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The Hillary Clinton exoneration tour continues, and with it comes the deafening silence from news organization that gleefully bought into GOP attacks on her during the 2016 campaign. Determined to never acknowledge their sweeping failures during the last presidential cycle, the Beltway media show no signs of having learned anything over the last four years. Indeed, newsrooms refuse to be transparent about what kinds of changes, if any, have been put into place to make sure the epic failures of 2016 are not repeated this election cycle. 

After Trump’s partisan Justice Department launched an investigation of the Clinton Foundation, in an obvious effort to “mollify conservatives” still obsessed with Clinton bashing, the inquiry has produced no proof of any wrongdoing, the Washington Post recently reported. The Clinton Foundation’s “corruption” was a GOP manufactured gotcha story that the press gleefully amplified for 18 months between 2015 and 2016. 

During that time, the New York Times and the Washington Post published more than 200 articles about the Clinton Foundation, according to Nexis.

Yet even today, you often get a blank stare today when you ask journalists about the 2016 media fiasco. They simply don’t see the failures, or won’t admit to them. Note that the editor who oversaw the Times’ disastrous campaign coverage four years was recently elevated up the masthead, landing one of the newspaper’s most senior positions. Institutionally, there is certainly little evidence that the Times brass feels like anything went wrong in 2016. 

For lots of Democrats and liberals, the failures of the 2016 coverage are obvious for all to see, as the press treated Trump like a celebrity while holding Clinton, the first woman presidential nominee, to ridiculous double standards. Fact: Trump refused

to make personal donations to any charities, while Clinton helped bankroll a wildly successful one. But she was the one relentlessly x-rayed by the media for a year on the topic of charities.

And for the record, the Times, which essentially sponsored the Clinton Foundation smear by teaming up with a Breitbart writer, still has not assigned a reporter to cover the latest exoneration of the Clinton Foundation. To date, the paper has only published a Reuters wire story, buried where nobody would notice it.

We’ve seen this shoulder shrug before. Last year, when a lengthy State Department investigation concluded there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information in emails sent to and from Clinton’s private server while she was secretary of state, the Times covered the story on page 16 and devoted 649 words to that exoneration. Recall that during the final stretch before the 2016 campaign, the Times famously crammed three separate Clinton email stories onto its front page on the same day, signaling to readers that the story had reached epic, blockbuster proportions.

Reporting on the Justice Department’s exoneration of the Clinton Foundation, Vanity Fair presented the attacks on the charity as a baseless “conspiracy theory championed by conservatives.” CNN made the same point, stressing that “Trump” in 2016 was “making the case — with scant evidence — that Clinton was somehow using her official office to feather her own nest.”  The media in recent days have been clear, that the blame should lay with “conservatives” and “Trump,” who concocted the hollow Clinton Foundation gotcha story during the previous campaign. 

But that’s only half of the truth. The other half — the half that the press does not want to discuss in 2020 — is that the media willingly co-cosponsored that conspiracy theory and turned it into legitimate news. It was the Beltway press, dripping with contempt for Clinton, that breathlessly hyped the non-story for weeks and months in 2015 and 2016.  Today though, the mediawon’t come clean. Instead, editors and producers develop amnesia and insist it was only “conservatives” and “Trump” who peddled the Clinton Foundation smear. 

How did we get to such an absurd place, where the press depicted a wildly successful and transparent charity as some sort of ominous web of political deceit supposedly drenched in shadowy payments?

This paranoid fantasy was part of the all-consuming narrative depicting Clinton as a globally powerful villain who schemed around the world to line her pockets (while working 80 hours a week as Secretary of State). This preposterous theory suggested that not only did she serve in Obama’s cabinet but she was effectively president of the United States. It meant that Clinton must have dictated uranium policy and she who single-handedly signed off on the Uranium One deal — not in fact nearly a dozen federal U.S. agencies.

It was a deeply misogynistic tale that portrayed the first woman presidential nominee in American history as being deeply untrustworthy in a way that powerful men in Washington, D.C. are never shown. Rather than admiring Clinton’s decades worth of accomplishments, those achievements were held up to scorn as the press tried furiously to construct a storyline about her duplicitous ways, most famously surrounding her emails and the Clinton Foundation. 

The latter story was concocted in 2015 when Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins published Clinton Cash by longtime Republican partisan writer Peter Schweizer. A sloppy, book-length attack on Clinton Foundation donors, the book tried (and failed) to show how foundation donations corrupted Clinton’s decisions during her time as secretary of state; how the foundation acted as a side door for millionaires to buy influence inside the Clinton camp.  The New York Times and the Washington Post then teamed up with Schweizer and helped push his flawed Clinton opposition research. 

In many of those news accounts, the fact that the Clinton Foundation is a charity was often downplayed, including the organization’s pioneering mission to provide cheaper, better  medicine to millions of poor HIV/AIDS sufferers around the world. Or its innovative efforts on global healtheconomic inequalitychildhood obesity, and climate change

 “If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation,” nonprofit analyst Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch  told CNN in 2016. 

Months later, after conceding that recent news reports hadn’t proven any actual wrongdoing or lawbreaking with the foundation or in its connection with the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state, editorials appearing in t Washington PostBoston Globe, and USA Today, among others, were nonetheless adamant: Shut it down. 

And now we know, via a handpicked Trump Justice Department prosecutor, that there was never any there there. The whole gotcha smear campaign was a joke, and the media played along. Sadly, there’s no indication any lessons have been learned for 2020.

IMAGE: Hillary Clinton attends a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, PA, October 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

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