The Clinton campaign has asked the Associated Press to amend or remove a tweet promoting an investigative story on the meetings of Hillary Clinton when she served as secretary of state. It reads, “BREAKING: AP analysis: More than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation.”
Holy Moly! So more than half of all the people that huddled with Clinton were donors to her family’s foundation? Grab the can of damage-control spray!
Or maybe not. Click through to the actual article and a key qualifier rears its head. The count doesn’t include anyone in the U.S. federal government or representatives of foreign governments. In other words, most of the people with whom Clinton met as secretary of state. The analysis drilled in on “154 people from private interests” who chatted by phone or met with Clinton in person. Eighty-five of them “donated to her family charity or pledged commitments to its international programs,” for a total of “as much as $156 million.”
Those numbers represent the fruit of worthwhile investigation; we ought to know everything about the overlaps between Clinton’s work as secretary of state and the operations of the Clinton Foundation. Yet the tweet promoting the story, which has more than 10,000 retweets and likes combined, is tendentious and misleading. A lamentable hyping on social media. The AP is apparently cognizant of its shortcomings. Brian Fallon, press secretary for the Clinton campaign, tells the Erik Wemple Blog:
We have formally requested that AP remove or amend this tweet. They apparently considered it, but officially decided to let it stand. That seems pretty egregious to knowingly allow a falsehood to remain posted under AP’s banner.
The outlet just released an extensive defense of the reporting by Vice President and Director of Media Relations Paul Colford, which features mention of the obstacles it encountered in nailing down the story. “As AP wrote, our reporting was based on Mrs. Clinton’s calendars covering the entirety of her tenure as secretary of state and on more detailed schedules of meetings and phone calls covering roughly half that period. AP first requested Mrs. Clinton’s calendars and schedules in 2010 and again in 2013 but was unsuccessful. AP then sued the State Department in federal court to obtain the schedules it has received so far,” reads Colford’s statement, in part. The investigation, explained Colford, “focused on Mrs. Clinton’s meetings and calls involving people outside government who were not federal employees or foreign diplomats, because meeting with U.S. or foreign government officials would inherently have been part of her job as secretary of state.”
Such intricacies, unfortunately, were too verbose for the AP tweet.
Credit the AP for fighting for this data and presenting it to the public. What this blog could do without is this line in the resulting story: “But the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton.” Bolding inserted to highlight Mainstream Media Investigative Story Boilerplate (see this Vox.com piece by Matthew Yglesias). Instead of throwing around such language, the AP should be in the business of using its data to inform readers whether those “perceptions” are substantive or baseless. Plus, what really “fuels perceptions” is a ham-handed tweet from a major media outlet.