If the conservative site Washington Free Beacon is still paying a Republican opposition research firm $150,000 a year to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton, editors might want to renegotiate their contract. Because if Free Beacon's latest installation of its deep-dive into Clinton's past is any indication, GOP investigators have already run out of leads.
The Free Beacon news flash? Back in 1971, Hillary Clinton (then Hillary Rodham) corresponded twice with Saul Alinsky, a liberal organizer and activist of renown in the 1930s, `40s and `50s. More recently, Alinsky's been immortalized as a bogeyman by conservatives who for years have waged a fruitless campaign to portray President Barack Obama as a radical-left acolyte of Alinsky's.
And now the brief Clinton correspondence from more than 40 years ago is being trumpeted: "The letters obtained by the Free Beacon suggest that Clinton experimented more with radical politics during her law school years than she has publicly acknowledged." (Wait, Clinton's a secret commie who's also tight with Wall Street? Very confusing.)
Some conservatives on Monday strained to explain why any of this matters, and why their weird, hard-to-understand obsession with someone like Alinsky ought to be of importance in American politics today. The Free Beacon's meaningless revelation set off lots of Twitter chuckling, but the story itself went nowhere, much to the dismay of Rush Limbaugh, and for good reason: There's no there there. (Favorite line: Hillary's letters were "paid for with stamps featuring Franklin Delano Roosevelt.")
Keep in mind the attempts to attack Clinton by invoking Alinsky are nothing new. Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, conservatives tried to make hay out of the fact that Clinton had written a senior thesis about the author.
After the story failed to make an impact outside the conservative bubble, a Free Beacon editor claimed the article was never meant as a Hillary gotcha. Instead, they were simply sharing "primary documents" with voters. I guess that's one way to spin a swing-and-a-miss.
The whiff highlights what's becoming a growing problem for the right-wing media industry: After operating under the microscope during her thirty-year public career, there's not much about Hillary Clinton we don't know or that hasn't been dissected. And there's probably not much more that we're going to learn in the coming years, considering that trolling the Clintons has been an established far-right cottage industry that dates back to the early 1990s.
Based on three decades in the spotlight as a governor's wife, the first lady, a U.S. senator, presidential candidate and then secretary of state, there's simply no other public figure active in the U.S. political arena today (possibly other than the one who currently occupies the Oval Office) who's been more scrutinized by the media, who's endured more "scandal" coverage, who has been thoroughly trashed by the partisan press opponents, and who still comes out the other side marching on.
So now what?
If Hillary dominates the political landscape in the coming election cycle, how does the right-wing media pretend they're uncovering all kinds of new and startling facts about her past, her policies, her influences and her alliances? How does detailing a couple of letters Clinton wrote to a labor organizer 43 years ago fill the right-wing media need for fresh, new, and scary Clinton revelations?
Three recent or upcoming books highlight the way an anti-Clinton cottage industry is trying to manipulate media vulnerabilities to smear Hillary and Bill Clinton.
This summer will see the publication of Daniel Halper's Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine, Edward Klein's Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas, and Ronald Kessler's The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents. Rush Limbaugh discussed all three books one after the other on July 22, commenting, "Do we really want to hand the country over to these people?"
While these books are catnip for Limbaugh and Fox News, all three should give credible media outlets reason to pause before amplifying their anecdotes.
Weekly Standard online editor Daniel Halper is currently making the media rounds to promote Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine, which was published July 22 and seeks to "expose" the inner workings of the Clintons' "political machine" and their "unquenchable thirst for wealth and power." He has already appeared for interviews on his publisher's corporate cousin Fox News (on The Kelly File and Fox & Friends) to promote the book, which has been deemed the "'must buy' book of the summer" by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt and recommended by Karl Rove as the "next summer read."
Halper's book characterizes the Clintons as "dueling CEOs" whose primary goal is to make the Clinton "brand" profitable and politically powerful. He largely focuses on the well-trod period starting with Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign up to the present, with flashbacks to earlier periods in the Clintons' lives. Clinton, Inc.'s extended business metaphor barely holds together what is essentially a series of unrelated anecdotes and tired conservative tropes (as one critic points out, a right-wing author describing the Clintons as "calculating" does not make for a "groundbreaking revelation"). Many of his questionable anecdotes are provided anonymously -- "out of fear of retribution or attack from ruthless Clinton aides," according to Halper.
