Monday, September 28, 2009
A Vast Failure
Norah O'Donnell, Tamryn Hall and Jonathan Capehart examined Bill Clinton's statement over the week-end that the vast right wing conspiracy still exists. Here's what he said:
It's not as strong as it was, because America's changed demographically, but it's as virulent as it was. I mean, they're saying things about him--you know, it's like when they accused me of murder and all that stuff they did. He--but it's not really good for the Republicans and the country, what's going on now. I mean, they may be hurting President Obama. They can take his numbers down, they can run his opposition up. But fundamentally, he and his team have a positive agenda for America. Their agenda seems to be wanting him to fail, and that's not a prescription for a good America.
They all agreed that the virulence on the right still exists and that it has to do with the fact that these people simply don't believe that the president is legitimate. (They didn't believe that of Clinton either, btw, because he won with only a plurality of the vote. It's always something.) They talked about Richard Scaife and how he financed the conspiracy, but agreed that nobody is financing today's version. They seemed very sure of themselves.
This reminds me of a story I read in the NY Times a couple of days ago in which they profiled a plucky right wing activist named Bill Wilson:
It is the weekly research meeting at Americans for Limited Government, and Bill Wilson is presiding with gusto. The Obama administration is serving up so many rich targets that Mr. Wilson and his crew of young conservatives hardly know where to begin.
There is the small, minority-owned firm with deep ties to President Obama’s Chicago backers, made eligible by the Federal Reserve to handle potentially lucrative credit deals.
“I want to know how these firms are picked and who picked them,” Mr. Wilson, the group’s president, tells his eager researchers.
There is the Georgetown University professor, nominated for a top State Department post, who Mr. Wilson thinks is way too soft on Fidel Castro of Cuba and President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. He is pleased that a Republican senator has put a hold on the nomination.
There are three new appointees to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities — in the hunt for political vulnerabilities, no post is too humble to scrutinize.
“Are they for using the arts as propaganda, as opposed to just art?” Mr. Wilson asks. The researchers scribble notes.
Last November, when Mr. Obama won 53 percent of the vote and stirred many Americans with soaring rhetoric about what his administration might achieve, pundits wondered whether the election marked a symbolic end of the “government is the problem” era that Ronald Reagan had started. But eight months into Mr. Obama’s presidency, his proposals have hugely energized his opposition.
A longtime Boy Scout leader with a broad light bulb of a forehead, Mr. Wilson, 56, seems to take avuncular pleasure in mentoring his young staff members at Americans for Limited Government, a nonprofit advocacy group with a $4 million budget. In person, he is no obvious firebrand.
But for more than 30 years, migrating through groups pushing right-to-work laws, term limits and school choice, he has been a member of Washington’s permanent class of ideological activists. Appointed to no government post, elected to no office, they populate research and advocacy groups with names that often seem to include the word “American,” laboring to steer the ship of state to the left or right.
A non-profit advocacy group with a four million dollar budget, you say? Why how interesting. Where do you suppose they get the money? Well, it isn't their membership:
While Americans for Limited Government claims 400,000 members in its literature, that turns out to be wishful thinking; that is the number of “conservatives” on an e-mail list it bought from a marketing vendor. And the group cannot claim credit for any single major victory against the administration to date. But its relentless agitation has clearly helped rally the opposition.
Yes it has. But where do they get that four million dollars? You won't know about that until you get to the 26th paragraph, the fourth paragraph from the end:
In 1992, he was contacted by Howard Rich, a New York real estate magnate who has poured much of his fortune into conservative causes.
The relationship has lasted, and Mr. Rich has been a crucial financer of Mr. Wilson’s efforts at a series of organizations: U.S. Term Limits, Parents in Charge and Americans for Limited Government.
Howard Rich is well known to anyone who follows right wing politics, (but completely unknown to the public at large) and the fact that he supports this allegedly "grassroots" activist with a four million dollar a year endowment is the actual story. And once again, just as they did in the 90s, they are refusing to report it.
