Last week, a big to-do was made over the fact that the Clintons have made a lot of money speaking, consulting, and book dealing. The New York Times reported that the two "earned $109 million over the last eight years."
The Times described this as "an ascent into the uppermost tier of American taxpayers" that had seemed "unimaginable" when this poor, beleaguered, bloodied couple "left the White House with little money and facing millions in legal bills."
This became ridiculously big news. The Drudge Report blared "CLINTONS SHOW $109M IN INCOME SINCE LEAVING WHITE HOUSE." The talk shows ate it up. Saturday Night Live opened with a sketch in which Bill and Hillary (played by Darrell Hammond and Amy Poehler) bragged about their extravagant earnings.
The SNL Hillary said that she was even considering dropping out because she could very well be the "wrong choice for millions of Americans who don't seem able to make money." These voters, she teased, might be better off with Barack Obama, so she would stand down. Really? "Psych! That's never gonna happen," said Poehler/Hillary.
Like most SNL political sketches, the bit poked fun not only at politicians but also the press. Why had this become "news" only recently, with the release of the Clintons' tax returns?
Well, explained fake Hillary, "We made it hard for [reporters] to find out that we were rich by hiding out in our house in Westchester" with all that cash apparently tucked away in closets and under mattresses.
THE CLINTONS' INCOME didn't upset or shock me in the slightest. If anything, it was a bit surprising they hadn't cracked $200 million. Maybe Bill has been taking it easy or devoting a lot of time to somebody's campaign?
I was not shocked because this was old news -- practically ancient, in fact. In R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s most recent book The Clinton Crack-Up, page five, paragraph two, we learn that in Bill Clinton's "first four years out of the White House, he earned over $43 million after expenses..."
The next page directs us to Appendix I, a list of the conniving couple's fees for speeches and book royalties and other income. The first three entries tell us that Bill earned $125,000, $150,000, and $125,000 for speeches to Morgan Stanley, the Aventura-Turnberry Jewish Center, and Oracle in February of 2001 and he wasn't even done for the month. The list continues for ten pages.
The book was published in May of last year. You may wonder, how did Tyrrell (who, full disclosure, signs my paychecks; plus we share the same publisher) get his hands on this illuminating information?
Did he plant a mole in the Clinton campaign? Did he take off his tailored jacket and go diving through the Clintons' trash for financial clues? Did he consult a psychic? No, I'm afraid it was less exotic than that. He simply looked at Hillary Clinton's senatorial disclosure reports, which are required by law and fairly easy to access.
In other words, this was information that reporters and columnists could have got their hands on all along. And yet it wasn't widely reported until last week, when the Clintons handed their tax returns to them on a silver platter. No one should ever mistake our political press for a curious press.
THE RECENT FLAP OVER the Clintons' serious coin has Tyrrell scratching his head, and I can't blame him. The worst criticism of The Clinton Crack-Up, which he bristles at, was that this was all "old news." That usually works out to be journalist-speak for "don't bother."
OK, but if this was "old news" then, why is it suddenly hot and newsworthy? What's changed? Hillary was then a candidate for president. She had already announced "I'm in. And I'm in to win." The potential conflicts of interest with Bill's speechifying and consulting existed then just as much as today.
Granted, there are usually write-ups when presidential contenders make their tax returns available, but the coverage falls far short of the full court press (pardon the pun) that the Clintons have received. What's different now?
One possibility is that most upper middle class Democrats, and therefore most editors and reporters of our nation's big papers as well as television producers, are Obama supporters who think that Hillary should hurry up and drop out of the race already.
Whom elite liberals are pulling for really does shape political coverage in ways great and small. Anybody that tells you otherwise is selling something -- probably a New York Times subscription. Their views play a great role in shaping what's considered news and what isn't ("old news").
FOR INSTANCE, THE OTHER week it came out that Hillary Clinton's people had been distributing a piece by one Robert M. Goldberg that had been published on The American Spectator's website.
The substance of Goldberg's article was the foreign policy views of an Obama advisor, retired General Merrill McPeak, who made headlines accusing Bill Clinton of using "divisive tactics" and of "question[ing] Barack Obama's patriotism." The general also likened the former president to Joe McCarthy.
Goldberg recalled some even more controversial statements that the blunt speaking McPeak had made in an old interview with the Oregonian in 2003.
When they were talking about how to get the U.S. government to help resolve the ongoing problems with Israel and the Palestinians, one of the interviewers asked him the very opposite of a loaded question: "So where's the problem? State? White House?" McPeak answered, "New York City. Miami. We have a large vote...here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it."
McPeak then advocated that Israel make certain concessions and put the cherry on top with a semi coherent rant about how, well, I'll just quote the man: "There's an element in Oregon, you know, that's always going to be radical in some pernicious way, and likely to clothe it in religious garments, so it makes it harder to attack. So there's craziness all over the place."
Realizing he might have dug himself in there, the general emphasized that he had spent some time as a junior officer working "very closely with the Israeli air force" and that he had found that "more cosmopolitan, liberal version of the Israeli population" to be just chock full of that sort of "goodwill" necessary to give a bunch of land back to the Palestinians.
GOLDBERG POINTED THIS OUT and the Hillary camp rightly decided this was a story worth passing around to raise serious questions about an Obama advisor who had laid into them. How did the press respond to this?
They went nuts. At the Atlantic, former Jimmy Carter speechwriter James Fallows produced a representative response. He called it a "hit piece" and claimed that the Clinton camp passing it around was "simply disgusting."
Fallows huffed: "That the Clinton family would dignify The American Spectator, of all publications, is astonishing to anyone who was alive in the 1990s."
And he puffed: "That they would bless this attempt to paint Merrill McPeak as an anti-Semite is grotesque."
And he blew a deep sigh: "I can easily believe that the Spectator would publish such an article. That the Clinton team would circulate it I'm still trying to deal with."
There you have it. The Spectator published an article that was relevant, accurate, and hard hitting enough that even Hillary Clinton couldn't ignore it. That's driven some refined folks, who are used to being able to write these things off as "old news," right around the bend.