King Of The Scumbags
I wrote sometime back about David Bossie over on the American Street. He's always been one of the more shocking examples of Republican depravity and corruption, and not incidentally, a mediawhore favorite. Eric Boehlert has a bravura takedown of this little miscreant in today's Salon.
Boehlert asks why Bossie is taken seriously in the press. It's an excellent question, but it is silly to actually ask such a thing. Bossie has been doing this stuff for more than a decade and the media have never given a shit that he is a proven liar over and over again. And that's because they never pay a price for sucking up his very juicy dictation:
For David Bossie, professional Clinton-era agitator and renowned Republican dirty trickster, these must seem like the good old days. During the 1990s Bossie, as a grass-roots activist and congressional staffer, was often at the epicenter of churning out stories about President Clinton, deftly feeding the press and Capitol Hill investigators outlandish -- and usually unsubstantiated -- assertions about White House wrongdoing
Bossie's style during the investigation was to lob scattershot allegations toward an appreciative press corps that rarely seemed upset when the charges he gave them to amplify -- that Whitewater was a criminal enterprise, for instance -- failed to pan out as factual. As Democratic strategist James Carville once put it, "He made collective fools out of about 80 percent of the national press corps." But none of this appears to have marred Bossie's reputation with reporters, even when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- no stranger to hardball partisan politics -- reportedly ordered Bossie fired from his congressional staff position in May 1998. Bossie had overseen the bungled release of supposedly incriminating recordings of Whitewater figure Webster Hubbell's jailhouse phone conversations with Hillary Rodham Clinton -- recordings that had been edited, deleting obvious exculpatory remarks.
Now some critics wonder how a political prankster like Bossie has managed to maintain respectability in Washington, particularly among the press. A Nexis search retrieves more than 100 press references to Bossie this year, with MSNBC proving to be especially accommodating toward him. "Pat Moynihan had that wonderful phrase about defining deviancy downward. Now we're defining credibility downward if we take David Bossie seriously," says former Clinton aide Paul Begala. "There are a lot of credible critics of Democrats. David Bossie is not one of them."
The press has also been hesitant to discuss, or dissect, Bossie's current role. For instance, during the controversy surrounding the release of "Fahrenheit 9/11," many news outlets, including the New York Times in a June 27 article, simply identified Bossie as the president of Citizens United. But the Times is well acquainted with Bossie's modus operandi; he has boasted about feeding information to its reporters, especially Jeff Gerth, every step of the way in their ill-advised, and since discredited, Whitewater investigation. "We have worked closer [on Whitewater] with the New York Times than the Washington Times," Bossie's colleague Brown once bragged to the Columbia Journalism Review.
And as the Washington Times noted, Bossie made a deal to leak the Senate Whitewater Committee's final report to the New York Times. Yet years later, when Bossie reemerges in the news as a critic of "Fahrenheit 9/11," to unsuspecting Times readers he's described simply as another grass-roots Republican activist.
"At the very least, you'd expect viewers and readers to learn Bossie was fired for doctoring tapes," says David Brock, the president and CEO of Media Matters for America, a liberal online research and monitoring organization. "That doesn't seem like the type of person whose words are worth much."
"As a principle I'd agree readers ought to know where particular sources are coming from," says Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, who has dealt with Bossie for many years. "On the other hand, I don't think David Bossie makes any secret about what his agenda is and where he's coming from."
In the past, reporters who fed off Bossie's wayward leaks were reluctant to shed light on his ability to engineer stories behind the scenes. In the early 1990s, the press printed and broadcast verbatim the Whitewater allegations being leveled by Citizens United and its ready-made press packets. Yet reporters rarely made public the source of their Whitewater leads. As the Columbia Journalism Review noted at the time, the press "has shamelessly taken the hand-outs dished up by a highly partisan organization without identifying the group as the source of their information."
Bossie has generated unusual loyalty from some in the press corps. "Dave Bossie has never lied to me, and the Clinton White House has lied to me," ABC News producer Chris Vlasto notoriously told the Washington Post in one of its several Bossie profiles in the 1990s. Vlasto, who did not return a call for comment, made that statement in 1997, five years after the accusations about Whitewater were first raised and two years after the Clintons were exonerated by the Resolution Trust Corp., whose conclusions were confirmed by every subsequent official investigation. "On this record," the RTC reported, "there is no basis to charge the Clintons with any kind of primary liability for fraud or intentional misconduct ... It is recommended no further resources need be expended on the Whitewater part of this investigation." Yet those reporters who subsisted on Bossie's handouts, including some at the New York Times, the Washington Post and ABC News, did not report the RTC's vindication of the Clintons. ABC's Vlasto, who had invested mightily in the Whitewater story, insisted, "If it comes down to a question of whom do you believe, I'd believe Bossie any day."
