Trump and the Truth — The New Yorker begins a series on Donald Trump’s touchy relationship with the truth.
“The facts aren’t known because the media won’t report on them,” Donald Trump declared during his immigration speech in Phoenix on Wednesday. A few hours earlier, the Republican nominee had been in Mexico City, where he had held a joint press conference with the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, and lauded Mexican-Americans as “amazing people . . . just beyond reproach.” In Phoenix, flanked by American flags, he struck a different tone. Trump warned the crowd that if Clinton were elected, America would be inundated by a new wave of illegal immigration that would result in “thousands of more violent, horrible crimes, and total chaos and lawlessness.”
Again and again in his Presidential campaign, Trump has issued sweeping assertions about how immigrants are “bringing crime” to America. Wednesday offered only the latest, and loudest, example. Examining these claims is instructive, not for what they tell us about Trump but for what they reveal about immigrants, whose relationship to crime is greatly misunderstood. If you live in a city that has become less dangerous in recent decades, a growing body of evidence suggests that you actually have immigrants to thank.
When Trump kicked off his campaign, last year, he accused Mexico of sending “rapists” and criminals to America. This was a patently outrageous claim, and there was no evidence behind it. According to Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard and the former scientific director of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, communities with high concentrations of immigrants do not suffer from outsized levels of violence. The opposite is the case. In his exhaustively researched 2012 book, “Great American City,” Sampson noted that, in Chicago, “increases in immigration and language diversity over the decade of the 1990s predicted decreases in neighborhood homicide rates.” Other scholars have turned up similar findings. In 2013, a team of researchers published a paper on Los Angeles that found that “concentrations of immigrants in neighborhoods are linked to significant reductions in crime.” A 2014 study examining a hundred and fifty-seven metropolitan areas in the United States found that violent crime tended to decrease when the population of foreign-born residents rose.
One reason for this may be that immigrants have helped revitalize formerly desolate urban neighborhoods, starting businesses and lowering the prevalence of vacant buildings, where violence can take root. Another possible factor is that, contrary to Trump’s bigoted rhetoric, many immigrants are ambitious strivers, who are highly motivated to support their families and make a better life for their children. Undocumented immigrants may also be more fearful than legal residents of attracting police attention, which could get them deported. Whatever the answer, the research helps make sense of the fact that, during the nineteen-nineties, the foreign-born population in the U.S. grew by more than fifty per cent, and cities such as New York, El Paso, and San Diego, where many of these newcomers settled, did not become cauldrons of violence. They became safer. While numerous factors may have contributed to this—most notably, a stronger economy—it is now widely agreed that immigration played a role, too.
In his statements and speeches, Trump has often qualified his language by distinguishing between documented and undocumented immigrants. In Phoenix, he contrasted the “dangerous criminal aliens” who ruthlessly victimized Americans with legitimate, law-abiding immigrants who obeyed the rules. Data isolating the level of crime among undocumented immigrants are hard to come by, in part because, many suspect, undocumented-immigrant communities underreport crime, for fear of bringing law enforcement to their doors. Sampson acknowledged this in an e-mail to me recently, but he countered that one felony—murder—resists underreporting. And, in the nineteen-nineties, he noted, the murder rate fell dramatically in America’s cities, even as the flow of documented and undocumented immigrants surged. “The homicides committed by illegal aliens in the United States are reflected in the data just like for everyone else,” he wrote to me. “The bottom line is that as immigrants poured into the country, homicides plummeted.”
To point these things out is not to deny the tragedy of any individual killing or crime. In June, the Boston Globe published a deeply reported story showing that, among three hundred and twenty-three foreign-born criminals released in New England between 2008 and 2012, nearly one-third went on to commit new offenses after being released, including rape and attempted murder. Based on a three-year review of court records and police logs, the Globe article raised legitimate questions about how forthright immigration officials have been about the issue. Trump cited the Globe’s story in his Phoenix speech, without acknowledging any of its nuance. Some of the criminals the Globe wrote about had entered the United States legally, and had been released because the government cannot detain immigrants indefinitely and because the countries they came from refused to take them back. The Globe also reported that, in the past year, almost sixty per cent of the people deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were convicted criminals. Trump skirted around these facts, assailing President Obama and Hillary Clinton for “surrendering the safety of the American people to open borders” and promising that the mayhem he described would end if he were elected. “The crime will stop,” he vowed.
