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Senator Clinton made personal phone calls to raise money for ‘nonpartisan’ defender, employees say

John Byrne
Published: Wednesday September 27, 2006

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Organization denies asking Clinton for aid

A media watchdog nonprofit that has proved instrumental in efforts to expose alleged media bias against liberal politicians received personal assistance from Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) when the organization was starting up in 2004, according to employees at the organization and an individual close to the Clintons.

Kelly Craighead, an assistant to Clinton when she was first lady and a close personal friend, asked the senator to make fundraising calls on behalf of the group, Media Matters for America, two current employees say. At the time, Craighead was consulting for the organization under a $200,000 contract with her husband.

“Kelly actually got Hillary on the phone to make fundraising calls to finance Media Matters,” one individual familiar with the calls said. “She made phone calls to a-list [Clinton] donors.” The individual added that Craighead would have a “high-ranking” role if Clinton decides to run for president.

Craighead could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the firm at her husband’s consulting company said she was no longer working at his office.

Media Matters declined to comment on the record until a teaser went up for the story today. In a statement, they denied "any representative" had asked Clinton to make calls, and that Clinton had never raised money "to our knowledge."

“At no time has anyone affiliated with Media Matters asked Senator Clinton to raise money on behalf of Media Matters," Media Matters spokesman Eric Burns said in a statement. "And to our knowledge, Senator Clinton has never made calls or raised money on behalf of Media Matters."

Burns wouldn't say whether he had spoken with Craighead.

A Clinton associate, who said he did not know of personal calls made by the senator, also asserted that the Clintons had availed Media Matters of campaign donor lists in an effort to get the nascent organization off the ground, a claim made independently by the two employees. A nonprofit founded by erstwhile conservative David Brock, Media Matters provides rapid online rebuttals to media claims that contain alleged conservative bias.

Clinton and her husband are the only Democratic politicians to have their own categories on the Media Matters website, despite the fact the Clinton presidency was four years cold when the organization launched. The senator is also the only individual listed under a section on 2008 elections, even though she has not announced her intention to run for president. She is not, however, the most-written about Democrat—that honor goes to former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

Clinton’s Senate office did not return calls and emails for comment.

Neither the senator’s alleged calls nor the receipt of fundraising lists runs afoul of Senate ethics rules. But accounts by current and former employees—as well as a detailed examination of the organization’s work—paint a picture of an organization aimed at defending a polarizing former first lady and advancing efforts to seed a possible presidential bid.

Two Media Matters employees also allege that Clinton’s Senate office has played a role in encouraging articles posted by the organization. Specifically, they say that after receiving a call from the senator’s office, Media Matters attacked ABC over a dramatized recreation of 9/11 impugning her husband’s administration. Media Matters wrote 45 items about the film, Path to 9/11, 40 of them just in the single week of September 6-12.

Burns declined to comment on the specific pieces, but said the organization routinely receives -- and welcomes -- tips and suggestions from third parties.

The individuals also pointed to another item they said had been sought by Clinton’s office but asked that RAW STORY not identify it for fear it would compromise their anonymity.

“Brock made the order himself,” an individual familiar with the piece said.

Several former lower-level Media Matters staffers, however, said they had never been asked to put undue focus on the senator. They asserted that they felt the spotlight on Clinton was justified, given her popularity as a target of conservative attacks. They acknowledged, however, that they were not necessarily in a position to know.

Burns said Media Matters enjoys broad support that runs the gamut of the political divide.

"Media Matters enjoys broad support from individuals across the political spectrum, people who understand the growing problem of conservative misinformation and inaccurate reporting which pervades our media," Burns said. "In that effort, we welcome the active support of anyone who shares those values.”

RAW STORY also made inquiries with Media Matters earlier this month regarding Neil Lattimore, a recent hire who'd worked as deputy communications director for Sen. Clinton when she was first lady. Lattimore, according to the organization’s website, served as Director of Special Projects.

The following week, Lattimore’s name was removed from the website. A Media Matters spokesman said Lattimore had left to join a think tank and that his departure had been in the works for some time.

BEYOND DEFENSE

David Brock wasn’t always the Clintons’ biggest supporter. A 1994 article he wrote for a conservative magazine was the first to mention Paula Jones—as “Paula”—who Brock alleged was Clinton’s girlfriend. Jones later sued Clinton for sexual harassment, and her story became part of the drama surrounding Clinton’s impeachment. The article also floated accusations that Clinton had used Arkansas state troopers to conceal personal trysts, a claim which Brock later retracted.

Two years later, to many conservatives’ consternation, Brock published a sympathetic portrait of Hillary Clinton. The following year he penned a confessional in Esquire titled, “I Was a Conservative Hit Man.” He subsequently authored a mea culpa in book form which revealed the scaffolding behind the conservative attack machine of the 1990s.

It’s no secret that Media Matters has long enjoyed the blessings of the Clintons and their former aides. Brock’s venture was developed with help from President Clinton’s onetime chief of staff, John Podesta, whose own liberal nonprofit, Center for American Progress, gave Media Matters a home at their inception.

Conservative critics of Media Matters suggested a link between Clinton donors and articles favoring the Arkansas couple from day one. They noted that the first major item posted on the organization’s website in May 2004, five months before the 2004 presidential election, focused on the past—positing that President Bush did not in fact inherit a recession from the Clinton White House some four years before.

