Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
It is often hard to connect actions to racism—and sometimes it is hard not to. When conservative activists and leaders excitedly contend that the first black American elected president was secretly born overseas and, consequently, is a pretender to the office, it certainly is difficult to ignore racism as a possible contributing motive. (These same people are in no uproar about Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's birth in Canada.) And when President Barack Obama is repeatedly branded a sexed-up flirt, despite the evidence he is a stand-up family guy, a similar query is unavoidable: Is race a factor?
The conservative New York Post this week has done extra duty to promote the idea that the president is a cad (and Michelle Obama is the resentful, jealous, and bossy wife). After photos emerged of Obama taking a selfie with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (with British PM David Cameron the third wheel) and the first lady looking displeased, the media was all abuzz, and Rupert Murdoch's paper led the way with its front-page coverage pitched with this witty headline: "Flirting with Dane-ger." The next day, Post columnist Andrea Peyser pushed the story—and the already widely spread meme—further. In an article headlined, "Flirty Obama Owes Us an Apology," she ranted that Obama had "lost his morality, his dignity and his mind, using the solemn occasion of Nelson Mandela's memorial service Tuesday to act like a hormone-ravaged frat boy on a road trip to a strip bar." She referred to the Danish leader as a "hellcat" and pegged the needle in sexualizing this story: "Thorning-Schmidt placed her hands dangerously close to Obama's side. The president's cackling head moved inches from the Danish tart's and yards away from his wife's. Obama then proceeded to absorb body heat from the Dane, which he won't be feeling at home for a long time." Meet Obama, the lustful and wild predator who cannot control his urges at a solemn occasion.
Peyser was working with an idea—the president as sexy beast—not the facts. The day before her story appeared, Roberto Schmidt, the German Colombian news photographer who had snapped the shots that had ignited this nonscandal threw a bucket of cold water on the story Peyser and others were peddling:
I captured the scene reflexively. All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed—I didn't see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not. We are in Africa.
I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.
Schmidt noted that he spotted nothing improper. Obama had not been a wild man who had prompted a wifely rebuke. Still, that did not prevent Peyser from day-threeing this event with lasciviousness: "Michelle frowned and looked as if she wanted to spit acid at the man she married, a good-time guy who humiliated her in front of their friends, the world and a blonde bimbo who hadn't the sense to cover up and keep it clean."
Why is it that Obama repeatedly draws this sort of attack? In 2009, the Drudge Report and Fox News played up a photo from the G8 summit that supposedly showed the president leering at a teenage girl's rump. The Drudge headline: "Second Stimulus Package." Fox Nation went with "Busted?" And the fact that the target of his roving eyes was 17 years old was played to much salacious effect. Examiner.com reported—presumably mistakenly—that the subject of Obama's less-than-honorable attention was only 16 years old. The New York Post exclaimed, "The leader of the free world and his French counterpart were caught sneaking a peek at a the pink-satin-draped booty of a 17-year-old junior G-8 delegate just moments before the summit's official group photo was snapped in Italy yesterday. Obama wasn't the only head of state getting Yankee Doodle randy." And Fox & Friends dug up another photo from the summit that appeared to show Obama staring at the rear end of a different woman.
You know the rest of the story. When the full video of the event emerged, it was clear that Obama had not gazed with ill intent at the young woman. (The video, though, hardly cleared French President Nicholas Sarkozy.) But the point had been made: this guy cannot help himself.
A year ago, the Daily Mail advanced this plot line with a report that Obama repeatedly flirted with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra while on a trip to Thailand. The article—"Obama gets flirty as he schmoozes with Thai prime minister"—was accompanied by several photos that appeared to show Obama and the "attractive" Shinawatra exchanging "playful glances." (The perhaps sexist implication here—as with Peyser's column—is that female heads of state melt into a puddle whenever O is near.)
This sort of coverage might well happen to a good-looking white guy who was president. But remember when George W. Bush gave German Prime Minister Angela Merkel an impromptu back rub at a G8 meeting in 2006? The video went viral, and the episode launched a flood of jokes and spoofs. Yet, there wasn't much talk of Bush being an impulsive flirter driven by sexual temptation. A Google search turned up no indication that Andrea Peyser rushed to her keyboard to pronounce Bush a moral failure and embarrassment to the nation. At least, Bill Clinton gave people a reason to wonder about his behavior. (During the 1992 campaign, cabaret singer Gennifer Flowers publicly claimed she had a 12-year affair with Clinton; years later, Clinton, in a deposition, countered that he had only one sexual dalliance with her.)
