Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton
By Howard Kurtz
It’s 1998. The Thompson Committee,
holding hearings about the fundraising abusing of the Clinton/Gore
campaign in 1996, has released a memo written by Harold Ickes for Clinton
and Gore, explaining the differences between hard money and soft money,
and how much of each amount could be used for commercials. Both Clinton
and Gore had read it.
The Free Press, 324 pp, 1998
This was a major problem, because Gore
had denied knowing that he was raising hard money. This memo proved him a
liar. Time for the masters of spin to swing into action.
Lanny Davis, adviser to the president
and one of the chief spin masters, ran to the Hart Building, where an AP
reporter was writing the first dispatch about the memo. Davis peered over
his shoulder and started suggesting alternate phrases for the story. He
ran away again to check the current spin with his boss, then returned and
read the story again. And suggested another word change.
“We’re not going to edit your
statements on the wire, Lanny,” another AP reporter said. Davis denied
he was doing this, but the reporter didn’t believe him. After the story
was done, Davis told him that the official comment from the administration
was too low in the story. The AP reporter brushed him off again.
In other words, a member of the federal
government was trying to dictate to a member of the press how he should
write his story, to make it more favorable to the administration. That’s
Howard Kurtz, author of the Media Notes
section in the Washington Post, chronicles this and other
adventures of the Clinton spin team in 1997. These people – Lanny Davis,
John Podesta, Mike McCurry, and others – were obsessed with controlling
the message, the flow, the tone, and even the content of all stories
written about them. They sweet-talked reporters, bugged them, screamed at
them, whatever it took. They leaked damaging stories to control the
damage. They withheld information before leaking it at what they
calculated to be a politically opportune time. They cooperated with
reporters when it suited their purposes and stonewalled when it didn’t.
They considered all these shenanigans a war for the hearts, minds, and
favorable polling of the American people. They were battling against the
evil, scandal-obsessed press, who ignored all the wonderful things Clinton
and Gore were doing and instead reported the lying, dissembling,
perjuring, and law-breaking Clinton and Gore were doing. All of this, of
course, with the full blessing and encouragement of Clinton and Gore. With
such so much time devoted to spin, when did they have time to get any real
Kurtz knows his stuff and has talked to
all the principals involved. One has to wonder, though, if he hasn’t
been “spun” himself. If you’re Lanny Davis, and Howard Kurtz
interviews you for his book, aren’t you going to give him the spin like
you would any other reporter?
The main fault of the book is the
timing, which, of course, is hardly Kurtz’s fault. Since he covers only
1997, and just the first part of 1998, he can only touch on the mother of
all scandals: the Monica Lewinsky affair. I would have loved to have read
how the spin masters handled that little episode, which nearly (and should
have) brought down the Clinton presidency.
Hopefully, Kurtz is working on that book