I wonder how the news media would handle the story if someone with an iPhone captured Hillary Clinton getting handed a white envelope stuffed with unmarked $100 bills in a hotel ladies' room. Would some veteran Beltway pundit go on CNN or MSNBC to declare, "I would say that the optics of this doesn't look great." Would another talking head chime in to say: "Yes, she accepted the cash, but there's no evidence of a quid pro quo....White envelopes stuffed with cash can get you access, but that's all"?
To be clear, I don't think Hillary Clinton or the people around her take white envelopes stuffed with cash in the rest room. A) They're not from Philly B) I'm not a huge fan of Hillary's ethical choices, but I don't think it's anywhere that bad and C) Even if you do assume the worse, who would go the old-fashioned bribery route when Goldman Sachs is dangling a check for 225,000 quid in return for 30 or 40 minutes of light prose?
That said, I've been really flabbergasted these past few days over the verbal gyrations that folks in the mainstream media have been performing to label the odd doings at the Clinton Foundation -- and its disturbing overlaps with Hillary Clinton's duties as Secretary of State -- as anything but corruption. I guess it depends on what your definition of the word "corruption" is. These days, I'm starting to wonder if that word has any meaning left.
In recent days, there's been a steady drip-drip-drip of the emails that Team Clinton put on a private server because she didn't want you or me to see them. I think this one is the most egregious case that's been uncovered. This story's written by a friend and a journalist I greatly respect, David Sirota:
Emails just released by the State Department appear to show Clinton Foundation officials brokering a meeting between then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a top military leader of Bahrain — a Middle Eastern country that is a major foundation donor. Soon after the correspondence about a meeting, Clinton's State Department significantly increased arms export authorizations to the country's autocratic government, even as that nation moved to crush pro-democracy protests.
In a statement quoted by the Wall Street Journal, a Clinton spokesperson, Josh Schwerin, said of the newly released correspondence: "The fact remains that Hillary Clinton never took action as secretary of state because of donations to the Clinton Foundation."
Really? Because it kind of sounds like she did in this case. The story goes on:
The email exchange about Bahrain shows the Clinton Foundation's top executive Doug Band in 2009 asking Clinton's State Department aide Huma Abedin to set up a meeting between Clinton and Crown Prince Salman, who had recently been named the deputy supreme commander of Bahrain's armed forces. Band referred to Salman as a "good friend of ours." Abedin told Band that Clinton had initially rejected a previous request for a meeting with Salman because "she doesn't want to commit to anything for thurs or fri until she knows how she will feel." Soon after, though, Abedin told Band that the State Department was now offering Salman a meeting with Clinton.
Salman has directed $32 million to a Clinton Foundation program, and the Kingdom of Bahrain has donated up to $100,000 more. As Bahrain money flowed into the Clinton Foundation, State Department documents showed that between 2010 and 2012 the Clinton-led State Department approved $630 million worth of direct commercial arms sales to Salman's military forces in Bahrain. That was a 187 percent increase from the period 2006 to 2008, and the increase came as Bahrain was violently suppressing uprisings.
This story really bothers me, and not just because of the corruption. In 2011, the United States all but encouraged rank-and-file Arabs across wide swaths of the Middle East to rise up against their despotic rulers in the so-called "Arab Spring." But any support collapsed when it came to the democracy-(and-woman)-hating tyrants of the Persian Gulf, who provide America with oil and with prime real estate for our military bases. The worse case is Bahrain, whose autocratic monarches have crushed a pro-democracy movement with tear gas and armored personnel carriers bought with an assist from Clinton's U.S. State Department. And it sure looks like the runway for that crackdown was greased with multi-million-dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The media backflips on this stuff would have captured a gold medal down in Rio. Too many pundits and even some reporters are merely echoing the official Clinton line, that there was no quid pro quo, that maybe at worst donors were gaining "access."
But giving people special "access" because they can write a $32 million check is appalling -- exactly the reason that millions of voters are up in arms this year. I'll bet the activists who were choking on tear gas and getting rounded up and beaten by by the cops in the streets of Bahrain would have loved the kind of access that Hillary Clinton gave to Prince Salman. And Salman wanted that access because he wanted to ask for something: Approval to obtain more weapons to crush the pro-democracy movement. And he got what he was asking for.
I took four years of Latin in high school. I'm pretty sure that's what quid pro quo means.
Let's be honest: Hillary Clinton happens to be running against a man who's a world-class xenophobe and misogynist, who's been engaging in awful racial stereotyping and who is the most unprepared, most ignorant and most dangerous person ever to reach the homestretch of a presidential race. Some say that's what's on the minds of the media when it gives Clinton a free pass for her ethical breaches.
But that's not how it's supposed to work. Even the abomination of Donald Trump doesn't free journalists from a higher obligation to the truth, wherever that leads. That starts with the basics: Sometimes -- much of the time, really -- something "looks bad" because it is bad.