Accuracy in Media

elene kounalakis and clinton

CNN dropped the ball yesterday when an op-ed on its website that extolled the virtues of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton failed to identify the writer, Eleni Kounalakis, as a million dollar bundler for Hillary in 2008, as well as a former ambassador.

Kounalakis did her best to defend Clinton against charges that she accomplished little as secretary of state:

In a recent opinion piece posted on CNN, Carly Fiorina launched a deeply unfair and profoundly inaccurate attack on Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state. Fiorina went so far as to insinuate that Hillary Clinton did not have even one single accomplishment in that role. She could not be more wrong. I should know; I served with her as U.S. ambassador to Hungary and watched her fight for the American people every day.


As a diplomat, she wielded the star power of one of the world’s most well-known female leaders. And finally, she had the right kind of work ethic, the right brand of wonkiness, to be embraced quickly by her 70,000 new employees at the State Department.

At her Senate confirmation hearing, Clinton said that “to create more friends and fewer enemies, we must find common ground and common purpose with other peoples and nations.” A simple statement. But to achieve it required a steady stream of cooperation, coordination, and sometimes good-natured cajoling, with nations around the world, on issues large and small. It’s not work that can be quantified by a single handshake, captured in a photo-op, or summed up in a single radio sound bite.

For three-and-a-half years at my post in Budapest, I started my mornings reading Clinton’s daily schedule. Hillary Clinton traveled to more countries than any other secretary in the history of the department, logging nearly a million miles and visiting 112 nations. She visited countries that hadn’t had a U.S. secretary of state visit for up to five decades (Laos) or ever (Togo). After all, America can never have enough friends.


I led Embassy Budapest during a challenging time in U.S.-Hungarian relations. During that time, Clinton came to Budapest for a day-long visit. Her engagement did not make headlines in the United States. Her work that day would strike few people as her “single most important accomplishment” in that office. But for many Hungarians and members of the European Union, her practical and nuanced diplomatic intervention in Hungary made obvious her clear-eyed leadership and America’s unparalleled strength.

In short, here is my answer to Fiorina’s question:

Diplomatically, without bluster or bullying, without stealing headlines or focusing on her own legacy, Hillary Clinton rebuilt the network of American relationships around the globe. This is certainly her most important legacy and fundamental to the future of American leadership in the world.

If that’s the best answer the Clinton acolytes have to describe Hillary’s accomplishments as secretary of state, she’s in more trouble than I thought.

The biggest problem with the op-ed, though, is CNN’s description of Kounalakis:

Eleni Kounalakis was United States ambassador to Hungary from 2010 to 2013. She is the author of “Madam Ambassador, Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner and Democracy in Budapest,” published by The New Press. She is a senior adviser to the Albright Stonebridge Group.

CNN tried to portray Kounalakis as an objective observer of Hillary’s tenure at the State Department—when she is anything but—and makes it appear that they were more interested in helping the struggling Clinton candidacy than being honest with its readers.

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