After Diane Sawyer’s fawning interview last Thursday morning hailing his work to "save a continent," ABC’s Good Morning America returned to praising the African philanthropy of former president Bill Clinton on Monday. Traveling with him, ABC’s Kate Snow sounded less like a reporter and more like an overnight infomercial spokeswoman: "In Africa, they seem to be on a first-name basis with the former president, shouting ‘Bill! Bill!’"
Every soundbite in the story was Clinton or Clinton’s supporters explaining all the wonderful things Clinton is trying to accomplish, how he’s impatient in his struggle to save lives. Without any skeptical note that his private foundation might create a thicket of conflicts of interest, Snow simply relayed without questioning that Clinton would continue his foundation activities if his wife won the White House. Snow could only coo: "He may redefine the role of first spouse in America."
Supposedly skeptical journalists have been slow to recognize that it would be a subject of political controversy if major players in policy debates -- including foreign donors -- tried to curry favor with President Hillary by lavishing millions of dollars on her husband’s foundation. It’s not a campaign contribution, but it certainly counts as influence-peddling. A skeptical journalist would at least note that Clinton continuing his foundation work could be politically troublesome. Snow’s lack of skepticism underlines how her story sounds more like a commercial than a news story.
Obviously, it would be hard for Snow to look for critics who thought that fighting AIDS in Africa was an unworthy cause, but it's not hard to notice out loud that there are many other players in the "continent-saving" business than just the Clinton Foundation, and some may feel Clinton is hogging the credit. It unfolded like this:
Robin Roberts: "And Hillary Clinton may be the frontrunner in that political horse race, but her husband, showing no signs of slowing down either. This morning, the former president, Bill Clinton, continues his tour in Africa to raise awareness about AIDS and malaria. And with him there is GMA weekend anchor Kate Snow."
Kate Snow: "In Africa, they seem to be on a first-name basis with the former President, shouting Bill, Bill."
Former President Bill Clinton: "I thought I could help them help themselves."
Snow: "In the tiny village of Mano, Malawi, people walked miles and miles to see him, and it is not because his wife is running for President. Many of the villagers don't even know that. They know the Clinton name, because it marks the site of the new hospital being built by President Clinton’s foundation, a place where mothers will be able take their sick babies. The need is hard to overstate. Half of all babies born with HIV in the world will die before their second birthday."
Clinton: "Most people in Africa, most people in the world who have the virus don't know it yet."
Snow: "In Zambia, Clinton is spreading the word about getting tested for HIV. Sixteen percent of adults in this country are HIV positive. So they've gotten creative, organizing soccer tournaments where, in between games, they talk about abstinence, safe sex and the importance of knowing your HIV status."
Victor Mawere: "Kids don't want to be preached to. They will prefer to be talked to in a more vibrant and more interactive way where they're having fun."
Snow: "President Clinton's presence at these events is clearly meant to motivate the people who work so hard on his HIV and AIDS projects, but he also has a reputation for being a little impatient for wanting results on the ground quickly."
Paul Farmer, Harvard anthropologist: "He has a sense of urgency. People are dying. We've got to move more quickly."
Clinton: "When you look at these kids on this soccer field. They all deserve their lives, too. And I just think, that when you reach my age and you've had all the benefits in life that I've had, your main concern outside your family ought to be trying to make sure that no child dies before his or her time and nobody is denied the right to live their dreams."
Snow: "And Clinton is determined to continue this work even if his wife ends up in the White House. He says he'd have an office in the East Wing but would still travel to Africa."
Clinton: "It is important for me to continue this, and I also think she wants me to help her but not get under foot too much."
Snow: "He may redefine the role of a first spouse in America."
Clinton: "It's also not bad for America to have a former president out there helping people solve their problems."
Snow: "But in Africa, they will still call him Bill. For Good Morning America, Kate Snow, ABC News, Lusaka, Zambia."
Apparently, Tony Snow is not the only Snow who speaks professionally on behalf of a president.