Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
They Said It:
From the predawn of human history, despots have relied on the idea that, quite literally, their word is law, or absolute. Pre-Roman and Roman emperors sought to cloak this in the idea that they themselves were suprahuman and had themselves deified in their own lifetimes.
Later tyrants claimed to rule by “the divine right of kings,” an assertion that didn’t end until the 18th century. All modern successors, from Hitler to Khomeini to Kim Jong-il, have insisted that only one man or one party or one book represents the absolute truth, and to challenge it is folly or worse. But all it takes is one little boy to blurt out the inconvenient truth that the emperor is as naked as the day he was born, and with that, the entire edifice of absolutism begins to crumble.
Christopher Hitchens, “Freedom of Speech,” Reader’s Digest, April 2011.
MONICA AND MATT, UNLIKELY REVOLUTIONARIES.
Some weeks, the task of choosing a single story or issue that encapsulates the political ethos of the day and helps, thereby, to explain the condition of the nation and its course going forward is next to impossible. Too much is happening. Too many stories are actively threating to upset the proverbial apple cart and bring the provisional political peace abruptly to an end.
This was such a week.
Over the last few days, we have heard from the President’s biographer and media confidant David Remnick that Barack Obama is, more or less, disappointed with the world and its failure – our failure – to live up to his expectations. We have seen the House of Representatives finally give the Benghazi scandal the select committee investigation it has deserved for better than 18 months. We have witnessed the involvement of the Western ruling class, including the First Lady of the United States, in an effort to “save” 250 of the world’s roughly 800 million Muslim women and girls from the clutches of their co-religionists by flashing “hashtags” at men who, as a general rule, prefer the Stone Age to the internet era. We have discovered that the corruption of the federal government is far greater than almost anyone feared, learning both that donors to Tea Party groups are audited at roughly 10 times the rate of the general population and that some EPA employees can earn a bonus just for watching two to six hours of porn on their work computers every day.
We also learned that the country’s Democratic politicians remain in serious trouble and that this trouble is still growing, now less than six months before the mid-term election and despite the remarkable blessing of having Republicans as their opponents. We found out that Mitt Romney – a nice enough man who won one election, one time, more than a decade ago – believes that he should still share his unsolicited policy preferences as an unofficial Republican spokesperson, thereby causing immeasurable heartburn for the partisans who had the kindness and decency to nominate him for a position he really had no chance of ever winning. And, of course, we all rediscovered the fact that one need not be an economist – or even a particularly keen observer of history or government – to be the Pope.
In short, then, almost a dozen stories could have been the focus of our attention this week and therefore could, at least in theory, hold some part of the explanation for the behavior of our elected officials, the operation of our government, or the resolution of the crises in the world in the near to medium-term future.
Yet in spite of all of this, we have decided that perhaps the most interesting and most important story of the week is one that leads us not to prognostications about the future, but which takes us on a considerable hike into the past. It is so important, we think, because it helped to make most or all of the other stories detailed above possible. It represented a watershed, a revolution . . . whatever. Without this one, we would not have the others. Or at least we would not have the others in the form that we have them today.
Let us explain.
Sixteen years ago this spring – as many of you likely recall – the President of the United States, Bill Clinton – “Slick Willy” to his friends – was embroiled in the nastiest and most damaging scandal of his career. It was fitting, we suppose, that the man whose extramarital interests had almost ended his presidential campaign before it had really even started, saw his presidency almost ended by the same. Bill and Hillary had endured years of scrutiny and countless investigations into their financial dealings, their abuse of power, and their obstruction of justice, and had, despite their manifest corruption, survived it all. Nevertheless, he – and she – was nearly brought low by the one thing he couldn’t hide or obfuscate, namely his animal appetites.
Now, as you may have heard, the subject of Bill’s affection lo those many years ago (i.e. the unpaid intern Monica Lewinsky) has emerged from more than a decade of silence to tell (retell, rehash . . .) her story in the June issue of Vanity Fair. Ms. Lewinsky claims that she has gone public again in order to help others who may be fragile and scared because of unwanted publicity, as she once was. And perhaps that’s the God’s honest truth. We have no idea. We think it is more likely that she reemerged at the urging of Clinton partisans, who undoubtedly feel that it would be best to deal with Bill’s . . . ummm . . . “issues” early and then get back to the business of getting Hillary elected on the merits of her “accomplishments.” But then, it doesn’t really matter. Monica is now, as she always was, something of a sideshow in her own life story. She is irrelevant, as is her reason for recounting her woes publicly. What actually matters here, we think, is the reaction to her and her comments by the ruling class, the people who are certain that everything that happens anywhere in the world is really about them.
