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How to Discredit Your Critics

The Clintons haven’t changed their playbook.

Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By DANIEL HALPER
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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.

The would-be and her consort

The would-be and her consort

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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.

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