William D. Cohan wrote a January Vanity Fair profile of Huma Abedin, longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, characterizing her as “every bit unknown to the general public as her boss is world-famous.” Cohan chose to introduce Abedin to the magazine's readers by regurgitating a series of right-wing attacks that have previously been widely covered or discredited by other journalists -- including the ridiculous and offensive question of whether she might have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
A Media Matters analysis breaks down the profile's topics of discussion by the numbers.
560 Words On “Right-Wing Hysteria” Over Whether Abedin Has Muslim Brotherhood Ties
Immediately after writing that “for all her proximity to the white-hot center of American politics, Abedin is every bit as unknown to the general public as her boss is world famous,” Cohan delves into Abedin's roots in a section called “Follow The Faith.”
After half a paragraph describing her birth and parents, the section changes course to discuss what he describes as “right-wing screeds” that link Abedin and her family to terrorist sympathizers and the Muslim Brotherhood. These claims are a spider-web of guilt by association, one being that a high-ranking Saudi government insider who backed her father when he founded a Muslim think tank in 1978 (Abedin's father died in 1993) is a "'major' figure in the Muslim Brotherhood":
Google Abdullah Omar Nasseef, the man who set up the Abedins in Jidda, and a host of right-wing screeds pop up. Though he is a high-ranking insider in the Saudi government and sits on the king's Shura Council, there are claims that Nasseef once had ties to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda -- a charge that he has denied through a spokesman -- and that he remains a “major” figure in the Muslim Brotherhood. In his early years as the patron of the Abedins' journal, Nasseef was the secretary-general of the Muslim World League, which Andrew McCarthy, the former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the “Blind Sheik,” Omar Abdel Rahman, in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, claims “has long been the Muslim Brotherhood's principal vehicle for the international propagation of Islamic supremacist ideology.”
Cohan outlines the allegations with quotes from right-wing columnist Andrew McCarthy, who is identified only as a “former assistant U.S. attorney” with “something of a personal crusade on the question of the Abedin family's purported connections.”
Although Cohan describes some of the allegations as “right-wing hysteria” and provides quotes from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and the Clinton campaign denouncing the attacks, Cohan takes no position on the claims.
In fact, everyone from the Department of Homeland Security to former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio to former GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers (R-MI) has denounced the attacks as false and despicable.
And yet, that's the first thing Cohan wants you to know about the allegedly “unknown” Abedin.
309 Words On How The Clinton Campaign Allegedly Silences People From Speaking About Abedin
After discussing whether or not she has ties to terrorism, Cohan dedicates 309 words of Abedin's profile to allege that the Clinton campaign attempts to silence people from talking about her. The profile accuses the Clinton campaign of putting “the fear of God into many who might speak about [Abedin].”
This claim appears to come in part from an anonymous source, described vaguely as “one longtime Clinton observer,” who is quoted saying, “Everyone's afraid to comment for fear that they'll be misquoted ... You can't imagine the paranoia.” As Huffington Post Senior Politics Editor Sam Stein noted, “that could be, oh, a few million people.”
Cohan creates a no-win scenario for Abedin, saying Clinton supporters and surrogates “have gone mute on the subject of Huma Abedin” and that the ones who do talk “stick close to the prescribed script.” When he does quote Clinton supporters, their glowing remarks are undermined by Cohan's implications that they cannot speak honestly about her:
There is a long list of usually chatty Clinton surrogates and supporters who have gone mute on the subject of Huma Abedin. The ones who didn't get the memo, or choose to ignore it, stick close to the prescribed script. Michael Feldman, the managing director of the Glover Park Group, a communications consulting firm, says that after 20 years Abedin has become part of the “institutional memory” and now occupies “a really important and unique place in an organization.” Bob Barnett, the lawyer who brokered the Clintons' multi-million-dollar book deals, says Huma is “now one of the key glues that holds Clintonworld together.... She knows everyone and everyone knows her. She knows their strengths. She knows their weaknesses. She knows the roles they've played, and that history is priceless to a person in public life.” “Huma is a terrific leader. She's multifaceted, has a great strategic sense, and she's a wonderful colleague. She's an integral part of the team, and her competence is only exceeded by her humility,” says Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.
