The Associated Press ran a widely mocked article last week that basically claimed being a Clinton Foundation donor was a prerequisite to getting a meeting with the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. They used an absurd definition of “meeting” and then failed to present any other context for those meetings other than the existence of a donation. It would be like saying that I love Disney World because I once travelled to Orlando, while omitting that my grandparents live there, too. Or in the case of one of those donors who met with Clinton, he was also a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, and Nobel Prize winner.
Republicans are also crying foul that Clinton took meetings with billionaires like Bill and Melinda Gates as well as CEOs of the large financial institutions instead of average Americans. The media reports these meetings as if there is a scandal there. There isn’t. Not even close.
In fact, this shouldn’t be a story at all. This is the way Washington works. No, not because it is corrupt, but because to make and execute good policy, you need the players on board who are not only experts, but have the means to help.
Take Clinton’s meeting with Nancy Mahon of MAC Cosmetics, which is owned by cosmetics giant Estee Lauder. They had given to the Clinton Foundation and were also involved in a public/private partnership with the State Department to fight AIDS and gender discrimination in South Africa, something the MAC Cosmetics group had worked on previously.
Now ask yourself, who would be a better person for Clinton to meet with? Someone who runs a charity similar the program the State Department wants to start, or your buddy Tim who has strong opinions on poor people in Africa?
The same goes for her meetings with Wall Street CEOs. The US Government works with these large financial institutions on all sorts of issues. Internationally, they are partners in hunting down financial criminals, routing out terror financing networks, and instituting sanctions. Clinton isn’t meeting with Jamie Dimon because he gave money to her husband’s foundation, she is meeting with him because the government needs JP Morgan.
Same question, who would be a better person for Clinton to meet with on global financial issues? The guy who runs JP Morgan, or your neighbor Bill who thinks he’s cleverly saving money by only paying the minimum balance on his credit card?
Working for a member of Congress I have seen this firsthand. Meetings with CEOs didn’t take place because of donations, they took place because if you want something done, you talk to the person in charge. If the power grid in the state needs fixing, you call the utility CEO, not the technician who has written a few Facebook posts about the government keeping their hands off of his Social Security.
It is no different with celebrities either. Matt Damon doesn’t get a meeting because he has good ideas (maybe he does, who knows), he gets a meeting because the picture of him with the member (and therefore the issue) will be retweeted and garner attention.
The reason these points aren’t articulated on the news is because the pundits and anchors are a part of this giant circle of influence. Wolf Blitzer and Andrea Mitchell dine with senators and CEOs. David Gergen worked for four presidents and is on a first name basis with most of Washington. Mark Halperin is the son of Nixon aide Morton Halperin and was born into the DC hierarchy. Nearly every person you see on television discussing how scandalous Clinton’s meetings are has been a direct player in that exact system their whole career. There aren’t nearly enough pots and kettles in the world for this scenario.
I’ve been in the green room during each of the four Sunday shows and have watched how the members of Congress and pundits interact, how they chat about their most recent dinner party and their kids and share their two cents on Donald Trump and his tiny hands. Then they go on air, pretend they don’t know each other and discuss what “average voters” want to hear from Hillary.
The business, political, and media world don’t exist in a vacuum. All the players know each other, work with each other, and give money to each other. The presence of a donation doesn’t signify anything beyond the dollar amount on the check. Much like Woody and Buzz watching Andy pack his boxes without them, the news anchors and pundits must stay silent on their true place in the Washington arena, otherwise the jig would be up.
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