What is it about Obama that causes conservative critics to question his legitimacy as a citizen and his ability to control his sex drive? (In something of a twist, right-wing agitator Jerome Corsi, a leader of the birthers, has in the last year been pushing a different Obama sex story: The president is secretly gay and once upon a time was actively part of Chicago's wild gay bar and bathhouse scene.) It is not too far a stretch, when pondering all this, to recall how racists in the past depicted black men as licentious and a danger to women—that is, white women. Is a remnant of that in play when Obama is cast as a lecherous or flirtatious scalawag? There's probably no definitive answer to be reached here. (Can you—do you want to—peer into the soul of Andrea Peyser?) But the question is real enough that it ought to give commentators and columnists (and their editors) pause before they again revive this Obama Unchained narrative.
So it begins—the revival of the right-wing's get-Hillary crusade.
The conservative outfit Citizens United, which in 2008 released the anti-Hillary Clinton film that led to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on supposedly independent political spending for federal campaigns, is working on a new flick assailing the former secretary of state, and it will be released just in time for the next presidential campaign.
On Tuesday, I bumped into David Bossie, the president of Citizens United, and asked what he was up to these days. He said something vague. And another Hillary Clinton film? I asked. Well, yes, he said, we are working on that.
"What's it going to be called?" I inquired. "'Hillary: The Benghazi Years'? Or 'Hillary: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi'?"
"Oh, she's not going to get off so easy," one of Bossie's colleagues interjected, meaning that the film would not be limited to the right-wing Benghazi narrative. Bossie explained: "It will be all of the State Department years."
"No Vince Foster?" I inquired, referring to the Clinton-era right-wing conspiracy theory that Hillary was somehow involved in the supposedly suspicious (though it really wasn't) suicide of the Clinton White House's top lawyer. In those days, Bossie was a hyper-active investigator for a right-wing congressman who was enthusiastically digging into the Foster suicide and other purported Clinton scandals. Bossie eventually was forced out of the job after he manipulated evidence in one of the anti-Clinton inquiries.
No, Bossie said, nothing on Foster; they're sticking to Clinton's stint as secretary of state.
Bossie and Citizens United's original trash-Hillary documentary—titled Hillary: The Movie—recycled well-worn Clinton tales: Bill's affair with Monica Lewinsky and possibly others; alleged corruption in the White House travel office; campaign finance shenanigans related to Hillary's 2000 Senate race; and the conspiracy theory that the Clintons tried to smother information indicating that Bill Clinton had failed to kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance. It was filled with right-wing talking heads: Dick Morris, Robert Novak, Larry Kudlow, and others. The film darkly hinted that Clinton operatives had even killed the cat of a woman who accused Bill of sexual assault.
Despite Bossie's best intentions, the poorly-distributed movie had no discernible impact on the 2008 election. (Hillary did not lose the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama because of this movie.) But that was not the end of the story. Citizens United tried to run television ads touting the film during the election season—the ads were essentially anti-Hillary spots—and federal law prohibited such independent campaign spending that directly targeted a candidate. Citizens United sued the Federal Elections Committee, and the Supreme Court used this case to overturn a century-old precedent and blew up the limits on independent campaign expenditures by corporations, nonprofits, and unions. This led to an humongous increase in special interest spending designed to influence House, Senate, and presidential contests—with a majority of these dollars deployed to assist Republican candidates.
Bossie, perhaps the top Clinton-chaser of the past two decades, had set out to destroy the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton and failed. But his film ended up triggering the Supreme Court case that remade the political campaign system, much to the benefit of corporate and monied interests.
For their new endeavor, Bossie and his merry band are putting aside the outlandish get-Hillary right-wing fodder of the past—nothing on the cat?—and focusing on her years at Foggy Bottom. Yet is there enough red meat—besides Benghazi, Benghazi, and Benghazi—to fill an entire film? Bossie says there is. But given what transpired last time Citizens United declared war on Hillary, who knows what might result when Bossie and his crew go after the former first lady once again?
Bossie says the film is due to be released at the end of 2015—right before the Iowa caucuses.
