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Context of 'January 25, 2001: White House Spokesman Says Administration Will Not Discuss ‘Vandal Scandal,’ But Will Remain Positive; White House Actually Feeding Story'

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The media reports that the Bush White House has apparently been victimized by pranks. During the last days of the Clinton administration, some Clinton officials apparently removed the “W” keys from computer keyboards in the White House and in the Old Executive Office Building, in apparent reference to incoming President George W. Bush’s middle initial. An anonymous White House aide says, “There are dozens, if not hundreds, of keyboards with these missing keys,” and adds: “In some cases the W is marked out, but the most prevalent example is the key being removed. In some cases the W keys have been taped on top of the doorways, which are 12 feet tall.” Chris Lehane, the press secretary for former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, jokes: “My guess is that the White House did not have many reasons to use the letter W over the last couple of years. It’s possible they just fell off because of sheer atrophy.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2001] Lehane laughingly tells the Washington Post, “I think the missing W’s can be explained by the vast left-wing conspiracy now at work.” [Salon, 5/23/2001] In the following days, the reports will mushroom from tales of a harmless prank into allegations of serious and systematic vandalism and theft by Clinton officials, becoming what many will call “Vandalgate,” or the “Clinton vandal scandal” (see January 26, 2001). These reports will be proven to be complete fabrications (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001), apparently started by Bush officials and embellished by conservative reporters and pundits in order to besmirch the Clinton administration (see January 25, 2001).

Entity Tags: Chris Lehane, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bush administration (43), Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Online columnist Rich Galen, a former Republican strategist who has numerous contacts within the new Bush administration, reports: “Vice President Dick Cheney’s staffers trying to move into the Office of the Vice President space in the Old Executive Office Building right next to the White House found the offices had been left in complete shambles by the Gore staff on its way out on Friday and Saturday (see January 23, 2001). Every cord and wire, in many offices—telephone, power, computer, and lamp—was slashed. Furniture was tossed, and trash was, literally, everywhere. One person [told Galen] that it was his understanding that Mrs. Gore [the wife of former Vice President Gore] had to phone Mrs. Cheney to apologize.” [Mullings, 1/24/2001] Conservative gossip writer Matt Drudge uses Galen’s column and his own White House sources to report that, according to a “close Bush adviser,” the damage went “way beyond pranks, to vandalism.” The Los Angeles Times soon debunks the story of the Gore apology by asking the Gores; Vice President Cheney will also say that the phone call never happened. Galen, however, insists that the apology was indeed made. [Salon, 5/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Matt Drudge, Mary Elizabeth (“Tipper”) Gore, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Lynne Cheney, Rich Galen

