Tuesday, April 28, 2015

An Interview & A Kyle Drennen Tale of an Interview

MRC Watch Dept. - Monday, NBC offered the national platform of its “Today” show to Peter Schweizer, the conservative activist and author of the forthcoming anti-Hillary Clinton book “Clinton Cash.” Though this proved to be, by any serious estimation, a laughably softball interview that allowed Schweizer to repeat his anti-Clinton allegations without any serious challenge, even the mild questioning offered the author by host Savannah Guthrie proved to be too much for the MRC’s Kyle Drennen, who portrayed the host as a Clinton parrot worried about the harm Schweizer’s book may cause to Clinton’s candidacy.

Guthrie opened:
“Before we get into some of the details, let’s put it bluntly. Are you hoping that this book and the issues you raise in it torpedo her candidacy?”
Given that Schweizer has spent his entire adult life as a conservative activist and Republican operative,[1] it’s a fairly obvious question; Drennen characterized it thusly: “Guthrie worried about the political fallout for Hillary Clinton.” Schweizer replied that his book “is not really motivated to her candidacy, we’re just interested in transparency.” In the face of this extremely dubious claim, Guthrie failed to bring up Schweizer’s past; Drennen merely parrots Schweizer’s reply. As revealed at the end of the interview, Guthrie was aware that Schweizer’s next target was Jeb Bush. Bush has been largely absent from public life for nearly a decade but when he emerged as the frontrunner in the upcoming race for the Republican presidential nomination, his resistance to using immigration to race-bait made him a hate-figure among the right’s ideological jihadists.  The fact that Schweizer is critically writing about him would seem rather relevant to Schweizer’s answer about the Clinton book. If Guthrie connected those dots in her head, she failed to do so on the air.

As documented by the pro-Clinton press watchdog Media Matters,[2] a lot of Schweizer journalism has proven rather shoddy over the years. Among other things, he has a long history making sensational yet dubious, misleading and false allegations against Democratic political figures. Press outlets that report them often end up writing retractions. Various media outlets have already poked holes in “Clinton Cash.” At least one of his more explosive claims — about Clinton facilitating the sale of an uranium mine to Russian interests — has already been largely discredited, and Schweizer has repeatedly conceded — just as he tacitly does in the Today interview — that he can’t prove his allegations. This raises the question of why a national news network would bother hosting him at all, but as this is a question that bears rather too closely on the MRC’s overarching project of portraying the press as irredeemably liberal, Drennen doesn’t touch it. And in spite of this history, Schweizer was allowed, during the interview, to make claims about Clinton without any serious challenge. Guthrie at one point asks him point blank, “Do you have any specific instance in which Hillary Clinton directly intervenes on behalf of donors to the Clinton foundation?” Schweizer replied:
“Well, it’s a great question, Savannah. What we have is a pattern of behavior. I was not in any of these meetings. I can’t look into Hillary Clinton’s mind. I certainly can’t look at her e-mails. So the question becomes what is this pattern? And this pattern consistently shows that donors give large sums of money to the foundation or they pay Bill Clinton a lot for a speech, there’s a policy action that’s taken to the benefit of that donor. In some of those instances Hillary Clinton is actually reversing course on previous policy positions.”
That, if you’re keeping score, is a complete failure to answer the question. Schweizer not only declined to offer up a single specific instance, he significantly inflated the initial allegation he’d just declined to substantiate. This is just a smear and Guthrie didn’t follow up on either point. Elsewhere in the interview, Guthrie says,
“You start off by mentioning that you’ve done bipartisan investigations. But a lot of your critics say, ‘Look, you are a conservative and that this is a right-wing hit job.’ Are you really claiming to be neutral here?”
While the question elicited a substantive response (“I’m not claiming to be neutral.”), Drennen takes offense at it, demagogically describing it as “Guthrie parroted Clinton campaign talking points smearing Schweizer.” He apparently took no offense, however, at Schweizer’s refusal to answer the question about specifics or Schweizer’s “reply” amounting to nothing more than tossing out even larger unsubstantiated allegations. For Drennen, those apparently aren’t smears. Guthrie’s failure to follow up on those points goes unmentioned in Drennen’s evaluation of her performance. This is how Drennen characterizes Guthrie’s questions about whether Schweizer believes Clinton could be criminally prosecuted for any of the allegations he’s made: “Guthrie downplayed the scandal by casting doubt on whether a criminal corruption case could be made against the Clintons.”

It’s unfortunate that some allegations that are probably legitimate and important public issues will end up in the stew of someone like Schweizer, where the association will probably discourage both any significant inquiry and taking them at all seriously. The corporate press is usually quite enthusiastic about any chance to loudly broadcast any anti-Clinton story, no matter how baseless or thinly sourced–this Today segment is a great example. This contributes to the same problem.

As for Drennen, his article is standard MRC reality control, just another not-particularly-outstanding example of why the MRC is properly regarded as a Ministry of Truth operation rather than a serious media critic.



[1] Schweizer was a speechwriter for George Bush Jr. and a foreign policy consultant for Sarah Palin. He’s the “senior editor-at-large” for Breitbart.com, one of the worst, most partisan (and least credible) right-wing sites on the internet. And so on.

[2] Media Matters has done some important work on “Clinton Cash,” but it has also, in this author’s view, injured its credibility, veering at times into active misrepresentation in an effort to defend Hillary Clinton (of whom MM’s founder David Brock is a confessed fan). ThinkProgress, for example, obtained an advance copy of the book and reported that
“Though Schweizer is unable to provide direct evidence that State Department actions were influenced by Clinton Foundation donations, he does raise questions about unsavory donors and possible conflicts of interest, regardless of whether or not they dictated Clinton’s policy.”
TP’s Aviva Shen notes that Schweizer can’t prove his allegations and discovered that the author
“fingers Bill Clinton’s speaking fees, a favorite target in conservative circles, as a potential avenue to influence Hillary. He links the timing of the State Department’s generally positive report on the Keystone XL Pipeline with a slew of Clinton speeches paid for by TD Bank, a major shareholder in the project. As proof of how crucial Clinton’s support for the pipeline was to the bank, Schweizer quotes a press release that claimed TD Bank would ‘begin selling its $1.6 billion worth of shares in the massive but potentially still-born Keystone XL crude pipeline project’ after Clinton left office. The press release was quickly revealed to be fake in 2013. Yet Schweizer, apparently unaware of the hoax, remarks, ‘Too bad for TD Bank. But the Clintons got paid regardless.'”
In its recounting of the TP article though, Media Matters focuses only on TP’s criticism of the book, omitting any talk of legitimate questions about “unsavory donors and possible conflicts of interest.”

The same thing happened when ABC News reviewed the book:
"An independent review of source material by ABC News uncovered errors in the book, including an instance where paid and unpaid speaking appearances were conflated. Schweizer said the errors would be corrected. But those same records supported the premise that former President Clinton accepted speaking fees from numerous companies and individuals with interests pending before the State Department."
In recounting this, Media Matters notes the critical portion but omits the rest. This kind of raw and apparently uncritical boosterism for a political candidate, taken to the point of misrepresentation, is out of character for the org and quite unbecoming. The corporate press needs critical watchdogs more than Hillary Clinton needs unofficial publicists.

[Note: This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog dedicated to a critique of the Media Research Center]

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