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Brent Bozell's Blackwash

The Media Research Center chief's new book on Hillary Clinton recites the same old conservative attacks and ignores context and exculpatory evidence.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/23/2007

It's never a good sign when the promotional copy for a book contains an easily disproven claim.

Yet that's what the Media Research Center did in the web page promoting the new book by its president, Brent Bozell, and Tim Graham, the MRC's director of media research, "Whitewash: What the Media Won't Tell You About Hillary Clinton, But Conservatives Will." (The promotional material had problems nailing down the title of the book as well; as noted on ConWebBlog, it originally featured an older copy of the book jacket contained the subtitle "How the Mainstream Media are Paving Hillary Clinton's Path to the Presidency.")

From the promo copy:

In Whitewash, L. Brent Bozell III and Tim Graham of the Media Research Center, America’s largest and most respected media watchdog organization, expose the unprecedented media favoritism that is the real key to Hillary’s political career. Marshalling stunning evidence compiled exclusively by the Media Research Center, the authors show how the media have relentlessly promoted Hillary from the moment in 1992 when Time magazine introduced her to the country as an "amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa, and Oliver Wendell Holmes."

Here's what actually appeared in the Jan. 27, 1992, Time article by Margaret Carlson to which Bozell and Graham are referring:

Friends of Hillary Clinton would have you believe she is an amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa and Oliver Wendell Holmes. She gets up before dawn, even on weekends, and before her first cup of coffee discusses educational reform. She then hops into her fuel-efficient car with her perfectly behaved daughter for a day of good works.

Fortunately, Hillary Clinton, the latest wife to be challenged to fit perfectly into the ill-defined role of political spouse, is more interesting than that.

Carlson never called her an "amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa, and Oliver Wendell Holmes," as Bozell and Graham claim; she portrayed Hillary's supporters as making that claim -- and called it overblown.

(In a Nov. 14 NewsBusters post, Graham defended the use of that quote -- which also appears at the start of the book -- insisting that Carlson "described Hillary that way, and we think it's emblematic of the pro-Hillary media goo," and that the entire article shows that "Margaret sounds exactly like the 'gushing and cringe-worthy' Hillary friends that get sent out to spin the media." Graham snidely added: "Let’s put aside for a moment the point that Hillary doesn’t come anywhere close to Betty Crocker (she wouldn’t be caught dead making Bill’s dinner every night, when there are servants for that)." Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent summed up Graham's defense this way: "[H]is reply, quite literally, is that it was okay for the duo to lie audaciously about Carlson's original quote, because she praises Hillary elsewhere in that article and in her other writings.")

As far as Bozell and Graham are concerned, apparently, it's forbidden for anyone in the media to say anything nice about Hillary, and their book basically attacks anyone who does.

The subject of the book is unsurprising -- yet another attack book on Hillary by well-funded conservatives -- and it contains no new revelations of note (as the "stunning evidence compiled exclusively by the Media Research Center" statement suggests, it's little more than an compilation of 15 years of Hillary-bashing previously stated by the MRC), so Bozell and Graham try a different approach to the subject: "To expose the truth about Hillary that the supposedly objective media have buried, Bozell and Graham have interviewed dozens of leading conservatives who are fighting to let Americans hear the whole story: Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin, Mary Matalin, Laura Ingraham, Cal Thomas, and many others."

The problem with such an approach is that very few of these people -- Bozell and Graham included -- have no real interest in "the truth" about the Clintons; they only want to attack and will forward any claim, accurate or not, to achieve that goal. Indeed, Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Levin, Ingraham and Thomas are all on record making false or misleading claims -- or just spouting venomous insults and smears -- about the Clintons. The promo page (not to mention the book as a whole) offers no evidence why, given such unmistakable animus toward the Clintons, the word of these conservatives (the authors included) should be trusted as unassailable fact.

But that appears to be the entire reason Bozell and Graham beefed up the book with more attacks by their fellow conservatives: Intent on making Bill and Hillary Clinton look as bad as they can, "Whitewash" is lacking in context and exculpatory information.

