“Media Matters,” week ending June 10, 2005; by Jamison Foser

Edward Klein's forthcoming The Truth About Hillary began getting breathless media coverage, with conservative outlets like The Washington Times speculating that the book could “bring down Mrs. Clinton's candidacy before it begins.

Week ending June 10, 2005

This week:

“Scurrilous, despicable and politically motivated”: New anti-Hillary attack book gets facts wrong, traffics in gay-baiting sexual innuendo

Downplaying the Downing Street Memo

News flash: Kerry was a war hero; Swifties are liars

Hypocritical coward Bill O'Reilly continues to attack Media Matters

MSNBC hires Jay Severin to make Tucker Carlson look neutral

“Scurrilous, despicable and politically motivated”: New anti-Hillary attack book gets facts wrong, traffics in gay-baiting sexual innuendo

When Edward Klein's forthcoming The Truth About Hillary began getting breathless media coverage, with conservative outlets like The Washington Times speculating that the book could “bring down Mrs. Clinton's candidacy before it begins,” Media Matters noted:

The Truth About Hillary is being published by Sentinel, a two-year-old conservative imprint of the Penguin Putnam publishing house. According to The Washington Times, sales materials produced by the publisher claim: “Just as the Swift Boat Veterans convinced millions of voters that John Kerry lacked the character to be president, Klein's book will influence everyone who is sizing up the character of Hillary Clinton.” Similarly, the New York Post reported on April 12 that Sentinel spokesperson Will Weisser “said he hoped that The Truth About Hillary would do to Clinton what the Swift Boat Veterans bestseller did to Kerry. 'That would be our fondest wish,' he said, before adding, 'We're just trying to sell books. It will be up to the voters to read the book and decide for themselves about Senator Clinton. We're not out to get anyone, per se.”

The comparison to the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is significant for at least two reasons. First, the SBVT were explicitly formed to defeat John Kerry's presidential campaign; thus, the publisher's comparison of the book to the Swift Boat group reveals the book to be little more than a partisan political tool designed to influence an election. But the comparison is also telling because, as Media Matters for America and others extensively documented, the SBVT repeatedly lied, misled, and distorted the truth about John Kerry.

The Truth About Hillary author Edward Klein reportedly has a personal dislike of the Clintons; the New York Post reported in December that an “insider said Klein doesn't care for the Clintons, and he is digging up some new dirt on them.”

This week, we found out the contents of much of that “new dirt”: factual errors, misleading claims, and gay-baiting sexual innuendo.

On June 5, the British Mail on Sunday reported that Klein's book contains “astonishing allegations that she 'embraced' revolutionary lesbianism when she was young and tolerated her husband's philandering because their marriage was a largely sexless political convenience. ... There is also the explosive claim that Chelsea Clinton was conceived as a ploy to cover up Hillary's sexuality.”

Rush Limbaugh -- who just last October attacked John Kerry for not “give[ing] a whit about Mary Cheney's privacy” -- quickly picked up on the story, teasing “some interesting, juicy details on this book on Hillary by Ed Klein, but I'm not going to be the first to mention them. I'm not going there. It will come out eventually. It has to do with sexual orientation, and I'm not going to be the one.” Conservative pundits who attacked Kerry will, no doubt, be just as quick to denounce Limbaugh and Klein.

A gossip columnist for the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post, a tabloid not typically thought of as defenders of the Clintons, noted under the headline “Hillary Basher Is Error Prone” that Klein's book contains suggestions that Clinton had “lesbian relationships” with two college friends -- even though, according to the Post, Klein “never spoke to either woman.” Both women denounced Klein's book; one, “whose name is misspelled in Klein's book” told the Post, “No one deserves this kind of crap.” Her lawyer added, “These allegations are totally false and unsubstantiated. ... Klein has apparently done no investigating. This is scurrilous, despicable and politically motivated.”

