenario:
Picture that she caused her family foundation to make an illegal $25,000 donation to a political campaign — expressly barred by law — to the campaign of a Democratic Florida attorney general. And that the AG, who was investigating Clinton for consumer fraud, dropped the investigation shortly after receiving the illegal $25,000 donation from the Clinton Foundation, and then endorsed Clinton’s presidential candidacy and was given a special spot speaking to the Democratic National Convention. And that finally, thanks to a watchdog group in Washington, Clinton was forced to admit that her foundation had made an illegal political contribution and had (1) falsely stated to the IRS that no such political donation had been made and (2) falsely told the IRS that the donation had gone to two other charities, obscuring the fact it had illegally gone to the AG’s political committee.
Can you imagine the inevitable reaction? The breathless journalism, the sensational front-page headlines, the 24/7 cable station “breaking news” reports and the hysterical ranting by virulent alt-right websites? And then there would be Republican demands for appointment of an independent counsel, congressional committee investigations, subpoenas for documents, testimony by Clinton and demands from Florida Republicans for the impeachment and ouster of the Florida attorney general?
Is there any doubt — any at all — that Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, would have been all over the media accusing Clinton of “pay for play,” leading cheers at a campaign rally to “lock her up?”
Now substitute the name Clinton with the name Trump, and Florida Republican attorney general Pamela Bondi instead of a Democratic AG.
This all really happened.
So how did the media react in covering the Trump Foundation’s illegal campaign donation, as compared to stories about the Clinton Foundation? Here are the number of “media mentions” between Sept. 1-4, as reported by the LexisNexis database:
Trump Foundation: about 20.
Clinton Foundation: about 680 — 34 times more.
I am not making this up.
Aside from The Washington Post, which broke the story in March and added more details Sept. 1, virtually none of the mainstream media prior to this Monday, the Labor Day holiday, ran stories about the Trump Foundation’s undisputed illegal campaign donation and apparent pay-for-play story.
The New York Times, which in March retracted a false headline that Clinton was under criminal investigation regarding her emails at the State Department, on Saturday published multiple stories on the FBI’s notes of its interview with the former secretary — it did not publish one story through Labor Day about Trump’s blatant legal violation and significant evidence of bribing the Florida AG not to pursue an investigation of Trump University.
Meanwhile the Times has failed to state among all its column inches on the FBI notes that (1) the FBI has not changed its opinion that no crime had been committed involving the Clinton emails; (2) its experts found no evidence whatsoever that her private email server had ever been hacked; and (3) James Comey has retracted his claims that Clinton had ignored three emails marked as classified — in his congressional hearings, he stated that even an expert would not have recognized the small “c” marking as classified.
Only on Tuesday did the Times catch up. Why doesn’t it fess up to ignoring Trump’s undisputed illegal conduct while over-playing the implications of the FBI interview of Clinton? A few media outlets have noticed the Times’s omission, including Washington Monthly and the site Crooks and Liars.
The Times wasn’t alone. Where was The Associated Press, so quick to jump to unsupported conclusions about the Clinton Foundation and forced to revise its headline? Where was The Wall Street Journal, so quick to pound away at the email story without any FBI finding of illegal conduct? Meanwhile, Fox News and CNN, to name a few TV outlets, ignored Trump’s illegal donation and apparent pay-for-play story until Tuesday.
Jonathan Allen, a widely respected nonpartisan journalist, wrote Saturday on Vox (an updated version of an article written months ago) about the media’s “5 unspoken rules for covering Hillary.” My favorite is #2: “Every allegation, no matter how ludicrous, is believable until it can be proven completely and utterly false. And even then, it keeps a life of its own in the conservative media world.”
For those of us who have been friends with Hillary Clinton for many years, we can only shake our heads at this weekend’s obvious display of media bias. We hope undecided voters will see through it. My reaction was to remember the words of Adlai Stevenson when he lost the 1952 presidential election to Dwight Eisenhower: “I’m too old to cry, but it hurts too much to laugh.”
Lanny Davis is a regular weekly columnist for The Hill. In 1996-98, Davis served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton. He attended Yale Law School with Hillary Clinton in 1969-70 and has remained friends with her ever since. He is the author of the book, "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics, and Life," (Simon & Schuster March 2013). Follow him on Twitter at @LannyDavis.