Miss Congeniality

This is what passes for “gotcha” journalism.

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange has delivered on his promise and released thousands of e-mails, hacked from Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta, everyday in October.


The Clinton campaign will neither confirm nor deny their authenticity. So, this brings up two questions: are the e-mails authentic; and what do they reveal?

On October 23, PolitiFact weighed in on their authenticity.

“It’s not just that [the Podesta e-mails],” PolitiFact writes, “came from Russian hackers in an attempt to meddle in the U.S. election. But also that they might have been doctored.

“Vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine raised the possibility Sunday in an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. Before posing a question about the email leak to Kaine, Todd said, ‘I know you have a blanket statement here: You don’t want to respond because you don’t believe that they have been confirmed.’

“ ‘Well, you know Chuck, again these are connected to a Russian government propaganda effort to destabilize the election,’ Kaine responded.

“Kaine later added: ‘The one (email) that has referred to me was flat-out completely incorrect. So I don’t know whether it was doctored or whether the person sending it didn’t know what they were talking about. Clearly, I think there’s a capacity for much of the information in them to be wrong.’

“It’s possible to verify the legitimacy of some, but not all, of the emails, cyber-security experts said. So we can’t definitively say none of the thousands of leaked emails, which came from campaign chair John Podesta’s account, have been doctored.

“Experts told PolitiFact that there is precedent to support Kaine’s claim. While most of the emails are probably unaltered, they said there is a chance that at least a few have been tampered with in some way.

“ ‘I’ve looked at a lot of document dumps provided by hacker groups over the years, and in almost every case you can find a few altered or entirely falsified documents,’ said Jeffrey Carr, CEO of cybersecurity firm Taia Global. ‘But only a few. The vast majority were genuine. I believe that’s the case with the Podesta emails, as well.’

“ ‘I would be shocked if the emails weren’t altered,’ said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy for Arizona State University’s Global Security Initiative, citing Russia’s long history of spreading disinformation.

“…digital signatures are embedded in the raw sources available on the WikiLeaks website and can be used to ‘concretely prove that many of the emails in the Wikileaks dump are undoctored,’ said cyber-security consultant Matt Tait.

“ ‘Tim Kaine is at least partially wrong here,’ Tait said. ‘We know for sure that John Podesta was hacked, and we know for sure that many of his real emails have been published via Wikileaks. But his caution isn’t entirely unfair.’ ”

So, according to the experts, the e-mails are genuine.

What about the content? What do the e-mails reveal about candidate Clinton?

Writing for The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 17), Peter Nicholas offered one of the clearest breakdowns with “…four takeaways:

  1. “Clinton allies dearly wanted her to apologize for her use of a private email account at the State Department.

“Her loyalists weren’t happy with what they saw as a perfunctory mea culpa coming from the candidate.

“Neera Tanden, a longtime Clinton confidante, wrote a note to Mr. Podesta in August 2015 warning that ‘her inability to just do a national interview and communicate genuine feelings of remorse and regret is now, I fear, becoming a character problem (more so than honesty).’

“Mr. Podesta replied that he and a colleague were in ‘the same place.’

“ ‘Trying to figure out how to get her there and best way to execute,’ he said.

  1. “No one seemed to have a fix on just how to make Mrs. Clinton more likeable.

“This is a challenge that Mrs. Clinton’s advisers have faced since she burst onto the national stage in 1992. No one has quite solved the puzzle. Polls show voters largely seem to respect Mrs. Clinton’s experience and knowledge but don’t necessarily want to settle in with her for a beer.

“Various advisers have offered suggestions over the years, but we’ll go with one from the ever-frank and quotable Ms. Tanden.

“In a September 2015 email, she suggested that the former secretary of state do more late-night television. In these appearances, Mrs. Clinton should ‘be the kind of funny, slightly bitch person (but in a good way), these people imagine her to be (and she really is, after a drink or two),’ Ms. Tanden wrote.

“ ‘I think she’s not inspiring people because it’s hard to latch onto her – the person at her core – with all the swirl around,’ Ms. Tanden added.

  1. “Mrs. Clinton doesn’t have much affection for the political press corps.

“This doesn’t make things any easier for either side, given that Mrs. Clinton’s career ambitions involve, well, politics.

“One of the emails includes a transcript of a paid speech Mrs. Clinton gave at a Goldman Sachs conference in 2013. Toward the end, she said, ‘Our political press has just been captured by trivia. I mean, to me.’

“It isn’t that she doesn’t admire some reporters – just not the ones who cover the path to power. As secretary of state, she found that ‘the press which covered me … were really interested in the issues. I mean, they would drill them.’

  1. “Her team keeps tabs on friends, foes and frenemies, with an eye toward managing the latter.

“David Axelrod, a senior adviser in both of Barack Obama’s presidential races, has on occasion sounded skeptical about Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy, questioning whether she had put forward a “rationale” for running.

“In December 2014, four months before Mrs. Clinton entered the race, longtime adviser Philippe Reines sent an email noting Mr. Axelrod’s point and describing him as a potential ‘headache.’

“ ‘We had discussed the utility of reaching out to David Axelrod, but is he on HRC’s – or anyone’s – call sheet? I hate to reward bad behavior, but this seems like one headache we could easily neutralize.’ ”

Donald Trump cited several of Clinton’s closed-door speeches to Wall Street executives in many of his own remarks, telling followers that Clinton “may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency.”

