Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson has a piece in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper in which she contends that Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is "fundamentally honest."
Abramson and Jane Mayer, you might remember, are coauthors of the 1994 book Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, in which the authors concluded that "the preponderance of the evidence suggests" that Justice Thomas was not fundamentally honestin his tumultuous confirmation hearings.
Ms. Abramson writes of Mrs. Clinton:
Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.
The yardsticks I use for measuring a politician’s honesty are pretty simple. Ever since I was an investigative reporter covering the nexus of money and politics, I’ve looked for connections between money (including campaign donations, loans, Super Pac funds, speaking fees, foundation ties) and official actions. I’m on the lookout for lies, scrutinizing statements candidates make in the heat of an election.
The connection between money and action is often fuzzy. Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.
As for her statements on issues, Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates. She beats Sanders and Kasich and crushes Cruz and Trump, who has the biggest “pants on fire” rating and has told whoppers about basic economics that are embarrassing for anyone aiming to be president. (He falsely claimed GDP has dropped the last two quarters and claimed the national unemployment rate was as high as 35%).
I can see why so many voters believe Clinton is hiding something because her instinct is to withhold. As first lady, she refused to turn over Whitewater documents that might have tamped down the controversy. Instead, by not disclosing information, she fueled speculation that she was hiding grave wrongdoing. In his book about his time working in the Clinton White House, All Too Human, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos wrote that failing to convince the first lady to turn over the records of the Arkansas land deal to the Washington Post was his biggest regret.
The same pattern of concealment repeats itself through the current campaign in her refusal to release the transcripts of her highly paid speeches. So the public is left wondering if she made secret promises to Wall Street or is hiding something else. The speeches are probably anodyne (politicians always praise their hosts), so why not release them?
Barbra Steisand opined earlier this week that Mrs. Clinton faces deep-seated sexism, both visible and invisible, in her race for the White House. Not surprisingly, Ms. Abramson hits this theme:
Colin Diersing, a former student of mine who is a leader of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, thinks a gender-related double standard gets applied to Clinton. “We expect purity from women candidates,” he said. When she behaves like other politicians or changes positions, “it’s seen as dishonest”, he adds. CBS anchor Scott Pelley seemed to prove Diersing’s point when he asked Clinton: “Have you always told the truth?” She gave an honest response, “I’ve always tried to, always. Always.” Pelley said she was leaving “wiggle room”. What politician wouldn’t?
Just a word on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact: Many critics do not consider Politifact fundamentally honest, a feeling that was affirmed when a study from the George Mason University Center for Media and Public Affairs found that Politifact deems Republicans dishonest three times more than it judges Democrats make false statements.
In Abramson's and Streisand's pieces, I hear the music of the gathering of the clans, as middle-aged or older women troop forward to raise the standard of their sentimental favorite for the presidency.