The right's new Clinton obsession just went mainstream: How a sketchy Hillary "exposé" hooked the New York Times

The right's propaganda machine duped the media on the Clintons once before. Now they could be doing it again

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 21, 2015 9:59AM (EDT)

  (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP/Carolyn Kaster)

As the week began, the big news that had the political media all aflutter was the release of a new book called "Clinton Cash" which the right is claiming will blow the lid off of the Clinton campaign and have the Democratic Party throwing in the towel on 2016 in no time. (Or, at the very least, they'll soon be desperately begging for former Republican Lincoln Chafee to officially take up the banner, which amounts to the same thing.) The book is about the nefarious doings of the evil Clinton Foundation, a non-profit supposedly dedicated to doing good works around the globe, but which conservatives say is actually nothing more than a corrupt organization dedicated to selling out the interests of poor people everywhere so that Hillary Clinton can destroy the world. Or something.

It must be said at the outset that investigating the Clinton Foundation is entirely appropriate. It is a major fundraising organization, lots of wealthy people from around the globe have donated money, some of whom are not such nice fellows. Now, the taking of money from bad people and using it to better the lives of poor people around the world should not automatically be suspect. Some people might even call such a transaction a form of restitution. But it is certainly worth looking into even the possibility of an improper quid pro quo between Hillary Clinton and these nefarious actors when she was Secretary of State (or now).  Responsible journalists can and will undoubtedly be looking at all of this throughout the campaign as they should.

However, the man who wrote this book "Clinton Cash" is not a responsible journalist. (Well, unless you consider his affiliations with Breitbart News an endorsement of his integrity.) The author, Peter Schweizer, is a long time Republican political operative whose credibility rests on books such as "Architects of Ruin: How Big Government Liberals Ruined the Global Economy and Will Do It Again if We Don't Stop Them" and "Makers and Takers:Why conservatives work harder, feel happier, have closer families, take fewer drugs, give more generously, value honesty more, are less materialistic and envious, whine less … and even hug their children more than liberals." That latter literary masterpiece was actually a sequel to his earlier work called "Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy." Let's just say there's no mistaking Schweizer for an unbiased journalist.

(Media Matters has compiled a full dossier on Schweizer's far right connections. They are as deep as they are wide.)

The fact that a right-wing propagandist would publish an "exposé" on Hillary Clinton is as surprising as Bill O'Reilly proclaiming himself to be a war hero. This is just how the right rolls. You'll undoubtedly recall the work of fiction called "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry" by another far right operative by the name of Jerome Corsi which, when it was published in 2004 took the election by storm. It was an audacious move and it paid off. One can certainly understand why they'd try it again.

But there's another twist with this particular book. As Dylan Byers at Politico reported:

The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have made exclusive agreements with a conservative author for early access to his opposition research on Hillary Clinton, a move that has confounded members of the Clinton campaign and some reporters, the On Media blog has confirmed. [...]

Fox News' use of Schweizer's book has surprised no one. The bulk of the network's programming is conservative, and the book's publisher, HarperCollins, is owned by News Corporation. But the Times and Post's decision to partner with a partisan researcher has raised a few eyebrows. Some Times reporters view the agreement as unusual, sources there said. Still others defended the agreement, noting that it was no different from using a campaign's opposition research to inform one's reporting -- so long as that research is fact-checked and vetted. A spokesperson for the Times did not provide comment by press time.

It's also no different than the way the press took every little tidbit of Whitewater gossip and ran with it back in the 1990s. And the reporting from the Times and Washington Post pretty much across the board was found to be sloppy gossip and unproven innuendo. This year they may be using what the publisher calls a "meticulously researched" investigation into the Clinton Foundation while in the past they relied upon a little known group called — wait for it — Citizens United.

(Yes, that Citizens United.)

As early as 1994, responsible journalists were questioning the major media's use of the material provided by the group and its leader, a young man named David Bossie and his partner, a longtime conservative operative named Floyd Brown, known at the time for his role in making the notorious "Willie Horton" ad in the 1988 campaign.

Trudy Lieberman of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote one of the earliest pieces about this Citizens United campaign called "Churning Whitewater":

ClintonWatch, a newsletter dedicated to "Proving Character Does Count in a President," is sent to all media and contains tales and tidbits that have found their way into the nation's news. The organization's official newsletter, Citizens Agenda, sent to its 11,000 subscribers periodically, offers a morsel or two and boasts about the group's success in siccing the media on to the Whitewater story. Citizens United's newest information effort is a Whitewater Fax Bulletin, also called ClintonWatch, which is fed to the media almost daily. "Nobody seems to have all the answers, but by sharing our information with members of the media, we can start putting pieces together ... We are making new discoveries every day," Brown said in launching his new fax service in early March. One of the first Fax Bulletins was aimed at stirring up interest in Lot 7, which Bossie had told me was the next big story.

The March 1994 issue of ClintonWatch characterized the organization's impact on Whitewater press coverage this way: "We here at ClintonWatch have been working day and night with the major news media to help them get the word out about the Clintons and their questionable dealings in Whitewater and Madison Guaranty." Of course, Citizens United is not the only source of information on Whitewater. And reputable reporters do their own digging and doublechecking. Still, an examination of some 200 news stories from the major news outlets aired or published since November shows an eerie similarity between the Citizens United agenda and what has been appearing in the press, not only in terms of specific details but in terms of omissions, spin, and implication.

She went on to document some of the spin, omission and implications and showed how these stories made their way through the media ecosystem until it was taken as a article of faith that there must have been "something" there. This was 1994, still at the very early days of the administration. It was obvious what was happening but it didn't stop the press from eagerly chasing every shiny object that David Bossie and other right-wingers threw in their path. That dynamic would characterize media coverage throughout the Clinton administration.

And there is one major aspect of all this that people should keep in mind before they rely on the mainstream press to "do their own reporting," as they insist they will. For all the breathless front-page coverage in mainstream papers and on evening newscasts, and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the Department of Justice, Congress and the Office of Independent Counsel, the only charge they were ever able to bring against Bill or Hillary Clinton was that Bill lied one time about having unauthorized fellatio in a deposition. That's what they impeached him over and he was acquitted in the Senate. If any of the scandals pushed by the right had held up to the slightest scrutiny, there is little doubt that Ken Starr and his crew of zealous prosecutors would have charged them when they had the chance. There was, in the end, nothing.

There are two good books to read on this subject if you want to get up to speed. The first is "Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater" by Gene Lyons, which exposed how the New York Times was duped by some small town Arkansas political operators. The second, "The Hunting of the President" by Lyons and Joe Conason, brought the whole story together at the end of Clinton's term. The press's track record during this period and into the 2000 campaign can only be described as malpractice. It's beyond belief that after all their failures and journalistic malfeasance they would formalize an agreement with a right wing operative to "share" his information.

If past is prologue, expect to see breathless reporting of obscure, exotic details leading to assumptions of wrongdoing which nobody really understands, certainly not the reporters. At some point they'll issue the standard disclaimer: It's not so much about actual wrongdoing, it's the appearance of wrongdoing as if that's enough to excuse their lazy assumptions. And then they'll claim it's all part of "narrative," a narrative created by Republican operatives, knowing the media will swallow it whole and deliver it to the public as if it they thought of it themselves.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Bill Clinton Clinton Cash Fox News Hillary Clinton The New York Times The Washington Post Whitewater