FactCheck.org points out a number of errors in Trump’s analysis of Clinton quotes (Oct. 12). Here are just a few:

“Trump claimed that Clinton ‘admitted that ISIS could infiltrate with the refugees,’ adding, ‘then why’s she letting so many people into our country?’ But Clinton was talking about Jordan vetting the refugees coming into that country, not the refugees coming into the U.S.

“Trump said Clinton wants a ‘single-payer’ health care system, like Canada’s. But the quotes show Clinton advocating building on the United States’ employer-based system to get to ‘universal’ coverage.

“Trump said that longtime Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal wrote that the 2012 attack in Benghazi ‘was almost certainly preventable’ and that Clinton’s State Department ‘failed to protect’ U.S. personnel in Libya. But a senior writer for Newsweek wrote that, not Blumenthal.

“He falsely claimed that the speeches show Clinton ‘wants to knock the hell out of your Social Security’ and Medicare. The excerpt shows Clinton supported the ‘framework’ of a deficit-reduction plan because it involved both spending cuts and revenue increases, including to those programs. ‘I’m not going to sort of piecemeal all their recommendations,’ one quote says.

“Trump claims Clinton said that terrorism is ‘quote, not a threat to the nation.’ The excepts indicate Clinton said terrorism is ‘not a threat to us as a nation,’ meaning that it ‘is not going to endanger our economy or our society.’ She added that terrorism is ‘a real threat’ and ‘a danger to our citizens.’

“Trump falsely claimed that Wall Street is ‘where she gets all the money.’ In fact, about 2.5 percent of her campaign funds comes from Wall Street donors. Clinton’s campaign and outside groups supporting her combined received nearly 12 percent of their total funds from Wall Street.”

Vox is a media website whose mission is to make the news clearer to understand (Oct. 20):

“The strangest thing,” Vox writes, “about the ensuing uproar is that none of the Podesta emails has so far actually broken any fresh scandals about the woman on track to be the next president. Instead, they’ve mostly revealed an underbelly of ugliness to the multiple Clinton controversies that we’ve already known about: the questionable relationship between the Clinton Foundation and its donors, Clinton’s ease with powerful interests on Wall Street, her ties to wealthy campaign contributors.

“If there’s one thing to really get mad about here, it’s something we’ve known for years — that Clinton took millions from big Wall Street banks right before running for president. Seeing her and Wall Street titans share a laugh about helping the hungry might turn your stomach, but the most important question — was it wrong for Clinton to take big checks from Goldman right before running? — is in no way new. (Clinton’s campaign refused to comment on individual emails, instead blaming the Russians for hacking the emails and providing them to WikiLeaks.)

“This is, from what we’ve seen so far, the real story of WikiLeaks’ Podesta emails. Yes, they have not found any major ‘bombshells.’ No, they’re not going to sink Clinton’s campaign. But by filling in the storylines that have long dogged her campaign with new and vivid detail, we are getting our clearest picture yet of how the sausage is made.”

CNN reports (Oct. 18), “Emails posted by WikiLeaks reveal a buttoned-up campaign that analyzes nearly every decision, mirroring Clinton’s reputation as a methodical and tactical politician. And secret transcripts of Clinton’s paid speeches behind closed doors on Wall Street have failed to turn up any positions widely different than what she says in public. …

“In one exchange, the campaign deliberated for about 12 hours over a single tweet, about low-wage workers’ fight for a higher minimum wage. Policy advisers and communications staffers went back and forth over how to carefully word the 140-character message to be signed by Clinton herself, including whether to include the #Fightfor15 hashtag or if that would be too strong an endorsement. …

“Another exchange dealt with the dicey issue of whether to allow lobbyists for foreign companies and governments to bundle for the campaign. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said he was comfortable allowing for some of them to donate and fundraise. Jennifer Palmieri replied with: ‘Take the money!!’

“It is not uncommon for professional campaigns to be so deliberate. An academic paper studying the campaign’s use of social media in 2012 found that former candidate Mitt Romney’s team had up to 22 people signing off before a tweet was sent. That kind of top-down approach contrasts sharply with Trump’s freewheeling, uncensored approach to Twitter, with messages sometimes coming in the middle of the night.

“Also contained in the emails have been transcripts of paid speeches Clinton gave on Wall Street. …

“While the transcripts show a blunter, less reserved Clinton, much of what the former secretary of state said to Goldman Sachs and other groups appear generally in line with some of what she has said publicly.

“In an October 2013 speech to the financial firm, Clinton implied that action was necessary to curb Wall Street abuses ‘for political reasons.’

“ ‘There was also a need to do something because of political reasons, if you were an elected member of Congress and people in your constituency were losing jobs and shutting businesses and everybody in the press is saying it’s all the fault of Wall Street, you can’t sit idly by and do nothing,’ Clinton said. …

“Clinton has a reputation of being careful and guarded,” CNN writes, “at times calculating, and the emails show a campaign that runs that way.”

That last assessment was born out by CNN host Fareed Zakaria at a talk he gave locally. Zakaria said he got that impression from several interviews and/or meetings he’s had with her over the last several years.

While there have been many reports about Hillary Clinton’s unprofessional, impolite, even vulgar language leveled at Secret Service agents and staffers, former Secretary of State General Colin Powell recently (Oct. 25), joined 68 Republicans supporting Clinton.

When asked why, Powell succinctly replied: “because I think she’s qualified, and the other gentleman is not qualified.”

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