For example, Halper promotes a confusing, poorly-sourced, anonymous account to accuse former President Clinton of attempted rape. Halper claims he received exclusive access to never-before-seen documents about the Clintons collected by unnamed "investigators, attorneys, and other Lewinsky advisors" in the 1990s. Halper says that one of "the more promising and detailed nuggets" collected by the Lewinsky team is an allegation that Bill Clinton attempted to assault an unnamed woman near San Francisco in the 1970s. But the allegation does not come from the woman herself, who Halper says never pressed charges. It's based on claims from a "friend" of the woman, who is also unnamed. Halper's third-hand account doesn't explain when or how the unnamed friend became aware of the allegation, whether they had ever relayed the story to anyone other than a Lewinsky representative decades after the alleged crime, or why the Lewinsky team didn't follow up on the story. Nor does he indicate that he made any effort whatsoever to follow up on the claim himself -- even to determine whether the woman exists.
In another instance, Halper seeks to make the case that something happened to Hillary Clinton other than what her doctors told the public in December 2012 -- that she took a fall as the result of severe dehydration from a stomach bug, suffered a concussion, and was hospitalized for a blood clot in the brain, causing her to delay testifying to Congress about the Benghazi terrorist attacks. First, Halper baselessly posits that Clinton may have hit her head after falling down drunk. Invoking a "rumor" from "bloggers and websites" that Clinton drinks heavily, Halper points to "one well-known Clinton hater" for the claim the injury was the result of drinking -- citing no names. He then offers a contrary interpretation, writing that Clinton may have had a stroke but covered it up. He attributes this, variously, to "a number of reporters," "some on the right," "others," "reporters," and "one veteran reporter" -- not one of them named. Amid this discussion he concedes that "the revelation" may be untrue after all.
From the July 11 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Despite being exposed as a self-promoting smear peddler after having his work repeatedly debunked, discredited author and conspiracy theorist Ed Klein has been repeatedly given a platform by many in the right-wing media. Here are the top five reasons the media should not trust Klein's shoddy work.
From the June 23 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
From the June 23 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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*Update: Later in the day, Rush Limbaugh also expressed skepticism about Klein's reporting.
Ed Klein, the utterly discredited "reporter" who once forwarded an allegation that Chelsea Clinton was conceived when Bill raped Hillary, is back once again with a new book. Though his credibility is completely beyond repair after years of trafficking in lazy inaccuracies and salacious gossip, Klein is once again getting a boost from some conservative media outlets.
In Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas, Klein details the "personal animosity" and "the jealousy and antipathy that divides the two most powerful Democratic families in the country." If that sounds like the kind of book that conservative daydreams are made of, you're not far off. Klein's books are basically designed as a series of pre-packaged headlines for the Drudge Report (indeed, a supposed Klein scoop from Blood Feud about Hillary Clinton's purported terrible state of health is leading Drudge's site as of this writing).
Inevitably -- as they do with every Klein book, despite clear concerns about his credibility -- Fox News is devoting airtime to one of Klein's big new scoops. But Klein's sourcing is so sketchy that even Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade is calling foul.
On the June 23 edition of Fox & Friends, the co-hosts broadcast Klein's allegation -- which was also reprinted in the New York Post -- that President Obama forced then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to blame the Benghazi attacks on a spontaneous demonstration rather than a terrorist attack, despite her better judgment.
According to Klein, Obama called Clinton the night of the attack to issue the directive. She then allegedly called her husband and discussed "various doomsday scenarios," including her potential resignation.
Quoting from Klein's book, Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck recounted alleged lines from the conversation between Bill and Hillary Clinton, wherein the former president lamented how Obama "isn't going to allow anyone to say that terrorism has occurred on his watch."
This too-good-to-be-true sourcing -- which, it should be noted, is the defining characteristic of everything Ed Klein writes -- was called out by Brian Kilmeade, who asked, "Now, who is his source? Chelsea? I mean, how would you possibly get in between them?"
