Despite more evidence that The Clinton Foundation was used as a slush fund to enrich the Clintons and their cronies, the Big Three networks have all but stopped covering the scandal swirling around the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s charitable organization.
A review of the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) evening and morning programs from January 1 through May 20 shows a total of only 4 minutes and 24 seconds was devoted to the “charity fraud.” In contrast, a decades-old controversy of Donald Trump pretending to be his own publicist garnered eight times more coverage (38 minutes and 2 seconds) in just four days (May 13-16).
New developments like a May 12 Wall Street Journal story that reported the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) set up “a financial commitment that benefitted a for-profit company part-owned by people with ties to the Clintons” and a prominent whistle-blower labeling the Foundation a “charity fraud,” didn’t exactly push the networks into overdrive.
In 2016, the network (ABC) that employs former Clinton administration spokesman and actual Clinton Foundation donor George Stephanopoulos utterly ignored the charity scandals.
CBS devoted only 1 minute and 11 seconds to The Clinton Foundation scandal, including just one 32-second brief by CBS This Morning co-anchor Charlie Rose on the Wall Street Journal story. But 39 seconds of airtime came in the form of unsolicited mentions from guests: RNC chair Reince Priebus (11 seconds), a focus group member (17 seconds), Bernie Sanders (2 seconds). There was also a Sanders soundbite (9 seconds) on the April 4 CBS This Morning that referenced the Clinton Foundation.
NBC spent the most amount of time (3 minutes, 13 seconds) on the Foundation. NBC’s Today show devoted three reporter briefs and a portion of a panel segment to the Wall Street Journal story. The January 4 Nightly News also ran this quick 17 second soundbite from Trump: “Her husband was paid a fortune for speeches, paid by people that were doing business with the State Department.”
On the other hand, when a May 13 Washington Post story dug up a decades-old controversy about Trump using an alias to promote himself — something that even MSNBC’s own legal correspondent Ari Melber deemed “more weird and stupid than important” — the networks couldn’t contain themselves.
From May 13 through May 16 NBC led the way with 19 minutes and 27 seconds of coverage. ABC spent 11 minutes and 54 seconds on the Trump controversy. CBS came in third with 6 minutes and 41 seconds devoted to the presumptive GOP nominee masquerading as his own PR agent back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. On the May 13 NBC Nightly News, substitute host Thomas Roberts led the top of the show with Trump as he hyped: “Caught In A Lie? A bizarre bombshell as old tapes emerge of Donald Trump apparently posing as his own publicist, bragging about his business success and his relationships with famous women.”
That same night, over on ABC’s World News Tonight, Tom Llamas teased “We begin with a bizarre twist in the race for president. Donald Trump accused of once pretending to be his own media spokesperson during a phone interview.”
But when it came to much more serious charges surrounding the Clinton Foundation reported in the Wall Street Journal, the likes of NBC’s Kristen Welker and MSNBC’s Melber downplayed their significance. On the May 14 Today show Welker set-up Melber, “Legally, a lot of folks are saying this doesn’t cross the line,” as seen in the following exchange:
KRISTEN WELKER: And quickly, I want to get both of your reactions to this. A Wall Street Journal report yesterday that essentially said the Clinton Global Initiative, the Clintons family’s charity, was helping to facilitate, tout commitments that ultimately benefitted a public company, And that company had ties to the Clinton’s friends. Legally, a lot of folks are saying this doesn’t cross the line. But Ari does it and is it a problem of optics for the Clintons?
ARI MELBER, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: It can be. Legally, based on the reports, there is nothing automatically against any law that they basically gave some money to a for-profit entity instead of non-profit entity. CGI, the Clinton Global Initiative, has done a ton of good work in Africa and other poor places around the world. I don’t think anyone denies that, that’s why President Bush, Laura Bush, Condoleezza Rice, a lot of people have celebrated it. The problem here and the question here is, was this focus on good works or was that part of some larger branding to hand out deals and favors. That never looks good.