For the American media—and especially for “the liberal media”—even the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidential nomination, however distant, seems to invite a reversion to bad old habits. During the presidency of Hillary’s husband, all too many Washington journalists lived by “the Clinton rules,” which meant applying the most cynical interpretation to everything Bill and Hillary Clinton (and anybody associated with them) did or had ever done.
The resulting distortion of journalistic standards and political discourse did real damage to the country and wasted precious years on the worthless investigations that led up to Clinton’s impeachment. Both he and Hillary not only survived but ultimately rose above the calumniations. And many of the people who once sought to ruin them, including big names in the mainstream media, now cultivate the popular, powerful Clintons assiduously. Just glance at the list of participants in the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual conference, on stage this week in New York City.
Indeed, for anyone who attends CGI, the combination of commitment and celebrity that surrounds the Clintons – including daughter Chelsea, who helps to run their family foundation – is palpable. Today the annual conference and all of its offshoots are so well established that nobody is surprised to see top corporate CEOs and political figures from around the world mingle and network with nonprofit and foundation executives, all in pursuit of innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Nobody is surprised to see Christine LaGarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, talking women’s empowerment with U2’s Bono and a courageous Pakistani feminist activist named Khalida Brohi. And perhaps nobody is even surprised to see President Barack Obama sit down for an extended chat with Bill Clinton as they launched his administration’s campaign for health insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act.
Yet while the excitement surrounding CGI results in deserved attention to the actual work of the Clinton Foundation every year, the media’s actual interest in all those uplifting stories is quite limited. And as the Hillary candidacy looms ever larger, a reversion to mean-spirited gossip, trivia, and unfounded suspicion can already be detected.
Consider the latest edition of The New Republic, whose usually astute editors chose the opening day of CGI to publish a long, dubious profile of Douglas Band — the former Clinton counselor who conceived the global initiative in 2004 and then spent years building it up (along with myriad other responsibilities to the former president and the foundation). Over the past few years Band has moved on to create a successful global business that consults with corporations, some of which are connected with Clinton in one way or another.
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