Doocy answered, "According to the book, it is one of Hillary Clinton's legal advisers gave this information to Mr. Klein."
The Fox hosts threw more cold water on Klein's story, citing conservative activist and former Republican congressional candidate Kenneth Timmerman to explain that the timing of Klein's storyline makes no sense. Rather than blame Klein's shoddy reporting, Doocy instead cited Timmerman to explain, "The reason the people reached out to Ed Klein and are pushing this fake story is simply to preserve and save her chance to run for president." (Salon writer and former Media Matters employee Simon Maloy further lays out how Klein's Benghazi report is nonsensical and botches basic details.)
Klein has a history of shoddy work that has been repeatedly called out by conservative commentators, but he nonetheless gets free promotion from conservative outlets when he releases new books.
Earlier this week Fox News hosted the "professional dirty trickster" who founded an anti-Hillary Clinton group with the acronym "C.U.N.T." The day before, it was the attorney who pushed fabricated anti-Clinton stories in the 90s. Last month, it was the woman who has suggested the Clintons may have had her husband killed.
Fox has never had particularly high standards for who they put on air, and it appears there's no source too incredible for Fox to host as long as they are willing to smear the Clintons. And that list is long.
As Joe Conason and Gene Lyons detailed in their book The Hunting of the President, in the 1990s, an array of conservative operatives, right-wing journalists, and opportunists sought to drive the Clintons from the White House. Their backgrounds were often shady, their methods deceitful, and their claims fraudulent.
So who might be the next guest for a network with no standards and an urge to stop a potential Hillary Clinton presidential run? Some of these figures have gone on to extensive careers in the conservative media, while others haven't been in the public eye for decades.
But all have literally unbelievable stories to tell.
Gary Aldrich is a former FBI agent who wrote a 1996 book about his time inside the White House during the first three years of the Clinton administration. CNN described the book, produced by a right-wing publisher and flacked by a Republican operative, as filled with "second-hand, unsubstantiated sexual rumors about and bitter attacks against President and Mrs. Clinton," including ludicrous claims that President Clinton was regularly ditching his Secret Service detail for trysts at a downtown hotel (Aldrich later said that allegation was a "hypothetical"). Aldrich also wrote that on "orders from the First Lady's Office," the White House Christmas tree was decorated with crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia as well as sex toys and condoms (unsurprisingly, the White House denied the charge).
Aldrich used the notoriety from his book to become a professional conservative. He founded the right-wing Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty in 1997 to support federal whistleblowers (Linda Tripp was among the organization's first clients), but the bulk of the group's spending soon focused on raising money and paying Aldrich's salary. The group was largely silent during the Bush administration, but re-emerged to support tea party groups in 2010. Aldrich has written op-eds for TownHall and the Daily Caller.
Larry Nichols spent years at the heart of the conservative campaign to smear President Clinton. A former jingle writer who became a marketing consultant for the State of Arkansas, he was fired from the Arkansas Development Finance Authority in 1988 for making hundreds of phone calls to Nicaragua contra leaders and their American political supporters on the taxpayer's dime, and apparently held a grudge. Shortly before Bill Clinton's 1990 re-election as governor of Arkansas, Nichols held a press conference announcing he was suing Clinton for allegedly using state funds to conduct affairs with five women. All five women subsequently signed affidavits denying the claims and threatened to sue Nichols, who later issued a statement saying he had wrongfully issued the accusations because he was mad about being fired. But the incident nonetheless ushered in the right-wing focus on Bill Clinton's sex life.
Nichols, who described himself as "smut central" in a 1998 interview, spent years tracking down sketchy rumors about women who had had affairs with the president and trying to peddle them to everyone from supermarket tabloids to major newspapers. Last year, he offered a new explanation for why he had spent years trying to destroy the Clintons -- he claimed to have "beat up women and beat up husbands to protect the Clintons" and even "killed people" for them for money until they turned on him and he had to defend himself.
Fox News hid a House Republican tactic that ensured a government shutdown by citing discredited author Ed Klein to misleadingly blame White House adviser Valerie Jarrett for the shutdown.
