The Long, Partisan Journalism Career of Sid ‘Vicious’ Blumenthal

His career is littered with examples of partisanship and nastiness.

sidbluReprinted from PJMedia.com.

If Hillary Clinton becomes president of the United States, she will undoubtedly bring with her to the White House her long-time trusted aide, confidant, and spinmeister, journalist Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal served in Bill Clinton’s White House as a special advisor, and was recently a staff member at the Clinton Foundation.

Perhaps the most noteworthy revelation coming out of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails from the time she was secretary of state is what they show about her relationship with Blumenthal. The New York Times [1] report summarized it well:

In 2011 and 2012, Hillary Rodham Clinton [2] received at least 25 memos about Libya from Sidney Blumenthal, a friend and confidant who at the time was employed by the Clinton Foundation. The memos, written in the style of intelligence cables, make up about a third of the almost 900 pages of emails related to Libya that Mrs. Clinton said she kept on the personal email account she used exclusively as secretary of state. Some of Mr. Blumenthal’s memos appeared to be based on reports supplied by American contractors he was advising as they sought to do business in Libya. Mr. Blumenthal also appeared to be gathering information from anonymous Libyan and Western officials and local news media reports.

Secretary Clinton wanted Blumenthal to come to the State Department with her, but — remembering how he orchestrated vicious attacks against Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign — the Obama administration turned down her request to bring him aboard. Nevertheless, while she was paying his salary for his work at the Clinton Foundation, she appointed him a special advisor to the State Department anyway, getting around the administration’s wishes.

As for the Blumenthal e-mails, Clinton forwarded his reports on Libya — where he had never been and about which he knew nothing — to others at State and elsewhere without identifying who wrote them. Most importantly, Blumenthal was sending out recommendations favoring those with whom he was involved in a prospective business deal.

Especially damaging was one sent in January 2012, about which the Times noted:

Blumenthal said that Libya’s prime minister was bringing in new economic advisers, and that a businessman, Najib Obeida, was among “the most influential of this group.” At the time, Mr. Obeida was a potential business partner for a group of contractors whom Mr. Blumenthal was advising.

Blumenthal was also one of the first to tell her [3] that, according to Libyan officials, the Benghazi attacks were prompted by the obscure film Innocence of Muslims. A “’senior security officer’ had told Libya’s president,” the Times reported, “that Blumenthal reported that the attacks on that day were inspired by what many devout Libyan [s] viewed as a sacrilegious internet video.” Blumenthal added: “Some of the Libyan officials believe that the entire demonstration was organized as a cover for the attack.”

As we know, Hillary decided to go with the first version.

To those of us who have had contact with and are familiar with Blumenthal’s reporting, there is no doubt that he is incapable of being non-partisan or objective. Blumenthal always saw himself as a partisan fighter in the war against what Hillary Clinton famously called “the great right-wing conspiracy” — a term suggested to her by none other than Blumenthal.

To see what Blumenthal was all about in the ’80s, one must read Joshua Muravchik’s devastating review [4] of Blumenthal’s 1986 book [5], The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, in which Blumenthal argues that a new conservative “elite” has been created and has built “an alternative presence” that, he claims, is more powerful and potent than the old liberal Establishment. Muravchick dissects the book, writing that it is nothing less than “an outburst, a formless outpouring of venom, bounded by no ethics of discourse, nor by logic, consistency, or accuracy.”

What it does show is that Blumenthal’s obsession with and hatred of those he brands “the Right” started in this era, if not before. And, as Muravchick shows, Blumenthal remains true to the New Left origins from whose ranks he started his political life.

Blumenthal would use any ammunition against her enemies, even if they came from conservative sources he hated. First, during the early days of the 2008 campaign, when Hillary was running in the primaries against Barack Obama, Blumenthal himself decided to use the work of various conservative news sources that were exposing Obama’s leftist background. Blumenthal sought to use this information in the hope of mitigating the damage that might be done by the release of information that showed Hillary herself was on the far left in her youth.

I wrote this up for the Weekly Standard in a column [6] titled “Dueling Redbaiters: Which Candidate is the real Leftist?” I explained it this way:

Before you could say Comrade, Clinton’s close adviser Sidney Blumenthal was emailing out blog posts, articles, and reports from a wide array of conservative sources. Blumenthal’s missives went to “an influential list of opinion shapers — including journalists, former Clinton administration officials, academics, policy entrepreneurs, and think tankers,” as the left-wing activist and professor Peter Dreier reported on the Huffington Post (May 1).

Blumenthal sent out pieces from the ultra-conservative Accuracy in Media (AIM) –”With Obama, It’s the Communism, Stupid,” “Obama and the Fifth Column,” “Is Barack Obama a Marxist Mole?” — as well as items from more mainstream conservative publications, such as a Fred Siegel cover story from National Review, Fred Barnes’s “Republicans Root for Obama” from the Weekly Standard, and an older City Journal article by Sol Stern reporting Bill Ayers’s current role in developing a radical curriculum for K-12 teachers (“Ayers’s texts on the imperative of social-justice teaching are among the most popular works in the syllabi of the nation’s ed schools and teacher-training institutes”).”

