My Battle With the Clintons
I wrote a tough book on the Clinton family. Here's what happened next.
By DANIEL HALPER
July 22, 2014
When I started to write Clinton, Inc: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine, I knew the reaction to expect. I was well aware that the former (and perhaps future) first family and its massive retinue of loyalty enforcers, professional defamers and assorted gadflies would rue my intent to examine the real Clintons—especially in my search for the real Chelsea Clinton, who until now has been a media-protected nonperson despite her aggressive public activities on her family’s behalf and despite raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from her role as former first daughter.
MSNBC’s David Shuster learned this the hard way when he was suspended from the network for saying, “But doesn’t it seem like Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” in a live TV hit on how the former first daughter was being used by her mother’s 2008 campaign. The Clintons hit the roof over the single relatively banal comment, as I report in my book, and lobbied the head of parent company GE to get Shuster off the air.
I also had a feeling that some of the sources I spoke to, for and not-for attribution, including alleged Clinton mistresses who’ve stayed out of the press and remain loyal to Bill, would alert the Clintons to what I was doing and help them prepare a counterattack.
But even if I hadn’t known it, many, many people in Washington, on the left and right, popped up to warn me of what to expect from the Clinton PR team. Other authors—legitimate ones with serious pedigrees—who’d written about the Clintons said they were threatened and verbally attacked. Of course, nearly everyone in Washington has seen the much-vaunted Clinton PR machine in action. It’s very predictable. Here’s how it works:
1) Media intimidation tactics: Following their usual method of operation, the first thing Team Clinton would do is attempt a media blackout. A producer with CNN said I’d never be able to get any airtime on her show because the Clintons punish networks that give space to their perceived enemies. So far, even claims in my book that were well sourced with on-the-record quotes—such as Bill Clinton offering counsel to John McCain in how to defeat Barack Obama in 2008—have been all but ignored by the mainstream media.
2) Defame and attack: There would be repeated efforts to turn me into a kook or right-wing hit man. Though they haven’t yet gone so far to label me a “crazed stalker” like they did with Monica Lewinsky, the reliable Clinton aide Nick Merrill has repeatedly deployed a classic Clinton spin line on my work—before it was even on sale, mind you, and presumably he hadn’t yet read it. “It’s sad to see Daniel Halper join the discredited and disgraced ranks” of other authors supposedly out to get them at all costs, he emailed the Huffington Post. Sadly, I received no credit from the Clintons or from Merrill for the praise of both Bill (that he’s a “political genius) and Hillary (that she’s “intensely likable”) in various parts of the book. Merrill also claimed I was just out “to make a buck.” Which I take it means that Bill and Hillary Clinton donated all the proceeds of their millions in book deals to charity?
3) The “old news” trick: A favorite gambit is to make any allegation unfavorable to the Clintons as old news. One of the best examples of this came from Clinton media minder Philippe Reines about a book by Jeff Gerth: “Is it possible to be quoted yawning?”Yawn. No biggie. You reporters are fools for even covering it.
4) The dark arts: Some prominent media personalities with experience covering the Clintons in the 1990s told me that their team would have no problem with, say, copying every page of someone’s manuscript, sending it out to reporters ahead of publication, and then depicting it as a right-wing smear job. Funny thing, that exact thing happened with my book, as POLITICO noted.
At first, I resisted the temptation to conclude the Clintons were behind this, but now certain events have led me to believe the Clinton team has had copies of this book for some time. Why might they leak the book early? The best explanation is so that the book’s contents could come out well before publication and the Clintons can then rely on another standard mode of operation—denouncing any unfavorable allegations as “old news.”
In short, the Clinton team has been true to form so far. And I’m surprised by little of it.
What has surprised me, however, is what the Clintonistas are already doing to their own. In the introduction to my book, I describe what I was told about the Clinton operation. As I put it there, “Nearly everyone in Washington has a Clinton story, or two, or two hundred, but many are afraid to air them publicly or on the record, out of fear of retribution or attack from ruthless Clinton aides and their media allies. … Thus it is pretty clear why less powerful figures inside Clinton, Inc. insist on anonymity. The panic among Clintonites, past and present, is palpable.”
It’s one thing to hear about it in the abstract. It’s quite another to see it in action. To wit:
While I was still reporting on my book, James Carville’s office called, seemingly out of the blue, to grill me on whom I’d already spoken to. I obviously refused to indulge the questioner.
Someone from Bill Clinton’s publisher went to mine, HarperCollins, asking questions about my book and what I might be planning.
I write in my book that “Clintonites are known to scour through magazine articles and books to try to decipher blind quotes and tie them to a suspect.” I believed that was true. But now I know it is. This is in fact happening with my book as I write this, I’ve learned, and has been happening for days, if not weeks. Some are throwing other people to the wolves.
Other Clintonites named in the book are heading for the hills. Some preposterously denied that they ever talked to me. Perhaps it’s buyer’s remorse—but more likely they know the Clinton code of omerta.
I’ve found the task of covering the Clintons fascinating. They’re not exactly the people we see on television. Although many believe Hillary is the cold, calculating and cunning Clinton and Bill is the emotive and gregarious, the exact opposite seems to be a more accurate portrayal of who they really are. As for Chelsea? It would appear from tip to toe she’s daddy’s little girl—and the wizard behind the curtain.
It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve really been intrigued by my encounters with some of the (many) kooky characters in Clinton, Inc.
Maybe I’ll have to do a sequel.