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says he cannot confirm the extent of the alleged vandalism carried out by Clinton staffers in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 23, 2001). President Bush intends to change the tone in Washington to a positive one, Fleischer says, and as a result, the White House will not comment on the charges of rampant vandalism and theft. “Whether things were done that were perhaps less gracious than should have been, it is not going to be what President Bush focuses on, nor will it be what his staff focuses on,” he says. “Whatever may have been done, we are going to just put our heads down and look ahead.” [NewsMax, 1/26/2001; Guardian, 1/26/2001]
Hints and Innuendos - However, the White House is “cataloguing” the damage allegedly done by Clinton staffers, Fleischer says. When asked what is being catalogued, Fleischer responds: “I choose not to. I choose not to describe what acts were done that we found upon arrival because I think that’s part of changing the tone in Washington.” Sensing more to the story, reporters hone in, asking why make a catalogue “if you’re going to give them a pass,” what the dollar estimate of damage might be, and other questions. When a reporter says, “You’ve got to blame somebody,” Fleischer cuts him off: “President Bush is not going to come to Washington for the point of blaming somebody in this town. And it’s a different way of governing, it’s a different way of leading.” When asked what he knows of the supposed apology offered to Vice President Cheney’s wife by former Vice President Gore’s wife (see January 24, 2001), Fleischer says, “I know that a phone call was made to the vice president’s office, but I really—I don’t recall who made it.” When asked where the majority of the alleged damage was, Fleischer says, “You know, I really stopped paying attention to all the different places.” Finally, when asked whether some of the damage could actually be the result of renovations and normal repairs, Fleischer says, “I don’t think that the people who were professionals, who make their business to go in and prepare a White House for new arrivals, would cut wires.” Fleischer ends the briefing, having given reporters enough hints and implications of severe, widespread vandalism to whet their appetites. [Salon, 5/23/2001]
Story Fed by Fleischer, White House Officials - The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 14, 2001 and May 18, 2001). Salon will later report that while Fleischer and other White House officials publicly remain above the fray, in private they are feeding the controversy by giving detailed off-the-record interviews to selected reporters, pundits, and talk show hosts. One White House reporter will later admit that the story was pushed by at least two “unnamed Bush aides.” Salon correspondents Kerry Lauerman and Alicia Montgomery add: “Fleischer and the off-the-record Bush staffers, meanwhile, got a lot of help from a press corps eager for early scoops from a new administration. For some reporters and pundits, the White House vandalism story was just too good to pass up.” [Salon, 5/23/2001] A Washington Post report later states: “A high-level Republican who saw some of the damage said the White House was leery about putting information out about this because chief of staff Andrew Card Jr. did not want to appear to be ratting on the Clinton administration. ‘People wanted to talk about this, and Andy said no,’ an official said.” [Washington Post, 1/26/2001]
Stories Debunked - It will not be long before the stories are proven almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration, Alicia Montgomery, Kerry Lauerman, George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The final paragraph of Mike Allen’s Washington Post report on allegations of systematic White House vandalism carried out in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 26, 2001) states: “Some GOP officials are portraying the damage as a sordid coda to the Clinton years. A Bush campaign official said the White House staff and Secret Service agents welcomed the Bush entourage especially warmly on Saturday. Some of the kitchen staff hugged members of the Bush family, the official said, adding, ‘You could sense an attitude like, “Thank God you’re here.”’” [Washington Post, 1/26/2001]
Skepticism of Allen's Reporting - Months later, skeptical Salon reporters Kerry Lauerman and Alicia Montgomery will observe of Allen’s report, “As if the portrait of Clinton’s staff members loading their pickups with White House valuables wasn’t enough, readers were treated to the heartwarming image of a service staff grateful that their rightful rulers had returned.”
Desired Effect? - Lauerman and Montgomery will report that Allen’s reporting, and the entire “vandal scandal,” apparently had its desired effect: a rise in positive media approaches to the incoming Bush administration paired with a final slap at the outgoing Clintons. Days after the Allen report, conservative media pundit and publisher William Kristol will tell Fox that the “vandal scandal” worked well for Bush and his conservative supporters: “It’s been really great for Bush to have people—and including many Gore voters, I think—just look up and think, ‘You know what? Maybe I didn’t want Bush to be president, but I am glad that Bill Clinton is gone.’” Lauerman and Alexander will write: “It couldn’t have gone better for members of the incoming Bush administration had they choreographed it themselves. And, in fact, they had” (see January 25, 2001). [Salon, 5/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Mike Allen, Alicia Montgomery, Bush administration (43), Kerry Lauerman, William Kristol, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Knight Ridder is the first newspaper publisher to express public skepticism over White House and media reports of the Clinton “vandal scandal,” which allege that Clinton staffers vandalized and looted the White House and Air Force One in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 25, 2001 and January 26, 2001). “It was a news story that had a lot going for it,” Knight Ridder correspondent David Goldstein writes, “except on-the-record sources and many hard facts.” Goldstein calls the “vandal scandal” reporting “an example of post-election political warfare waged on a slapstick level” and “clearly a sample of how journalism in Washington is practiced in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and its unceasing demand for information, sometimes regardless of the provenance.” Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism says, “The dirty little secret of the information revolution is often there’s not a lot of verification.” Earlier in the week, US News and World Report printed a story alleging that the White House is spending $10,000 a day repairing the White House telephone system after it was damaged by Clinton staffers, but a White House spokesman responded, “I can’t find any supporting evidence” of that charge. “No one can confirm it.” As for allegations that Clinton staffers looted Air Force One (see January 25-27, 2001), Lieutenant Colonel Dana Carroll of Andrews Air Force Base, which houses the presidential jet, says: “The public was misinformed. There was no china or anything like that missing.” Carroll says the only items missing from Air Force One after the Clintons’ final trip was a tray of 15 glasses, which Clinton staffers say broke during a moment of turbulence; reporters on the aircraft saw the glasses fall and break. Former Clinton strategist James Carville says the reports are little more than efforts to smear Clinton. “It just seems to be like everything else that happens to this president,” he says. Referring to the Whitewater investigations, Carville adds, “Next they’ll be calling for an independent counsel, bring back Ken Starr to investigate this.” House Republican Bob Barr (R-GA) is asking that the General Accounting Office investigate the story (see May 18, 2001). [Knight Ridder, 2/8/2001] In July, Goldstein will call the “vandal scandal” stories “questionable from the beginning.” [American Journalism Review, 7/2001]

