If the conservative site Washington Free Beacon is still paying a Republican opposition research firm $150,000 a year to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton, editors might want to renegotiate their contract. Because if Free Beacon's latest installation of its deep-dive into Clinton's past is any indication, GOP investigators have already run out of leads.
The Free Beacon news flash? Back in 1971, Hillary Clinton (then Hillary Rodham) corresponded twice with Saul Alinsky, a liberal organizer and activist of renown in the 1930s, `40s and `50s. More recently, Alinsky's been immortalized as a bogeyman by conservatives who for years have waged a fruitless campaign to portray President Barack Obama as a radical-left acolyte of Alinsky's.
And now the brief Clinton correspondence from more than 40 years ago is being trumpeted: "The letters obtained by the Free Beacon suggest that Clinton experimented more with radical politics during her law school years than she has publicly acknowledged." (Wait, Clinton's a secret commie who's also tight with Wall Street? Very confusing.)
Some conservatives on Monday strained to explain why any of this matters, and why their weird, hard-to-understand obsession with someone like Alinsky ought to be of importance in American politics today. The Free Beacon's meaningless revelation set off lots of Twitter chuckling, but the story itself went nowhere, much to the dismay of Rush Limbaugh, and for good reason: There's no there there. (Favorite line: Hillary's letters were "paid for with stamps featuring Franklin Delano Roosevelt.")
Keep in mind the attempts to attack Clinton by invoking Alinsky are nothing new. Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, conservatives tried to make hay out of the fact that Clinton had written a senior thesis about the author.
After the story failed to make an impact outside the conservative bubble, a Free Beacon editor claimed the article was never meant as a Hillary gotcha. Instead, they were simply sharing "primary documents" with voters. I guess that's one way to spin a swing-and-a-miss.
The whiff highlights what's becoming a growing problem for the right-wing media industry: After operating under the microscope during her thirty-year public career, there's not much about Hillary Clinton we don't know or that hasn't been dissected. And there's probably not much more that we're going to learn in the coming years, considering that trolling the Clintons has been an established far-right cottage industry that dates back to the early 1990s.
Based on three decades in the spotlight as a governor's wife, the first lady, a U.S. senator, presidential candidate and then secretary of state, there's simply no other public figure active in the U.S. political arena today (possibly other than the one who currently occupies the Oval Office) who's been more scrutinized by the media, who's endured more "scandal" coverage, who has been thoroughly trashed by the partisan press opponents, and who still comes out the other side marching on.
So now what?
If Hillary dominates the political landscape in the coming election cycle, how does the right-wing media pretend they're uncovering all kinds of new and startling facts about her past, her policies, her influences and her alliances? How does detailing a couple of letters Clinton wrote to a labor organizer 43 years ago fill the right-wing media need for fresh, new, and scary Clinton revelations?
Right-wing media selectively edited comments made by Hillary Clinton to falsely accuse her of endorsing Hamas' extremist tactics. But Clinton made clear that Israel has a right to defend itself and credited its measures to decrease civilian casualties.
In an interview with Fusion TV's Jorge Ramos, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed her support for a cease-fire to end the current Israeli/Hamas conflict.
Right-wing media outlets co-opted Clinton's interview to dishonestly claim that Clinton was justifying Hamas' tactics and endorsing the extremist group.
On July 29, the Washington Free Beacon distorted Clinton's comments, portraying them as justification of Hamas' tactics in an article headlined "Hillary: Hamas Uses Human Shields Because 'Gaza is Pretty Small.'"
On Fox News' The Five, co-host Andrea Tantaros accused Clinton of "trying to make an excuse for Hamas" and defending Hamas "for hiding rockets in places like schools."
For two years, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been peddling the theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list to a gay rights organization as part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Two separate investigations and a ruling by a Reagan-appointed judge have debunked that theory. But right-wing media, which have widely touted NOM's initial accusations, have largely ignored or denied the conspiracy theory's demise.