One example is the book's treatment of the White House travel office controversy, in which the Clinton administration fired most of the office to bring in its own people amid accusations of financial misdeeds in the office. Bozell and Graham write:

The independent counsel who reviewed the whole Travelgate mess, Robert Ray, would offer this stark conclusion in his final report, issued several years late in 2000: "With respect to Mrs. Clinton, the overwhelming evidence establishes that she played a role in the decision to fire the employees and provided input into that decision. ... Thus, her statement to the contrary under oath to this Office was factually false."

But Bozell and Graham ignore what Ray wrote immediately after that sentence:

The evidence, however, is insufficient to show that Mrs. Clinton knowingly intended to influence the Travel Office decision or was aware that she had such influence at this early stage of the Administration. To a real degree, her interest in the matter was first generated by [Harry] Thomason's intervention, and then overstated by him to others. Thus, absent persuasive, corroborated, and admissible evidence to the contrary, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mrs. Clinton's statements to this Office or to Congress were knowingly false.

To repeat: Bozell and Graham suggested that Ray claimed that Hillary knowingly lied about her role in the travel office firings, and failed to mention that Ray added there's a lack of evidence to support that claim. That's what happens when you rely on conservatives to back up your assertions.

The authors also play down the financial misdeeds in the travel office under the director the Clinton administration fired along with the rest of the office, Billy Dale. As the Ray report pointed out:

Even were cause a prerequisite for the employees’ discharge, there was, at the time the firings occurred, evidence of financial mismanagement in the Travel Office. The audit of Travel Office operations by Peat Marwick KPMG had uncovered evidence relating to the handling of the petty cash account. The auditors had reported their findings to David Watkins. And, based principally upon the Peat Marwick report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had determined that sufficient evidence existed to provide the requisite predicate for the opening of a criminal investigation.

Yet Bozell and Graham portray Dale as an innocent victim, claiming that "for the two and a half years between his firing and his exoneration, Dale endured a painful ordeal" and lamenting "the viciousness of the federal prosecution." In fact, even though Dale was acquitted on charges of embezzlement, there were numerous irregularities in how the travel office was run. As the Columbia Journalism Review reported in 1996, the auditors the Clinton administration used to examine the office's finances found there was "no general ledger, or cash receipts/disbursements journal," that "no copies of bills to customers/press are on file," that there was, in short, a startling shortage of documents validating the business procedures followed by Dale. CJR added:

The report found that there was "no general ledger, or cash receipts/disbursements journal," that "no copies of bills to customers/press are on file," that there was, in short, a startling shortage of documents validating the business procedures followed by Dale.


When Dale was confronted during the audit about some of the missing petty cash, he produced nearly $2,800 in cash the following day, which he claimed to have found in an envelope in his desk. (Curiously, he had withdrawn $2,500 in cash from a personal account the same day the auditors began to ask about the petty cash.) It was the surprise appearance of the envelope of cash that, according to congressional testimony, got the FBI investigation going in earnest.

Further, Bozell and Graham make no mention of another pertinent fact that Ray includes in his report on the travel office -- indeed, it's the very first sentence of the report: "The decision to fire the Travel Office employees was a lawful one. The Travel Office employees served at the pleasure of President Bill Clinton, and they were subject to discharge without cause."

This alone should make the travel office firings completely justified and noncontroversial in Bozell's eyes -- after all, as ConWebWatch noted, in a March 14 press release defending the firings of several federal prosecutors by the Bush administration, Bozell pointed out that the attorneys were "political appointees in the first place." If Bozell is defending the right of Republican presidents to fire political appointees who serve at their pleasure, shouldn't he also be defending the right of Democratic presidents to do so, too?

Bozell and Graham go on to repeat claims of bias by the New York Times in its coverage of Hillary Clinton as a senator that first surfaced in an April 2006 study by Clay Waters of MRC division TimesWatch -- a study that, as ConWebWatch detailed, is filled with dubious and unsupported claims.

The authors complain, as Waters did, that the Times did "aggressive investigation" of Jeanine Pirro, a Republican who ran a gaffe-plagued campaign against Clinton for her Senate seat in 2006 before dropping out, and her scandal-ridden husband, claiming that the Times "didn't find Bill Clinton comparably 'scandal-plagued'": While Albert Pirro's "past offenses" were detailed, which included time in prison for tax fraud and a child fathered out of wedlock while married to Jeanine Pirro, "nowhere did it mention Bill Clinton's lying in the Paula Jones case, or impeachment, or business partners convicted of multiple felonies in the Whitewater scandal." Unmentioned by Bozell and Graham is the fact that Pirro was virtually unknown outside of the suburban New York City area, where she worked as a district attorney, while Bill Clinton's scandals had been reported on ad nauseam for years. Do Bozell and Graham really not see the difference there?

