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Political War All the Time

There is a time for war and a time for peace, according to the book of Ecclesiastes and The Byrds. In the contest to replace John Boehner as speaker of the House, the Republican candidates chose to sell themselves as full-time political warriors. Forget about the national interest. Their job, as they have framed it, is to smite Democrats.

The security of American diplomats in dangerous places and maintaining America’s promise to pay its debts are a concern to everyone. Sadly, many ambitious Republicans distort the facts surrounding these important matters to fuel their political advancement. In their terms, that means entertaining hard-right voters not tuned in to the big picture. When that happens, governing stops.

Now we are not so naive as to think that a high wall separates governing and politics. But the House speaker needs to know how to avoid political warfare that turns the American people into collateral damage. Boehner understood that much of the time.

One of the aspirants, Jason Chaffetz, vowed to threaten default on the U.S. debt and a government shutdown as a means to yank concessions from Democrats. The Utah Republican’s martial words: “We’re just not going to unilaterally raise the debt limit.”

Huh? Fight over taxes and spending, sure, but compromise America’s reputation for honoring its debts as a negotiating tool? That treats the entire country as a hostage.

After the Republicans’ 2011 debt ceiling outrage, stock prices plunged, and consumer confidence fell through the floor. Standard & Poor’s lowered America’s previously magnificent credit rating. Even though a last-minute fix stopped the horrible from happening, the stunt cost all of us.

Just handing the powerful speaker of the House job to a man suggesting he’d do just that all over again weakens the American economy. If that weren’t sport enough, Chaffetz also backs shutting down the government rather than funding Planned Parenthood.

In promoting his political war skills, the leading contender, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, foolishly blew the cover off Republican motives for their endless investigation into the Benghazi tragedy. You see, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state when a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed at the besieged U.S. Consulate in Libya. Now she’s a strong Democratic candidate for president.

McCarthy said this: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?”

What clever fellows they are. So dragging America through the details again and again had little to do with reaching a truth on Benghazi — one of a multitude of calamities tied to the violent chaos in that part of the world. It was all about pushing down Clinton’s poll numbers.

Republicans are understandably sore at McCarthy for making that revealing statement. What’s interesting is why a practiced politician such as McCarthy would say such an impolitic thing.

Perhaps when everything that happens is seen as politics, nothing seems impolitic. McCarthy was on Fox News Channel, where accusations concerning Benghazi (and Clinton’s use of private email while secretary of state) go round and round in a mind-numbing loop.

McCarthy may have simply lost track of the fact that there’s a voting public outside of the angry Republican base. He forgot that our officials in Washington have duties beyond obsessing about the next election.

As a final thought, let’s note that other democracies have rules in place to temper political warfare.

In Britain, for example, the speaker of the House of Commons must be nonpartisan. According to Wikipedia, “the Speaker, by convention, severs all ties with his or her political party, as it is considered essential that the Speaker be seen as an impartial presiding officer.”

In America, that’ll be the day.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) laughs as he addresses questions about his bid to replace retiring House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) during a news conference after their closed Republican House caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Death Rattle Of A Fake Scandal

To hardly anybody’s surprise, it turns out that the “vast right-wing conspiracy” has been right in front of our eyes. Always was, actually, as Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s politically disastrous on-air admission made plain. Or maybe you thought a seventh Benghazi investigation lasting as long as the Pearl Harbor and JFK assassination probes combined was exactly what America needed.

And no, McCarthy’s gaffe wasn’t wrung out of him by a trick question.

“The question I think you really want to ask me,” he volunteered to Fox News lunkhead Sean Hannity, “is how am I going to be different?”

As Speaker John Boehner’s presumed successor, that is.

McCarthy answered himself: “What you’re going to see is a conservative speaker that takes a conservative Congress that puts a strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

No, “untrustable” is not a word. But then words aren’t McCarthy’s strong point. His meaning, however, was clear enough. The man was bragging. The only purpose of the House Select Committee on Benghazi is to inflict political damage on the leading Democratic presidential contender.

Your tax dollars at work.

Never one to miss a chance, Hillary pounced on the Today show:

This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan, political issue out of the deaths of four Americans,” she said. “I would never have done that, and if I were president and there were Republicans or Democrats thinking about that, I would have done everything to shut it down.

Her campaign has already released a 30-second TV ad featuring McCarthy’s boasting. She added that having admitted the committee’s partisan agenda, Congress should shut it down. Everybody knows that’s not going to happen.

“Look,” Clinton added, “I’ve been around this whole ‘political situation’ for a long time, but some things are just beyond the pale. I’m happy to go, if it’s still in operation, to testify. But the real issue is what happened to four brave Americans.”

