Former president George W. Bush greets Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter on Dec. 5, at the funeral for Bush's father, former president George H.W. Bush, in Washington. (Chris Kleponis/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Media critic

John Solomon understands the art of a nice innuendo-laden question-mark headline, as he proved on Tuesday evening: “Did Clinton Foundation mislead IRS? State filings raise the question.” What follows is a discussion of Clinton Foundation run-ins with state regulators. The lead example: Utah “specifically flagged money spent on professional fundraisers and consultants that were excluded from the required section of the filing,” wrote Solomon in the story.

The Clinton Foundation responded that those expenses were listed in another section.

The 13-year-old paperwork spat about a foundation run by a family that’s now struggling for relevance was . . . perfect fodder for the Tuesday night edition of Fox News’s “Hannity.” Here’s how host Sean Hannity introduced the topic, feasting on that suggestive headline: “Meanwhile, more signs of a lot more Clinton corruption. John Solomon out with a new report entitled ‘Did the Clinton Foundation mislead the IRS? State filings raise the question.’ We did reach out to the foundation for a response. They told us in part these charges are minor infractions, similar to a speeding ticket. Only bad if you are a Republican,” said the Fox host.

In the “Hannity” segment, Solomon summarized his reporting and promoted Thursday’s hearing of the House oversight subcommittee on government operations on the Clinton Foundation: “They don’t have a perfect record in complying with regulatory compliance and I think that’s one of the issues you are going to see Thursday at the hearing with [Rep.] Mark Meadows,” said Solomon, referring to the subcommittee chairman and, at least for a time, a contender to be the next White House chief of staff.

Biased reporting, claims the Clinton Foundation. In a Dec. 11 letter to top editors at the Hill, a trio of Clinton-world communications executives cited a recent story in Sputnik News about the charity. “New Explosive Facts About Clinton Charity to Shake Off Lethargy Soon — Analyst” reads the headline of the piece, which is essentially an interview with Charles Ortel, a longtime antagonist of the Clinton Foundation.

Asked about Solomon’s reporting about information forthcoming from whistleblowers concerning Clinton Foundation matters, Ortel riffs, “In the view of many, Solomon and me included, the question is not whether the Clinton Foundation and those responsible for running it have broken state, federal, and foreign laws — the real question is why it is taking so long to expose, prosecute and convict the Clintons for crimes that are many times larger than crimes committed” by other politicians.

That comment displeased the Clinton Foundation. “It may be a coincidence that Mr. Solomon has routinely written pieces that advance theories disseminated by Russian state-run propaganda outlets and Charles Ortel,” notes the Clinton letter to the Hill. “But given Mr. Ortel’s clear comments that he and Mr. Solomon have been in contact, and this admission that displays a shared bias, Mr. Solomon has disqualified himself from any sense of objective reporting on the Clinton Foundation.”

A note or two on the sources here: Sputnik News is a state-owned Russian propaganda organ.

As for Ortel, he is a researcher and podcast host who describes himself this way: “People love to say I’m a Clinton hater. I’m not a Clinton hater. I’m a fraud hater," he tells the Erik Wemple Blog. The Clinton Foundation letter insists that Ortel has "spread demonstrably false accusations about the Clinton Foundation and “has been publicly linked to the Russia investigation, Wikileaks, and conspiracy theorists Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone.” Indeed, Ortel has chatted with Corsi, the famed birther conspiracist and the target of the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. For instance, Ortel said in one Corsi interview, “The notion that you would allow Mueller and [Deputy Attorney General Rod J.] Rosenstein to launch this witch hunt while Donald Trump is president — you got to understand the whole backstory here. And the American people deserve to know, why were so many people were protecting [Barack] Obama and likely, maybe George W. Bush. Why was this going on? How many dirty people are there still in Justice, the FBI and the IRS? That’s the big story.”

For his part, Ortel challenges the foundation to cite a single false statement. And he says that he has appeared on a wide range of platforms, not just Sputnik and RT. As for his relationship with Solomon, Ortel calls him a “friend.”

In any case, the Hill doesn’t appear much troubled by the foundation’s criticisms. Frank Craig, the publication’s opinion editor, responded as follows:

Thank you for contacting us regarding John Solomon’s opinion contributor pieces. As you noted in the letter, the pieces he writes for The Hill are clearly labeled opinion. The Hill has a wide range of opinion contributors, including former members of Congress and high-ranking officials who have served in Democratic and Republican administrations.The Hill always strives for accuracy so we would want to know of any inaccuracies in John Solomon’s opinion pieces. Your letter, however, does not actually identify any alleged falsities in his opinion pieces for The Hill.

The distinction about opinion reporting is very important to the Hill. Months after colleagues at the publication complained about Solomon’s investigative stories, the outlet’s top editor announced a change in labeling for the veteran journalist. “Effective immediately when he writes for us, it will be as an opinion contributor,” noted editor in chief Bob Cusack.

There’s very little opinion whatsoever in Solomon’s Clinton Foundation reporting. There is, however, an uncanny sense of timing, as the foundation itself points out in its letter: “[Solomon], more than any other journalist at a non-partisan media outlet, acts as a conveyor belt that brings fringe theories to the fore and the timing of his work routinely seems to be tooled for the current administration to distract from whatever troubles they face: his pieces routinely fall just before bad news for the Trump administration breaks,” notes the letter from the Clinton officials.

To wit: Solomon published a piece last Thursday titled, “Feds received whistleblower evidence in 2017 alleging Clinton Foundation wrongdoing.” It came the night before prosecutors filed documents with damaging revelations about Trump.

Then again, bad news for the Trump administration breaks pretty much every week.