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.
Clinton, Inc.'s release comes less than a month after the debut of discredited author Edward Klein's book Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas, billed as a “stunning exposé of the animosity, jealousy, and competition between America's two most powerful political couples.” Klein made numerous appearances on Fox News to promote his book, which was also heavily promoted by The New York Post.
As The Washington Post's Jaime Fuller has noted, a “defining characteristic of Klein's biographies ... is that the salacious details revealed often have a tenuous relationship with reality -- as commentators of all ideological stripes have pointed out time and time again.” Indeed, Klein's previous book on the Clintons, The Truth About Hillary, was widely condemned, even by Klein's fellow conservatives; it alleged based on an anonymous source that Chelsea Clinton was conceived during a vacation in Bermuda where Bill Clinton raped his wife and passed on the “rumor” that Hillary Clinton may be a lesbian.
While Klein has continued to produce best-selling books, his reputation has taken a serious hit. CNN's Brian Stelter reported of Blood Feud that “most of the press has avoided detailing what's in the book because most of the press doesn't believe a lot of this stuff.” Reporters who did examine the book came away harshly critical. Slate's Dave Weigel described the book as “Clinton fan fiction” for including “stories that are reported with great detail that Ed Klein could not have personally seen.” BuzzFeed's Katherine Miller reported that "[a]lmost every chapter has something truly insane in it" and that the book “reads like stilted fan fiction, featuring dialogue that no human has likely said or will probably ever say until you read it aloud to friends and family.” Even Rush Limbaugh and Brian Kilmeade initially raised questions about the book's sourcing (they would later nonetheless promote the book's claims).
In two weeks, Ronald Kessler will release The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents, which reportedly features attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Shortly before the 2008 election, Kessler urged Republicans to tie Obama to Rev. Jeremiah Wright “to illustrate how out of step he is with most of America ... Wright holds the key to what Obama is all about, demonstrating his attraction to a left wing, anti-American agenda.” Kessler had previously promoted the falsehood that Obama had been in attendance at the services when Wright made controversial statements. Kessler has accused Hillary Clinton of “pathological lying” and pushed the conspiracy theory that she drove Vince Foster to suicide (he also accused Robert Kennedy of driving Marilyn Monroe to suicide).
Reviewers of Kessler's books have criticized him for peddling trashy gossip. National security reporter James Bamford wrote in The Washington Post that for his book In The President's Secret Service, Kessler “milked the agents for the juiciest gossip he could get and mixed it with a rambling list of their complaints,” comparing the book's reporting to that of the National Enquirer. New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani called Kessler's Joseph P. Kennedy book The Sins of the Father a “meanspirited, speculation-filled biography ... which purveyed a determinedly poisonous portrait of the man.” That book was also described by Globe and Mail's Andrew Cohen as featuring research that “is sometimes suspect” because Kessler “relies too heavily on speculation, gossip, innuendo and secondary sources.” Publicity material for Kessler's The Secrets of the FBI, as Bryan Burrough wrote in the Post, even promised it would be “filled with revelations about the Bureau and Page Six tidbits.”
The media has largely decided not to treat Klein seriously; it remains to be seen the extent to which they will give more credence to Halper and Kessler.
Hannah Groch-Begley contributed research.