Wash. Post presented David Bossie's reputation as dependent "on one's political persuasion"


The Washington Post reported that Republican activist and discredited former congressional staffer David Bossie had "earned a reputation as a relentless sleuth -- or right-wing hit man, depending on one's political persuasion." CNN host Kitty Pilgrim interviewed Bossie but made no mention of his highly controversial past.

In an August 30 article, Washington Post staff writer Michael A. Fletcher reported that Republican activist and discredited former congressional staffer David N. Bossie had "earned a reputation as a relentless sleuth -- or right-wing hit man, depending on one's political persuasion." But in characterizing Bossie's reputation as a function of "one's political persuasion," Fletcher overlooked the sharp condemnations of some of Bossie's actions from those within his own party, including former President George H.W. Bush and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Also, CNN host Kitty Pilgrim interviewed Bossie on the August 28 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, but made no mention of his highly controversial past.

The occasion for the August 30 article is the soon-to-be-released Border War: The Battle over Illegal Immigration, a film co-produced by Bossie and released through Citizens United, an organization that describes itself as "an organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizens control" and for which Bossie serves as president. Fletcher wrote that Border War "makes the case for a serious crackdown on illegal immigration." Fletcher introduced Bossie as follows:

David N. Bossie earned a reputation as a relentless sleuth -- or right-wing hit man, depending on one's political persuasion -- during his years as a high-profile Republican congressional investigator and conservative activist.

Through the 1990s, Bossie spent much of his time assembling caches of documents to push his admittedly ideological agenda. He was a ready promoter of stories about President Bill Clinton's sexual and ethical lapses, proved and otherwise.

Bossie was fired as an investigator for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee after overseeing the release of recordings of Hillary Rodham Clinton's phone conversations with Whitewater figure Webster L. Hubbell. The tapes were edited to create the impression that Clinton was involved in billing irregularities at the Arkansas law firm where she and Hubbell worked.

No longer content to merely unearth documents, Bossie, president of Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group, has turned to documentary-style films to push his causes. His latest contribution to the national political debate is "Border War," a film he co-produced that makes the case for a serious crackdown on illegal immigration.

As Fletcher notes, in the late 1990s, Bossie worked as an investigator under Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), then-chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, and was ultimately fired in 1998 for his role in releasing edited transcripts of Hubbell's prison conversations (though the conversations in question took place between Hubbell and his wife, not -- as Fletcher reported -- between Hubbell and Clinton). Bossie had excised from the transcripts certain comments by Hubbell indicating that Clinton had done nothing wrong.

But Fletcher failed to mention that several leading Republicans strongly condemned Bossie for his unethical conduct -- a fact that undermines his suggestion in the lead paragraph that Bossie's reputation as a "hit man" simply depends "on one's political persuasion." Indeed, the Post's own reporting shows that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich harshly criticized both Bossie and Burton at the time, as Media Matters for America noted in response to a May 11, 2004, Post article that failed to note Bossie's controversial background. According to a May 7, 1998, article, Gingrich told Burton, "I'm embarrassed for you, I'm embarrassed for myself, and I'm embarrassed for the [House Republican] conference at the circus that went on at your committee."

While Fletcher noted that Bossie spent much of the 1990s "assembling caches of documents to push his admittedly ideological agenda" and promoting "stories about President Bill Clinton's sexual and ethical lapses, proved and otherwise," he failed to represent to readers the sheer breadth of Bossie's reported actions. In a July 20, 2004, Salon.com profile, journalist Eric Boehlert provided a more extensive list of Bossie's "downright slimy tactics" over the years:

  • During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bossie got into a fistfight with a Little Rock, Arkansas, private investigator, Larry Case, who said he had damaging information on Clinton. Bossie told police that Case had punched him after Bossie refused to pay Case a $10,000 advance as they were preparing to board a flight at Little Rock National Airport.
  • That same year, Bossie set out to prove that a young pregnant woman named Susan Coleman had committed suicide in 1977 after having an affair with Clinton. Coleman's mother told CBS that Bossie hounded her relentlessly with his false story, even following her to an Army hospital in Georgia, where she was visiting her husband, in recovery from a stroke. Bossie and another man "burst into the sick man's room and began questioning the shaken mother about her daughter's suicide," CBS reported.
  • Also in 1992, President George H.W. Bush, repudiating Bossie's tactics, filed an FEC complaint against Bossie's group after it produced a TV ad inviting voters to call a hot line to hear (almost certainly doctored) tape-recorded conversations between Clinton and Gennifer Flowers. [Indeed, the Post reported on July 15, 1992, that Bush said of Bossie's organization, "We will do whatever we can to stop any filthy campaign tactics"; and that his son, George W. Bush, sent a letter to 85,697 major donors urging them not to contribute to the group.]
  • In 1994, Bossie traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas, with an NBC producer, where the two allegedly "stalked" and "ambushed" Beverly Bassett Schaffer, a former state regulatory officer and a lawyer who had played a small role in the so-called Whitewater conspiracy. The two confronted Schaffer outside her office and, after she refused an on-camera interview, reportedly chased her across town, until she found refuge in the lobby of an office building.
  • In February 1996, Citizens United mailed out a fundraising letter bragging that it had "dispatched its top investigator, David Bossie, to Capitol Hill to assist Senator Lauch Faircloth in the official US Senate hearings on Whitewater." Another mailing reported that Bossie was "on the inside directing the probe." Democrats subsequently cried foul that a federal employee was actively raising money for a partisan group, so [former Sen. Alfonse] D'Amato [R-NY] forced Bossie to submit an affidavit proclaiming his independence from Citizens United.
  • In November 1996, Bossie improperly leaked the confidential phone logs of former Commerce Department official John Huang to the press. And he did that by deceiving other GOP congressional aides, according to an account published in Roll Call, which quoted one Republican aide comparing Bossie's deceptive presence to "Ollie North running around the House."
  • In July 1997, James Rowley III, the chief counsel to the House Government Reform Committee, which was investigating allegations of campaign finance wrongdoing by the Clinton administration, resigned his position after committee chairman Burton refused to fire Bossie. In his one-page resignation letter, Rowley, a former federal prosecutor employed by Republicans, accused Bossie of "unrelenting" self-promotion in the press, which made it impossible "to implement the standards of professional conduct I have been accustomed to at the United States Attorney's Office."