In politics, hyperbole is routine. It's common for campaign ads to praise a candidate as a savior or denigrate a contender as the destroyer of worlds. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers regularly claim that a particular piece of legislation will yield everlasting rainbows—or bring about complete devastation. President Barack Obama has been hailed by fans as a champion of hope and change and declaimed by foes as a secret, foreign-born, America-hating Muslim socialist bearing a covert plot to weaken the nation he leads. But every once in the rare while, hyperbole is warranted. And as the fierce mud-wrestling over Obamacare continues, it's not going too far to say that this clash is darn close to a life-and-death battle between the Democrats and Republicans. Which explains why the conflict is not ending, even as the White House patches up the glitchy Healthcare.gov website. Tea party leader Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is still tweeting out daily his demand for a full repeal of Obamacare, and Obama, as he is demonstrating at a White House event on Tuesday afternoon, is revving up the White House sales campaign for the Affordable Care Act.
With the website somewhat functioning, the fundamental debate over Obamacare resumes, and this debate pits the basic philosophy of each party against the other. Ever since becoming tea partyized, the Republican Party has essentially stood for one notion: Government is the problem. After the economic crash of 2008, Republicans tended to blame Washington's federal budget woes—not the actions of Wall Street dealers and schemers—for the financial calamity that sent the economy into the most severe recession since the Great Depression. They saw little need for government action to re-regulate the financial shenanigans that led to millions of Americans losing their jobs and homes. And they fiercely opposed the idea that government should stimulate the collapsing economy. The tea party victory of 2010 pushed the GOP further in this direction, with new Republican legislators obsessively peddling a single-minded agenda: Big government must be crushed. Obamacare, naturally, was the main target of this ideological wrath. So much so that this year, House Speaker John Boehner was outmaneuvered by Cruz-inspired tea party back-benchers determined to shut down the government to thwart health care reform law.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Daily Beast columnist Michael Tomasky this week about public opinion of Obamacare following last month's setbacks. Watch here:
It's not surprising that CBS News today announced that 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan were taking (or being forced to accept?) leaves of absence after an internal review confirmed the obvious: they had botched their now infamous Benghazi report and helped perpetuate a hoax crafted by Dylan Davies, a security consultant who claimed he had been at the compound the night of the attack.
The review's summary findings—which you can read here—note that the contradictions between the account Davies was peddling in public (via a book) and the information he provided to the FBI and the State Department were "knowable" prior to the airing of Logan's report. Logan and McClellan, the review found, "did not sufficiently vet Davies’ account of his own actions and whereabouts that night." No kidding. And the report suggests that Logan was driven by both a desire to find something new in a story already much covered and her belief that the Obama administration was misrepresenting the threat posed by Al Qaeda. This is damning: she failed to do a basic task of reporting and she might have had an agenda.
The review does not answer all the questions that popped up following the 60 Minutes report, especially this one: why the hell did CBS News continue to defend this story after evidence emerged that Davies had fabricated his tale? The summary findings note:
After the story aired, the Washington Post reported the existence of a so-called "incident report" that had been prepared by Davies for Blue Mountain in which he reportedly said he spent most of the night at his villa, and had not gone to the hospital or the mission compound. Reached by phone, Davies told the 60 Minutes team that he had not written the incident report, disavowed any knowledge of it, and insisted that the account he gave 60 Minutes was word for word what he had told the FBI. Based on that information and the strong conviction expressed by the team about their story, [CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer] Jeff Fager defended the story and the reporting to the press.
Hold on. One of the best newspapers in the world reports the existence of documentary evidence that blows the credibility of your super-duper source out of the water, and what do you do? You call the source and ask him if he told you the truth? When the source insists that he did, you take his word and stick to the story? This does not seem like best practices. The Post report should have triggered a five-alarm alert within CBS News. But this much-storied media institution seemingly brushed it aside. It was only after The New York Times told CBS News that it had discovered that Davies' account did not match what he had told the FBI that 60 Minutes kicked into action:
Within hours, CBS News was able to confirm that in the FBI's account of their interview, Davies was not at the hospital or the mission compound the night of the attack. 60 Minutes announced that a correction would be made, that the broadcast had been misled, and that it was a mistake to include Davies in the story.
In other words, the Times had to do CBS News' own job.
That might be the most embarrassing aspect of this episode. Logan and McClellan screwed up big time—and their motivations are fair game. But CBS News hung on to the Davies fiction after there was reason to suspect the network had been fooled and exploited. (The right-wing Benghazi truthers—this means you, Sen. Lindsey Graham—had jumped on the 60 Minutes report like fleas to a dog.) Did the brass at CBS News calculate that the network could ride out the storm? If so, they were thinking like political spinmeisters, not news people. That's a blemish that won't fade soon.