Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Electoral Disfunction: Tittletattle on the Campaign Trail, British style

Tom Baldwin, DC Bureau chief for the Thunderer (or Times of London to non-UK readers) has blogged about why he ran the piece that repeated gossip, along with other rumors, about how Hillary snatches happiness with a younger Muslim lady lover on the campaign trail. He headlined it "History according to a "Hillary confidante" (and Matt Drudge)...'

My colleague, Tim Reid, travelled down to South Carolina last week where he soon found himself up to his ankles in what he described as the "foulest swamp of electoral dirty tricks in America".

Tim wrote about some of the smears and inuendos already floating by in the Palmetto state. His second paragraph reported some of the extraordinary allegations being spread about Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama, Fred Thompson and, oh yes, Hillary Clinton.

The purpose of this report (read it for yourselves) was not to suggest these claims were true, but to provide a measure of their nastiness. For instance, I'm pretty sure Obama is not a "Muslim extremist".

Mattdrudge_5 Tim's article was duly picked up on Thursday by the Drudge Report and that, we thought, was that.

Then yesterday, Drudge decides to lead with:

Sun Nov 25 2007 20:45:12 ET

The TIMES of London starts 'The Ugliest Month' with a full page photo takeout on Hillary Clinton and her beautiful personal assistant.

"This does not even qualify as tabloid trash... it's ridiculous and reckless," a Hillary confidante explained over the weekend.

Drudge does not quote from the story directly, referring only to the headline, a brief mention of Clinton and a 12-word picture caption. This, if read in isolation, might wrongly give readers of Drudge the impression that The Times was giving the allegation about her even the faintest hint of credence.

A story that five days ago gave real context to the dirty fight in South Carolina has itself been quoted out of context.

So, what's really going on?

Has a "Hillary confidante" contacted Drudge to draw attention to this five-day old story? Quite possibly. The New York Times recently reported that her campaign had opened up a direct channel of communication to the mysterious Mr Drudge.

Why would a "Hillary confidante" do such a thing? The mind boggles.

Could it be to provide cover for other - alleged - activities at Camp Clinton and its surrounding outposts?

I don't know.

But last week the conservative columnist Bob Novak claimed that agents of the Clinton campaign were sitting on scandalous information about Obama. The item prompted a furious response from Obama, who challenged her to either make the information public "or concede the truth that there is none". The Clinton campaign said it knew nothing about it. This weekend Novak stood by his claim. "My source is a big Democrat - who is neutral right now, but was told by an agent of the Clinton camp who was involved in the campaign about the alleged scandal," he said. "I haven't talked to a single Republican on this. This was all strictly Democrats."

Alternatively, the Drudge story may serve the purpose of underscoring Hillary's current theme about how rivals are "throwing mud" which is backed by a new advertisement focusing on the attacks being launched on her by Republicans.

There is, indeed, a lot of this about. On November 7, Ken Silverstein, the Washington Editor for Harper's Magazine, blogged under the headline: "Not Just Republicans Spreading Rumors About Hillary’s Lesbian Affair".

But The Times is not "kicking off the ugliest month" - if that is what the next few weeks will be - we are merely doing our best to report it.

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