Entity Tags: Robert “Bob” Barr, Knight Ridder Newspapers, James Carville, Clinton administration, Dana Carroll, Kenneth Starr, David Goldstein, General Accounting Office, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

President Bush tells reporters that Air Force One was not looted and/or vandalized by Clinton staffers, as reports have alleged (see January 25-27, 2001 and January 26, 2001). “I will tell you one thing, just in terms of the former president,” he says. “All the allegations that they took stuff off of Air Force One is simply not true, for example.” Bush says he was told by Air Force One’s chief steward that the stories were false. [Salon, 2/14/2001] Bush’s statement follows confirmation by an Andrews Air Force Base spokesman that nothing had been stolen from Air Force One (see February 8, 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The General Services Administration (GSA) reports that there was no truth to assertions that Clinton White House officials had vandalized the White House before departing in January 2001. Bush White House officials made those assertions in January (see January 25, 2001), claims which were picked up on and embellished by conservative talk radio hosts and other media reporters (see January 25-27, 2001 and January 26, 2001). The GSA investigated the claims at the request of House Representative Bob Barr (R-GA).
Normal Wear and Tear, Pranks Found - The GSA report finds that nothing unusual had occurred during the transition from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration. “The condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy,” the GSA report finds. Although some pranks were found to have taken place—“W” keys removed from computer keyboards and signs reading “Office of Strategery” placed on office doors, for example—none of the other alleged actions took place.
No Evidence for Allegations of Vandalism - No computers, copiers, or telephones were destroyed; no lewd graffiti or pornographic images were pasted to walls or displayed on computer monitors. Nothing was stolen either from the White House or from Air Force One, as many reports had insisted (see February 8, 2001 and February 14, 2001).
Attempt to Smear Clinton Administration? - Harvard University’s Alex Jones says: “I think it was this calculated effort to plant a damaging story. There was a sort of fertile ground for believing anything bad.” The General Accounting Office’s Bernard Unger, director for physical infrastructure, says of the GSA investigation, “They told me that there were papers that were not organized lying on the floor and on desks; there were some scratches here and there, but the bottom line was they didn’t see anything really in their view that was significant and that would appear to some as real extensive damage.” Clinton aide Mark Lindsay, who oversaw the transition between the Clinton and Bush administration, says he is pleased that the GSA has set the record straight. “Because of President Clinton, this was one of the smoothest transitions in the history of the presidency,” he says. “This was nothing more than just lies.” Conservative pundit Tony Snow, one of the harshest critics of the Clinton administration over the so-called “vandal scandal” (see January 26, 2001), says, “I’m perfectly willing to admit my error on the aircraft,” but insists that the information he disseminated about vandalism and wholesale theft at the White House was true. “What often happens in Washington is gossip becomes news,” he notes. “That’s not a good thing.” [Kansas City Star, 5/18/2001; New York Times, 5/19/2001] Former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta says: “Certainly people inside the [Bush] administration fed this story. At least they got what they wanted out of it.” [Salon, 5/23/2001]

Entity Tags: General Services Administration, Alex Jones, Bernard Ungar, Clinton administration, Tony Snow, Mark Lindsay, John Podesta, Bush administration (43), Robert “Bob” Barr

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer backs off of previous claims that Clinton administration officials vandalized the White House, and stole all manner of items, during the January 2001 transition between the Clinton and Bush administrations (see January 26, 2001). A General Services Administration report found the allegations virtually without merit (see May 18, 2001). Fleischer is asked about the report, and about his allegations that Bush officials had made a “catalogue” of the vandalism and theft that apparently does not exist. Fleischer now says that he had attempted to “knock… down” reports of alleged vandalism “and draw everybody back and away from this story because it was not something the White House was pursuing.” Fleischer continues: “And I indicated that there was no investigation going on, because there wasn’t. I said, if anything, somebody is cataloguing this. And the next day I further explained that meant that somebody was just keeping mental track of what was taking place. There were no written records about it all. But they were keeping on eye on and noting what did take place as this administration came into office.… The General Services Administration contacted the White House recently and asked if there were any written records of what took place. And just as I indicated, because there were no written records, the White House informed the General Services Administration that we had no written records to provide them. And I think that’s what their report indicated, the White House did not provide them any written records because there were none. Which is what I indicated at the time.” Fleischer says the White House intends “not to live in the past” and focus on “things that took place as this administration entered office…” [White House, 5/22/2001] Fleischer fails to acknowledge that it was his hints and innuendos to the White House press corps that encouraged the story to spread (see January 25, 2001).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, General Services Administration, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

