It was early April, debate night for the half-dozen Republican candidates vying to replace retiring Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), and the front-runner, Del. Barbara Comstock, was getting a taste of her own medicine. That is, she was on the receiving end of some premium opposition research.
Comstock earned her stripes as the consummate Washington political operative by digging up dirt on the Clinton White House. She would later go on to hang out a shingle as a hired PR gun and lobbyist for some of DC's most controversial figures, including ex-Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby and Blackwater's Erik Prince. She'd built a career out of driving the narrative.
But now, on stage at a middle school in Sterling, Virginia, all she could do was shake her head as Rob Wasinger, one of her opponents, went on the offensive. Wasinger, a onetime chief of staff to ex-Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, invoked Comstock's lobbying work on behalf Carnival Cruise Corporation. The company, he explained, earned $236 million in taxpayer funding from the Hurricane Katrina relief bill in 2005, ostensibly to provide housing for evacuees. But the boats it sent to the Gulf Coast were never more than half full and the cruise company charged more than twice what it would have for an actual cruise.
"How can we possibly trust her to cut government spending when she's been first in line at the trough?" Wasinger asked.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's award-winning loan document.
It's like the Oscars, but for paperwork.
The Clearmark Awards, sponsored by the DC-based Center for Plain Language, are handed out annually to the government agencies, corporations, and nonprofits that produce the most coherent literature. On Tuesday, for the 11th-consecutive year, the nominees gathered at the National Press Club in downtown Washington to nibble on chocolate mousse and celebrate their colleagues for making bureaucratic copy comprehensible. Up for awards were the Social Security Administration, for its redesigned website; the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, for its revision of its rules of procedure; and the National Diabetes Education Program, for its pamphlet on taking care of your feet. In a year in which a broken website became a symbol of bureaucratic ineptitude, these were the heroes the media never told you about.
In a 1995 internal memo, President Bill Clinton's White House Counsel's Office offered an in-depth analysis of the right-wing media mill that Hillary Clinton had dubbed the "vast right-wing conspiracy." Portions of the report, which was reported on by the Wall Street Journal and other outlets at the time, were included in a new trove of documents released to the public by the Clinton presidential library on Friday.
The report traced the evolution of various Clinton scandals, such as Whitewater and the Gennifer Flowers affair allegations, from their origins at conservative think tanks or in British tabloids, until the point in which they entered the mainstream news ecosystem. Making matters even more complicated was new technology, the report explained: "[E]vidence exists that Republican staffers surf the internet, interacting with extremists in order to exchange the ideas and information." The administration even had a name for the process: "The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce."
Per the document:
The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce refers to the mode of communication employed by the right wing to convey their fringe stories into legitimate subjects of coverage by the mainstream media. This is how the stream works. Well funded right wing think tanks and individuals underwrite conservative newsletters and newspapers such as the Western Journalism Center, the American Spectator and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Next, the stories are re-printed on the internet where they are bounced all over the world. From the internet, the stories are bounced into the mainstream media through one of two ways: 1) The story will be picked up by the British tabloids and covered as a major story, from which the American right-of-center mainstream media (i.e. the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and New York Post) will then pick the story up; or 2) The story will be bounced directly from the internet to the right-of-center mainstream American media. After the mainstream right-of-center media covers the story, Congressional committees will look into the story. After Congress looks into the story, the story now has the legitimacy to be covered by the remainder of the American mainstream press as a "real" story.
Chief among the White House's frustrations was conservative reaction to the death of Vince Foster, the president's former chief of staff. Right-wing outlets alleged that the Clintons had murdered Foster (or hired someone to do it) and covered it up as a suicide. According to the report:
The controversy surrounding the death of Vince Foster has been, in large part, the product of a well-financed right-wing conspiracy industry operation. The "Wizard of Oz" figure orchestrating the machinations of the conspiracy industry is a little-known recluse, Richard Mellon Scaife. Scaife uses his $800 million dollar inherited Mellon fortune to underwrite the Foster conspiracy industry. Scaife promotes the industry through his ownership of a small Pittsburgh newspaper, the Tribune-Review. Scaife's paper, under the direction of reporter Chris Ruddy, continually publishes stories regarding Foster's death. The stories are then reprinted in major newspapers all over the country in the form of paid advertisements. The Western Journalism Center (WJC), a non-profit conservative think tank, places the ads in these newspapers. The WJC receives much of its financial backing from Scaife.
(Ruddy went on to found Newsmax, a conservative media outlet now promoting the theory that Chelsea Clinton decided to have a baby in order to help her mother's 2016 presidential bid.)
Nebraska state Sen. Beau McCoy (R), who is campaigning for governor by driving around the state in a white pickup truck with a ladder rack, wants GOP primary voters to know that he'll push back against President Barack Obama's administration. In an ad that hit Nebraska airwaves this week, McCoy confronts an Obama bobblehead doll mounted on a fence post—and knocks it to the ground with a swift backhand. "More Obamacare in Nebraska? That's the last thing we need," he says before smacking the bobblehead.
Then he rides off on his steed.
McCoy is a serious underdog in the race to succeed GOP Gov. Dave Heineman. He grabbed just 4.7 percent in a February survey of the field by Harper Polling, well behind attorney general Jon Bruning and former Ameritrade COO Pete Ricketts, the son of big-time Republican super-PAC donor Joe Ricketts.
I met Jeb Bush's biggest nightmare during a breakout session at March's Conservative Political Action Conference held outside of DC. In a side room, Phyllis Schlafly, the octogenarian den mother of the religious right, was explaining why attendees should be afraid of a set of national educational standards, little noticed by the national political press, called Common Core. The standards are arguably Bush's biggest political legacy. They are also the source of a rising tide of activism on the political right. One after another, conservative activists in the standing-room-only audience stood up to express their alarm. "If you are a white male boy—God forbid you're Jewish!—you're being targeted and it's very scary," fretted a woman from Texas. "Very scary."