The Clinton Foundation and the Merchants of Doubt

Do you remember that time when Jim Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor in February as “proof” that climate change is a hoax? He was being what we might call a “merchant of doubt.” Never mind that the scientific community has been studying the rise in global temperatures for quite a while. One snowfall in Washington raises doubts about what they’ve found.

The truth is that when scientists study things like global temperatures, they don’t assume that they need to look at the temperature of every single location on the planet every single day. Instead, they do a statistical analysis based on the number of locations/dates that prove to be significant as a way to measure the phenomenon. This is common practice in the scientific community and applies to everything from the study of climate change to political polling.

It is interesting to use this same method to study what we’ve learned lately about the Clinton Foundation. Any scientific inquiry must start with a hypothesis to test or questions to answer. In his interview on Democracy Now, Paul Glastris identified what the two questions are in this inquiry.

  1. Did Clinton Foundation donors get special access to the Secretary of State because of their donations?
  2. If they got special access, did they get anything in return for their donation?

To answer those questions from the perspective of scientific inquiry, we don’t need access to every single piece of data that it is possible to collect about the 4 years Hillary Clinton spent as Secretary of State. What we need is a statistically significant portion of that data. Tallying what that number would be is impossible because we don’t know the actual number of data points that exist (i.e., the denominator). But we can be fairly certain that when it comes to meetings/phone calls and emails, we have now gotten access to considerably more than a statistically significant number of them via the 171 emails released by Judicial Watch (in addition to what has already been released) and the 84 foundation donors studied by the Associated Press.

As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, based on a review of all of that data, what we have seen is that in every single instance, Sec. of State Clinton and her staff have consistently made the right choice. And yet, even the New York Times editorial board still insist on writing this:

Does the new batch of previously undisclosed State Department emails prove that big-money donors to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation got special favors from Mrs. Clinton while she was secretary of state?

Not so far, but that the question arises yet again points to a need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.

Can I suggest that, much as the “question” about Benghazi continues in the fevered minds of some (after even multiple Republican Congressional inquiries have produced nothing), “the question that arises yet again” is as dispositive as Inhofe’s snowball in February. We are, at this point, dealing with nothing more than merchants of doubt.

Some will suggest that the issue here is the “appearance of corruption.” But once data has been presented to disprove that appearance, it is time to stop making that accusation and move on. As Matt Yglesias points out so well today, the reason this continues is more aptly described as the “assumption of corruption” when it comes to Hillary Clinton.

The perception that Clinton is corrupt is one of her most profound handicaps as a politician. And what’s particularly crippling about it is that evidence of her corruption is so widespread exactly because everyone knows she’s corrupt.

Because people “know” that she is corrupt, every decision she makes and every relationship she has is cast in the most negative possible light.

What we’ve seen with the Clinton Foundation (as well as every other so-called “scandal” about her) fits that description of an ongoing negative feedback loop that persists outside of the actual data that is collected to disprove the allegations. That is what happens when we let the merchants of doubt continue to chip away at what we know via scientific inquiry. We can all point and laugh at Inhofe doing that with a snowball. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the science-deniers on the right. We should expect more from liberals and the major media outlets.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.