This was shocking in its own way. Dreier noted that Blumenthal, the very man who coined the term “vast right-wing conspiracy” by circulating articles from the conservative media, was attempting to exploit “that same right-wing network to attack and discredit Barack Obama.”

The man would clearly stop at nothing to put Hillary over. But Blumenthal’s viciousness — which led those who knew his real character to call him “Sid Vicious” — led him during the time of the Clinton impeachment drama to go to new extremes. At that time, he served the same function for Bill Clinton that he did in the 2008 campaign waged by Hillary in the Democrat primaries. After Clinton’s tryst with Monica Lewinsky was made public, he painted the picture that it was Lewinsky who was the responsible party and had been stalking the president.

That led to a famous break with his once-close friend, the late Christopher Hitchens, who knew it to be untrue and detested both Clintons’ attempts to always blame his prey.

Paul Mirengoff explains more at Powerlineblog.com [7]:

During the 1980s, Blumenthal became alarmed by the rise of conservatism as an intellectual-political movement. As a reporter for the Washington Post, he attacked those whom he viewed as in the vanguard of that movement, especially, it seemed, if they happened to be Jewish. Among his targets were Elliott Abrams (who, Blumenthal thought, didn’t take John Lennon’s death seriously enough [8]), Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and David Horowitz.

To that end, Blumenthal made an accusation that Michael Ledeen was responsible for a post appearing on Drudge Report, in which Drudge had accused Blumenthal of beating his wife. Blumenthal sued Ledeen for defamation, and he and his wife Barbara were subject to what any reader can see was a broad-based witch hunt [9] meant to smoke out Ledeen’s political views, as well as scores of other personal and business matters having nothing to do with the allegation made by Blumenthal. Drudge eventually had to apologize and retract his accusation, which had no basis in fact. But Blumenthal used the accusation to go after the Ledeens — and possibly two-dozen other conservatives he listed as accomplices.

It was an opportunity to harass the Clintons’ critics, and to conduct a fishing expedition into the phrase he had given Hillary to use — that of “the great right-wing conspiracy.”

Michael Ledeen responded with an Open Letter [10] to conservatives, warning others of what they would face when questioned by Sidney Blumenthal’s lawyers: the questions would deal with their views of Blumenthal, Clinton, and what one might have written critical of Blumenthal or the president, he warned. Ledeen noted that these forced appearances would be a chance to show how Blumenthal, contrary to his own claims, was anything but a defender of free speech.

These past episodes remind us of what kind of an assistant Secretary Clinton swears by, and has repaid with continued jobs and responsibilities.

David Horowitz reported here [11] on his own similar personal experience with Blumenthal. As he put it: “Sid is such a compulsive and mean-spirited prevaricator that he gives ordinary liars a bad name.” He goes on in detail to reveal just how Blumenthal lied about him in the pages of the Washington Post, especially about the “Second Thoughts” conference Horowitz and Peter Collier had organized in 1987.

Blumenthal falsely said it was held to carry out a “right-wing” agenda, although at the time, Horowitz and Collier had not yet become conservatives, and purposefully had major liberals speaking at the event, including the late David Ifshin, who was general counsel of Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign. Instead of merely reporting what took place, Blumenthal invited a group of leftist journalists who he knew would be hostile to the conference and would also slam it in print.

It happens that I personally learned how Blumenthal approached journalism earlier in 1986. That year, I had a dialogue in the pages of Commentary with both Robert S. Leiken and Penn Kemble around the issue of Central America and the anti-Sandinista contras, as the armed guerilla forces opposed to the regime were called. I took a position that was at first opposed to both sides as violators of human rights. Hence I was opposed to the position taken by many conservatives and anti-Communists, that of outright support to the armed struggle against the Sandinistas that the contras were waging.

My views at the time can be seen in a March 27, 1986, op-ed in the New York Times titled “No Illusions About Nicaragua, Please.” I wrote:

You don’t have to support the contra war — and I don’t — to see what’s wrong with playing cheerleader for the Sandinistas. Far better to support their beleaguered domestic opponents who want to restore a modicum of democracy to Nicaragua. To cheer on the Sandinistas is … to help the commandantes confuse dissent with counterrevolution.

As a result, I received a call from Kemble, who was the chief officer of an anti-Sandinista pressure group, Prodemca [12], or the Committee for Democracy in Central America. It favored support for the contras as a means to pressure the Sandinistas into accepting a peace negotiation that would give representation to civilian opponents of the Sandinista regime. Kemble asked me to reserve judgment about the contras, and asked if I would be willing to take a trip to their training camps in Central America, where I could interview them.

I accepted the invitation, made my arrangements, and contacted publications that would be willing to write up my observations upon return. Prodemca made my planned trip public, and shortly thereafter I received a phone call from Sidney Blumenthal, who was then at the Washington Post, asking for an interview.

