CNN Touts Hillary-Pal Website, Ignores Cattle Futures Fixer There

On CNN’s The Situation Room on Monday, CNN political reporter Candy Crowley publicized a new website started by the Hillary Clinton campaign at the address, designed to warm up Hillary’s cold, calculating image. Crowley touted how a combination of personal friends and New York constituents and "some names you would recognize" like Wesley Clark would spin for the candidate’s personal warmth.

Some of it was low on the relevance meter: "Today, we heard from a longtime – one of her closest friends in elementary school, who told us Clinton was captain of the crossing guards in elementary school." But go on the actual website, and on the front page is Jim Blair, described only as "A very close friend of Hillary’s whose wife passed from cancer in 2000." Political junkies should know that name: Jim Blair is the Tyson Foods lawyer who mysteriously set rules aside and massaged Hillary’s $1,000 investment into a $100,000 bonanza in the cattle futures market over nine months in 1978 and 1979.

Blair’s video testimonial is summarized underneath his video screen: "I’d like to tell the story of the last of Diane’s life...Hillary was in a Senate race in New York. Hillary called Diane every day for the last 90 days of Diane’s life...Hillary gave her comfort and the strength to keep going." Blair also tells of Hillary standing up for the couple as their politically correct "best person" at their 1979 wedding, but says nothing, obviously, about the quick six-figure commodities miracle.

Hillary and Diane Blair were indeed very close friends. (Diane Blair, during the Clinton presidency, headed the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for a time, and no one objected to Clinton cronyism over PBS and NPR monies.) Carl Bernstein’s Hillary biography relied heavily on notes and documents from the 1992 Clinton campaign kept in notebooks by Diane Blair, which means Bernstein is one biographer who had an inside track to the Hillary camp.

It’s simply amazing that the Clinton campaign is so incredibly nonchalant about Clinton-scandal scrutiny that it can brazenly put major figures in their Arkansas financial scandals in such a prominent position without any fear that the Candy Crowleys of the world would remind viewers of old scandal connections. (Blair was also heavily involved in trying to talk Jim McDougal, the Clintons’ felonious Whitewater business partner, out of talking to the press in 1992.) CNN ended up sounding like a public-relations firm pitching her latest Internet project instead of a network with an ounce of journalistic skepticism and investigative zeal:

JOHN KING, substitute anchor: If you don't already, Hillary Clinton wants you to know she's compassionate and funny. The Clinton campaign has launched a new Web site featuring people making that and other points on Clinton's behalf. CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is following Senator Clinton today. She joins me now live from Des Moines, Iowa. Candy, let's start with, turn on your morning TV this morning, and there was Senator Clinton everywhere. What's behind this media blitz?

CANDY CROWLEY: Yes, absolutely. Well, what's behind is, they are trying to get on a roll here. They have hit a rough patch over the last four to five weeks. Now is the time you want to try to start building momentum. They got a couple key endorsements, including the Des Moines Register endorsement in the Sunday papers.

So, they sort of wanted to go at this weekend and into this week with a huge push to try to generate excitement, frankly, try to move some of the undecideds, but also to get some of their key caucus-goers excited. So, they have put her out there. They intend to keep putting her out there.

KING: So, trying to get a little bit more energy, and, at the same time she's on TV, back to this new Web site, -- I'm sure people are clicking on it all over the country right now -- hoping, obviously -- it's an effort to warm people to her image. Explain why.

CROWLEY: Well, you know, because, look, here's -- here's what the polls all show. And here is what they know very well in the Clinton campaign. That is, first, that people see her as a leader. Second, they think she's very smart. Her Achilles' heel always has been, is she cold, is she calculating, is she just another conniving politician? So, what they have done is, they have set up these Web -- this Web site with these testimonials. They are from childhood friends. They are from some names you would recognize, Wesley Clark among them, Vilsack from -- the former governor here, people like that. But they're also from just some of her constituents in New York, saying, well, she called me. I told her I had this problem. Here's what she did.

I mean, today, we heard from a longtime -- one of her closest friend from elementary school, who told us that Clinton was captain of the crossing guards in elementary school. So, we're getting a lot of that sort of personal data. And -- and why? I mean, Hillary Clinton really said so herself in this bite you're going to hear.

CLIP OF SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Here in Iowa, I want you to have some flavor of who I am, you know, outside of the television cameras, when all the cameras and the lights disappear, what I do when nobody is listening or taking notes and recording it, because it's hard, when you're in public life, to have that kind of sharing experience with thousands and millions of people.

CROWLEY: I don't know if you can tell, John, but there is a definite tonal difference here. This is not the rallying Hillary Clinton. This is not the policy Hillary Clinton. This is the personal side of Hillary Clinton. They think -- they think they need to cross that barrier, to say, look, here is the woman you haven't seen yet.

KING: As a former president once put it, the kinder, gentler side of Hillary Clinton.