And just as they did in the 90s they blame Clinton for being a target. O'Donnell made the point in her commentary that the real difference is that the Clintons insisted on "engaging" these people whereas Obama refuses to. (I say, wait until he's got special prosecutors crawling all over him 24/7 and is being impeached and then see if he feels the need to fight back...)
Meanwhile, just as it was at the Washington Post last week, the garment rending over their alleged failure to write about the depth of the ACORN threat continues in the MSM, this time at the very same NY Times that wrote a glowing profile of one of the people who flogged the story for ideological purposes in the first place. You can't make this stuff up:
Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.”
One need only to look back at how this worked the first time to feel a chill at the idea that they are going to do it all over again:
It's not as if the press didn't know from the very beginning with whom they were dealing because they were called to task for their stenographic use of Citizens United "press packages" all the way back in June of 1994 by Trudy Lieberman in the Columbia Journalism Review:
Bossie, the twenty-eight-year-old political director for Citizens United, a conservative Republican operation, runs an information factory whose Whitewater production lines turn out a steady stream of tips, tidbits, documents, factoids, suspicions, and story ideas for the nation's press and for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Journalists and Hill Republicans have recycled much of the information provided by Citizens United into stories that have cast a shadow on the Clinton presidency.
...Citizens United has collected thousands of facts and documents on Whitewater and packaged it all to catch the attention of the press and to restoke the story whenever it threatened to die down.
Bossie and Brown have been briefing people since October -- "the top fifty major publications, networks, and editorial boards," Bossie says. "We've provided the same material on the Hill both on the House and Senate side." An equal opportunity source, Bossie says he would gladly provide documents to Democrats, but they haven't asked.
Francis Shane, publisher of Citizens United's newsletter, ClintonWatch, hesitates to say exactly whom they've worked with -- "We don't particularly like to pinpoint people" -- but he does say, "We have worked closer with The New York Times than The Washington Times." Jeff Gerth, The New York Times's chief reporter on Whitewater, hesitated to talk on the record. He did say, "If Citizens United has some document that's relevant, I take it. I check it out like anything else
The March 1994 issue of ClintonWatch characterized the organization's impact on Whitewater press coverage this way: "We here at ClintonWatch have been working day and night with the major news media to help them get the word out about the Clintons and their questionable dealings in Whitewater and Madison Guaranty." Of course, Citizens United is not the only source of information on Whitewater. And reputable reporters do their own digging and doublechecking. Still, an examination of some 200 news stories from the major news outlets aired or published since November shows an eerie similarity between the Citizens United agenda and what has been appearing in the press, not only in terms of specific details but in terms of omissions, spin, and implication.
Whitewater is about character, publisher Fran Shane tells me. "The American people have elected a president with 43 percent of the vote. He is a man of no character. He may have to tell the people he didn't come clean. We're saying Bill Clinton may not be worth saving."
Many news organizations explain the importance of Whitewater in similar terms. Take Time, for instance. In a January 24 story laced with references to documents that also appear in Bossie's Whitewater collection, the magazine pronounced that "the investigation concerns the much larger issue of whether a President and First Lady can be trusted to obey the law and tell the truth."
Now please tell me how the Bill Wilson operation differs from that one. The only thing he is doing that Citizens United didn't do is use the internet, but that's only because it didn't really exist for public use then. Everything else is VRWC 101.
In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd assume that that puff piece on Wilson was a beat sweetener for the NY Times reporter, Scott Shane, who hopes to have greater access to more of those important ACORN and Van Jones scandals the mainstream press wants to get in on when they first "bubble up" in the conservative noise machine. I'm sure Wilson will be very happy to slip Shane some good dirt whenever he wants it. After all, he's got a four million dollar operation funded by a right wing millionaire and a full time staff dedicated to the task.
And why not? If it weren't for the fact that the newspaper business is almost dead and the respect for the news media among the public is somewhere between Michael Vick and Dick Cheney, you couldn't think of one good reason why they shouldn't do it. Just as the financial sector learned nothing from their actions of the past two decades, neither has the press. They know they are failing but it never occurs to them that it's because they refuse to tell the real stories.
digby 9/28/2009 02:30:00 PM