In the aftermath of the General Services Administration’s report that the Clinton “vandal scandal” never happened (see May 18, 2001), some wonder how involved the Bush administration was in pushing the falsehoods onto the press—and how willing the press was to run with the juicy, but baseless, allegations. Former Clinton press secretary Jake Siewert says: “The media left a very damaging and false impression. I’d hope the reporters [would] go back and try to figure out what went wrong.” Siewert is less critical of the Bush administration’s role in the scandal, saying that “it’s hard to put any blame on the administration.” Siewert also declines to lay blame on Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, “especially,” Siewert says, “if the guidance he got on the story was wrong” (see May 22, 2001). Washington Post reporter Lloyd Grove, whose short report sparked the entire controversy (see January 23, 2001), says Fleischer is at the heart of the story. “The person who really needs to explain what he was doing was Ari, why he let the story percolate, and why he juiced it with his coy responses,” Grove says. “I think it’s a fair point to ask to what extent Mr. Fleischer’s credibility has been damaged by this.” Washington Post reporter Mike Allen, who contributed much of the Post’s reporting of the alleged vandalism (see January 26, 2001), says Fleischer’s allegation that Clinton staffers “cut [the] wires” of telephones and computers sparked so much coverage (see January 25, 2001). “That seems tough to ignore,” Allen says. Journalism professor Geneva Overholser pins much of the blame on the press: “We wouldn’t have had to go through all this if we had done our job right in the first place.” The media should have pressed harder for documentation and should not have allowed White House sources to remain anonymous, she says. “It’s just amazing what we let people get away with saying.” One White House reporter says that Fleischer did not have to do much more than start the story rolling. “We’re often such willing co-conspirators,” the reporter says. “They don’t have to hatch anything.” [Salon, 5/23/2001; American Journalism Review, 7/2001]

Entity Tags: Geneva Overholser, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), General Services Administration, Jake Siewert, Lloyd Grove, Mike Allen, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Anthony Weiner.Anthony Weiner. [Source: Anthony Weiner]A Democratic House member and four former Clinton administration staff members demand an apology from President Bush over the disproven Clinton “vandal scandal” stories from January 2001 (see January 25, 2001 and January 26, 2001). Two weeks ago, the General Services Administration (GSA) released a report debunking the stories (see May 18, 2001). In response, the White House leaks a hastily compiled “list” of damages that Bush staffers allege was done during the transition period (see June 2-3, 2001).
Demand for Apology - Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is joined by former White House officials Rob Housman, Jeff Gulko, Bridger McGaw, and Matthew Donoghue in demanding that Bush apologize for besmirching Clinton officials’ reputations with the false allegations. Weiner calls White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was at the center of much of the rumors, “shameless,” and adds, “A GAO [General Accounting Office] study has confirmed there was no destruction of keyboards, no graffiti, there was no vandalism.” (The GAO found that because the White House had no records of the damages, it could not begin an investigation of the charges.)
Semi-Denial - Fleischer’s deputy, Scott McClellan, notes that “there is no actual GAO ‘report,’ which the congressman refers to in his letter. There’s just a letter from GAO.” McClellan’s odd denial is, according to some Bush officials, an attempt to imply that there was actual damage done by Clinton staffers, but the Bush White House chose not to participate in the GAO’s proposed investigation because it wanted to “move forward” and keep a “positive tone.” One White House aide says: “We never kept a list of all the incidents, and therefore did not have anything to turn over. That doesn’t mean the incidents didn’t happen. We just were pleased to let the matter fade so that people could return to the focus on policy.”
Response to Semi-Denial - Weiner says that the Bush White House claims are disingenuous. “I believe that the responsibility for this largely lies with the White House,” he says. “They fed this story, they nurtured this story, they spread this story.” The “vandal scandal” story was, Weiner says, part of a “strategy by the nascent Bush administration to toss up as much dust and smoke about the Clinton administration to give themselves a soft landing. It makes good copy to say ‘Well, there’s a new sheriff in town, and we don’t vandalize offices.’ Well, neither did the preceding administration.” Clinton staffers were made into “cannon fodder” for Bush administration propaganda, Weiner says. Donoghue calls the tales “a uniquely Capitol punishment, and that is the besmirching of our reputations. Standing here, all I can think of is what Ray Donovan said years ago, which is ‘Where do I go to get my reputation back?’ And that’s why we’re here today.” (Donovan is a former Reagan administration Cabinet official acquitted of bribery charges in 1987.) Donoghue says that he, McGaw, and Gulko have had problems finding jobs after their White House stints in part because of the vandalism allegations. [Salon, 6/2/2001]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Ari Fleischer, Anthony D. Weiner, Bush administration (43), Scott McClellan, Jeff Gulko, Matthew Donoghue, General Services Administration, General Accounting Office, Bridger McGaw, George W. Bush, Rob Housman