On the few occasions when journalists have challenged him directly on his incendiary claims about immigration, Trump has resorted to bullying and denial. “If you look at the statistics of people coming . . . you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally in this country, it’s mind-boggling!” Trump declared during an interview on CNN last year, citing as evidence a 2014 story published by Fusion that investigated the prevalence of sexual assaults against migrant women and girls en route to the United States. When Don Lemon, the CNN host, responded by pointing out that the Fusion story was about migrants who were raped, not hordes of criminals crossing the border, Trump snapped, “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! . . . Who’s doing the raping?” A few days later, Trump was interviewed by the NBC News correspondent Katy Tur, who pointed out to him that the incarceration rate for both documented Mexican immigrants and undocumented immigrants over all was lower than that for native-born Americans. “It’s a wrong statistic,” Trump insisted. “Take a look at all the crime that’s being committed.” When Tur noted that the research “does not match what you’re saying,” Trump replied, “Don’t be naïve. You’re a very naïve person.” (One widely cited 2008 study from the Public Policy Institute of California found that the incarceration rate for foreign-born adults in the state prison system was two hundred and ninety-seven per hundred thousand in the population. For U.S.-born adults, the figure was eight hundred and thirteen per hundred thousand.)
When it comes to the threat that immigrants pose, Trump has championed perceptions over facts. Here, alas, he may be on to something. One of the more striking findings of Robert Sampson’s work has been that the “perceived disorder” of a neighborhood correlated positively with the prevalence of Latino residents, regardless of the actual level of crime. Trump certainly perceives disorder, and, with his false claims and invented statistics, he is contributing to the perception of it, especially among people who have few encounters with actual Hispanic immigrants. A recent study by a Gallup economist found that Trump’s supporters appear to be concentrated in segregated communities, far away from the Mexican border.
For more than a year, Trump has used the spotlight on him to smear and malign tens of millions of people who have made the communities they inhabit safer places for people of all backgrounds to raise children or pursue their dreams. They’ll be gone, he says—he’s building a wall. Americans deserve to be reminded that these ideas aren’t just frightening in their intolerance. If your concern is public safety, they’re backward.
Pressing for Trouble — Paul Glastris on the scandal mongering of Hillary Clinton.
Over the last two weeks, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has taken a hit in the polls, much of it pretty clearly due to aggressive press investigations involving her relationship with the Clinton Foundation when she was Secretary of State. Even Hillary fans should see that these investigations are warranted. After all, Clinton is running for the most powerful office in the world. While she was Secretary of State, her husband was overseeing a $2 billion a year charity. That charity took in donations from foreign governments and individuals with international interests. These facts raise legitimate questions. Did donors to the Foundation get special access to the secretary and the department as a result of their donations? If they did get special access, did they receive any favors? Did Hillary or her staff do anything illegal, unethical, or contrary to U.S. interests or administration policy?
The good news is that as a result of these investigations we can now answer those questions pretty definitively: no, no, and no. The bad news is that the press doesn’t seem to want to take “no” for an answer, even if the answer is based on the evidence of its own reporting.
Consider the story in today’s New York Times by Eric Lichtblau based on a new batch of emails released by the conservative group Judicial Watch as part of its lawsuit. The emails show that Doug Band, then with an arm of the Clinton Foundation, asked Huma Abedin, a top aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to help him procure special diplomatic passports for himself and two other Clinton Foundation staffers. Band also asked for a private meeting between Secretary Clinton and Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, a Clinton Foundation donor. These emails, writes Lichtblau, raise “new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.”
