By Gene Lyons
As a professional matter, I've been halfway dreading Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy. The 2016 Democratic nomination appears to be hers for the asking. Democrats enjoy a strong Electoral College advantage. And yet it's hard to imagine how she can overcome the unrelenting hostility of the Washington media clique.
Try to imagine the New York Times and Washington Post teaming up with Fox News impresario Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. on an "expose" of any other politician in Washington. Joe Conason wasn't exaggerating much when he called it the "Hitler-Stalin Pact" of contemporary journalism.
First, the two newspapers agreed to "exclusive" arrangements with one Peter Schweizer, a right-wing operative and author of "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich." The book's publisher is HarperCollins, a NewsCorp subsidiary like Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, etc.
Basically, we're in Ann Coulter country here. Schweizer's not a journalist, but a controversialist for right-wing "think tanks." A former consultant to Sarah Palin and a ghostwriter for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Glenn Beck, he makes his living vilifying Democrats. Media Matters has posted a long list of withdrawn or retracted stories under his byline.
Upon evaluating an earlier Schweizer book, reporters at the British Sunday Times found that "(f)acts that are checkable do not check out. Individuals credited for supplying information do not exist or cannot be tracked down. Requests to the author for help and clarification result in further confusion and contradiction."
The New York Times, in contrast, praised the fellow's "meticulous" reporting. All this in service of a front-page "blockbuster" by Jo Becker and Mike McIntire insinuating that as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton sold out the national interest, helping a Russian company to buy uranium mines in Wyoming from a Canadian corporation in exchange for a few million dollars in donations to the Clinton Foundation, the family's charitable enterprise.
That and a $500,000 speaking fee awarded by a Moscow bank to the Big Cheese -- her husband, the former president -- a guy who's been averaging $7.5 million a year making speeches.
"Whether the donations played any role in the approval of the uranium deal is unknown," the Times concedes early on.
Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. The insinuation couldn't be any clearer than if they'd hinted that Vladimir Putin was Hillary's lover.
The diligent reader must persevere almost to the bottom of the murkily narrated, 4,400-word story to learn that the uranium transaction had to be signed off on by all nine federal agencies comprising the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, that none apparently dissented, and that the State Department's man on the committee stated "Mrs. Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter."
Oh, and the Wyoming mines aren't actually in operation, probably because the worldwide price of uranium has fallen following Japan's Fukushima disaster. The Russians would probably sell them back, cheap.
No matter, it's really all about what the Times calls "the special ethical challenges presented by the Clinton Foundation."
Besides Hillary and Putin, the story's other suspicious character is Canadian mining executive and philanthropist Frank Giustra. Besides pledging half his income to good works such as the Clinton Health Access Initiative -- bringing cheap HIV/AIDS drugs to 9.9 million people in Third World countries -- Giustra's other big sin was supposedly relying on Bill Clinton's help to negotiate a multinational buyout of uranium mines in Kazakhstan.
Giustra has called the Times account arrant nonsense. He even provided a flight manifest to a Forbes reporter to prove that, contrary to the newspaper, he didn't take Bill Clinton with him to Kazakhstan at all. Moreover, as an extremely careful reader can determine, Giustra sold all of his Uranium One holdings in 2007 -- two years before Hillary became Secretary of State -- and so had nothing to gain from the company's 2010 transaction with the Russians.
Or from his charitable donations.
Giustra's second suspect act was setting up something called the Canadian Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership. That too seems to have confused the scandal-hunting reporters and their supporters on the Washington Post editorial page. See, even if there's no evidence of a quid pro quo, the Post thundered, the Clinton Foundation had promised transparency while Hillary was in office.
"However, the Times said the contributions of some connected to the Uranium One deal were not disclosed. The newspaper unearthed them in Canadian tax records," said the Post's op-ed. "This lapse is exactly the sleight-of-hand that creates suspicion ... What were the Clintons hiding?"
Basically, as it turns out, the fact that Canada is a sovereign country whose laws prohibit such disclosures.
Look, there's a reason articles like the Times' big expose are stultifyingly dull and require the skills of a contract lawyer to parse. Murky sentences and jumbled chronologies signify that the "Clinton rules" are back: all innuendo and guilt-by-association. All ominous rhetorical questions, but rarely straightforward answers.