Among the most relevant and the most fascinating reactions to Monica’s reappearance in the pages of Vanity Fair is that magazine’s former editor, Tina Brown, who is both a longtime Hillary Clinton toady and a pioneer in the type of gossip/tabloid-trash that she now denounces as unseemly. It is telling, we think, that the gossip-queen would still, after more than a decade-and-a-half, be unhappy both with the “other woman” who facilitated Hillary’s humiliation and with the media players who beat her at her own game and thus made that humiliation inevitable. And unhappy she most definitely is. To wit:
The Monica Lewinsky confessional in Vanity Fair brings back a torrent of unfond memories of the appalling cast of tabloid gargoyles who drove the scandal. Remember them? Treacherous thatched-roof-haired drag-queen Linda Tripp, with those dress-for-success shoulder pads? Cackling, fact-lacking hack Lucianne Goldberg, mealy-mouthed Pharisee Kenneth Starr — the whole buzzing swarm of legal, congressional and gossip industry flesh flies, feasting on the entrails. And, of course, hitting “send” on each new revelation that no one else would publish, the solitary, perfectly named Matt Drudge, operating in pallid obsession out of his sock-like apartment in Miami.
A once-in-a-lifetime cast! Or so we all thought. But what we didn’t know at the time is that they were not some passing cultural excrescence. They were the face of the future….
Monica’s new musings just remind us of how the death of privacy started. The press was at the height of its power when the Monica story began and Drudge was its underbelly.
The ascendant media that looked down on him has been pretty much destroyed.
That, gentle readers, is comedy gold. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at Brown’s tale of the death of the mainstream media.
Brown, like many of her fellow pedigreed journalists, hates Matt Drudge. She hates everything about him. She hates what he did. She hates how he did it. And most of all, she hates the fact that what he did was far more successful than what she did.
You see, Brown’s retelling of the Lewisnky scandal and the role that folks like Drudge and Lucianne Goldberg played in it is incomplete. Matt Drudge didn’t appear out of nowhere. Lucianne Goldberg didn’t attract a huge audience for nothing. They did what they did for one simple reason: because no one else would.
For the record, let’s just review the facts of the media’s involvement in the case. The mainstream media knew about the affair. They spiked the story. Then it was leaked to Drudge. The rest, as they say, is history. Michael Isikoff, the reporter who had the story first, only to see it killed, put it this way just over a year ago:
It isn’t often in this business that you’re sitting at your desk and you get a phone call from a source that causes you to nearly fall off your chair. But that’s exactly what happened in my office at Newsweek’s Washington bureau early on the afternoon of Jan. 13, 1998. “There’s a little event going on at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City right now you might want to know about,” my (very plugged-in) tipster told me. Linda Tripp was having lunch with her good friend Monica Lewinsky — and Ken Starr had the whole thing wired. Starr?! Yes, my source said: I know it sounds crazy, but Starr (the independent counsel appointed to look into Bill Clinton’s Whitewater business dealings) was now investigating the president’s relationship with Lewinsky. The lunch was a sting aimed at getting the then-23-year-old former White House intern to flip and cooperate.
I was dumbfounded. I had been talking to Tripp for months — ever since I tracked her down one day at her desk at the Pentagon the previous March. I had heard all about Monica Lewinsky and what she had been telling Tripp about her fling with the president: the late-night phone calls, the surreptitious visits to the Oval Office, the telltale evidence on the blue dress hanging in her closet. It was a surreal story that seemed improbable at first, but more and more credible (and newsworthy) as Tripp offered up more tantalizing details. Clinton was arranging to get Lewinsky a job. He had given her gifts. And, once she got subpoenaed in the Paula Jones lawsuit, he fully expected her to keep her mouth shut, according to Tripp.
But while I had briefed Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, the levelheaded Ann McDaniel, about all of this, neither she nor I were ever clear on how (or even whether) we were going to actually publish any of it. How would we ever prove that this affair actually happened? Or that the president had really told Lewinsky to lie? But the fact that Starr was on the case — that was unquestionably news. The story would turn Washington upside down — and, I immediately knew, would raise as many questions about prosecutorial overreach as it would about presidential recklessness and mendacity. And Newsweek was right in the middle of it. We alone knew what was going on.