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Some former Clinton administration officials are furious at the White House’s release of a “list” of alleged vandalism (see January 25, 2001 and January 26, 2001) to a Washington Post reporter (see June 2-3, 2001), and demand that the White House document its charges. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer admitted that the list was only put together a few days before and was entirely based on the recollections of Bush officials. He says the White House will document the charges on the list if asked by the General Accounting Office (see June 4, 2001). Former Clinton press secretary Jake Siewert calls Fleischer’s tactics “incredibly infuriating,” and says documentation of the vandalism allegations should be simple because the government keeps careful records of repairs to phones and computers. “If I needed my keyboard fixed, I had to submit a form,” says Siewert, who worked in the White House for more than six years. “There should have been records of all this stuff.” Bush officials say the existing repair records do not indicate the causes of damage, and therefore cannot validate the vandalism claims. The General Services Administration (GSA) concluded in an investigation that the charges of vandalism and looting were almost completely false (see May 18, 2001); the GAO said it was unable to open its own investigation because of “the lack of records… reported by the White House.” House Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY—see June 1, 2001) says through a spokesman, “The White House’s continuing campaign of disinformation and possible violation of federal law for noncompliance with a GAO investigation calls its credibility—and its list of damaged property—into serious question.” Weiner’s House colleague Bob Barr (R-GA), who has demanded a GAO investigation, has called the failure of the White House to document its vandalism charges “a disservice to the American taxpayers” and asked the GAO “to ensure proper records of federal government property are kept during future presidential transitions.” [Washington Post, 6/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Anthony D. Weiner, Ari Fleischer, Clinton administration, General Accounting Office, Robert “Bob” Barr, General Services Administration, Jake Siewert