Bozell and Graham also try to pretend that only Hillary Clinton has ulterior motives in using the "plantation" metaphor in a January 2006 speech in a Harlem church when she stated, "When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about." They insisted that she "threw the race card on the table with a big, noisy thwack," adding,"Not only was Bush corrupt, Speaker Dennis Hastert was a slave master." There's a good page or so of frothing about purported lack of media coverage of "these racially inflammatory words" before Bozell and Graham concede that there was "evidence that Newt Gingrich and other Republicans used the 'plantation' metaphor against Democrats in the 1990s." Indeed, Republicans and conservatives can be found invoking it on various MRC websites:

  • "When I changed my political affiliation ten years ago, I thought I broke the chains of the liberal plantation." -- Kevin Martin, CNS commentary, July 15, 2005
  • "Liberals believe that blacks should all think and vote the same. ... And they loathe any free-thinking black who dares to walk off their plantation." -- Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, quoted in CNS article, Jan. 26, 2005
  • "Liberals have kept the poor on the government plantations, and compassionate conservatives are trying to free them." -- Marvin Olasky, MRC column, Dec. 14, 2002
  • "The African American Republican Leadership Council, meanwhile, called [then-NAACP president Julian] Bond 'a bigoted plantation' racist out of step with Black America." -- CNS article, July 8, 2002
  • "Shouted down publicly at the universities, disdained in the media, serious Christians are becoming America's new slave class for the plantation owners of the politically-correct U.S. of A". -- Dennis Peacocke, CNS commentary, Oct. 20, 1999

Bozell and Graham, though, figured out how to explain away such utterings by Republicans, specifically Gingrich: While Gingrich was guilty of merely being "rhetorically excessive," "the distinct difference between Newt's and Hillary's remarks is that Gingrich was not accusing Democrats of racism."

Got that? Hillary's some kind of racist; Newt's just "rhetorically excessive."

Further, Bozell and Graham run to the defense of fellow Hillary-bashing authors Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, fawningly calling them "Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters" and asserting that their book, "Her Way," "was stuffed with new and original reporting on Hillary," adding that the book, along with Carl Bernstein's Hillary book released about the same time, "would have stopped the Clinton candidacy dead in in its tracks had they been afforded the coverage they deserved."

In fact, the Gerth-Van Natta book's marquee claim -- that the Clintons agreed to a "twenty-year project" with the goal of Bill and Hillary Clinton serving two-term presidencies -- is disputed by the source to whom Gerth and Van Natta attributed the claim. Further, the book is chock full of anonymous sources, not exactly a good sign for a book's veracity, and contains other falsehoods and misrepresentations.

And while Bozell and Graham complain that "Many journalists somehow lumped in ... Gerth and Van Natta, both from the New York Times, with the 'Clinton-haters,'" their book is offered for sale by ConWeb news outlets like NewsMax and WorldNetDaily, which is arguably the conservative seal of approval on any Clinton-bashing work. Gerth -- whose reporting on Whitewater and other Clinton scandals in the 1990s contained numerous false and misleading claims, something Bozell and Graham haven't cared that much about, then or now -- completely abandoned any pretense of objectivity when he appeared as part of the "cast to end all casts" in a Hillary-bashing film produced by David Bossie, the conservative activist best known for, as ConWebWatch noted, getting canned as a Republican congressional investigator in the 1990s after doctoring tapes of former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell's prison conversations to delete exculpatory evidence.

Ignoring exculpatory evidence appears to be the theme of Bozell and Graham's book. By recruiting fellow conservatives to embellish things a bit, the clear intent of the authors was to make the Clintons look as bad as possible while ignoring or denigrating anything or anyone that might possibly round out the story and commit the offense of not making the Clintons look evil.

No need to worry about Bozell and Graham losing their jobs for behaving like Bossie -- that's exactly what they're paid to do.

(Update: Tim Graham critiqued this article; we respond here.)

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