March 10, 2004

Hooked On Bossie

Joe Conason has a nice primer on Citizens United and its founders David Bossie and Floyd Brown. I had no idea that this dirty tricks operation was still in business, but they are and they are running these puerile attack ads against John Kerry already.

Now, I would never say that this ad equals political hate speech because I wouldn't want to send Ed Gillespie into paroxysms of maidenly vapors (you know how he hates all this ill-mannered, unladylike behavior) but it certainly can't be seen as high toned political discourse. I would suggest that everyone bookmark this Capitol Gang transcript, however, for the reactions of Novak and O'Beirne to Bossie's character attack for when they are fulminating and clutching their lace handkerchiefs in the future about the impropriety of negative advertising.

O'BEIRNE: They really probably shouldn't complain, because if they do it's going to get a lot more attention than it would otherwise, and because John Kerry is not yet defined in the public's mind, you know, they don't know an awful lot about him, and he is trying to do this populist, man of the people stuff. It's not helpful to have him defined in this way, truthfully, as an elitist. The firefighters aren't going to like the $75 haircuts, Mark.

NOVAK: Well, since I'm being abused, as usual, as a matter of fact, I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ad, and I think it's an important ad, because all this stuff about putting statistics about how many times he voted against defense or how many times he voted against the intelligence budget and he voted for this and he voted for that and he's in the "National Public Journal" has him as -- "National Journal" has him as the most liberal member. I think the mind boggles by people who are -- whose vote you're trying to get, but they look at this guy and they wonder, is he an effete snob? And they've got this dopey picture at the end, where his eyes are like that. I think that's worth a million arguments, and I thought it's the best ad I've seen of the year, and I think it's really damaging to him, because it goes against the image of the fearless Navy lieutenant and Vietnam hero.

This is the same guy whose head practically explodes daily with his red faced denunciations of Democratic "Bush bashing" on Crossfire.

Atrios reminds us that Bossie was fired for doctoring a tape between Clinton friend Webb Hubbell and his wife when Hubbel was in prison on non-Clinton related charges. The doctored tape planted a false story that Hubbell had implicated Hillary Clinton in one of the myriad nefarious deeds of which she was constantly being accused without evidence.

Atrios says, "The press is largely silent because they fell for his little edited tapes gambit hook line and sinker. Dilligent little stenographers for the Get Clinton crowd they were."

That's for sure. The thing about this particular episode that was so galling to people who followed it closely at the time, is that the press ate up Bossie's lies over and over again until there was no conclusion one could reach except that they just didn't care about the truth. The Whitewater psuedo-scandal and the seventy million wasted taxpayer dollars that flowed from it was driven by Bossie's operation and he remained a player in the Scaife funded character assassination plot for the entire Clinton presidency.

The "mediawhore" meme was born in Bossie's office more than ten years ago and the press has never accounted for it. And it's not as if they didn't know from the very beginning with whom they were dealing because
the press was called to task for its stenographic use of Citizens United "press packages" all the way back in June of 1994 by Trudy Lieberman in the Columbia Journalism Review:

Bossie, the twenty-eight-year-old political director for Citizens United, a conservative Republican operation, runs an information factory whose Whitewater production lines turn out a steady stream of tips, tidbits, documents, factoids, suspicions, and story ideas for the nation's press and for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Journalists and Hill Republicans have recycled much of the information provided by Citizens United into stories that have cast a shadow on the Clinton presidency.


...Citizens United has collected thousands of facts and documents on Whitewater and packaged it all to catch the attention of the press and to restoke the story whenever it threatened to die down.

Bossie and Brown have been briefing people since October -- "the top fifty major publications, networks, and editorial boards," Bossie says. "We've provided the same material on the Hill both on the House and Senate side." An equal opportunity source, Bossie says he would gladly provide documents to Democrats, but they haven't asked.

Francis Shane, publisher of Citizens United's newsletter, ClintonWatch, hesitates to say exactly whom they've worked with -- "We don't particularly like to pinpoint people" -- but he does say, "We have worked closer with The New York Times than The Washington Times." Jeff Gerth, The New York Times's chief reporter on Whitewater, hesitated to talk on the record. He did say, "If Citizens United has some document that's relevant, I take it. I check it out like anything else


The March 1994 issue of ClintonWatch characterized the organization's impact on Whitewater press coverage this way: "We here at ClintonWatch have been working day and night with the major news media to help them get the word out about the Clintons and their questionable dealings in Whitewater and Madison Guaranty." Of course, Citizens United is not the only source of information on Whitewater. And reputable reporters do their own digging and doublechecking. Still, an examination of some 200 news stories from the major news outlets aired or published since November shows an eerie similarity between the Citizens United agenda and what has been appearing in the press, not only in terms of specific details but in terms of omissions, spin, and implication.


