“Hillary Clinton ran the State Department like a failed leader in a third-world country. … Now, it looks like it’s 50 percent of the people that saw her had to make contributions to the Clinton Foundation.”
— Donald Trump, rally in Tampa, Aug. 24, 2016
Hillary Clinton’s critics jumped on an Aug. 23 Associated Press analysis of her meetings with Clinton Foundation donors while secretary of state. Trump, as did many others, relayed the findings of the AP analysis using misleading language that appeared in a promotional tweet that was retweeted or liked more than 10,000 times.
We are not going to award Pinocchios to this specific claim. Instead, we will set the record straight and recap what was reported in the initial story, the Clinton campaign’s criticism of the coverage and the AP’s defense.
On Aug. 23, the AP Twitter account carried this language as a breaking news alert promoting the article.
But there was much more to the actual story, and that becomes clear once you get past the headline. The AP analyzed State Department records and looked specifically at Clinton’s meetings on the phone or in person with 154 people who were not federal employees or foreign government representatives. This narrowed down the denominator to a small subcategory of people Clinton met with as secretary of state, since the majority of her diplomatic work would involve representatives of foreign governments.
The AP found that 85 of those 154 people, or “more than half,” had donated to the Clinton Foundation or “pledged commitments to its international programs.” The 85 donors collectively contributed as much as $156 million, the AP reported. There were representatives from at least 16 foreign governments, who donated as much as $170 million to the charity, but those representatives were not included in the 154 number, the AP reported.
The AP explained in the story that it had first requested State Department calendars and schedules in 2010, then in 2013. After delays, the outlet sued the State Department for the records. This analysis was based on the first batch of records released to the AP, covering about half of Clinton’s tenure as secretary.
The AP story doesn’t allege any pay-for-play, though Trump suggested it in his speech. The AP quoted State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying there are no prohibitions against the agency having contact with “political campaigns, nonprofits or foundations — including the Clinton Foundation.” Toner told the AP that “meeting requests, recommendations and proposals come to the department through a variety of channels, both formal and informal.”
Clearly, none of these details were captured in the promotional tweet.
In a statement, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon accused the AP of having “cherry-picked a limited subset of Secretary Clinton’s schedule to give a distorted portrayal of how often she crossed paths with individuals connected to charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation.”
Fallon said the data omitted more than 1,700 meetings Clinton had with world leaders as secretary of state. If 1,700 becomes the denominator, then 85 people comprise 5 percent of 1,700 meetings – rather than representing “more than half” of 154. Fallon told The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple Blog that the campaign requested that the AP remove or amend the tweet.
Fallon posted a series of tweets about the people included in the AP’s analysis who were not just donors to the Clinton Foundation, but globally recognized figures — including Nobel Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus, Melinda Gates and Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor.
Paul Colford, the AP’s vice president and director of media relations, defended the AP’s reporting. He said in a statement that the AP has been transparent in how it reported the story and further explained why the AP focused on the 154 people.
The AP “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,” Colford’s statement read. “We focused on Mrs. Clinton’s meetings and calls involving those people outside her duties as secretary of state whom she chose to include in her busy schedule.”
In her Aug. 24 interview on CNN, Clinton said the AP report excluded nearly 2,000 meetings and looked at a small portion of her time as secretary of state. Drawing a conclusion that she met with people like Wiesel, Gates and Yunus because of their foundation connections, rather than their status as global leaders, “is absurd,” Clinton said.
“These are people I was proud to meet with, who any secretary of state would have been proud to meet with and hear about their work and their insight,” Clinton said on CNN.
The Bottom Line
By the time Trump repeated the story’s findings at his rally nearly 24 hours after the promotional tweet, he relayed the AP’s reporting inaccurately. Trump said that “50 percent of people who saw her had to make a contribution to the Clinton Foundation.”
That’s not what the AP found, at all. The AP focused on 85 out of 154 people who met with Clinton but were not foreign government representatives or federal employees. It is based on partial records released by the State Department so far and does not reflect the full scope of people with whom Clinton met as secretary of state.
We know Trump doesn’t read much, so perhaps he didn’t go beyond the headline on this story. In fact, 60 percent of people share stories on social media without even reading the material. (By the way, #SavedYouAClick Twitter users, you’re not helping.) But there are many more nuanced and important details in the story that are being misrepresented — by the AP’s own promotional tweet, and by Trump.
[Update: After our fact-check published, Trump changed his wording and accurately summarized the AP story at a rally on Aug. 25:"As the Associated Press documented, more than half of the meetings Hillary Clinton took as Secretary of State with people outside government were Clinton Foundation donors." Kudos to Trump for making the change. ]
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