In the spring of 2012, an IRS employee inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. The pro-equality group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got its hands on the list, highlighting past contributions to NOM by prominent conservatives like then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Noting that key HRC officials were prominent supporters of President Obama's re-election campaign, NOM alleged a conspiracy between the organization and the Obama administration aimed at embarrassing NOM and its supporters.
In April 2012, NOM filed a formal letter of complaint to the IRS. Conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Weekly Standard touted the complaint, focusing particularly on the revelation that Romney was one of the group's donors. For most of the next year, however, media interest in the story was scant.
That changed in the spring of 2013. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder ordered the FBI to begin a criminal probe into allegations that the agency had targeted tax-exempt conservative political groups. While the IRS actually scrutinized progressive groups more extensively than conservative ones, the IRS "scandal" became a rallying cry for right-wing media. The controversy also meant newfound interest in NOM's allegations against the agency.
Mainstream and conservative media outlets were quick to pick up on NOM's call for an investigation into the IRS's activities.
The Wall Street Journal 's James Taranto spotlighted NOM's claims in a column on the IRS controversy, asking "How pervasive is the Obama IRS scandal?":
In a letter released today, Media Matters chairman David Brock cautioned the media against relying on The Washington Free Beacon for accurate information, noting among other concerns that the site has hired a Republican research firm to obtain information for anti-Hillary Clinton stories. The firm, M Street Insight, has numerous Republican clients this cycle.
From Brock's letter:
On June 21, Business Insider reported on how The Free Beacon obtained tapes from the University of Arkansas library, which The Free Beacon used to publish articles attacking Hillary Clinton, under the byline of Alana Goodman. According to Business Insider, it was not the reporter but one Shawn Reinschmiedt who requested and received the tapes on which The Free Beacon articles were based.
Goldfarb told Business Insider that Reinschmiedt "runs a firm that has been working with the Beacon since we launched." But Goldfarb did not explain the identity of that firm or its character.
In fact, Reinschmiedt, the former research director of the Republican National Committee, is a founding partner in the Republican opposition research firm M Street Insight. According to Form 990 disclosures filed by The Free Beacon's parent organization, The Center for American Freedom, The Center paid the firm M Street Insight $150,000 for "research consulting" in 2012.
The Free Beacon's "reporting" fails to disclose that The Free Beacon paid a Republican opposition research firm for the information it falsely published as its own journalistic work from the University of Arkansas tapes.
Reinschmiedt and Dan Comstock founded M Street Insight LLC in 2011. The two previously worked together for the Republican National Committee (RNC) and unsuccessful California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. Evan Yost, who previously worked on campaigns for Mitt Romney and John McCain, joined the firm as a principal in 2013.
In a 2011 interview about the firm's founding, Reinschmiedt said he founded the firm to give clients "research in the style that the RNC does it."
M Street clients this campaign cycle include numerous Republicans, including John Chapman for Congress (MA), Liz Cheney for Senate (WY), Sen. John Cornyn (TX), Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO), Rep. Mike Simpson (ID), and the Republican Governors Association.
The Washington Free Beacon's claim that it's being singled out by the University of Arkansas Library for unfair treatment in its reporting on Hillary Clinton-related documents was debunked by CNN, which confirmed it followed the same rules the Free Beacon was punished for not following.
The Free Beacon was informed on June 17 by the library that its access to their archives had been suspended because Free Beacon researchers had not followed standard procedures for gaining permission to publish library documents related to Clinton back in February. The Free Beacon suggested the revocation of their access was political retribution.
But CNN officials confirmed to Media Matters that its researchers were required to fill out permission forms to first gain access to the library's collection of private documents in February related to Hillary Clinton, and later submit separate requests for approval to publish the documents on its website.
"We do have policies that are in place for all researchers and we expect all of our researchers to comply," said Laura Jacobs, associate vice chancellor for university relations for the University of Arkansas. "The idea that we would single out any researcher is false. It is unfortunate that we have been characterized as trying to stifle academic freedom. It is one of the core tenets that we take seriously. Frankly, this is a simple procedural matter."