It isn't just the sexual innuendo in Klein's book that is totally false and unsubstantiated; Media Matters documented several errors and distortions in the book. Among them:

  • Klein claims that Clinton “suddenly turned up a long-lost Jewish step grandfather” in response to bad publicity she got after she “gave Suha Arafat a big hug and kiss.” But Klein isn't telling the truth. News of Clinton's Jewish step-grandfather came in August 1999, three months before the Suha Arafat incident.
  • Klein claims that Clinton underwent a metamorphosis during her Senate campaign, from “left-wing ... radical bomb thrower” to “a kinder, gentler, family-oriented candidate who championed such issues as children's mental health.” Had Klein bothered to do a simple Nexis search, he would have found that Clinton has long been a champion of children's mental health; it took Media Matters less than 30 seconds to find an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article published in 1986 -- nearly 20 years ago -- that reported that Clinton led a successful campaign to build a “mental health agency for emotionally troubled children.”
  • Klein repeats the tired old story about Hillary Clinton and the Yankees hat, not troubling readers with the inconvenient fact that Clinton has always been a Yankees fan.

There's more -- and that's just based on the Vanity Fair excerpt of The Truth About Hillary that circulated this week; it seems safe to assume that the 300 or so pages we haven't yet seen will be similarly error-ridden.

One question that remains unanswered is how many of those 300 pages will consist of original reporting, and how many will simply be borrowed from other authors. Media Matters noted this week the striking similarity between several paragraphs in the Vanity Fair excerpt of Klein's book and Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars.

Of course, none of that -- not the sleazy gay-baiting innuendo, not the factual errors, not the resemblance to previously published work, not the author's dislike for the Clintons, not the publisher's stated intent to use the book for political purposes -- will dissuade the right-wing media from trumpeting the book. It's already been touted in The Washington Times, on Rush Limbaugh's radio show, by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, and elsewhere. And the Richard Mellon Scaife-financed propaganda machine is in full gear, touting the book on NewsMax.com and via ads on right-wing blogs, as Media Matters has detailed.

The question, as the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby explains, is how the “mainstream” press will react to the book:

For the mainstream press corps, it's time to decide; will they continue their cowardly conduct -- the conduct that extended through the treatment of Clinton and Gore right up to the crackpot Swift Boat Vets? Or will they finally get up on their feet and reject the Ed Kleins of the world? Predictably, Klein is now playing the lesbian card, and every mainstream reporter in Washington knows that this is pure garbage. But will these gut-bucket cowards have the courage to stand up and actively challenge this garbage? Will they know find the strength to resist? They'll only resist if they're forced.

Downplaying the Downing Street Memo

Nearly six weeks after the disclosure of the Downing Street Memo -- which suggests that the Bush administration decided to go to war in Iraq much earlier than acknowledged, and that it manipulated pre-war intelligence to support that decision -- the memo still has not gotten much serious media coverage. While many news organizations that ignored the story for weeks have finally touched on it, few have done more than repeating what the British Sunday Times reported on May 1, and much of the coverage has focused on the lack of coverage the memo has gotten, rather than on the content of the memo, its credibility, and what it means.

Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler noted: “I don't know why, but it certainly got very little coverage, and it seemed to be an interesting document and there was no attempt to report it initially by the Post.”

Post associate editor Robert Kaiser apparently doesn't share Getler's opinion that the paper has inadequately covered the matter; in a June 5 online chat, he lashed out at a reader who brought up the lack of coverage:

Bethesda, Md.: On the other hand, while you were cavorting about in Finland, your newspaper was busy ignoring further evidence (via the Downing St. memo) that our president fixed the Iraq info around his policies. What's up with that?

Robert G. Kaiser: What's up with you? Can you read? Did you read Walter Pincus's excellent journalism on that memo?

Pincus has indeed written about the memo -- though not until nearly two weeks after its existence was disclosed, in a article that appeared on page A18 of the May 13 Post. He also addressed the memo nine days later, in a May 22 article:

[I]t appears that even before the war many senior intelligence officials in the government had doubts about the case being trumpeted in public by the president and his senior advisers.


