Vast Company
Mrs. Clinton joins the right-wing conspiracy.

The American Spectator, June 2008

Early last year, when Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee, she reprised her decade-old theme of the "vast right-wing conspiracy." In this space (see Presswatch, TAS, May 2007), I quoted an Associated Press report of March 13, 2007:

Clinton was first lady when she famously charged allegations of an affair between her then-president husband Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky were the result of a conservative conspiracy.

As evidence of the affair eventually came to light, the comment was ridiculed. But many Democrats have since insisted that [Mrs.] Clinton was correct, pointing to the well-documented efforts by conservative financier Richard Mellon Scaife to fund a network of anti-Clinton investigations.

She asserted the conspiracy is alive and well, and cited as proof the Election Day 2002 case of phone jamming in New Hampshire, a case in which two Republican operatives pleaded guilty to criminal charges, and a third was convicted.

"To the New Hampshire Democratic party's credit, they sued and the trail led all the way to the Republican National Committee," Clinton said.

"So if anybody tells you there is no vast right-wing conspiracy, tell them that New Hampshire has proven it in court," she said.

"One man with courage makes a majority," Andrew Jackson supposedly said. Technically three men are enough to make a conspiracy, but still, Mrs. Clinton was trying to pull a vast one.

By March 2008, things had changed. Mrs. Clinton was the Democratic underdog, chasing Barack Obama's car. And if Obama was in the fast lane, Mrs. Clinton had shifted to the vast lane.

That's right, Hillary Clinton had joined the right-wing conspiracy. On March 25, Byron York of National Review noted on The Corner, an NR blog, that Mrs. Clinton had been sighted with one of the key conspirators:

Here is a photo from Hillary Clinton's visit today to the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In this picture, she is seen talking to none other than Richard Mellon Scaife, the owner of the paper and the man who once said that the death of Vincent Foster was the "Rosetta stone" of the Bill Clinton administration. (He also funded the so-called "Arkansas Project" at The American Spectator.)
That wasn't all. The same day, Marc Ambinder, a blogger from the Atlantic, noted another connection between Mrs. Clinton and this magazine:

The Clinton campaign is distributing an article in the American Spectator (!) about Obama foreign policy adviser Merrill McPeak and his penchant for . . . well, the article accuses him of being an anti-Semite and a drunk. Principally, the author takes McPeak to task for supporting a Middle East map that would require Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 border. It also makes the case that McPeak supports the Walt-Mearsheimer view of the influence of the Israeli lobby on foreign policy.
The article, by Robert M. Goldberg, had appeared the previous day on the Spectator's website. (Here I should disclose that the Spectator is a member of the OpinionJournal Federation and that I considered reprinting the article in question as a Federation Feature on, but the tone was a bit harsh for my taste.)

The Atlantic's liberal bloggers were puffed up with outrage that Mrs. Clinton would "dignify" the Spectator, as James Fallows puts it:

If, as I assume is true based on Marc Ambinder's report, the Hillary Clinton campaign is circulating a hit job from the American Spectator, this is simply disgusting. . . .

That the Clinton family would dignify the American Spectator, of all publications, is astonishing to anyone who was alive in the 1990s. . . .

I can easily believe that the Spectator would publish such an article. That the Clinton team would circulate it I'm still trying to deal with.

Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan, a self-described "Clinton hater" who seems to be in love with Barack Obama, piled on, quoting Atlantic blogger James Fallows as calling the Clinton campaign's distribution of the Spectator piece "simply disgusting," although Sullivan added no commentary of his own. This is known as "blogrolling."

Things get even more convoluted. It turns out the Atlantic, whose bloggers were now ganging up on the Spectator, has a longtime rivalry with this magazine. In 2001 The Atlantic published an article titled "The Life and Death of The American Spectator." The online blurb reads, "The conservative magazine survived and prospered for twenty-five years before Bill Clinton came into its sights. Now the former President is rich and smiling, and the Spectator is dead."

Reports of the Spectator's death turned out to be exaggerated, but it is fair to say that in 2001 the magazine had fallen on hard times, in part as a result of a fruitless Clinton administration grand jury probe. The Atlantic article also attributed the Spectator's difficulties to the Arkansas Project:

Why couldn't [editor R. Emmett] Tyrrell see that the project--which involved nonjournalists and a private detective funded by a third party--was an extraordinarily dangerous proposition for any journalistic enterprise? Perhaps because Tyrrell never saw the Spectator solely as a journalistic enterprise. Since the early days in Bloomington, Tyrrell had envisioned The Alternative as an adjunct to a political movement. They had their party, we had ours. They had their magazine, we had ours. Years later his letters to Ronald Reagan ("we shall continue the good fight with you") suggested that his views had not changed. Still more years later, as he began the Arkansas Project, he felt the same way.
Well, this is an opinion magazine. As is National Review, which is generally considered part of the "conservative movement," and which now employs the author of the Atlantic article on the Spectator--Byron York, a former Spectator staffer.

Conspiracy buffs wondered on which side of all this would come down. That is the left-wing group headed by David Brock, who spent the early '90s investigating the Clintons for the Spectator, then contracted to write a biography of Mrs. Clinton and produced a surprisingly sympathetic account. The book sold poorly; Brock jumped ship and became a liberal Democrat.

Brock was silent, but MediaMatters contributor Charles Pierce blasted Mrs. Clinton, calling her meeting with Scaife "utterly, hopelessly moronic":

Why not just schedule a photo op with Hillary leaning on a cannon in Fort Marcy Park? How about a picnic along the railroad tracks leading to the Mena airport? Maybe raise some money with a Find The Black Love Child contest? . . . I believe firmly that this was about injecting the Wright story more deeply into the sewers of the public dialogue through which Dickie Scaife has been spelunking for almost 20 years.
Pierce referred to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's "spiritual mentor." As everyone knows by now, Wright is an exponent of crackpot anti-American views.

A few days after meeting Mrs. Clinton, Scaife penned a column titled "Hillary, Reassessed," in which he praised her "courage and confidence" as well as her "impressive command of many of today's most pressing domestic and international issues." A few weeks later the Tribune-Review endorsed Mrs. Clinton over Obama: "Agree with her or not, you at least know where she stands instead of being forced to wonder."

The 2008 race for the Democratic nomination produced quite a realignment. On one side we have Barack Obama,, the Atlantic, its bloggers and Byron York; on the other, Hillary Clinton, Dick Scaife and The American Spectator. Politics make strange bedfellows, and I'm not referring to that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

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