The bosses were clearly nervous. “Could we really accuse [Presidential pal Vernon] Jordan of suborning perjury without something harder?” asked Rick Smith, the magazine’s editor in chief. “Could we really accuse Clinton of an impeachable offense?” [Justice Department reporter Danny] Klaidman and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes . . . A little later, Klaidman came back with fresh news. Starr had gone to the Justice Department, and Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, had approved a formal expansion of his mandate to conduct the Monica probe. Now Thomas — who had been on the fence — came around. “If we were The Washington Post or The New York Times, we would print,” he said. But we were coming up against a hard deadline, and the brass wanted more work. The decision was final: Newsweek would hold the story.
It didn’t take long, of course, for it to explode. Early Sunday morning, Internet scribe Matt Drudge popped his screaming “World Exclusive”: “NEWSWEEK KILLS STORY ON WHITE HOUSE INTERN . . . SEX RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT.”
Almost exactly a year before the scandal broke and threatened Bill’s presidency, Father Richard John Neuhaus, the editor of First Things, penned one of the more prophetic statements ever put on paper, suggesting that Bill’s appetites would prove far more dangerous to him than such things had proven to other powerful men in the past, but not because his scandals were worse or because the moral condition of the country was better or worse than in previous eras, but because of folks like Drudge:
A sympathetic press hushed up John F. Kennedy’s womanizing precisely because it was assumed that, were it known, it would be politically deadly. I doubt if there has been much change in “the national soul,” although what has changed may well, in time, change the national soul. What has changed is that the combination of Bill Clinton and the multiplication of media — especially tabloids and talk radio — has made it impossible to keep secret the man’s egregious transgressions.
Let us be perfectly clear about what the late Fr. Neuhaus says here. The mainstream media was fully in bed with the Kennedy administration – sometimes, as in the case of the ghastly Helen Thomas, literally. The same media was still in bed with the Democrats some three decades later, but because of folks like Drudge and Rush Limbaugh, that wasn’t enough to keep scandalous secrets from making their way into the public consciousness. Why does Tina Brown resent Matt Drudge so much? Because he made it impossible for her and her ilk to hide their hero’s dirty laundry in the same way that previous generations had hidden their heroes’.
We and others in the business of providing “alternative” intelligence/news have long complained about the members of the mainstream media being in the tank for Obama. And certainly they are. But it’s not just Obama. They were in the tank for Clinton as well.
It is important, we think, to remember, for example, that the book Primary Colors, which was, in essence, the story of a broken heart and of shattered dreams, was written by Joe Klein, the mainstream media’s mainstream-iest political commentator at the time. Klein, fittingly enough, wrote for Newsweek in the early 1990s and won numerous awards for his coverage of the first Clinton campaign. His book, you may recall, was a novelized version of the disappointment faced by many who adored Clinton and originally thought of him as a Baby-Boomer-savior of sorts, as they discovered that he was merely a man, and a deeply flawed one at that.
It is also worth remembering, we think, that after the Lewinsky story broke, Nina Burleigh, the White House correspondent for, among others People and Time, wrote that “I’d be happy to give [Clinton] [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.”
It is, we suppose, not especially surprising that Tina Brown – and others like her – would resent Drudge, Monica, and the rest who destroyed their monopoly on information. We remember – and would imagine that a number of you remember as well – the bad old days before Drudge changed the world. Back in the mid-1990’s, we used to run a fax service for clients called the “Whitewater Report.” It started out as a way to share some of the good Clinton stories with some friends. But by the time it was over, we had upwards of 200 people on our list, all of whom had asked to be added.
The reason for his service, of course, was the fact that the average person, who did not have time to go beyond the mainstream media, was kept largely in the dark about the antics of William Jefferson Clinton, the Prince of Hot Springs, and those whom we described, to the horror of our liberal bosses in Newark, as “his entourage of shysters, sharpies, flibbertigibbets and fly-by-nighters, savings and loan robbers, international crooks, impoverished but generous Buddhist nuns, Russian and Chinese spies, international dope dealers and arms peddlers, harridans, harpies, strumpets, perjurers, liars, crooked real estate magnets, porn peddlers, union thugs, futures market trimmers, and tax cheats.”
These stories came from a handful of sources, including, most prominently, the Washington Times, Richard Mellon Scaife’s Pittsburg Tribune Review, and Bob Tyrell’s American Spectator. The Times had a bevy of young and aggressive investigative journalists, who broke all kinds of Clinton-scandal stories and then sat and watched them die because no one outside of a small group of curious observers like ourselves knew or even much cared about them. The Pittsburg Tribue-Review had our old friend Chris Ruddy, who is now the CEO of Newsmax Media and is still one of the best investigative reporters in the business. Tyrell had the financial backing of Scaife, which allowed him to pay for some very good investigative talent.