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed on October 16 that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was "the architect of the shutdown," continuing the network's pattern of excusing Republicans of blame for the impasse. But the federal government shut down on October 1 after Republicans refused to fund the government without unrealistic policy changes to the Affordable Care Act, and reports from after the shutdown began explained how Republicans changed congressional rules to ensure federal gridlock. Talking Points Memo (TPM) explained:
The House and Senate were at an impasse on the night of Sept. 30. The House's then-most-recent ploy for extracting Obamacare concessions from Senate Democrats and the White House -- by eliminating health insurance subsidies for Congress members and their staffs -- had been rejected by the Senate. The 'clean' Senate spending bill was back in the House's court.
With less than two hours to midnight and shutdown, Speaker John Boehner's latest plan emerged. House Republicans would "insist" on their latest spending bill, including the anti-Obamacare provision, and request a conference with the Senate to resolve the two chambers' differences.
Under normal House rules, according to House Democrats, once that bill had been rejected again by the Senate, then any member of the House could have made a motion to vote on the Senate's bill. Such a motion would have been what is called "privileged" and entitled to a vote of the full House. At that point, Democrats say, they could have joined with moderate Republicans in approving the motion and then in passing the clean Senate bill, averting a shutdown.
But previously, House Republicans had made a small but hugely consequential move to block them from doing it.
So unless House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wanted the Senate spending bill to come to the floor, it wasn't going to happen. And it didn't.
Congressional experts told TPM that such a move is highly unusual:
"I've never heard of anything like that before," Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM.
"It is absolutely true that House rules tend to not have any explicit parliamentary rights guaranteed and narrowed to explicit party leaders," Sarah Binder, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, told TPM. "That's not typically how the rules are written."
When House Democrats attempted to bring the Senate bill funding the government to a vote on October 12, they were told by a presiding Republican member that they could not do so due to the GOP leadership's rule change. A House Republican aide later confirmed the rule change to CNN.
From the June 3 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Ed Klein, terrible journalist and prurient hack, writes today for the Daily Caller (naturally) that Hillary Clinton's statement taking responsibility for security lapses at the American consulate in Benghazi were motivated by a secret plan to capture the White House in 2016.
Sourcing his report to "a member of Hillary's inner circle to whom I have spoken" (Klein has a remarkable gift for retaining access to Clinton insiders despite years of peddling trashy nonsense about the former first lady), Klein writes that Clinton threatened to resign if the White House "continued to make her the scapegoat for Benghazi," but her secret team of lawyers and strategists came up with a more "rational" course of action.
Here's how he describes the plan:
After the Clinton legal team had a chance to review the State Department cable traffic between Benghazi and Washington, the experts came to the conclusion that the cables proved that Hillary had in fact given specific instructions to beef up security in Libya, and that if those orders had been carried out -- which they weren't -- they could conceivably have avoided the tragedy.
Clearly, someone in the Obama administration dropped the ball -- and the president was still insisting that it was not his fault.
In the end, then, Hillary decided to assume responsibility to show that she was acting more presidential than the president.
I am told by my sources that she firmly believes that when the State Department cable traffic is made public, either through leaks to the press or during formal House committee hearings, it will exonerate her and shift the blame for the entire mess onto the president.
Let's break this down this "rational" scheme, shall we?
According to Klein, Clinton knowingly and falsely accepted responsibility for Benghazi security in order to cover for President Obama so that he might stand a better chance at reelection. Clinton was also fully aware that there are secret State Department cables showing that, in taking responsibility for Benghazi, she was not telling the truth, and that these cables will soon see the light of day. This calculated effort to cover up the alleged truth about Benghazi under the assumption that the truth will eventually be exposed is, per Klein's telling, all part of a plan to make Clinton seem presidential. Because if there's anything that screams "leadership," it's complicity in a cover-up.
This makes absolutely no sense. None whatsoever.
Nevertheless, Fox News "straight journalist" Bret Baier is on the case, taking his cues from a credibility-vacant huckster's axe-grinding nonsense.
From the June 4 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends:
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It appears that Sean Hannity and Ed Klein have patched up their differences in order to peddle Klein's new anti-Obama book.
