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Michael A. Cohen

Clinton, Trump, and why the media are failing us in 2016

Hillary Clinton spoke Tuesday at a rally in Tampa, Fla.
Hillary Clinton spoke Tuesday at a rally in Tampa, Fla.(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

GEORGE ORWELL ONCE wrote that, “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Rarely have these words seemed more apt than this campaign season — and in particular when it comes to the Clintons and their eponymously named foundation.

There is a particular media narrative around the Clintonsthat has persisted for 25 years. They think the rules don’t apply to them. They are always pushing the envelope. They don’t consider the optics of what they do. They may not have engaged in illegal behavior, but they are still personally, even morally corrupt.

Of course, Republicans have taken this last one to a more sinister conclusion — namely that Hillary Clinton should be, as the chant goes, “locked up.”

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What’s so strange about this narrative, however, is that even after being placed under the most intense media microscope in modern political history, we can say with some assuredness that the Clintons aren’t corrupt. Yet seemingly no amount of evidence can convince a jaded press corps and a skeptical electorate that this is true.

During the Bill Clinton years, it was Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, Haircut-Gate, cattle futures, the Rose Law Firm, the death of Vince Foster. The list goes on. In none of these cases was there any evidence that Clintons had done anything illegal or improper. But the stink of impropriety remained and was transferred to Hillary Clinton.

For her it’s Benghazi, her personal email server, and the Clinton Foundation. New questions are always being raised about the Clintons evenafter they are cleared of wrongdoing.

It’s the answers, however, where the real problems lie. No one seems to see what’s in front of their noses.

Take the Clinton Foundation. Breathless exposes in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and Politico have offered deep dives into its workings and connections to the Clintons.

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The headlines blare:

“Email Batch Provides Additional Evidence That Clinton Foundation Donors Got Access at State Department.”

But the evidence points elsewhere. A Lebanese businessman and Clinton Foundation donor seeks a meeting with “the substance person” on Lebanon at the State Department. A sports executive wants help with a visa. A rock star is looking for help broadcasting to the International Space Station during concerts. A Foundation donor requests a meeting with Clinton and a large coal producer. All are rebuffed.

But the headlines still blare:

“Criticism of Hillary Clinton Mounts Over Access for Foundation Donors.”

The evidence: Muhammad Yunus, whose organization once gave to the foundation, seeks help with a corruption probe. Aha, pay to play! Ignored is the fact that Yunus is a Nobel Prize winner and has known the Clintons for 30 years. An education executive named Joseph Duffey is invited to a “higher-education policy dinner in August 2009” even as his company gave millions to the Clinton Foundation and employed Bill Clinton as an honorary chancellor. Unmentioned is that both Clintons had worked on Duffey’s Senate campaign in Connecticut . . . in 1970 and have known him for 45 years.

Still there are more stories:

“Emails Raise New Questions About Clinton Foundation Ties to State Dept.”

The emails in question involve an effort by Clinton Foundation staffer, Doug Band, to get diplomatic passports for personal aides traveling with Bill Clinton to rescue two Americans being held in a North Korean prison. The effort is rebuffed.

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Questions raised and seemingly answered.

So why is there such a wide gap between truth and fiction? Why is the evidence of Clinton and her aides abiding by the rules, avoiding conflicts of interest, and not blurring lines between professional and philanthropic obligations being so frequently ignored?

Perhaps reporters have already made up their minds about the foundation before actually digging into the evidence. Or maybe media outlets are simply passing along the partisan spin of hard right groups like Citizens United and Judicial Watch, which are dribbling out these stories, without looking more deeply into the evidence.

Whatever the reason, the stain of personal corruption remains on the Clintons — and it is having a political impact. A new CNN poll released Tuesday shows that Donald Trump has a 50-35 edge in being seen as “the more honest and trustworthy” of the two candidates.

Donald Trump . . . more honest and trustworthy. The mind reels.

Clinton partisans will argue that this is evidence of the national media’s unrelenting hostility and double standard in reporting on the Clintons. The Grand Canyon-size gap between fact and fiction lends credence to this theory.

But it is unfair.

After all, real evidence has emerged of wrongdoing by a charitable foundation run by a presidential candidate this year. A $2,500 penalty was paid to the IRS after it was discovered that a candidate’s foundation gave a campaign contribution to Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, who was at the time investigating the candidate. Bondi would eventually drop the case. A similar donation was given to the now governor of Texas who ended an investigation of the candidate in 2010.

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The foundation even listed the donation as a gift to a Kansas charity with a name very similar to that of Bondi. This seems like a pretty clear — and ham-handed — effort to disguise a contribution.

This is a true pay-to-play scandal — giving money to a law enforcement official investigating wrongdoing. But the candidate who gave this donation wasn’t Hillary Clinton. It was Donald Trump, via the Trump Foundation, and it dealt with criminal investigations of Trump University.

And the struggle to see what’s in front of one’s nose continues.


Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to a donation by Donald Trump to the Texas attorney general (now Texas Governor Greg Abbott) “right after” an investigation into Trump University was dropped in 2010. In fact, Trump donated to Abbot’s gubernatorial campaign in 2013 and 2014.