The reporting in the piece itself, however, doesn’t so much raise new questions as answer old ones. As Lichtblau explains, Band wanted the diplomatic passports because he and his colleagues were about to accompany Bill Clinton on an emergency mission to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists (as a former president, Clinton already had such a passport). In the end, State didn’t issue special passports to the Foundation staffers, despite the risks they were taking, because doing so would have been contrary to Department rules. Liveris did get a short meeting with Mrs. Clinton for a perfectly valid reason: he had offered to let Mr. Clinton use his private plane to fly to Pyongyang.
Other stories on the Clinton Foundation over the last two weeks fit the same basic pattern: the facts dug up by the investigation disprove the apparent thesis of the investigation. Last week, for instance, the Associated Press shook up the political world with an enterprising investigation showing that more than half of the 154 private sector individuals Secretary Clinton met or talked with during her first two years at State had donated to the Clinton Foundation, ether directly or though their companies or groups. That “extraordinary proportion,” said the AP, indicates “her possible ethics challenges if elected president.”
But aside from the AP’s questionable math—the 154 meetings were gleaned from Clinton’s calendar, and no one seriously doubts that over two years she met with far more private sector individuals than that—the story’s own reporting undermined the case that anything unethical occurred. As its main example, the story cites meetings with and calls on behalf of Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunis, whose Grameen Bank had contributed to the Foundation. Yet Yunis is not some shady financier who gave money to the Foundation to gain access to the secretary. He’s a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer of “micro-lending” to the world’s poor whom Clinton has known and worked with for 30 years. And the calls she made in support of Yunis were part of an international effort to keep the Bangladeshi government from forcing the beloved humanitarian out of Grameen on trumped-up charges. Other examples in the piece of donors getting “access” are similarly benign (one of them was the Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel).
The same passive-aggressive quality pervades all the recent stories about the Clinton Foundation. There is the big LA Times investigation about how Doug Band tried to get a State Department meeting for a donor, a Nigerian-based Lebanese billionaire. Though possibly sketchy, the billionaire had on-the-ground knowledge of the political machinations in Beirut, so was probably worth talking to, but in any event the meeting never occurred. There is Politico’s deep dive into the hitherto untold story about how the federal government made payments to the Clinton Foundation for IT equipment and staff. While strongly suggesting that the payments were highly questionable, the authors concede that their investigation “does not reveal anything illegal.” Indeed, the payments were from a program Congress created more than half a century ago specifically to fund the work of ex-presidents, money every ex-president has taken advantage of, and the piece offers ample evidence from documents obtained from the General Services Administration that the GSA’s bureaucrats and the Foundation’s staff carefully followed the rules.
Thanks to the publishing of these investigations—most of which took many months of dogged effort to produce—we now have a tremendous amount of granular information about the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with the State Department and with the federal government generally. In virtually every case we know of, it’s clear that Hillary and her staff behaved appropriately.
Yet instead of accepting the evidence of their own investigations, much of the mainstream media expresses the attitude that these are still wide open questions. In its recent lead editorial calling for the Clintons to cut their ties to the Foundation immediately (the Clintons have said they’ll do so if she wins), The New York Times concedes that the latest batch of emails does not “so far” show that Hillary gave any special favors to Clinton donors while at state. On the cable shows, even the few journalists who acknowledge the lack of any evidence that Hillary and her staff did anything untoward feel the need to insist that the next batch of emails could prove otherwise.
And of course in theory it could. But as Nancy LeTourneau has observed, there is phrase for those who insist on keeping a controversy going long after enough facts are in to draw reasonable conclusions: “Merchants of Doubt.” The label comes from the book about a loose group of scientists who helped corporate and conservative political interests sow doubt in the public’s mind regarding the certainty of the science linking tobacco to lung cancer and fossil fuels to global warming. It’s the same strategy creationists use when they lobby school boards about gaps in the fossil record and how it’s important and fair-minded to “teach the controversy” about evolution.