Bossie also appeared on the August 28 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight to discuss Border War. Guest host Kitty Pilgrim introduced him as "the producer of the film and the president of the group Citizens United." She further noted that he has "been wading into political turf for a very long time" and complimented him on his "[g]reat movie." But in interviewing Bossie, Pilgrim offered viewers no indication of the controversial history detailed above.

During the 2004 presidential election, Media Matters for America noted Bossie's repeated media appearances in promotion of the two Democrat-bashing books he released that year -- Intelligence Failure: How Clinton's National Security Policy Set the Stage for 9/11 and The Many Faces of John Kerry: Why This Massachusetts Liberal Is Wrong for America. Both were published by WND Books, an imprint of the conservative news website WorldNetDaily. (The books were published when WND Books was a partnership with publisher Thomas Nelson; that partnership ended in 2004, and the imprint is now known as Nelson Current.) WorldNetDaily had published Bossie's books even though, in 1998, it reported criticism of Bossie -- citing "sources close to" the House committee for which he had worked -- claiming he was "either extremely incompetent or was intentionally trying to sabotage investigations in the House fund-raising inquiry" when he released the selectively edited excerpts of Hubbell's conversations.

From the August 28 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

PILGRIM: This nation's worsening illegal alien crisis is the subject of an important new documentary opening in theaters this week. The documentary is called Border War: The Battle over Illegal Immigration. And it tells the story of five people whose lives have been changed by this crisis. David Bossie is the producer of the film and the president of the group Citizens United, and he joins me. Thanks for being with us.

BOSSIE: Thanks for having me.

PILGRIM: Why did you take on this topic?

BOSSIE: About a year ago, we were looking forward to some of the important political issues that would be playing across America come election year. And, of course, we had no idea that it would be this big, but we decided to take it on.

PILGRIM: You did a rebuttal film to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. You have been very -- you've been wading into political turf for a very long time. This is a political film, although it handles social issues. Let's take a look at a clip from the movie. Enrique Marones is a very interesting, influential character in the film, and he's a dual citizen, Mexican and American, and he is an open-borders advocate. So let's listen to that.

MARONES [video clip]: We started doing this, and the organization began to grow. We're all volunteers, of course. And then I hear about this wall that the U.S. government wants to put up, which is called Operation Gatekeeper. So many of us went and started protesting and saying, don't put up that wall. This is going to cause a tremendous amount of death and tragedy and misery, and the U.S. government says no, it will stop the people from coming in. And we said we that are involved in human rights, why would it stop people from coming when they've been coming for hundreds of years. And we never really crossed the border; the border crossed us.

PILGRIM: Now, he's an open borders advocate. Is he a threat to the security of the country do you see?

BOSSIE: Well, I think he's an interesting character. I don't -- I think a threat is one way to describe him. He is somebody who believes that Arizona and New Mexico, southern California, parts of Texas actually aren't necessarily part of the United States of America. So -- and he says it in the film that "we didn't cross the border; the border crossed us." And I think that's a very important thing for the American people to hear from Mexican citizens, that they don't believe that there's a border there, that they can actually legally come in.

PILGRIM: That's amazing. One of the most interesting things -- we're almost out of time. But one of the most interesting thing in the movie is these coyotes who actually smuggle people across the border. And you bring out the whole exploitation of the people who are in their grasp while they're trying to get across. That this is not as clearly cut as people might suspect.

BOSSIE: It's not. And the Border Patrol agents do a great job in trying to educate the Mexican citizens they pick up and are returning back to Mexico to tell them the danger they are in. This movie, I think, it will do great justice to the Border Patrol agents. I think the American people will really see what a tough job they have.

PILGRIM: That angle of Mexicans exploiting other Mexicans is an angle that's not necessarily discussed in most debates. I wish we had more time. Great movie. Thanks very much, David Bossie.

BOSSIE: Thank you.

The Washington Post, CNN
Kitty Pilgrim
Lou Dobbs Tonight
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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