Chairman Gowdy would be well advised to invest in a pair of super-absorbent Depends when Hillary testifies before his committee on October 22. All he’s got is a handful of long-disproved conspiracy theories and selectively edited witness transcripts leaked to the news media to create a false impression.

So he’s an ex-federal prosecutor. Whoop-de-doo. Arkansas was overrun with them during the late Whitewater investigation. All but one of Kenneth Starr’s leak-o-matic staff turned out to be subpar trial lawyers. That one was clever enough to give a closing argument pointing out that Bill Clinton wasn’t on trial because the defendant — his former real estate partner — had swindled him and Hillary.

“The office of the Presidency of the United States,” he thundered “can’t be besmirched by people such as Jim McDougal.”

Any chance of prosecuting either Bill or Hillary over Whitewater pretty much ended right there in May 1996. (The whole story’s told in Joe Conason’s and my e-book The Hunting of Hillary, available for free from The National Memo.)

But no, of course it wasn’t in the newspaper because Washington scribes were stuck to Starr like ticks to a dog’s ear. He successfully diverted attention to subsequent Whitewater trials, every one of which they lost.

Until Bill Clinton bailed them out by taking his pants down in the Oval Office, that is.

But I digress. As the Washington Post‘s GOP-oriented columnist Kathleen Parker points out, Rep. McCarthy has “tried to cram the bad genie back into the bottle, but the damage has been done and can’t be undone….any previous suspicions that Republicans were just out to get Clinton have cleared the bar of reasonable doubt.”

Meanwhile, if Trey Gowdy doesn’t already know that Hillary Clinton’s a lot smarter and tougher than he is, he’s about to find out. Truthfully, they’d be better advised to fold the committee and file some weasel-worded report.

Then there’s our esteemed national news media, repeatedly burned by inaccurate leaks from Gowdy’s committee. The New York Times has run one phony exclusive after another. First, her famous emails were illegal, except they’re not. Then they were contrary to regulations enacted, oops, 18 months after she left office. Next Hillary was the subject of an FBI criminal probe. Except that too turned out to be false. Now they’re making a big deal out of the exact date she changed email addresses. Seriously.

And why? Because as Bill Clinton recently explained to Fareed Zakaria, they’re essentially fops and courtiers, “people who get bored talking about what’s your position on student loan relief or dealing with the shortage of mental health care or what to do with the epidemic of prescription drugs and heroin out in America, even in small towns of rural America.”

Any questions?

File Photo: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at the John Hay Initiative in Washington on September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Benghazi, Emails, Planned Parenthood: How D.C. Press Keeps Enabling The GOP’s Orchestrated Distractions

This piece originally appeared on Media Matters.

Within the span of just 12 hours this week, multiple Republican-sponsored political pursuits partially unraveled in plain sight.

The long-running investigations were the Benghazi select committee and the related probe into Hillary Clinton’s private emails, and Republicans’ crusade targeting Planned Parenthood. Journalists would be wise to take note of the pattern of plain deception and ask themselves if they want to keep sponsoring these planned distractions.

The first to crumble was the right-wing smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, which was launched this summer and sponsored by Fox News and the Republican Party. Creating a whirlwind of controversy and endless media attention, the undercover sting operation by anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress was even elevated by some to be pressing enough to shut down the federal government.

Tuesday’s congressional hearing about defunding Planned Parenthood was to be the centerpiece of the right wing’s orchestrated attack campaign. The problem was that in recent weeks we’ve learned the gotcha videos at the center of the campaign were deceptively edited. And so far six statewide investigations have found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. That meant the congressional production was likely destined for failure.

“The entire hearing was premised on a series of mischaracterizations,” reported The New Yorker. Republicans were left with little but bouts of bullying in an effort to intimidate Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards as she testified.

It didn’t work. So after 10 weeks, the sustained attack against Planned Parenthood produced no tangible evidence of wrongdoing and no serious damage to the organization. (Of course, despite their failures so far, Republicans are now reportedly considering creating “a special panel to investigate Planned Parenthood.”)

Then just hours after the hearing completed, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who’s now in line to become the next Republican Speaker of the House, brazenly bragged on Sean Hannity’s Fox program about how the Benghazi select committee was responsible for damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. To which Hannity responded, “That’s something good, I give you credit for that.”

With one brief Fox appearance, McCarthy laid bare the facts about both the never-ending Benghazi investigation and the related, still-churning email witch hunt: They’re both built on politics, plain and simple. The Republicans created a Benghazi select committee in order to try to take out the Democratic frontrunner for president. Period. That’s the story.