This didn’t go unnnoticed. But other aspects of Media Matters musings on the Clintons have.

To begin with, there’s the prominence Sen. Clinton enjoys on the organization’s website. Besides being the only person listed under a section on the 2008 election, the junior senator from New York also has a category under 2006 elections, which she shares with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). However, DeLay’s fall probably ranks as the most significant news story of the 2006 cycle, while Clinton’s election is uncompetitive.

What’s striking in a comprehensive review of the 841 Media Matters items that come up in a site search for the Clintons is not their volume, or that they defend a prominent senator who seems first in the Democrats’ line for the presidency. It’s their placement, their focus, and the fact that they go beyond defense—with many instead attacking the Clintons’ detractors.

Take for example Media Matters’ response to a 2005 article written by Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff about US soldiers urinating on the Quran, a story which the Bush Administration averred had sparked riots in Afghanistan.

As Administration officials questioned the veracity of the report’s central claims—Newsweek later retracted one element of the story—Media Matters went after Isikoff. Rather than examining the accuracy of Bush Administration charges (the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff later said the riots were under way before the article appeared), their reply, “Media mum on Newsweek’s Isikoff’s role in Clinton scandals; Isikoff called for firings at CBS over Bush Guard scandal,” focused instead on previous statements and Isikoff’s coverage of President Clinton.

“Isikoff’s role as a leading reporter on the so-called ‘Clinton scandals’ in the 1990s, including the Paula Jones, Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky cases, has gone virtually unnoticed in broadcast, cable TV and print reports so far on the Newsweek story,” the piece co-authored by Media Matters Managing Director Jamison Foser declared.

The article then quoted from earlier books criticizing Isikoff.

Media Matters also attacked a reporter who suggested the Clintons’ marriage could play a role in the senator’s potential presidential bid. In addition to questioning his story, the organization dug up articles he’d previously written, in a post titled, “Author of NYT tabloid story on Clintons has checkered record.”

Media Matters has also occasionally clarified the senator’s position—an activity usually relegated to a politician’s spokesperson.

In 2005, the nonprofit published two articles stating Clinton’s position on abortion was consistent, after Fox News and CNN alleged her position had “softened.”

“Conservatives have claimed that she is moving away from her pro-choice stance in order to increase her political appeal in advance of a 2008 presidential bid,” Deputy Director for External Affairs Nicole Casta wrote. “But as Media Matters for America has noted, Clinton’s speech was fully consistent with her previous statements and votes on the issue.”

The item appears consonant with a panoply of articles correcting conservative misinterpretations. But on closer inspection, it seems to address an issue more worrisome to liberals—arguing on the senator’s behalf that she wasn’t caving to conservatives on the issue.

The month before, Media Matters had attacked MSNBC’s Chris Matthews for distorting “Democrats’ history on abortion.” The only Democrats mentioned were Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Media Matters has also devoted articles to remonstrating with reporters for ‘misinterpreting’ Clinton’s immigration stance, attacking media outlets that ignored positive Clinton poll numbers, and even lambasted a story which suggested a rift between Sen. Clinton and one of her friends.

BOOKS

In the television series “The West Wing,” Hollywood’s fictionalized drama about a Democratic White House in the late 1990s, deputy communications director Sam Seaborn calls a meeting of top aides to respond to a spurious insider account of the Administration penned by a former White House photographer.

In June 2005, a comparable ‘insider’ account regarding Sen. Clinton—The Truth About Hillary—caused similar apprehension. In less than a month, Media Matters had penned 27 items to debunk its claims, including attacks on media outlets that aired the book’s allegations, salvos at media personalities who championed the book and an open letter from Brock to the book’s publisher.

The West Wing White House declined to give the charges a platform by responding. Likewise, Clinton’s office didn’t engage the senator with a reactionary critic. She didn’t need to—Media Matters did the work for her.

Brock, once a pariah who peddled apocryphal claims about her husband’s sex life, had come full circle.

Just two other books have sections devoted to them on the Media Matters website, President Clinton’s My Life and Louis Freeh’s My FBI. Twelve articles were published on the former president’s autobiography, four on Freeh. When Clinton’s FBI director revealed his troubled relationship with the former president, Media Matters’ articles sought to discredit Freeh’s assertions.

BY THE NUMBERS

To be fair, Sen. Clinton is perhaps the most demonized Democrat in politics today. As such, it’s not surprising that a progressive media watchdog would spend so much time defending her.

Media Matters has written more about Sen. Clinton than any other Democrat except Sen. Kerry, who ran for president in 2004. A search of the Media Matters website for “Kerry” yielded 890 hits to 442 for “Hillary.” A search for “Clinton” produced 841.

Other Democrats were less in the limelight. Former Vice President Al Gore drew 263 mentions in a site search; Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), 224; Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, 190; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), 123; and ranking House Armed Services Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), 97.

Among Republicans, conservative firebrand Ann Coulter garnered 860 mentions; President Bush, 781; Vice President Dick Cheney, 651; and conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, 599.

As this article went to print, some staffers and Democratic insiders sought to play down Clinton’s influence at Media Matters. But one former employee said the organization’s leanings were readily apparent. A joke around the office, the ex-staffer said, proposed another name for Brock’s nonprofit.

The appellation? Hillary Matters for America.




 
 
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