In a story on June 20 about an interview Clinton had given in the 1980's, the Free Beacon claimed it was never told to file any forms or seek permission.
"I find that hard to believe," said Jacobs. "The process is when you come in to research in our special collection, you sit down with the research manager, you sign something saying you will comply with our policies, you tell the reading room manager materials you would like to access and it is pro forma."
In fact, the University of Arkansas Library provided Business Insider with copies of the request forms that Shawn Reinschmiedt, a GOP operative who worked with the Free Beacon to provide research for the story, signed, including an email that noted that he would be required to fill out an additional form if he wished to publish.
The Free Beacon did not comment on the forms, but told Business Insider they did not believe the University had the right to restrict publication of the documents.
"You can get materials for personal use, we will provide materials for you all day long," Jacobs added. "When you ask us to duplicate materials, if you intend to publish them you are required to complete the permission to publish form."
CNN officials on Monday confirmed CNN researchers who posted a similar story in February did file such forms and requests for permission and were granted approval.
The Washington Free Beacon responded to media criticism over the fact that it paid tens of thousands of dollars to GOP operatives to conduct research by declaring that it is "standard practice" for its reporting to rely on such consultants without disclosure, and comparing Media Matters' David Brock to a Nazi.
Business Insider released documents last week revealing that the Free Beacon hired a Republican operative to obtain information for a series of anti-Hillary Clinton stories which failed to disclose this financial relationship to readers. The conservative outlet attempted to attack Clinton based on tapes obtained from the University of Arkansas archives that depict interviews Clinton gave in the early 1980s. Though Free Beacon reporter Alana Goodman's byline appeared on the pieces, according to Business Insider it was Shawn Reinschmiedt, the former research director for the Republican National Committee and founding partner of a GOP opposition research firm, who requested and received the tapes on which the reports were based.
The Free Beacon failed to disclose the partisan source of its anti-Hillary stories, and the dishonest journalism prompted Media Matters founder David Brock to caution the media against validating the journalistic legitimacy of the outlet as a source for accurate information. In a letter to editors and reporters, Brock likened the reports to "similar right-wing dirt-digging operations disguised as journalism conducted against the Clintons in the 1990s," and told Buzzfeed that "The M.O. is the same. This is the Arkansas Project redux."
In response, Free Beacon founder Michael Goldfarb doubled down on the underhanded practice, calling it "standard practice" for Free Beacon reporters to rely on outside consultants such as the GOP operative for stories' research components. Buzzfeed noted that the Center for American Freedom, which houses the Free Beacon, paid Reinschmiedt's partisan firm $150,000 for research services in 2012.
Newly published documents have poked holes in the Washington Free Beacon's claim that it has been victimized by a pro-Hillary Clinton conspiracy aiming to restrict the site's access to information about the former secretary of state. In fact, the site's access has been restricted because it violated the University of Arkansas' rules regarding the use of intellectual property from its archives.
On June 15, the Free Beacon published an article on Clinton using recordings of unpublished interviews conducted in the 1980s. Tapes of the interviews were archived at the University of Arkansas (UA).
UA subsequently revoked the Free Beacon's research privileges, asserting that publication of the interviews required authorization from the university library and, having failed to obtain such permission, the Free Beacon violated UA's intellectual property rights.
The Free Beacon claimed that it obtained the materials in question "without having to fill out any forms and without being provided a copy of any university 'policy.'" It also suggested that the decision to revoke its access was a pro-Clinton conspiracy, noting, "A Hillary Clinton donor who serves as dean of the University of Arkansas libraries has banned the Washington Free Beacon from the school's special collections archives, after the news outlet published revealing stories about Hillary Clinton based on documents available at the university library."