Another way of looking at it is that the press is beginning to treat the Clinton Foundation story the way the Republican still treat Benghazi. The legitimate questions surrounding that incident—What were the precipitating events that lead to the deaths of four diplomats? What might the federal government have done differently to prevent it?—were basically answered when the first after-action press investigations and the 2012 Accountability Review Board Report were published. Keeping the controversy alive with half a dozen more congressional investigations was just a way for Republicans to rough up Clinton.
The GOP at least had an obvious political motive for refusing to admit the obvious on Benghazi. Why the mainstream press is refusing to concede the facts of its own investigations on Hillary and the Clinton Foundation is not so clear. But unless it stops that behavior and starts speaking honestly, and soon, there’s a very real chance it could throw the election to Donald Trump.
All The News That Gives You Fits — Charlie Pierce on the New York Times’ chin-stroking over the Clinton coverage.
Oh, for the love of god, mother Times. Are you freaking kidding me?
It’s long past the point where many of our major news publications be sent to the dogtrack with their names pinned to their sweaters, at least as far as the Clintons are concerned. Right now, there is substantial evidence that many of them will print anything as long as they can wedge “Clinton,” “questions” and “e-mails” into a headline. Of course, if Hillary Rodham Clinton would just hold a press conference, at which every question would feature those three words in some order or another, then we’d all turn to discussing the comprehensive mental health plan that she released to thundering silence on Monday when most of the press was in an Anthony Weiner frenzy. Yes, and I am the Tsar of all the Russias.
But this latest iteration of The Clinton Rules is probably the most egregious one yet. From the Times:
A top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department agreed to try to obtain a special diplomatic passport for an adviser to former President Bill Clinton in 2009, according to emails released Thursday, raising new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.
That sounds bad. Was the guy trying to smuggle hash in a diplomatic pouch? Visiting Thai brothels in a government jet?
The request by the adviser, Douglas J. Band, who started one arm of the Clintons’ charitable foundation, was unusual, and the State Department never issued the passport. Only department employees and others with diplomatic status are eligible for the special passports, which help envoys facilitate travel, officials said.
Well, that’s that, then. Let’s turn to the sports section and see how the Mets are doing. Wait. What?
Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign said that there was nothing untoward about the request and that it related to an emergency trip that Mr. Clinton took to North Korea in 2009 to negotiate the release of two American journalists. Mrs. Clinton has long denied that donors had any special influence at the State Department.
Jesus H. Christ on Dancing With The Stars, that’s what this is about? Bill Clinton’s mission to get two American journalists out the hoosegow of The World’s Craziest Place? Wasn’t that a triumph? Weren’t we all happy about it? Hell, this was so surreptitious and “questionable” that HRC even wrote about it in one of her books.
I thought the bombshell in Tiger Beat On The Potomac about how Bill Clinton questionably availed himself of services to which he was legally entitled as an ex-president was going to be this week’s most prominent parody of investigative journalism. (After all, it got to drop the ominous “taxpayer money” into the conversation right next to “private server,” which one of the endless parade of dingbats shilling for the Trump campaign used on CNN just this morning.) But this story puts that one in the ha’penny place, as my grandmother used to say.
Consider how it is constructed—to believe that there is even any smoke here, let alone any fire, you have to believe that the Clinton Foundation was somehow shady in its dealings with HRC’s State Department, which is assuming a lot of actual facts not in evidence. That enables you to believe that an unsuccessful attempt to arrange diplomatic passports for what ultimately was a successful mission of mercy is proof of said shadiness. It also forces you to loan your journalistic credibility to a monkeyhouse like Judicial Watch.
This is crazy. This makes the way Dave O’Brien used to run the ball for Joe McCarthy look like Seymour Hersh on My Lai.
In related developments, The Washington Post revealed Thursday that David Bossie, head of Citizens United and noted stalker of cancer patients, is now part of the high command working to elect El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago. There are now no rats left unfcked in that operation, and it’s going to be damned hard to get a table for Happy Hour Friday night in the cocktail lounge of the Mena Airport.
Bonus Track: James Fallows on the same subject.
Doonesbury — Same old song.