To what degree do you see the Times as leading the Hunting for Hillary charge? In the '90s, the smearing started from right-wing sources—the American Spectator and their Arkansas Project and the like. But this cycle it seems the Times has decided to be the main outlet for the smears.
Actually, the Times has played an unfortunate role in the media "hunting" that dates back to the very beginning of Whitewater—as we explore in The Hunting of Hillary. Right-wing forces, including those behind the Arkansas Project, were determined to bring down President Clinton from the start—and in fact, some of them worked with Jeff Gerth, then a Times reporter covering Whitewater. Gerth's cooperation with them is a stunning fact that has gotten far too little attention over the years, but one that we report and analyze closely here.
Now we are seeing the same old process repeated: Reporters at the Times are leading the assault on Hillary Clinton, with inaccurate stories and slanted leaks from House Republicans on the Benghazi select committee, to cite the sorriest example. Then Fox News and the rest of the right-wing noise machine amplify those erroneous stories, along with much of the mainstream media, which still tends to follow the lead of the Times. That was exactly the pattern during the ‘90s, when the Times first gave its imprimatur to the bogus Whitewater "scandal" as if it were another Watergate—and came to rely heavily on leaks from Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. The Times was not alone in that vein of scandal coverage—many other media outlets were equally culpable.
You and Gene Lyons, of course, wrote the seminal book, The Hunting of the President, about the campaign against Bill and Hillary Clinton. Is the e-book a first draft of the second volume, but this time about a possible President Hillary Clinton?
As the 2016 campaign approached and it became clear that Hillary Clinton would run for president again, Gene and I decided that the reporting and analysis in The Hunting of the President remained highly relevant—and that many voters would be unfamiliar with that story, which was first published 15 years ago. So we created a new e-book, which condenses our original book into a shorter version focused on Hillary Clinton—and courtesy of our publisher, St. Martins Press, we are providing this new version free of charge to anyone who wants to read it.
Do you find the attempt to make a charitable organization, the Clinton Foundation, a repository of evil, surprising?
To be honest, very little surprises me any more when it comes to the topic of the Clintons. What is disgraceful, however, is the willingness of the critics to smear thousands of employees of the Clinton Foundation around the world who have done extraordinary work to save and improve lives of the sick, the poor, and the powerless.
Again, the New York Times lent credibility to these smears, first with an inaccurate and gossipy story about the foundation’s finances, and again this year when it made a deal with Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash, to promote his inaccurate and tendentious book—despite his poor journalistic track record and partisan financing.
I did find that surprising, and more so because we still have no idea how that deal came about or what it actually entailed. It is strange too that the Times editors, who demand transparency of everyone else, and especially the Clintons, don’t apply that standard to their own professional conduct.
Did you happen to read the piece by Margaret Sullivan, the Times ombudsman, on the coverage in the Times? What did you think of it? (I was struck by Carolyn Ryan's (the Washington political editor) defense—she cited Matt Drudge's approval. I thought I'd never read something so tone deaf. Thoughts on that?
To see Carolyn Ryan citing Matt Drudge’s approval as a standard for success tells us all we need to know about her judgment. You can be sure that many fine reporters at the Times were just as troubled by that remark as you or I. Somewhere, great reporters and editors who worked for the “newspaper of record” are restless in their graves.
Who is this cycle's Jeff Gerth? Does the Times' Michael Schmidt have the early lead?
The other day, in response to Schmidt’s latest erroneous story framing Hillary Clinton in a "criminal" investigation of her emails, I tweeted that he is a worthy successor to Jeff "Wen Ho" Gerth and Judy "Curveball" Miller. That sums up my estimate of his abilities and ethics.
You wrote a well-received defense of Sidney Blumenthal, one that was echoed by James Fallows. Have you gotten much feedback from reporters about it? What are you hearing?
I heard kind praise from a number of reporters about that piece—including several at the Times. By the way, I must note that the Politico editors not only solicited that article but defended it when the spokesman for the Republican majority on the Benghazi committee demanded that the magazine take it down.
I've been suggesting the Clinton team have a bit of an open war with the media. My thinking is the press is just not going to give her anything close to a fair shake, might as well embrace it and fight back. What do you think about that?
Frankly, I don’t agree with that, or not entirely. I don’t give advice to politicians as a rule, but it seems to me that anyone running for office should push back against inaccurate and unfair coverage, while maintaining an open door to reporters in general. But I do think it is worth pointing out, as we do in The Hunting of Hillary, how some aspects of her current coverage reflect long-standing bias—and inaccuracy—in certain news outlets.
What role do you see sexism and misogyny playing in the coverage of this race? My view was that it was quite prevalent in 2008, and shamefully, much of it from the left.
Unfortunately, sexism and misogyny can be found across the political spectrum. There is no doubt that those attitudes played a part in the coverage of Hillary Clinton in 2008—and in fact throughout her career. Women have made many advances, but our media still reflects the traditional sexism of our society—one of the few advanced countries in the world that has yet to elect a female leader. I hope that we will see less of the gross sexism that disfigured political coverage in 2008.
So tell me about your new book with Gene Lyons, The Hunting of Hillary .
As I noted earlier, The Hunting of Hillary is drawn from the pages of The Hunting of the President, with a focus on Hillary Clinton and the efforts by media outlets, the independent counsel, and Republicans in Congress to ruin her and even indict her. They failed, for the very simple reason that she had done nothing wrong—but those attempts are highly relevant today as we see many of the same forces acting in the same ways.
We believe that readers and voters who may never have learned the lessons of the ‘90s need to know what happened then in order to comprehend what is happening now.
And we hope that readers of the original book will enjoy both our new introduction, which places current events in context—a fun appendix that tells what has happened to all the Hunting characters in the years since the book was first published. I think many would be amused to learn what Ken Starr has been up to, but his story isn’t the only surprising twist.
You recently wrote a comprehensive piece looking at the New York Times' latest disastrous bit of journalism, this time on the "criminal" referral that wasn't regarding Clinton's e-mails. Can you talk a little about the "special access" Trey Gowdy is getting from the Times?
The way that the Times Washington bureau handles Trey Gowdy is all too reminiscent of the way that major media outlets, including the Times, dealt with Ken Starr during Whitewater. Again, we cover this in detail in The Hunting of Hillary, but the short version is that Starr, like Gowdy, leaked to selected reporters—and those reporters never noticed any problems with his "investigation." At least ten investigations of the Benghazi tragedy have been completed, including a few overseen by congressional Republicans, and none have substantiated any of the wild wing-nut accusations against Hillary Clinton. The only truly useful investigation—an Accountability Review Board convened by the State Department—disciplined a number of officials, some with fairly harsh sanctions.
So you would think the New York Times, that watchdog of good government, would notice that Gowdy and his boss Speaker Boehner are wasting millions in taxpayer dollars on a partisan fishing expedition. But the Times says nothing about that, and rarely quotes Democrats who are critical of the select committee. And its reporters keep getting leaks, many of them inaccurate. Gowdy’s members and staff, maybe Gowdy himself, have conducted a McCarthy-style smear campaign of distorted leaks against Sidney Blumenthal and Hillary Clinton—but so long as the leaks arrive on the doorstep of the Times, that’s fine.
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