When media outlets check the facts, it’s supposed to be in the first sense Google‘s dictionary offers for the word “check” :
1. examine (something) in order to determine its accuracy….
But sometimes media seem more intent on carrying out the second meaning of the word:
2. stop or slow down the progress of (something undesirable).
That’s the approach that NPR‘s Peter Overby (4/1/16) seemed to take when he wrote a “factcheck” about a controversy involving Hillary Clinton and fossil fuel money. Online, NPR displayed a video clip of an encounter between Hillary Clinton and a Greenpeace activist:
The activist, Eva Resnick-Day, says: “Thank you for tackling climate change. Will you act on your words and reject future fossil fuel money in your campaign?” To which Clinton responds:
I do not have—I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies. I’m so sick. I’m so sick of the Sanders’ campaign lying about me. I’m sick of it.
Resnick-Day, who says she was “genuinely shocked” by Clinton’s response, states she is “in no way affiliated with the Sanders campaign.” NPR‘s Overby does quote Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs, though—with Overby characterizing the quote as the Sanders campaign taking the opportunity “to pounce on Clinton”:
The truth is that Secretary Clinton has relied heavily on funds from lobbyists working for the oil, gas and coal industry.
So the factchecker’s job is to determine whether Clinton is right to say that she just gets money from people who work for fossil fuel companies, and that the Sanders campaign is lying about this, or whether the Sanders campaign is actually correct in saying that she relies heavily on funds from fossil-fuel lobbyists—right?
See, that’s why you don’t have a job at NPR.
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Overby’s job, as he interprets it, is just to confirm that Clinton was indeed accurate in saying she accepts money from people who work for fossil-fuel companies:
The Center for Responsive Politics, parsing Federal Election Commission reports, finds that workers in the oil and gas industries have given Clinton $307,561 so far — compared to, say, $21 million from the securities and investment industry, or $14.4 million from lawyers and law firms.
Put another way, the oil and gas money is two-tenths of 1 percent of Clinton’s $159.9 million overall fundraising.
If there’s an “implication that dirty energy has got her on a string,” Overby observes, “campaign finance data suggest it wouldn’t be much of a string.”
But what about “lobbyists working for the oil, gas and coal industry”—isn’t that what Sanders is supposed to be lying about, to the point of making Hillary Clinton sick? To give him credit, Overby is good enough to tell us what he isn’t telling us:
The industry total here doesn’t include lobbyists with fossil-fuel clients, and it doesn’t do what the Republican opposition research group America Rising did: include corporate money to the Clinton Foundation. The presidential campaign cannot raise corporate money.
Well—why not include lobbyists with fossil-fuel clients, since that is what the Sanders campaign, like other critics, was explicitly talking about? According to Greenpeace, Clinton has gotten “$1,465,610 in bundled and direct donations from lobbyists currently registered as lobbying for the fossil fuel industry.” That’s quite a bit more string.
And corporations can’t give directly to campaigns, but they can give to Super PACs that support campaigns. Greenpeace cites “$3,250,000 in donations from large donors connected to the fossil fuel industry to Priorities Action USA, a Super PAC supporting Secretary Clinton’s campaign.”
That works out to $5 million altogether. It’s hard to say what the going rate for buying a presidential candidate is, but unlike Overby, I wouldn’t refer to Clinton’s fossil-fuel-industry contributions as “paltry.”
And even though Overby warns you away from looking at the Clinton Foundation—because it’s the sort of thing a “Republican opposition research group” would do—you don’t need to go to a middleman; the Clinton Foundation lists its donors on its website. There you can learn that the Foundation has received at least $10 million from Saudi Arabia; at least $5 million from Kuwait, as well as from oil-refining billionaire Mohammed H. Al-Amoudi; at least $1 million from ExxonMobil, natural gas-producer Cheniere Energy, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Foundation, “Friends of Saudi Arabia,” etc.
Those are the facts. NPR did its best to stop or slow them down.