This is partly a story about reporting my new book on Bill and Hillary Clinton—Clinton, Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine—but it’s mostly about something more important, a window into how the Clinton team operates and how they will try to manage criticism throughout the 2016 campaign.
From my first interviews for the book, with many close associates, friends, and critics of the former first family, I’ve sensed the presence of the Clintons’ famed damage-control apparatus, operating sometimes offstage, sometimes in the open. There were subtle warnings from well-known Washington reporters who know many of the stories I report in my book but never acknowledge this publicly. Curious activities—such as the all-but-unprecedented leak of the manuscript to dozens of reporters before its publication. And most recently demands by Clinton hacks that I submit to a lie detector test on live television (I will if they will!).
But the Clintons’ strongest, and most effective tactic, has been to demonize my motives and lump me in with other authors that they and their spokesmen call “discredited” or “disgraced.”
The Clintons, through spokesmen and former aides, have worked hard in recent weeks to lump together all the so-called anti-Clinton books so that any particular allegation or revelation in one of them is overlooked by the mainstream press, or dismissed as old news that has been “repackaged.” One Hillary Clinton spokesman went so far as to direct the “legitimate” media to ignore anything in my book and to insist that books like mine should not be “allowed.” Whatever that means.
In short, it’s the 1990s all over again. Today’s campaign against “book eruptions” was prefigured in that decade’s campaign against “bimbo eruptions” (a coinage from a top aide to Clinton in his first presidential race).
During years of adultery allegations against President Clinton, for example, his team would compare every woman to Gennifer Flowers, one of the first accusers. Flowers, with whom I corresponded for my book, is in the Clintons’ minds—and more importantly the media’s—a lying “hussy.” Just as Monica Lewinsky was a lying stalker, and Paula Jones was a
lying disgruntled employee out for cash. Except, of course, in almost all of these cases we later learned that the women were telling the truth. (Bill Clinton settled with Jones for $850,000 and forfeited his ability to practice law for five years for lying under oath.)
In the book world, the Clintons’ “Gennifer Flowers” is author Ed Klein, of whom many in the media have a low opinion. Not only does his book contain an abundance of anonymous sourcing, but he also allegedly created conversations between subjects in his book that appear imaginary or invented. He has received excoriating reviews across the political spectrum, though his book has sold quite well.
I don’t know Mr. Klein, so I can’t speak to his integrity or his motivations. I can say that both his book and mine were to have been published by imprints of HarperCollins (his ended up being published elsewhere). I can also say that my book withstood thorough legal vetting and review by a lawyer (who, for what it’s worth, openly expressed support for President Obama and the Democratic party).
Despite this, the Clintons’ shopworn tactics appear to still have traction with the media. One well-known TV host, who originally agreed to have me on his show to discuss my book, commented the other week, apparently about my book and Klein’s: “There is a bunch of books around now that are harsh towards various people. And the books are built on anonymous sources. . . . I just feel queasy putting authors on who come in and they say pretty terrible things about people.”
The Clintons’ tactic may work again. But I hope it doesn’t. Here’s why it should fail.
(1) The vast majority of my book is not based on anonymous sources. My book includes interviews—on the record—with a number of prominent figures. These include Howard Dean, Mike McCurry, Lanny Davis, Joseph Lieberman, Bob Shrum, Rick Lazio, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, John McCain, and many others. A number of on-the-record sources inside Clintonworld are actively distancing themselves from their cooperation with my book out of fear of retribution.
(2) My book does include interviews with people who requested anonymity. This is not unusual in reporting. The New York Times and the Washington Post cite anonymous sources for stories on an almost daily basis, with little apparent toll on their credibility, or on the willingness of others in the media to follow their lead. The fact is that those closest to the Clintons have the most to lose by speaking on the record. A reporter trying to do a story on the Clintons cannot do that story justice without talking to those who know the Clintons well, or who have worked closely with them, and then quoting those sources.
(3) My book reports on things nearly all reporters on the Clinton beat in Washington know but, because they fear losing access to the Clintons or being otherwise punished, won’t report themselves. It also includes some things that—for whatever reason—they probably didn’t know. These include Chelsea Clinton’s power play for part of her parents’ financial empire, including a bold demand for equity in a consulting firm started by Bill Clinton’s longtime top aide, Doug Band, and GE’s demand to MSNBC to punish reporter David Shuster for disparaging comments about Chelsea. They also include Bill Clinton’s helping John McCain in his 2008 presidential campaign against Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer’s working behind Hillary Clinton’s back to defeat her in her first campaign for the Senate from New York. All of these revelations are supported by multiple sources and are buttressed by at least one on-the-record source and other sourcing that withstood rigorous legal review.
Perhaps more important: The Clintons’ campaign against book eruptions raises the question of whether Hillary will ever actually receive the media scrutiny a presidential frontrunner deserves. Before returning the Clintons to the White House, voters might be curious about why Bill Clinton has continued the reckless behavior that during his own administration may have compromised national security. They might want to know more about Chelsea Clinton’s role in the 2016 campaign and a putative Clinton White House. They might wonder what kind of relationship Bill and Hillary Clinton have now and how his many financial and personal entanglements would complicate his role as first gentleman.
My book was not written with the intention of stopping a Hillary Clinton presidency. No one should ever consider the Clintons down for the count. It’s meant to tell the fascinating story of how two politicians could come back from impeachment and the scandal-ridden White House of the 1990s to occupy those premises yet again, after a lapse of only 16 years.
This is a story that not only should be “allowed” to be told—but one that helps explain how American politics works today.
Daniel Halper is online editor of The Weekly Standard. His Clinton, Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine debuted at No. 10 on the New York Times bestseller list last week.