The problem with spreading slander about your opponent in “private” emails is that some reporter might decide not to go along with the racket. Much, much later than it should have, that has finally happened to Sidney Blumenthal, who has been quarterbacking the Clinton sliming machine. Peter Dreier (a second-hand recipient, more a professor than a journalist, and therefore not as loath as a full-time journalist might be to “burn” a source) finally got fed up.
Former journalist Sidney Blumenthal has been widely credited with coining the term “vast right-wing conspiracy” used by Hillary Clinton in 1998 to describe the alliance of conservative media, think tanks, and political operatives that sought to destroy the Clinton White House where he worked as a high-level aide. A decade later, and now acting as a senior campaign advisor to Senator Clinton, Blumenthal is exploiting that same right-wing network to attack and discredit Barack Obama. And he’s not hesitating to use the same sort of guilt-by-association tactics that have been the hallmark of the political right dating back to the McCarthy era.
Almost every day over the past six months, I have been the recipient of an email that attacks Obama’s character, political views, electability, and real or manufactured associations. The original source of many of these hit pieces are virulent and sometimes extreme right-wing websites, bloggers, and publications. But they aren’t being emailed out from some fringe right-wing group that somehow managed to get my email address. Instead, it is Sidney Blumenthal who, on a regular basis, methodically dispatches these email mudballs to an influential list of opinion shapers — including journalists, former Clinton administration officials, academics, policy entrepreneurs, and think tankers — in what is an obvious attempt to create an echo chamber that reverberates among talk shows, columnists, and Democratic Party funders and activists. One of the recipients of the Blumenthal email blast, himself a Clinton supporter, forwards the material to me and perhaps to others.
Note the timing: “almost every day for the last six months.” That is, Blumenthal was on the job back in November. That sheds some light on the notion that the nastiness in the campaign somehow originated in the Obama camp.
And Dreier has the goods. There’s no limit to how low Blumenthal will go, even borrowing Red-baiting garbage from Scaifeland:
To cite just one recent example, Blumenthal circulated an article taken from the fervently hard-right AIM website on February 18 entitled, “Obama’s Communist Mentor” by Cliff Kincaid. Kincaid is a right-wing writer and activist, a longtime critic of the United Nations, whose group, America’s Survival, has been funded by foundations controlled by conservative financier Richard Mellon Scaife, the same millionaire who helped fund attacks on the Clintons during their White House years. Scaife also funds AIM, the right-wing media “watchdog” group.
The Kincaid article that Blumenthal circulated sought to discredit Obama by linking him to an African-American poet and writer whom Obama knew while he was in high school in Hawaii. That writer, Frank Marshall Davis, was, Kincaid wrote, a member of the Communist Party. Supported by no tangible evidence, Kincaid claimed that Obama considered his relationship to Davis to be “almost like a son.” In his memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama wrote about meeting, during his teenage years, a writer named “Frank” who “had some modest notoriety once” and with whom he occasionally discussed poetry and politics. From this snippet, Kincaid weaves an incredulous tale that turns Davis into Obama’s “mentor.”
Kincaid’s piece had been previously circulating within the right-wing blogosphere, but Blumenthal sought to inject the story into more respectable opinion circles by amplifying it in his email blast.
Of course, this stuff works, and Blumenthal is a pro at it.
In the same piece, Kincaid, expanding his guilt-by-association tactics, also wrote that Obama “came into contact with more far-left political forces,” including former Weather Underground member William Ayers. Until a few weeks ago, Obama’s tangential connection with Ayers — whose 1960s anti-war terrorism occurred when Obama was in grade school — was echoing among right-wing bloggers.
Some Clinton supporters who also knew about Ayers have been discreetly trying to catapult the story out of the right-wing sandbox into the wider mainstream media. On April 9, Fox News’ Sean Hannity interviewed fellow right-winger Karl Rove, who raised the Ayers-Obama connection. The next day, ABC News reporter Jake Tapper wrote about Ayers in his Political Punch blog. The following week, on his radio show, Hannity suggested to his guest, George Stephanopoulos, that he ask Obama about his relationship with Ayers at the upcoming Philadelphia presidential debate. Stephanopoulos, who was Bill Clinton’s press secretary, replied, “Well, I’m taking notes.” The following night during the April 16 nationally televised Presidential debate, Stephanopoulos dutifully asked Obama about Ayers, who is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Dreier supplies a partial list of the recipients of Blumenthal’s hit-pieces. The fact that none of them has blow the whistle shows just how tight a racket national political journalism and punditry can be:
Craig Unger, Edward Jay Epstein, Thomas Edsall (Politics Editor of the Huffington Post), Joe Conason, Gene Lyons (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist and author of The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton), John Judis, Eric Alterman, Christine Ockrent, David Brock, Reza Aslan, Harold Evans, and Josh Marshall; academics and think tankers Todd Gitlin (Columbia U sociologist), Karen Greenberg (NYU law school), Sean Wilentz (Princeton historian), Michael Lind, William M. Drozdiak, and Richard Parker; and former Clinton administration officials John Ritch, James Rubin, Derek Shearer, and Joe Wilson.
Right. All of those people knew what the Clinton campaign was up to, and none of them thought you should know about it.
Update The above has been edited in response to a comment from Matt Yglesias. I wrote “Washington journalism and punditry” when I should have written “national political journalism and punditry.” Matt, as a Washingtonian, wants it made clear that the Blumenthal circle centers mainly on New York.