Business Insider, however, obtained documents from UA that contradict the Beacon's claims, writing that "documents provided to Business Insider ... indicate there were several conditions surrounding the release of tapes from the library to the Free Beacon" (emphasis added):
On June 20, Business Insider requested documentation relating to the Free Beacon's acquisition of the tapes used for the story about Clinton and the rape case from the University of Arkansas. Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations Laura Jacobs subsequently provided us with several documents including a request to copy the Clinton tapes made by a man named Shawn Reinschmiedt on March 10. That request was made on a form that included a "WARNING CONCERNING COPYRIGHT RESTRICTIONS" noting the library provided materials from its archives "under certain conditions." The warning specifically mentioned those conditions did not allow materials to be used "for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." The warning also said library patrons could be found "liable for copyright infringement" if they request or use materials from the archives "in excess of 'fair use.'" Reinschmiedt's signature appeared under this form under a note indicating he read the copyright warning.
In an email, Free Beacon founder Michael Goldfarb said Reinschmiedt "runs a firm that has been working with the Beacon since we launched."
Conservatives are trying to smear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her work in 1975 as a court-appointed attorney for an indigent defendant alleged to have raped a 12-year-old girl, a case she detailed in her memoir a decade ago. As Republican lawyers and the American Bar Association have previously noted, such criticisms undermine the American system of justice.
Media Matters chairman David Brock is cautioning the media against validating the journalistic legitimacy of The Washington Free Beacon for accurate information, particularly with regard to its recent reports on Hillary Clinton.
The Free Beacon has published several pieces in recent days that attack Clinton based on tapes obtained from the University of Arkansas (UA) archives that depict interviews Clinton gave in the early 1980s.
In a memo to news editors and reporters that was reported by Buzzfeed, Brock delineated unethical practices and methods of The Free Beacon, and urged credible media outlets to refrain from validating The Free Beacon's journalistic legitimacy. Among other concerns, Brock pointed to The Free Beacon's hidden reliance on an opposition research firm headed by GOP operatives to obtain the information relied on for its recent anti-Clinton stories.
Conservative media outlets, led by the Drudge Report, are floating the idea that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a walker during a photo shoot for People magazine -- a baseless allegation the magazine quickly debunked.
On June 4, People released an excerpt of its interview with Clinton, as well as the cover shot showing Clinton resting her hands on the back of a chair:
The Drudge Report quickly speculated whether the picture depicted Clinton using a walker, tweeting:
The Wall Street Journal's Capital Journal issued a similar tweet:
But People quickly debunked the baseless claims. Business Insider wrote that Nancy Valentino, senior vice president of communications at Time Inc., which publishes People, responded to the allegations (emphasis original):
The conservative Washington Free Beacon reported that the Obama administration is "not strongly opposing" a South Korean plan to use Chinese telecommunications gear to build a broadband network, which the website warns will risk the security of U.S. military communications in the country. But hours before they published their article, The Wall Street Journal reported that in response to U.S. pressure, South Korea had changed their plans to "address U.S. concerns" by routing sensitive communications over other networks.
The Washington Free Beacon hid crucial details about a conservative group bent on smearing Hillary Clinton over the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
In a February 13 report, the Free Beacon highlighted a Reuters article about OPSEC to promote the group's latest smear campaign. OPSEC, described by the Free Beacon only as "military slang for 'operational security,'" is releasing a report attacking the former secretary of state for her actions before, during, and after the September 11, 2012 attacks. The Free Beacon used the report to imply Secretary Clinton was personally responsible for the terrorist attacks, claiming "the attack was not caused by inadequate information but by inadequate leadership" and that her personal choices "enabled the attack."
But as the original Reuters report explained, OPSEC, a right-wing group made up of retired intelligence and special forces operatives, has partisan ties and a history of disingenuously attacking the Obama administration. The group "first surfaced during the 2012 presidential campaign," when they produced a 22-minute film and TV ads accusing President Obama of "seeking political gain from the May 2011 military operation that killed Osama bin Laden." (PolitiFact rated the claims made in the ads as "false" and "mostly false.") Key members of the group have current and former affiliations with the Republican party, and Reuters uncovered that more than a quarter of OPSEC's 2012 funding was raised by Campaign Solutions, a political consultancy which represents Republican candidates.