And then there was our good friend Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who is currently the International Business Editor of the Daily Telegraph in London. Back in the day, Ambrose was his paper’s man in Washington. He is a brilliant person and a great reporter, and he covered the scandal beat like a hawk. But like everyone else who did so, he was dismayed to find that outside of a few of us, no one else seemed to know or care what was going on up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
Indeed, when he left Washington, after Clinton’s reelection, Ambrose wrote a book about his time in town, calling it The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported Stories. The title, of course is a bit misleading, since many of those stories were, in fact, reported, but only by Ambrose and only in England. And no one in “the States” knew or cared. (And on the off chance that you haven’t read said book, Ambrose refers to the elder half of The Political Forum in the book as the “erudite” chief of a now-defunct securities firm’s Washington office.)
The world looks much different these days. In part because of the dedication of these folks to the important mission of keeping a free press in America, which is enshrined in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution and which Tocqueville noted is the “chief democratic instrument of freedom.”
Of course, the battle isn’t won. Indeed, the mainstream media is still the same old state-loving, liberty-hating mouthpieces of the liberal-Left. Earlier this month, Lars Willnat and David H. Weaver of University of Indiana’s school of journalism released a study showing that professional journalist are roughly four times as likely to be Democrats as Republicans. The study, titled “The American Journalist in the Digital Age,” finds that a measly seven percent of journalists identify as Republicans. Moreover, that number is shrinking, having been cut nearly in half over the last decade.
These people – the American journalists in the digital age – are the kind of people whom Tina Brown et al. would like to see reporting on Barack Obama. And for the most part, they are the kind of people reporting on Barack Obama. But they are no longer alone. And they are no longer alone because Matt Drudge had the guts that Newsweek didn’t have. They are no longer alone, in large part, because of Monica Lewisnky and that adorable cast of characters that Tina Brown so clearly and so understandably loathes.
Several years ago, as George W. Bush was battling it out with Al Gore for the honor of following the priapic Bill Clinton in the White House, we noted that the two parties had, essentially, switched roles in American politics, with the Republicans becoming the party of innovation and progress and the Democrats becoming the new “reactionaries.” Citing the Harper Dictionary of Modern Thought, we noted that reactionaries are people who “not merely resist change but seek to put the clock back and return to some earlier order of society which is seen as having possessed characteristics . . . . which the present is felt to lack.” And we figured that this description fit Gore and his fellow liberals better than just about any other term we could possibly imagine.
And little has happened to cause us to change that assessment in the 14 years since.
Last week, for example, the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard, a longtime Washington hand and the former chief political columnist for the more mainstream U.S. News and World Report, cited no less an authority than the chairman of the Federal Election Commission on the political Left’s desire to turn back the clocks and regain their pre-Drudge monopoly. To wit:
Government officials, reacting to the growing voice of conservative news outlets, especially on the internet, are angling to curtail the media’s exemption from federal election laws governing political organizations, a potentially chilling intervention that the chairman of the Federal Election Commission is vowing to fight.
“I think that there are impulses in the government every day to second guess and look into the editorial decisions of conservative publishers,” warned Federal Election Commission Chairman Lee E. Goodman in an interview.
“The right has begun to break the left’s media monopoly, particularly through new media outlets like the internet, and I sense that some on the left are starting to rethink the breadth of the media exemption and internet communications,” he added.
Noting the success of sites like the Drudge Report, Goodman said that protecting conservative media, especially those on the internet, “matters to me because I see the future going to the democratization of media largely through the internet. They can compete with the big boys now, and I have seen storm clouds that the second you start to regulate them, there is at least the possibility or indeed proclivity for selective enforcement, so we need to keep the media free and the internet free.”…
All media has long benefited from an exemption from FEC rules, thereby allowing outlets to pick favorites in elections and promote them without any limits or disclosure requirements like political action committees.
But Goodman cited several examples where the FEC has considered regulating conservative media, including Sean Hannity’s radio show and Citizens United’s movie division. Those efforts to lift the media exemption died in split votes at the politically evenly divided board, often with Democrats seeking regulation.
In spite of all of this, a free and diverse press continues to function in this county and to break important stories on a broad front. Think back, if you will about some of the biggest political stories of the last decade or so.