I had known of Blumenthal, because after he left his first reporting job at the alternative Boston newspapers the Boston Phoenix and then the Real Paper, he moved on to the independent socialist newsweekly — of which both I and David Horowitz were founding contributing editors — In These Times, which was published and edited in Chicago by James Weinstein and Martin J. Sklar. Making a name for himself as an able political reporter, he was soon hired by the Post and moved to Washington, D.C.

Blumenthal started his interview with me by saying that I should be wary of Prodemca and Kemble, because, as he put it, they were tied up with “the far Right-wing.” He asked me whether I was indeed going to Nicaragua, and he pointed out that at that time, the contras were refusing to let other journalists gain access to them.

The article he wrote, which appeared in the Washington Post on Aug. 8, 1986 (p. A-19), was headlined: “Pro-Contra Group Gives Tours of Bases; N.Y. Professor Says he was Offered Expense-Paid Trip.”

Blumenthal’s article was not objective, but overt pro-Sandinista propaganda meant to discredit Kemble, his organization, and any group or person who was a critic of the Sandinistas’ Marxist regime. He started by pointing out that one of the most hardline Communists in the Sandinista leadership had told him Kemble’s organization Prodemca was responsible for their shutting down the independent newspaper La Prensa, which he claimed had received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, which also funded an independent human rights group in Nicaragua. He then cited an American opponent of Kemble’s group — Aryeh Neier, who led Americas Watch — who told him that Prodemca was “the kiss of death for independent organizations in Nicaragua.”

In his article, Blumenthal then came up with the zinger that was meant to embarrass me. During the interview, he had asked me if I was certain that I was going. Answering him, I joked: “They better send me, because I bought clothing for the trip at Banana Republic.” Kemble had told me I had to buy green and camouflage outfits. Not near any Army-Navy stores, the only place I could find suitable clothing in my neighborhood was at that chain. So Blumenthal wrote that I told him: “I bought my clothes at Banana Republic.” Later, the national edition of the Post put that in its headline: “N.Y. Professor Offered Expense-Paid Trip: Bought Clothes at Banana Republic.”

He ended his article writing that he had been told that the Honduran base I would tour, where 600 contras were training, would be a “dog-and-pony show” similar to those held for visiting congressional delegations, and would be  a “carefully controlled atmosphere” where I would only hear “the party line” and would not really have free access to talk to anyone.

If that had been the case, he failed to note that I already had much experience with trips to leftist regimes by “political pilgrims,” and was prepared to note if my interviews and movement around the camp were controlled by handlers.

With the publication of his article, my trip — already postponed for a few weeks due to safety issues — was cancelled by Prodemca, who gave me no explanation. Later, I heard from sources that the CIA, which had helped in vetting those visiting the camps, thought that I planted the piece with Blumenthal to make them and Reagan policy look foolish, and they were wary of what I would write upon leaving.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. I did, however, travel to Nicaragua a few times to report for The New Republic, as well as to participate in a human rights mission led by Nina Shea, who then ran a group called the Puebla Institute, a Catholic human rights research organization. I was able to reveal how the Sandinistas were trying to implement a full-fledged Communist regime in Nicaragua.

That such an overtly partisan left-wing journalist is considered by Hillary Clinton to be a reliable, respectable, and competent advisor and strategist says a great deal about Clinton’s ability to examine the bona fides of those she has brought along to her various jobs.

Should Clinton become president, she undoubtedly would award her always-reliable friend with a job at either the White House, the State Department, or possibly as her press secretary. Do we really want someone with Sidney Blumenthal’s track record holding such a position?

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Update: No sooner did I post this than was I alerted to two new defenses of Blumenthal, by Joe Conason [13]and James Fallows [14]. Both love it that Blumenthal attacks conservatives, and one of them says it’s ok to call Dick Cheney any bad name you can come up with, but not to chastise Blumenthal for anything.

Columns critical of Blumenthal must be having an effect, or he wouldn’t have obviously asked his friends to pen two major defenses of him in major online publications.

URLs in this post:

[1] New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/19/us/politics/what-sidney-blumenthals-me...

[2] Hillary Rodham Clinton: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/13/us/elections/hillary-clint...

[3] to tell her: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2015/05/21/clinton-emails-show-sidney-blum...

[4] review: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-rise-of-the-counter-esta...

[5] book: http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Counter-Establishment-Conservative-Political/...

[6] column: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/112ocv...

[7] Powerlineblog.com: http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2015/05/hillarys-old-friend-sid-vi...

[8] didn’t take John Lennon’s death seriously enough: http://washingtonnote.com/blast_from_the/

[9] broad-based witch hunt: https://www.mail-archive.com/[email protected]/msg04002.html

[10] Open Letter: http://www.aei.org/publication/an-open-letter-to-the-blumenthal-25/print/

[11] here: http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=18034

[12] Prodemca: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/sandinistas-contras/

[13] Joe Conason : http://http//www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/05/sidney-blumenthal-f...

[14] James Fallows: http://http//www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/05/on-the-frenzy-...

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