In February 1996, Citizens United mailed out a fundraising letter bragging that it had "dispatched its top investigator, David Bossie, to Capitol Hill to assist Senator Lauch Faircloth in the official US Senate hearings on Whitewater." Another mailing reported that Bossie was "on the inside directing the probe." Democrats subsequently cried foul that a federal employee was actively raising money for a partisan group, so D'Amato forced Bossie to submit an affidavit proclaiming his independence from Citizens United.
In November 1996, Bossie improperly leaked the confidential phone logs of former Commerce Department official John Huang to the press. And he did that by deceiving other GOP congressional aides, according to an account published in Roll Call, which quoted one Republican aide comparing Bossie's deceptive presence to "Ollie North running around the House."
In July 1997, James Rowley III, the chief counsel to the House Government Reform Committee, which was investigating allegations of campaign finance wrongdoing by the Clinton administration, resigned his position after committee chairman Burton refused to fire Bossie. In his one-page resignation letter, Rowley, a former federal prosecutor employed by Republicans, accused Bossie of "unrelenting" self-promotion in the press, which made it impossible "to implement the standards of professional conduct I have been accustomed to at the United States Attorney's Office." (Bossie's habit of self-promotion paid off; during one four-week stretch in early 1994, Bossie and Brown were profiled by the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Washington Post, each marveling at the power the activists were wielding.)
The breaking point came in May 1998, when Bossie, then 32, oversaw the release of the doctored Hubbell tapes. As Roll Call reported at the time, "At Bossie's request, Burton sat on the tapes for nearly a year until word started to leak that Hubbell might be indicted by [Kenneth] Starr for tax evasion. Bossie, who supervised the tapes along with investigator Barbara Comstock, oversaw the editing of Hubbell's prison conversation[s] and decided to release them the day before Hubbell was indicted." According to Roll Call, Bossie enjoyed unusually close working relations with Starr investigators.
The tapes were edited for "privacy" considerations, according to Bossie. But they were also edited to completely omit key exculpatory passages, including one in which Hubbell exonerated Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing. Gingrich ordered a reluctant Burton to fire Bossie.
Yet, in 1999, Bossie was given the Ronald Reagan Award by the Conservative Political Action Conference for his "outstanding achievements and selfless contributions to the conservative movement." And it wasn't just the conservative base that continued to embrace Bossie after the Hubbell tape disgrace; so did many in the Washington press corps.
when the Enron scandal broke, Bossie appeared on Fox News and repeated GOP talking points that both political parties deserved blame because, after all, Enron's former CEO, Kenneth Lay, slept in the Lincoln bedroom once while Clinton was in office. But that in fact never happened. Also that year, Bossie appeared on TNN'S late-night show, "Conspiracy Zone With Kevin Nealon," where he dissected, yet again, the supposed mysteries surrounding the suicide of Clinton aide Foster. Also that year, Bossie guaranteed that Sen. Hillary Clinton would run for president in 2004.
In early 2003, Bossie's group released a pro-Iraq War commercial starring former Tennessee senator and "Law and Order" actor Fred Thompson -- to "combat the left-wing propaganda" Bossie asserted was coming from Hollywood. Bossie also made TV appearances to rail against France for its Iraq stance and call for an American boycott of French products.
This spring Bossie returned to his roots, producing an anti-Kerry ad that used recent "priceless" MasterCard ads to parody "another rich liberal elitist from Massachusetts." (According to Bossie, the ad's light touch was meant to stand in contrast to the left's "hate-filled speech and vitriol" aimed at Bush.) The spot, actually seen by very few TV viewers, produced a nice publicity bump for Bossie as the same network of reporters and pundits he'd cultivated for years with tips and leaks welcomed him into the unfolding campaign coverage. MSNBC's Chris Matthews announced on "Hardball": "Let me go to David Bossie. That ad is great, by the way."
I especially like Michael Isikoff saying that everybody knows Bossie has an agenda as if a) "everybody" is a Washington insider and b) having an agenda is no different from being a lying sack of shit who worked as hard as he could to harrass a legally elected president out of office with the willing help of a criminally irresponsible press corps.
But then, that's why we call them mediawhores.