In 2004, during the Bush reelection campaign, CBS’s 60 Minutes broke a big story about Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard and allegations that he had received preferential treatment. Most damagingly, CBS had documents confirming the charges. Only, as it turns out, the documents were fakes and Dan Rather put them on the air anyway. Who exposed CBS’s chicanery? Bloggers, that’s who, and principally the handful of Minnesota lawyers who run the Powerline Blog.
In June 2013, London’s Guardian newspaper reported that the National Security Agency had been collecting phone data and records on millions of Americans daily. That story, of course, ballooned, in time, into an enormous national security scandal, exposing countless invasions of Americans’ privacy by the NSA as part of an anti-terrorism program started under the Bush administration and expanded considerably and remorselessly under Barack Obama. The man who broke the story for the Guardian was Glenn Greenwald. And while Greenwald was, at the time, a columnist for the paper and had previously served as a columnist for the online magazine Salon, he started in the “news” business as a blogger. Indeed, Greenwald was trained as a lawyer and worked as one right up until his blog “took off” in 2005.
On September 11, 2012, just two months from Election Day, in a campaign in which the incumbent Obama administration was running on its national security credentials as the guys who “got” bin Laden and were busy wiping out al Qaeda, al Qaeda affiliated terrorists attacked two American outposts in North Africa and, at the one in Benghazi, Libya, killed the American ambassador and two other Americans. In the aftermath of the attack, the administration insisted that the entire episode was a response to an anti-Islamic film made by an Egyptian-American filmmaker in California. The mainstream media, naturally, presented the story as the administration had argued and even went so far as to chastise Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, for the indecency of suggesting that the administration had been derelict in the consulate/embassy attacks.
Over the course of the next year-and-a-half, leading up to last week’s appointment of the investigators to a House of Representatives select committee, the “scandal” has been pursued almost exclusively by Fox News and other alternative media organizations. Note carefully that the White House’s strategy in attacking the investigation is to present it as a “Fox News story” and nothing else. And many in the mainstream media agree wholeheartedly.
The list, we’re sure, goes on . . . and on . . . and on. But we suspect you get the point.
Just over two decades ago, the three television networks and a handful of large newspapers essentially controlled the information that the American people received about their political leaders. All of that began to change in 1988, when radio talker Rush Limbaugh moved his show to WABC radio in New York. Almost exactly ten years later, the process begun by Limbaugh fully exploded into the American consciousness when a web site news aggregator named Matt Drudge received a leak about a spiked story at Newsweek concerning a “love affair” between the President of the United States and a White House intern barely older than his daughter. Drudge ran with the story, and within weeks, both he and the intern, Monica Lewinsky, had become household names, likely not to be forgotten for a very long, long time.
As for Newsweek, the then-Washington Post-owned magazine that spiked the story, its future turned out to be somewhat less bright than Drudge’s. By 2010, the magazine was such a financial drain on the Post that the company sold it to Sidney Harmon for the exorbitant sum of $1. Harmon’s estate essentially handed the magazine over to the news website The Daily Beast, and within a scant two years, the Daily Beast’s editor-in-chief announced that the Newsweek print edition was performing so poorly, that it would be permanently shelved.
The editor responsible for killing the 80 year-old news magazine, you ask? Why . . . none other than Tina Brown, who, as it turns out, has multiple reasons to hate Matt Drudge and the revolution he unleashed.
It’s funny. Tina Brown and the rest of the mainstream media folks like to rant about how people like Matt Drudge aren’t real journalists. They’re just a bunch of jerks playing at journalism in their basements. Or, as CBS News’s Jonathon Klein put it as his network was under fire for its use of fake documents to impugn George W. Bush: “You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances at ‘60 Minutes’ and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas.”
As it turns out, of course, Klein had it backward. And so, for that matter does Tina Brown. The guys in their basements did the real, hard work of journalism, while the big boys played politics.
Without Monica Lewinsky and Matt Drudge, and others who supported them and their cause in a variety of ways, the world would undoubtedly be a different place than it is today. Together, they changed the way Americans get information about politics. And that, we think, makes them a far more important story, in the long run, than just about anything else anyone could name. Benghazi? Boko Haram? Sure those things matter. But they only matter because the alternative media now has the wherewithal to cover them. Thank you Bill. And thank you too Hill, whom the American Spectator’s brilliant editorial director, Wladyslaw Pleszczynski, in the good old days used to call “Bill’s lovely wife Bruno.”
And, to our knowledge, he was not even audited because of it.