NYT Columnist Kristof Wants to Debunk the 'Crooked Hillary Myth'

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof sounded angry in a headline to his Sunday column: “Debunking the ‘Crooked Hillary’ Myth.” Online, they spit out some of the venom, merely asking: “Is Hillary Clinton Honest?”

Kristof’s column concluded: “She’s not a saint but a politician, and to me this notion that she’s fundamentally dishonest is a bogus narrative.” He even dismisses fellow Times columnist William Safire who called Hillary a “congenital liar” in 1996: “this narrative goes way too far.”

Indeed, when Gallup asks Americans to say the first word that comes to mind when they hear “Hillary Clinton,” the most common response can be summed up as “dishonest/liar/don’t trust her/poor character.” Another common category is “criminal/crooked/thief/belongs in jail.”

All this is, I think, a mistaken narrative.

One of the perils of journalism is the human brain’s penchant for sorting information into narratives. Even false narratives can take on a life of their own because there is always information arriving that can confirm a narrative.

Thus once we in the news media had declared Gerald Ford a klutz (he was actually a graceful athlete), there were always new television clips of him stumbling. Similarly, we unfairly turned Jimmy Carter into a hapless joke, and I fear that the “Crooked Hillary” narrative will drag on much more than the facts warrant.

Let's take a brief moment to giggle over "we unfairly turned Jimmy Carter into a hapless joke."

Clinton defenders like to grade on a curve, and suggest all pragmatic politicians blur the truth a little, even suggesting voters should want someone who blurs the truth like this. On issues, Kristof writes, “she can be infuriatingly evasive,” but “Does that make her scheming and unprincipled? Perhaps, but synonyms might be 'pragmatic' and ‘electable.’ That's what presidential candidates do.”

Kristof is basically Xeroxing a recent column by his former Times colleague, Jill Abramson, whose recent Guardian column claimed “Hillary Clinton Is Fundamentally Honest.” He joins her in dragging out PolitiFact as a defense of her honesty:

One basic test of a politician’s honesty is whether that person tells the truth when on the campaign trail, and by that standard Clinton does well. PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking site, calculates that of the Clinton statements it has examined, 50 percent are either true or mostly true.

Kristof needed a fact-check on the fact-checking citation. This correction was appended: "An earlier version of this column misstated some of the percentages of true statements as judged by PolitiFact."

What Kristof doesn’t do is disclose he’s spoken at many gatherings of the Clinton Global Initiative. He’s a Friend of Bill and Hillary. He did disclose this as he came to the Clintons’ defense in a column last May:

I’ve admired the Clintons’ foundation for years for its fine work on AIDS and global poverty, and I’ve moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative. Yet with each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest from speaking fees of $500,000 for the former president, I have wondered: What were they thinking? (Italics his.)

But the problem is not precisely the Clintons. It’s our entire disgraceful money-based political system.

Kristof concluded "I’ve covered corrupt regimes all over the world, and I find it ineffably sad to come home and behold institutionalized sleaze in the United States." But the sleaze is always perfectly distributed, so the Clintons never have more than the average.

Kristof never engages in all of the scandals dating back to the 1980s that underline how radioactive Hillary is on honesty. Late in the Sunday column, he labors to dismiss the private email server scandal. He admits only "half-truths" from Hillary and then suggests if she was as slick as her husband, the dishonesty could be overlooked:

Clinton is thin-skinned, private, controlling, wounded by attacks on her and utterly distrustful of the news media. Where Bill Clinton charms, she stews. My bet is that she and her staff wanted to prevent her emails from becoming public through Freedom of Information Act requests.

All this is self-inflicted damage, which Clinton compounded with evasions and half-truths, coming across as lawyerly and shifty. A more gifted politician might have gotten away with it, but Clinton is not a natural politician. Her warmth can turn to remoteness on the television screen, her caution to slipperiness.

From there is a lame spin that if she had an actual government email, it could have been just as compromised by Putin. But none of that spin has anything to do with whether she's honest and trustworthy. Hiding your server from the public suggests a lack of trust in the public, so why should the public trust her?


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Tim Graham's picture