Thursday’s New York Times provided a long, unfriendly article by Jonathan Mahler on the government watchdog group Judicial Watch, under a dismissive headline: “Group’s Path on Clinton: Sue Early and Often – Judicial Watch Is a Foil That Won’t Quit.” The nonprofit legal group is doing the investigative legwork on Hillary Clinton that the liberal media won’t do, and the media won’t forgive them for it.
The Times has committed impressive labeling bias against the group; the paper’s last 13 references to Judicial Watch (dating back to June) have labeled them “conservative,” often in the phrase “conservative advocacy group” or “conservative watchdog group.” There’s a long pattern of media contempt for Judicial Watch, unless of course it goes bipartisan and targets Republicans, when it gains Strange New Respect and appears on the evening news shows.
The Times’ Charles McDermid also got a swipe in his Thursday morning Asia briefing (with a hostile label of Breitbart thrown in): The Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, faces challenges from antagonists including WikiLeaks, the far-right news organization Breitbart and the group Judicial Watch, which has been hounding her since her days as first lady.
Mahler was both full of sympathy for Hillary Clinton and disdain for the watchdog group that dared to waste her valuable time.
In between her extensive debate prep and her final, frenzied bid to raise money and win over voters, Hillary Clinton has had to carve out time to answer 25 detailed questions about her use of a private email server as secretary of state.
The questions came not from the F.B.I., which has closed its investigation into the issue, or from Congress, or even from a news outlet. They came from a nonprofit organization called Judicial Watch.
Judicial Watch was one of the Clintons’ original tormentors, a charter member of what Mrs. Clinton famously called a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to destroy her and her husband by seizing on any potential scandal.
The organization filed its first lawsuit against the Clintons shortly after its formation in 1994, and it pretty much never stopped. It is currently the plaintiff in more than 20 suits involving Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.
“People always used to say to me, ‘What are you going to do when the Clintons leave?’” Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, said in an interview. “Well, the Clintons never really left.”
Neither has Judicial Watch, the indefatigable Clinton adversary that has probably done more than any other individual or organization to create the narrative that Mrs. Clinton is still battling: that she is untrustworthy.
It certainly wasn’t the mainstream media, which has been fighting her corner for nearly a quarter of a century.
Judicial Watch’s strategy is simple: Carpet-bomb the federal courts with Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. A vast majority are dismissed. But Judicial Watch caught a break last year, when revelations about Mrs. Clinton’s private email server prompted two judges to reopen two of the group’s cases connected to her tenure as secretary of state.
The lawsuits have since led to the release of hundreds of Mrs. Clinton’s emails -- which have, in turn, spurred dozens of news releases and fund-raising letters from Judicial Watch that hype the significance of these documents, while putting them in the least flattering light possible for Mrs. Clinton.
Litigiousness is in the organization’s DNA: Its founder, Larry Klayman, once sued his mother. Mr. Klayman has described himself as a conservative Ralph Nader, but during Bill Clinton’s presidency, he often behaved more like a self-appointed Kenneth W. Starr, papering Washington with subpoenas related to every would-be Clinton scandal. His departure from the organization in 2003 was accompanied, unsurprisingly, by litigation: Mr. Klayman accused the organization, and his successor, Mr. Fitton, of “fraud, disparagement, defamation, false advertising and other egregious acts.”
Mahler found a critic in Congress, but no conservative supporters:
“I think to say that they are not partisan would not be accurate,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “Look at the way that they have dealt with the Clintons. It seems as if they’ve been out to do them harm.”
Mahler was extraordinarily grudging toward crediting a group doing what journalists supposedly live to do: Expose government secrecy.
There is little doubt that the group has forced the release of government records that would otherwise have been kept from the public. More contentious is the claim that these documents illuminate Mrs. Clinton’s behavior, at least in the absence of the organization’s spin, which has broadly asserted that the Democratic presidential nominee used her position at the State Department to further the interests of her family’s foundation.
Mahler’s journalistic instincts having abandoned him, he put forth anti-watchdog views just to attack a conservative advocacy group. (Seriously, a journalist accusing another organization of FOIA abuse?)
Judicial Watch is a polarizing group, even among advocates for greater government transparency. Critics accuse it of weaponizing the Freedom of Information Act for political purposes. They argue that its unending barrage of lawsuits does more harm than good by draining federal resources, tying up the courts and wasting public servants’ time.
After a paragraph duly noting Judicial Watch teamed with the liberal Sierra Club to try to obtain the records of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy policy task force, Mahler reverted back to form, hinting at conservative hypocrisy on Fitton’s part.
Judicial Watch’s claims of nonpartisanship will be tested if Republicans win the White House next month. For now, anyway, Mr. Trump seems safe from the group’s scrutiny....
And the pending federal action against Trump University for defrauding students? Mr. Fitton, whose organization has filed about 300 lawsuits against the Obama administration, described it as “ambulance chasing.”