Whitewater is about character, publisher Fran Shane tells me. "The American people have elected a president with 43 percent of the vote. He is a man of no character. He may have to tell the people he didn't come clean. We're saying Bill Clinton may not be worth saving."

Many news organizations explain the importance of Whitewater in similar terms. Take Time, for instance. In a January 24 story laced with references to documents that also appear in Bossie's Whitewater collection, the magazine pronounced that "the investigation concerns the much larger issue of whether a President and First Lady can be trusted to obey the law and tell the truth."

The character issue can be turned on the press, which has shamelessly taken the hand-outs dished up by a highly partisan organization, with revenues of more than $ 2 million a year, without identifying the group as the source of some of their information.

Bossie's manufactured and pre-spun form of "oppo research" turned out to be like heroin to the press and they just can't break the habit. The 2000 election was the apotheosis of media manipulation of the spoon feeding sort that Bossie pioneered. This hideous example of journalistic malfeasance was most satisfyingly chronicled in the BBC documentary, aptly called "Digging the Dirt." Time magazine reviewed the film in November of 2000:

...for those who pay attention to the men behind the proverbial curtain, Britain's BBC has unveiled something of a first: a glimpse deep inside the 2000 campaigns that has been seen before the election.

Last week the British TV network premiered "Digging the Dirt," a documentary that exposes the rough-and-tumble tactics of both the Bush and Gore campaigns.

The film delves into many aspects of this year's battles. We see close-ups of how Bush decimated McCain by brutal push-poll phone calls and how Gore trounced Bradley by savage attacks on his health care proposals.

But the overwhelming message of the film is the insight it brings to the Republican version of Carville's War Room, the seething research room at RNC headquarters in D.C. where GOP head of research Barbara Comstock and her deputy, Tim Griffin, ply a rough trade.


In fact, the film reveals how much the media has come to depend on the "Oppo" research for material.

Traditionally, newspaper journalists and TV producers have conducted independent research of charges made by a campaign. That has now dwindled, both due to news organizations being more and more stretched and because the media believes that the backfire effect on the campaigns would be far too devastating if the information provided were wrong. (Can you believe that nonsense? ed)

In the film we see RNC glee as the Associated Press accepts their oppo research on a Gore misstatement during the first presidential debate. During their months of filming BBC producers also observed producers for NBC's Tim Russert, among others, calling to enquire if the team had any new material. This was apparently normal practice.

"It's an amazing thing," says RNC researcher Griffin in the film, "when you have top-line producers and reporters calling you and saying 'We trust you.... We need your stuff.

This was only three years ago. Citizens United is still in the character assassination business. Tim Russert and the rest of the beltway courtiers still have shown no inclination to question their RNC sources and have apparently learned nothing from the ten years of non-stop scandal mongering that ended without one conviction on any related charge. Indeed, they are only now waking up to the fact that they were baldfacedly lied to, by many of the very same people, about the reasons for taking the country into a war!

The political press in this country is hooked on Republican lies. It is long past time for an intervention.

Posted by Digby at March 10, 2004 12:18 PM | TrackBack | Media influence & bias

I think the difference this time is that not only are people more attuned to this stuff, but back in 1992, there was no blogosphere. I can only speak for myself and spouse, but it was only last summer when we discovered blogs. I now am able to instantly determine if the SCLM is blowing smoke. It's a great feeling to be able to fact check these bastards.

Posted by: weinerdog43 at March 10, 2004 07:51 PM

I think on any given day the Rethugs can be evenly divided into the outraged flank demanding apologies over some conjured slight and the lying corrupt scumbag half, with their usual criminality.

Today, Marc Racicot and Scott McLellan were in crying mode, while the Pentagon and George Tenet were doing the scumbaggery.

Posted by: Peanut at March 10, 2004 10:08 PM

Well, it seems the perfect counter-strategy is simply to mimic their operation, with one basic difference: we don't have to lie.

The facts on Bush are more damning than any president ever, after all.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden at March 10, 2004 10:18 PM

Please refer to Mr. Gillespie and Mr. Racicot as "former Enron lobbyists" as that is indeed what they are. Public Citizen did a nice piece on the chinless Chair of the RNC last summer.

Posted by: flightsuit at March 11, 2004 11:14 AM
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