Sadly, the busted Planned Parenthood, Benghazi and email diversions simply represent the latest creations from the GOP distraction model. Conservatives have been using it, on and off, for two decades — and the model works best when the Beltway press plays along. It works best if the Beltway press pretends virtually every other Republican-produced scandal pursuit hasn’t been a  bust.

Many of the same Republicans who have spearheaded the dishonest Planned Parenthood probe are the same ones leading the charge on Benghazi and the email story. And the press continues to breathlessly quote them as they try to hype these supposed scandals.

So yes, much of the press has been culpable in the latest Republican distractions since day one. In fact, the press has been playing the same lapdog role for well over 20 years when it comes to endlessly hyping and even marketing orchestrated Republican distractions. These self-contained circus productions that suggest all kinds of Democratic wrongdoing are long on conspiracy theories but short on facts, and leave pundits and reporters breathlessly chronicling the possible downside for Democrats.

One reason these Groundhog Day scenes keeping play out, again and again and again, is the fact that too many journalists are absolutely wed to the very simple definition of what constitutes news: What are conservatives angry about?

Given that kind of carte blanche to create news cycles, Republicans and conservatives in the media have taken full advantage and have settled into a predictable pattern: Manufacture distractions designed to make life miserable for Democratic leaders; force Democrats to use up energy and resources to swat down endless unproven allegations, and spawn waves of media “gotcha” hysteria fueled by disingenuous leaks.

But here’s the thing: it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. And it’s a colossal waste of time and energy. But this is how the right wing plays politics in America and the D.C. press has shown an unbridled enthusiasm to want to play along; to want to abandon common sense in order to chase GOP-designated shiny objects for weeks, months or sometimes years on end. And then do it all over again when the current distraction disintegrates.

The pattern began in earnest during the 1990s when Republicans became obsessed with personally pursuing the Clintons. Remember the dubious Clinton pardon distraction, the parting gifts distraction, and of course Ken Starr’s $80 million Inspector Javert routine.

Charles Pierce at Esquire recently detailed that decade’s signature string of orchestrated GOP obfuscations:

To use a more relevant, example, Travelgate was a distraction. FileGate was a distraction. The disgusting use of Vince Foster’s suicide was a distraction. Castle Grande was a distraction. The cattle futures were a distraction. The billing records were a distraction. Webster Hubbell’s billing practices were a distraction. Hell, the entire Whitewater part of the Whitewater affair was basically a distraction, as was the pursuit of Bill Clinton’s extracurricular love life. Kathleen Willey was a distraction. The monkey wrenching of a settlement in the Paula Jones case was to make sure that the distraction that was that case survived. All of these were distractions created to make it difficult for a Democratic president to govern, and the reason I know that is because the people creating distractions were not shy about admitting what they were all about to each other.

Over time, the vast majority of those endless Clinton allegations were proven to be hollow. Yet aided by some regrettable journalism, the relentless scandal culture took hold and managed to damage the Clinton administration. Indeed, the whole point of the GOP’s Clinton distraction model was to create the infrastructure to hound the Democrats.

With President Obama’s inauguration, the old model was unpacked, but this time with Fox News playing a much more aggressive role. The results have been an endless parade of diversions and hoaxes designed, in various shapes and sizes, to hamstring a Democratic administration and, more recently, to damage the leading Democratic candidate for 2016.

Here’s just a handful of manufactured distractions:

As Media Matters can attest, virtually none of the often-hysterical allegations attached to those distractions were ever proven to be true. Instead, the pursuits imploded under their own weight. Yet too often, these supposed scandals broke out of the Fox News bubble and became mainstream “news.”

So when’s the press going to get the message and stop enabling these charades?

Screengrab: Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) with Sean Hannity, September 29, 2015.

This piece originally appeared in Media Matters on October 1, 2015.

How ‘The New York Times’ Bungled Its ‘Big’ Clinton Email Story

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan seems surprised that the paper’s latest story on Hillary Clinton’s emails — sensational, wrong, leak based, and badly bungled — is now a significant journalistic debacle. Maybe she really is surprised, but there is in fact nothing startling about this embarrassing episode.

In a long post, headlined “A Clinton Story Fraught With Inaccuracies: How It Happened and What Next?” Sullivan criticizes the Times editors’ rush to print the July 23 story, which in its first iteration reported that Clinton is the subject of a “criminal referral” to the Justice Department by two inspectors general. In fact, the referral wasn’t “criminal,” the target isn’t Clinton, and the accusation that she emailed classified information is highly exaggerated.