Moreover, a close reading of the recent 600-page report by the president's commission on intelligence, and the previous report by the Senate panel, shows that as war approached, many U.S. intelligence analysts were internally questioning almost every major piece of prewar intelligence about Hussein's alleged weapons programs.

Post editors hid that article on page A26.

Kaiser got it half right: Pincus's reporting isn't the real problem; Kasier and his fellow editors are, as Post staff writer Jefferson Morley made clear in a series of statements during an online chat this week:

I think some combination of cynicism, complacency and insulation has stifled the instincts of very good reporters.

I also think there is also a failure of leadership at the senior editorial level. The issues raised by the Downing Street minutes are very serious. To pursue them is to invite confrontation. This means that “beat” reporters cannot realistically pursue the story.

I say all this way of explanation, not rationalization. There are several natural follow up stories to the Downing Street memo that we should be pursuing right now.


I have shared my view that the story can and should be pursued.

If Post reporters don't ask Blair about the memo, they have abdicated responsibility in my view.


There is no dispute about the authenticity of the Downing Street memo.

Reporters need to assess its accuracy.

Who is Richard Dearlove? Is he a reliable reporter? Does he have an animus against Bush policy or policymakers? What was said in the meetings he attended that gave him the idea that the Americans were seeking to “fix” the policy.


Talk about it with your friends.

Write a letter to your Congressman asking for his/her explanation.

Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper asking them to print the Downing Street Memo and comment on its significance.


The problem here is that the normal journalist impulses seem to be checked: Any editor knowledgeable in the ways of the national security bureaucracy can come with follow up stories on the Downing Street Memo that would have nothing but readers.

It is time for us to start doing a couple of those stories and see where they lead us. If the President's partisans are correct that there is no story here, then good reporting should show that.

New York Times public editor Byron Calame has discussed his paper's lack of coverage of the memo:

The Times's coverage of the once-secret memo started alertly with a May 2 article by Alan Cowell that laid out its contents in the context of the possible impact on the May 5 British election. But the news coverage languished until this morning when a Times article from Washington focused on the reaction to the memo there. This has left Times readers pretty much in the dark until today -- and left critics of the paper's news columns to suspect the worst about its motives.


[I]t appears that key editors simply were slow to recognize that the minutes of a high-powered meeting on a life-and-death issue -- their authenticity undisputed -- probably needed to be assessed in some fashion for readers. Even if the editors decided it was old news that Mr. Bush had decided in July 2002 to attack Iraq or that the minutes didn't provide solid evidence that the administration was manipulating intelligence, I think Times readers deserved to know that earlier than today's article.

A USA Today article this week included an overview of the scant coverage of the memo:

At a late afternoon news conference, Reuters correspondent Steve Holland asked Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair about a memo that's been widely written about and discussed in Europe but less so in the USA.

It was the most attention paid by the media in the USA so far to the “Downing Street memo,” first reported on May 1 by The Sunday Times of London. The memo is said by some of the president's sharpest critics, such as Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, to be strong evidence that Bush decided to go to war and then looked for evidence to support his decision.


The Sunday Times' May 1 memo story, which broke just four days before Britain's national elections, caused a sensation in Europe. American media reacted more cautiously. The New York Times wrote about the memo May 2, but didn't mention until its 15th paragraph that the memo stated U.S. officials had “fixed” intelligence and facts.

Knight Ridder Newspapers distributed a story May 6 that said the memo “claims President Bush ... was determined to ensure that U.S. intelligence data supported his policy.” The Los Angeles Times wrote about the memo May 12, The Washington Post followed on May 15 and The New York Times revisited the news on May 20.

None of the stories appeared on the newspapers' front pages. Several other major media outlets, including the evening news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC, had not said a word about the document before Tuesday. Today marks USA TODAY's first mention.