Klein appeared on Hannity's radio and Fox News shows to promote The Amateur, a re-packaging of several previously discredited conservative complaints about Obama. Like Klein's other books The Amateur boasts anonymously sourced, inaccurate anecdotes that are often too good to be true.
Apparently a taped audio interview conducted by Klein with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a Hannity obsession for years, was enough to rekindle the Klein-Hannity alliance, as seen in this clip from the May 16 of Fox's Hannity:
Hannity appears willing to accept Klein's anonymously sourced writing, despite his own previous skepticism of Klein's methods.
"The Amateur" by Edward Klein is a book about an inept, arrogant ideologue who maintains an absurdly high opinion of his own talents even as he blatantly fails to achieve his goals. Oh, and President Obama is in this book too." - NY Times' Janet Maslin
"The Amateur is the best book I've read on how Barack Obama is wrecking our country." - Donald Trump, on the book jacket
Though his previous work has been marred by falsehoods and his journalistic integrity called into question by people from across the ideological spectrum, you can rest assured that Ed Klein is still a serious reporter. Just ask Ed Klein.
As New York Times book reviewer Janet Maslin noted in her justifiably brutal review of Klein's new anti-Obama book, The Amateur, Klein announces on the first page that it "is a reporter's book," and recounts the "nearly two hundred" interviews and "dozens of four-inch-thick three-ring notebooks" of research he compiled during its writing. These boasts of gumshoe reporting and exhaustive inquiry come off as a feeble attempt by Klein to explain why anyone should respect his new book given his ugly track record.
That Klein's credibility needs repair is beyond question, but it's doubtful that people who stopped taking Klein seriously after he wrote a book forwarding suggestions that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian -- and that Chelsea was conceived when Bill raped Hillary -- will be swayed by his claims of scholarship. (Klein's other recent work includes an embarrassing self-published novel "based on real stuff" co-authored with conspiracy theorist John LeBoutillier about a CIA agent who discovers that Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim Manchurian candidate.)
In a 2005 column excoriating Klein's The Truth About Hillary, conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan called the book "poorly written, poorly thought, poorly sourced, full of the kind of loaded language that is appropriate to a polemic but not an investigative work." The same criticisms can all be leveled at The Amateur.
Let's begin with the obvious: Edward Klein, author of the forthcoming Obama biography The Amateur, lacks anything resembling credibility.
His last offering was coauthored with John LeBoutillier, previously seen pushing various birther claims and trying to build a Counter Clinton Library to push conspiracies like the former president's supposed role in dozens of murders. Their self-published book, The Obama Identity: A Novel (Or Is It?), depicts a CIA agent's fictional (but based on "real stuff") investigation into President Obama, which reveals him to be a Kenyan-born Muslim Manchurian candidate.
Before that, in his thinly sourced, factually deficient 2005 tome The Truth About Hillary Klein insinuated that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian who conceived her daughter Chelsea after being raped by Bill Clinton; the book was widely denounced even by conservatives. That one, Klein claimed, was not a novel.
(ThinkProgress runs down several other examples of Klein's "history of presenting falsehoods as fact" here.)
None of this, however, kept right-wing publisher Regnery away from Klein's latest book, details of which are now being released. On Friday, The New York Post reported that the book claims that Bill Clinton sharply criticized President Obama and urged Hillary Clinton to seek the Oval Office "during a gathering in the ex-president's home office in Chappaqua last August that included longtime friends." Klein supposedly based the claim on interviews with two anonymous friends of the Clintons who attended the gathering. Spokesmen for both Clintons quickly shot down the report, with Bill Clinton's spokesman calling it the "totally false" ravings of "a known liar."
Klein is so radioactive that he taints anyone who pushes his work. But at Fox, no one is so radioactive that their claims can't be aired on the network, which currently employs LeBoutillier and 9/11 truther Andrew Napolitano, and features several hosts and contributors who have promoted birther conspiracies.
And so on Friday, the Fox spent no small amount of time promoting Klein's newest allegations, even as several of the network's conservative employees and guests explained that the author lacks "credibility," is telling a story that seems "too good to be true," and has pushed "extremely controversial" claims that have been "widely denounced." With the Post now teasing another Klein book excerpt on the relationship between Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, it seems likely that this pattern will continue.