837 Words On Her Relationship With Her Husband
Vanity Fair's profile then turns to Abedin's relationship with her husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner, focusing primarily on a 2011 scandal where Weiner “mistakenly tweeted a photograph of his erection.” This is, in fact, something for which Abedin is not remotely “unknown to the general public” -- the story received widespread attention when it broke. The article itself details how the scandal was covered in a New York Times Magazine cover story.
Once again relying on an anonymous source to say something nasty for him, Cohan turns to a “longtime State Department official” who suggests Abedin is to blame for her husband's scandal because she worked too much:
One longtime State Department official says that inside Foggy Bottom some people's initial reaction was that Abedin might have driven Weiner to sexting because she “was never around. She gave so much to Hillary Clinton, what did she have left for him? It was politically incorrect, but we did wonder.”
Right-wing news outlet Washington Free Beacon seized on this quote to again blame Abedin and report that “some Clinton employees thought Huma's work ethic drove Weiner into 2011 sexting scandal.”
1,446 Words On Abedin's “Money Trail” And Sen. Chuck Grassley's Accusations That Abedin's Finances Are Corrupt
Much of the remainder of Cohan's profile is 1,446 words detailing “Clintonworld's” role in helping Abedin financially after her husband's scandal and accusations by Senator Chuck Grassley that she was overcompensated for her time as a State Department employee and that her consulting work was filled with conflicts of interest. All of this territory has been well-trod by other reporters.
Aside from a final anecdote about Abedin discussing wall lamps with Chelsea Clinton, Cohan concludes his profile with an open-ended question on whether Abedin “becomes a liability to Hillary” and that whether she was “embroiled in allegations of conflicts of interest, obtaining patronage jobs, or misrepresenting time worked remains to be seen”:
Whether it's palatable for the vice-chairman of Hillary's presidential campaign to be embroiled in allegations of conflicts of interest, obtaining patronage jobs, or misrepresenting time worked remains to be seen. Asked if at some point Huma becomes a liability to Hillary, the long-term Clinton insider replies, “It's like anything else. I don't think so, but you know I don't have any idea. Hillary is very loyal, but she's obviously pragmatic.”
525 Words On What Abedin Actually Does
Before Cohan's profile pivoted to more than 3,000 words laying out unsubstantiated controversies about Abedin promoted by conservatives and whether they will harm Hillary Clinton's campaign, he began his profile with 525 words discussing what Abedin actually does.
Cohan's description of Abedin's job is comprised of mostly vague descriptions: “Whatever the title, the job she performs for Hillary has always been essentially the same: confessor, confidante, and constant companion.” He seems completely uninterested in what Abedin has actually done as a deputy chief of staff at State or as vice-chair of Clinton's presidential campaign.
Instead, Cohan relies on three brief anecdotes to summarize her work for Clinton. Two of Cohan's anecdotes based on Clinton's publicly-released emails portray her as little more than a glorified assistant. The final anecdote calls her Clinton's “stand-in” at campaign events:
“I'm not sure Hillary could walk out the door without Huma,” Clinton adviser Mandy Grunwald told Vogue's Rebecca Johnson eight years ago. “She's a little like Radar on*M*A*S*H. If the air-conditioning is too cold, Huma is there with the shawl. She's always thinking three steps ahead of Hillary.” It's still true today. Nothing Hillary-related is too big or too small for Abedin's purview. Take, for example, the secretary of state's December 2009 struggle to get a faxed document:
Abedin: Can you hang up the fax line? They will call again and try fax.
Clinton: I thought it was supposed to be off hook to work?
Abedin: Yes, but hang up one more time. So they can reestablish the line.
Clinton: I did.
Abedin: Just pick up phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up.
Clinton: I've done it twice now. Still nothing.
By fixating on a series of conservative attacks on Huma Abedin, Cohan leaves Vanity Fair readers with little information about Abedin's career. Instead, the reader is left with puzzling information about unsubstantiated smears from conservatives that she may be an embezzling, terrorist-connected Clinton aide whose hard work led her husband to seek out other women.