Pathetic. For more background on the Cattlegate scandal and the media’s failure in 1994 to get to the bottom of it, consult Chapter 5 of our book Whitewash:

On March 18, 1994, exactly 500 days after the election, another scandal burst—this one centered directly on Hillary. Jeff Gerth’s latest New York Times scoop was headlined "Top Arkansas Lawyer Helped Hillary Clinton Turn Big Profit" and introduced America to Cattlegate. Starting just three weeks before Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas, "Hillary Rodham Clinton made about $100,000 in one year in the commodities market with the help and advice of a friend who was the top lawyer for one of the state’s most powerful and heavily regulated companies." That friend was James Blair, a lawyer for Tyson Foods—who had worked hard behind the scenes to influence Jim McDougal and others in Arkansas to shut down the Whitewater drip-drip to Gerth during the 1992 primaries.

At first, the White House would not release how much money Hillary initially invested, and when it was revealed to be only $1,000, the White House’s reluctance was understandable. How did she achieve such an astounding capital gain in a matter of months? Mrs. Clinton first claimed that she just read the financial pages. Later it was discovered that her trades were arranged through Blair, so she changed her story. He selected the trades, and she approved them, she said.

This information was forthcoming only because the Clintons finally had consented to surrendering their federal tax returns from 1978 and 1979, years Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas. Imagine if reporters had been more diligent in covering the Whitewater story in the spring of 1992. Had they pushed to discover the real story then, they would have found that these tax returns didn’t match the Clintons’ publicly stated financial claims about Whitewater—the couple in fact contributed less to Whitewater than advertised. In the process the press also would have uncovered the cattle futures story, which was there all along. It is not idle speculation to suggest that these two stories, coming on the heels of the recently uncovered evidence of Clinton’s wretched womanizing, might well have exhausted Democratic primary voters’ patience with Team Little Rock and spared the country of this eight-year presidency. The very real possibility that serious and timely coverage of the Clintons’ scandals would have dealt a fatal blow to the Clinton campaign underscores the extraordinary role this post-Watergate, post-Iran-Contra press corps played in the 1992 presidential election.

Even when the story finally broke in 1994, major media outlets did little to explore it, despite the screaming red flares of Hillary’s shifting stories over the financial windfall. None of the Big Three evening newscasts devoted a full story to the mysterious trades until eleven days after the original Times scoop. Ultimately, the four networks reported only eighteen evening news stories between them on Mrs. Clinton’s curious trading. Twelve of the eighteen stories aired on the three days the White House released documents or met the press: March 29, April 11, and April 22—the day Mrs. Clinton decided to hold her famous "Pretty in Pink" press conference to try and put the scandal out. Cattlegate, in other words, merited coverage only when the lead was Hillary’s defense of her honor.

Hillary wore a pink blouse and black skirt to the press conference, sat before a fireplace, and calmly maintained that there was "no evidence" she’d done anything wrong. During the one-hour-and-twelve-minute-long event she shed no light on the strange affair, saying only that she had left all the troublesome details to friendly men, whether it was Jim Blair on the cattle trades, or Jim McDougal on the Whitewater finances.

Reporters were positively floored by her performance. Immediately after the press conference, NBC’s Tom Brokaw pronounced, "She was cool, articulate, and for the most part very responsive to all questions." He asked reporter Lisa Myers if there were any major errors. "No, not a one," Myers declared. He asked Andrea Mitchell for a quick assessment. After Mitchell noted the obvious—Hillary didn’t fully answer the questions—she gazed into her crystal ball: "I think you saw the talent of Hillary Rodham Clinton as a politician."

ABC’s Peter Jennings repeated Mrs. Clinton’s diversionary charge that attacks on her showed that "the country is having some difficulty adjusting to a working woman in the role of First Lady." And then he said something truly laughable. "I think most people will regard this as certainly an enormous effort by Mrs. Clinton to set the record as straight as she can." Later he asked reporter Jim Wooten, "Has she set aside the passion that the Washington press corps particularly has for the details of their life in Arkansas?" Whatever "passion" Jennings was alluding to, it certainly hadn’t come from him. It had taken him eleven days to arrive on the story, and after Hillary put the pink outfit back in the closet, that’s where his interest went as well. But consider this: when Roll Call, a small-circulation Capitol Hill newspaper, revealed two months later that Senator Al D’Amato, a Republican, made $35,000 on stock in an initial public offering closed to most investors, ABC reported the story the very next day.

...A new Newsweek poll found that 57 percent of the public thought the press was "wallowing" in Whitewater. (Don’t bother asking whether liberal media bosses are in the habit of ordering polls to explore media excess when Republicans are in the White House.) Writing in the magazine, Eleanor Clift and Mark Miller said that "the public, if not the press, seems willing to give the vacationing Clintons a break." That supposedly relentless press soon did give Bill and Hillary a break: a month after the Pink Lady press conference, when the White House released documents indicating that the First Lady had received preferential treatment by not being required to post margin (pay cash when her shares’ value dropped), the networks were nowhere to be found to report the special handling that she had denied during her star turn.

Such picayune details, apparently, were nothing the media needed to bother over. The Hillary Clinton Booster Club was still wowed by the First Lady. Clift and Miller captured the press’s starry-eyed gaze when they concluded their article with this piece of jaw-dropping spin on Hillary’s financial scandals: "The public might even be tickled to discover that the prim and preachy First Lady has a gambler’s streak. Hillary’s brief fling in commodities was possibly reckless, but it shows a glimmering of a more credible, if more flawed, human being."

Not everything Hillary touches turns to gold, certainly, but the media do their best to make it seem that way.

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