OPSEC's president, Scott Taylor, has also previously been accused of "shady campaign tactics" in his multiple bids for Republican state office, and as Business Insider noted, the group's maneuvers reveal they are more interested in attacking President Obama and the Obama administration than promoting any national security interests. According to OpenSecrets, OPSEC spent almost $500,000 in the 2012 election cycle on "electioneering communications" alone.
Official investigations have found Secretary Clinton, the Obama administration, and the military did everything within their power to rescue the Americans stationed in Benghazi at the time. The official inquiry into the State Department's role conducted by the independent, nonpartisan Accountability Review Board found that security at Benghazi was inadequate and offered recommendations for State to prevent future attacks, all of which are being implemented, but found Clinton personally blameless.
As Reuters noted:
Thomas Pickering, who chaired the State Department's official inquiry, said his panel concluded Clinton's performance was appropriate: "We did look at her role. We thought that she conducted her meetings and activities responsibly and well."
Republican censure of Mrs. Clinton is expected to intensify, even though it is unusual to see such fierce, coordinated opposition to a would-be presidential candidate surface 2-1/2 years before nominating conventions.
Pickering condemned the way the Benghazi incident was being politicized: "Our investigation was certainly independent, thoroughly researched, carefully presented." He said the new round of accusations appears to be "clearly an effort to introduce once again partisan politics into an issue which should be furthest from partisan politics."
A right-wing website apparently cribbing from a conservative research group falsely claimed that a Democratic senator flip-flopped on President Obama's State of the Union in two interviews on the same night. In fact, the interviews in question took place a year apart.
The Washington Free Beacon reported that Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) had told one local affiliate that he was "disappointed" in Obama's speech because it supposedly lacked specifics, then praised the speech for providing specifics in an interview with a different affiliate later that night. From their January 29 article:
Pryor told Arkansas' KFTA that he was "disappointed" at the lack of specifics in Obama's speech.
"Overall, I'm disappointed with the president's State of the Union address because he was heavy on rhetoric, but light on specifics about how we can move our country forward," said Pryor.
"I've always said that I'll work with the president when I think he's right, but oppose him when I think he's wrong," added Pryor.
Pryor later told THV11 that he was happy with the speech, pointing out that Obama tried to give specifics and to be bipartisan.
The Free Beacon has since appended their post with the following update apologizing for their error:
The original version of this post mistakenly said that both of the clips in the video above came from this year. They did not: Sen. Pryor was generally supportive of the president's 2013 State of the Union, but was critical of this year's address. What changed his tune? Rep. Tom Cotton's strong challenge to Pryor's incumbency may have played a role. Whatever the case, our original item was incorrect. We regret the error.
A video attached to the piece appears to have been updated to note that the interviews occurred during different years.
How did the Free Beacon make such a mistake? Weigel suggests they may have gotten the story from America Rising, a research group that supports conservatives, which had posted the same 2013 video clip that appeared in the Free Beacon video, similarly misidentified as occurring last night.
For their part, America Rising has issued no update or apology; they've simply pulled the clip.
Conservative media are selectively and deceptively quoting from an exchange between CNN's Dana Bash Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to make it appear as if he dismissed the plight of cancer-stricken children being denied access to clinical trials due to the shutdown of the federal government. In fact, Reid said that legislators should fully fund the government, rather than force different groups to fight over funding.
Specifically, conservatives are claiming that Reid replied to a reporter's question, "If you can help one child with cancer, why wouldn't you?" by saying "why would we want to do that?" In fact, Reid was responding to Sen. Chuck Schumer, who had interjected, saying "why pit one against the other?"
On October 1, the federal government was shut down after conservative Republicans refused to pass legislation funding operations unless that funding was tied to the defunding or delay of Obamacare. As part of an effort to avoid political damage from that unpopular decision, House Republicans have called for piecemeal bills that would fund some parts of the federal government, including the National Institutes of Health and national parks.
In the weeks leading up to the release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report summarizing climate science on Monday, conservative media have spread a variety of myths about the process, credibility and findings of the group. Contrary to misinformation, the report reflects that scientists are more convinced than ever that manmade climate change is real and dangerous.