Sullivan explains all those details quite adequately, if far too late. As she ruefully notes, it isn’t possible to put a story like that “back in the bottle” once it has begun to circulate “through the entire news system.” Not only was the original story unfair, she adds, but the editors’ subsequent failure to correct its mistakes in a timely and transparent manner made the resulting “mess” much worse, “damaging…the Times’ reputation for accuracy.”

Yet while hyping her exhaustive examination of this giant flub, Sullivan lets the Times editors and reporters off a bit too easily, allowing them to blame their anonymous sources and even to claim that the errors “may have been unavoidable.” What she fails to do, as usual, is to examine the deeper bias infecting Times coverage of Hillary and Bill Clinton — a problem that in various manifestations dates back well over two decades.

(For historical context, amusing background, and contemporary commentary on this issue, don’t miss our new e-book, The Hunting Of Hillaryavailable free of charge, for a limited time.)

In the paper’s ongoing coverage of the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s email practices as Secretary of State – and a related investigation by the House Select Committee on Benghazi – the pattern of slanted coverage deserves closer scrutiny by the paper’s editors, including Sullivan.

Those “anonymous sources” Sullivan briefly deplores are lurking among the members and staff of that committee’s Republican majority – a fact she teases when noting that initial “tips” about the non-existent criminal referral came from “Capitol Hill.” For reasons best known to reporter Michael S. Schmidt and his editors, committee chairman Trey Gowdy and his fellow “tipsters” get special treatment in the Times, while their Democratic critics are mostly ignored.

It is a pattern wearily familiar to anyone who observed Kenneth Starr’s taxpayer-financed inquisition against the Clintons. Starr always got sweet treatment from the reporters who relied upon leaks from him — and his politicized, drawn-out investigations of non-existent “crimes” provides a precise analogy to Gowdy’s phony, wholly partisan Benghazi probe.

After Sidney Blumenthal gave a deposition to the Benghazi committee behind closed doors, he emerged to deliver a public statement, which the Times barely mentioned (unlike many other news outlets). Was that because he criticized “reckless” repetition of inaccurate leaks from the committee, a remark clearly aimed at the Times?

The paper went on to report further leaks from Gowdy’s committee about Blumenthal’s testimony, without response from his attorney James Cole (although Schmidt didn’t hesitate to troll Cole on the eve of Blumenthal’s appearance on Capitol Hill). Nor did the paper report that Cole sent several letters to Gowdy, demanding that the committee release Blumenthal’s testimony in full, rather than leaking it in piecemeal drips designed to defame both Blumenthal and Clinton.

Similarly, the Times has given short shrift to statements from Democrats on the Benghazi committee, notably its ranking minority member Elijah Cummings, Jr. and Adam Schiff – both of whom have challenged Gowdy to release Blumenthal’s testimony and stop the majority’s pernicious, unethical leaking. The chief beneficiary of those leaks are Schmidt and the Times, whose editors haven’t hesitated to celebrate its Clinton coverage, despite a deepening credibility gap.

That editorial braggadocio erupted two months ago when Sullivan asked Carolyn Ryan, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, whose personal hostility to Clinton is widely known in the capital, to respond to reader concerns about the paper’s campaign reporting.

“We’ve had extraordinary and world-beating coverage,” said Ryan — who went on to highlight “praise” that she boasted the Times has earned this year from the likes of Matt Drudge, proprietor of the Drudge Report. Yes, the Drudge Report. Is a blurb on Drudge the standard by which we are now to judge the New York Times? Somewhere the paper’s late, great journalists are whirling in their graves at warp speed.

P.S. Even when the Times publishes a story that is entirely fair to Clinton – as it surely does, of course – the subtext can indicate inherent bias. To take a recent example, in a valuable July 25 article exposing the myriad ways that presidential candidates game the federal campaign finance disclosure system – which they evidently do by assigning expenses illegitimately to gubernatorial and other political committees – the Times noted, many paragraphs down, that one candidate has adopted a “conservative” approach to these practices. In other words, said presidential candidate didn’t cheat like so many of the others (who happen to be Republicans).

That honest politician, who spent her own money and didn’t game the system, was Hillary Clinton. Now given the negative impression of her so often emphasized by Times correspondents and columnists, the fact that the paper’s reporters could find no violation of federal spending rules by her campaign may have merited more than two short paragraphs buried in a lengthy article.

Still further down, the same story describes some of Jeb Bush’s various campaign finance scams and prevarications, noting that his conduct has provoked the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization that monitors campaign finance ethics, to file complaints against him with the Justice Department. Don’t wait for any headlines about that “referral” in the paper of record.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, United States, July 17, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young