April 22, 2015

News organizations enter “exclusive” arrangement with conservative author for his opposition research

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61rRc0geHgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In an unusual deal, three news organizations have entered into “exclusive” arrangements to pursue allegations contained in an upcoming book about the Clintons from a conservative author. Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich by Peter Schweizer will be published by HarperCollins on May 5.

The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have made exclusive agreements with a conservative author for early access to his opposition research on Hillary Clinton, a move that has confounded members of the Clinton campaign and some reporters, the On Media blog has confirmed.

Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich will debut on May 5. But the Times, the Post and Fox have already made arrangements with author Peter Schweizer to pursue some of the material included in his book, which seeks to draw connections between Clinton Foundation donations and speaking fees and Hillary Clinton’s actions as secretary of state. Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative research group, and previously served as an adviser to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Rather than running excerpts from the book, which is a typical arrangement, The New York Times writes that “news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author  to pursue the story lines found in the book.”

According to Erik Wemple at The Washington Post, Clinton Cash, “reportedly outlines allegedly cozy relationships that run through the Clinton family: specifically, foreign donors to the Clinton Foundation receiving favorable treatment from the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.”

News organizations have long used the work of opposition researchers in their reporting, but such an explicit partnership is rare. The New York Times writes that Schweizer “writes mainly in the voice of a neutral journalist and meticulously documents his sources, including tax records and government documents.” Media Matters for America has a different take on Schweizer, and the Washington Post also addressed Schweizer’s reputation.

As we pointed out yesterday, Schweizer has something of a history as a right-leaning rabble-rouser. He’s the guy who alleged in an awful Politico Magazine story that President Obama had barely met with then-Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the years leading up to the launch of the disastrous HealthCare.gov. In pursuing that piece, which stemmed from the work of Schweizer’s Government Accountability Institute, the reporter apparently didn’t contact the White House for comment.

Bad move, because months later, the Hill blew Schweizer’s piece out of the water. Using official documents, the Hill reported, “Sebelius met with or attended calls and events with Obama at least 18 times between Oct. 27, 2012, and Oct. 6, 2013, including at least seven instances in which the two were scheduled to discuss the new healthcare law.”

A similar Schweizer effort alleging that President Obama had skipped all manner of security briefings also suffered considerable debunking.

There should be no problem in using someone else’s research as a jumping off point, but I’m not entirely clear on how one enforces the exclusivity of an investigation. It’s also not clear what other terms are contained in the exclusive agreements. But does just the fact of the partnership taint any future reporting that stems from the book? Opinions are, predictably, mixed, but Charles Pierce at Esquire thinks it does.

Even if I believe that no money changed hands in any way, and I’m willing to believe that’s the case for the moment, what precisely are the details of “the arrangement”? Why couldn’t the Post simply have waited for the book to be released and then reverse-engineered its contents? What promises were made to Schweizer and his publisher — and to the other news operations with which the Post is partnered here — should the Post discover that Schweizer is as full of half-truthy crap as his entire career indicates he is? Inquiring minds and all that.

There in fact may be something in the funding of the Clinton Global Initiative that needs explaining. Certainly, nobody would argue that the Times and the Post are well inbounds for looking into it, as long as Jeff Gerth is working elsewhere, anyway. It’s not like there’s much of a race on the Democratic side at the moment. But this shadowy, ill-explained “arrangement” shreds the credibility of any investigation by the two newspapers into whatever is there.

Rupert Murdoch owns both HarperCollins and Fox News. He does not own The Washington Post or The New York Times.

Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.

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