Ambinder The Dupe?

Moments after I posted a brief about Sen. Clinton's $10M fundraising day, I received about a dozen e-mails from readers (and a few folks from Chicago) suggesting that, amiable as I am, I was duped. A healthy skepticism is in order, virtually all of these e-mails say, for any claim that comes from the Clinton campaign. I might be the last person on earth who possibly believes anything that the Clinton campaign says.

Well, I stand by my post. It's true that campaigns fib about their Internet money, and that there is no objective standard of proof until the filings are released -- May 20 -- but there are other ways for reporters who've covered campaigns to discern whether (a) a campaign staffer is lying to the reporter or (b) a campaign staffer is lying to another campaign staffer. As a reporter, I've been lied to by at least one person at every presidential campaign. But on every campaigns there are others who, yes, spin, but on factual matters have proven themselves to be trustworthy, even when the facts aren't flattering to them or their campaign. In general, when people from campaigns lie, they don't like their names attached to their claims. Well, Peter Daou, who has direct access to the online fundraising tallies, puts his name to the claim that Clinton raised $10 million.

Politically, there seem to be a lot of Democrats out there who think that Clinton is a really, really bad person. There are very few Democrats out there who think that Obama is a bad person.

As an amateur observer of human social behavior, I am quite impressed by the steel wall of aversion that some Obama supporters put up whenever they're confronted by something that does not fit with their established perception of Hillary Clinton -- namely that there is just NO way that Hillary can raise that much money in such a short period of time...because she is, well, Hillary. The fundamental attribution error is at work: it must be a lie because Hillary is a liar; the situation -- a 9 point victory in Pennsylvania, or the roughly half of the Democratic electorate who supporters her -- well, it matters much less. Many Clinton supporters exhibit the same behavior. I exhibit the behavior when it comes to defending members of my tribe -- journalists.

Anyway, here's a representative e-mail from a reader:

Dear Marc,

I have enjoyed your campaign coverage, in large part because you generally are a difficult person to dupe.

The Clinton campaign got you this time though. I would suggest that you run a few numbers: the Clinton campaign says that it has raised $10 million online, by attracting 100,000 donors, 80% of whom are new donors. That is a tall tale for an incredible number of reasons but here are the most obvious: if Clinton really raised an average of $100 per internet donor, that's about 5 times higher than the typical average internet donation. The claim is specious, but possible--especially given that the Clintons say they directed their large donors towards their website. That begs the obvious question, though: how many "big" donors have the Clintons left untapped? The thousands that it would take to raise that average? That seems unlikely.

What also seems unlikely is that they raised money from 80,000 new donors yesterday. That would be increasing their online donor base by 30 to 40 % in one day. The likelihood of that happening is absolutely miniscule, and you know it.

The Clintons have had an awfully poor track record of lying about donations over the past three months. And I don't blame them--they have every incentive to lie. The official reports will not come in until the 15th of next month (I believe, though you should know), and by that time how much money they have will be wholly irrelevant because a new storyline should have taken hold in the press; but, if their lies are passed on now, it will create the appearance of momentum, which in turn creates momentum, and may give their campaign a few more weeks of life.

So the Clintons have an incentive to lie; your incentive to pass on that lie, without putting a critical eye to it, is what I question. There isn't one. So, with all due respect Marc, dig a little deeper. There's a story there, and you're too smart to miss it.

Patrick Moore