USA TODAY chose not to publish anything about the memo before today for several reasons, says Jim Cox, the newspaper's senior assignment editor for foreign news. “We could not obtain the memo or a copy of it from a reliable source,” Cox says. “There was no explicit confirmation of its authenticity from (Blair's office). And it was disclosed four days before the British elections, raising concerns about the timing.”

Couldn't obtain a copy of it? It's been on the British Times' website for six weeks. It's also easily found at a website called -- wait for it -- DowningStreetMemo.com. Or at AfterDowningStreet.org. Surely, USA Today could have simply cited the Times in its report?

In any case, it's encouraging that ombudsmen, public editors, and reporters are finally acknowledging that they should have covered the memo better. But we're reminded of our plea from last August:

In recent months, news organizations and reporters have been tripping over themselves in a rush to critique pre-war reporting. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published extensive criticism of their own coverage, concluding they were too trusting of pro-war sources, and not skeptical enough.


Such mea culpas (as well as criticisms of rivals' coverage) are important, but they obscure something just as important: too many in the media are doing it again.

They fell for the Bush Administration's spin about the war. They didn't challenge the questionable statements about the war. Now they tell us they're sorry, but they're doing it again.


A plea to our friends in the media: please, stop writing about your past failure to challenge the Bush camp on their lies, and start challenging them on their current lies. We don't want to read another round of apologies in a year.

As Bush himself has said, “There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again.”

And it's happening all over again ... again. News organizations downplayed the Downing Street Memo, and now some of them are apologizing for it. It's time -- long past time, actually -- to move beyond the apologies and actually cover, in a serious, sustained and substantive way, the Bush administration's use of pre-war intelligence.

News flash: Kerry was a war hero; Swifties are liars

For months, right-wing activists, pundits, and blogs have been clamoring for John Kerry to sign Standard Form 180, releasing his entire military file. Led by head Swift Boat Liar John O'Neill, they claimed that Kerry had something to hide, suggesting that the release of Kerry's complete file would confirm the Swifties' claims that he was a murder, a liar, a coward and a war criminal.

So John Kerry signed a Form 180, turning over all his military records to The Boston Globe. And those records confirmed that Kerry was a war hero, and that O'Neill and company are liars.

So, naturally, the media downplayed all that and instead played upthe fact that Kerry got a few Ds as a freshman at Yale.

Hypocritical coward Bill O'Reilly continues to attack Media Matters

On the June 8 broadcast of his radio show, Bill O'Reilly once again attacked Media Matters:

I mean, I want you to go to Media Matters for America; I want you to look at that stuff. All they do is attack, personal attack after personal attack after personal attack. They've got nothing.

Media Matters noted:

As for “personal attacks,” O'Reilly has previously compared Media Matters to Mao Zedong, the Ku Klux Klan, and Fidel Castro and called us "the most vile, despicable human beings in the country."

O'Reilly has argued that “if you attack someone publicly ... you have an obligation to face the person you are smearing. If you don't, you are a coward.” Yet he continues to attack Media Matters, and he continues to refuse to face us.

MSNBC hires Jay Severin to make Tucker Carlson look neutral

MSNBC, facing criticism that its new show, The Situation with Tucker Carlson, would represent the addition of “yet another conservative as sole host of a prime-time show,” has chosen Jay Severin to be a “permanent cast member” on the show. Ordinarily, the choice of a right-wing talk radio host like Severin wouldn't do much to allay concern about the balance of a show already hosted by a conservative. But perhaps MSNBC expects viewers to be so appalled by Severin's far-right invective, they will conclude that Tucker seems positively moderate by comparison. Severin, a former Republican political consultant, has recommended killing Muslims who live in the United States, said “Al Gore would murder his daughter in order to become president,” and called Hillary Clinton a “lying bitch.”

Rumor has it that MSNBC had great difficulty deciding between Severin and The Diceman.

Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.