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The General Accounting Office (GAO) concludes its own investigation of the so-called Clinton “vandal scandal” (see January 26, 2001), and finds that some minor destruction of property did take place within the White House during the final days of the Clinton administration. [New York Times, 6/12/2002]
Keyboards Damaged, Glue on Desks, Graffiti in Restroom, Stolen Plaque - The GAO finds that about $13,000 to $14,000 of damage actually took place; initial reports from Bush administration sources placed the damages at closer to $250,000. Much of that money was spent on replacing computer keyboards, some of which had the “W” key either pried off or defaced. Other damage included glue smeared on desk drawers, derogatory graffiti written on a stall in a White House men’s bathroom, disparaging messages left on telephone answering machines, and signs with satirical or disparaging messages affixed to White House office doors. A file cabinet had a sticker reading “Jail to the Thief” stuck inside one drawer, obviously referring to allegations that President Bush had stolen the 2000 presidential election. And a foot-wide presidential seal went missing from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The GAO report notes that similar pranks and property damage were reported during earlier transitions, including the 1993 transition between the first Bush administration and the incoming Clinton administration. “We were unable to conclude whether the 2001 transition was worse than previous ones,” the report says. “Any intentional damage at the White House complex, which is a national treasure, is both inappropriate and a serious matter. The theft of or willful damage to government property would constitute a criminal act.” Representative Bob Barr (R-GA), a Clinton critic who requested the GAO investigation as well as an earlier investigation conducted by the General Services Administration (see May 18, 2001), says of the GAO report, “The Clinton administration treated the White House worse than college freshmen checking out of their dorm rooms.” [New York Times, 6/12/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/12/2002]
Most Allegations Never Confirmed - Salon correspondent Kerry Lauerman notes that the GAO report is “a far cry from what was promised by Republicans like… Barr.” He asks: “Whatever happened to the looting and trashing Barr said would be documented? The expensive paintings that were supposedly stolen from the White House? The ‘cut wires’ that White House press secretary Ari Fleischer had publicly referred to (see January 25, 2001)? The never-explained ‘porn bombs’ that anonymous GOP sources had complained about? The presidential seals that were stolen, or the historical doorknobs that had been yanked off for souvenirs?” Some of the allegations of missing items, such as the missing seal and antique doorknobs, cannot be demonstrated as the result of theft, but are merely listed as “missing.” And many of the items, such as the antique doorknobs, were not on original inventory lists, but, as Lauerman writes, “suddenly showed up on a White House list compiled in June 2001—based on the months-old ‘recollections’ of staffers—which does not exactly scream reliability” (see June 2-3, 2001). [Salon, 6/13/2002]
Bush White House Demands Further Investigations - Bush officials are reported to be “deeply disappointed” with the report, with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales demanding more details, including the full text of the graffiti and other messages that Gonzales describes as “especially offensive or vulgar.” Gonzales is disappointed that the report did not include, for example, “portions of a sign of a mock Time magazine cover” that was among the prank signs left in the White House, and that apparently contained a profanity. “It is vital to include the substance of specific graffiti, messages and signs observed” in order to fully document the acts of vandalism, Gonzales argues. “The content of a message can—and often does—indicate who wrote the message, and when” and “often provides an insight into the mindset or intention of the person who wrote it.” The GAO responds that such details are “unnecessary and inappropriate.” A Bush administration official accuses the GAO of “undertak[ing] a concerted effort to downplay the damage found in the White House complex.” Lauerman writes: “[I]t’s safe to say that a close reading of the GAO report doesn’t validate the charges of wanton, widespread destruction by the Clinton team. What it does show is the lengths to which the Bush administration went to try to make the scandal charges stick.” [New York Times, 6/12/2002; Salon, 6/13/2002]
Degrees of Cooperation - Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri says: “The real scandal here is how much time and money the Republicans have wasted in a vendetta against the Clinton administration. It’s troubling that the White House cooperated so enthusiastically with this investigation, but refused to provide the GAO with records of the energy task force headed by Vice President Cheney” (see May 16, 2001). Bush spokeswoman Anne Womack responds: “The GAO confirmed that damage was done at the White House. We have considered this matter closed for more than a year. Our focus is on moving forward.” [New York Times, 6/12/2002]
Tremendous Cost of Investigation - Lauerman concludes: “The White House made 78 staffers available for interviews with the GAO, and clearly spent an enormous amount of energy just to try to stick another scandal to the Clintons. (Gonzales’ time alone, billed by the hour, might cost more than the $9,000-plus the GAO blamed on the Clintons.) After 11 months, and an investigation that Democrats told the Washington Post cost $200,000, one somehow expected more. Now that all the facts are in, it seems pretty clear which administration should get the blame for the White House vandal scandal.” [Salon, 6/13/2002]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Anne Womack, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Robert “Bob” Barr, Clinton administration, General Services Administration, Kerry Lauerman, George W. Bush, Jennifer Palmieri, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris, writing for the online news outlet Politico, say that President Obama’s decision to present his “long form” birth certificate as proof of his US citizenship (see April 27, 2011) is a “decisive new turn in the centuries-long American history of political accusation and innuendo. By directly and coolly engaging a debate with his most fevered critics, Obama offered the most unmistakable validation ever to the idea that we are living in an era of public life with no referee—and no common understandings between fair and unfair, between relevant and trivial, or even between facts and fantasy.” The authors note that presidents have been pursued by “[l]urid conspiracy theories” for centuries. However, until now, those presidents have “benefited from a widespread consensus that some types of personal allegations had no place in public debate unless or until they received some imprimatur of legitimacy—from an official investigation, for instance, or from a detailed report by a major news organization.” That is no longer the case, they say (see April 27, 2011). Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “There are no more arbiters of truth. So whatever you can prove factually, somebody else can find something else and point to it with enough ferocity to get people to believe it. We’ve crossed some Rubicon into the unknown.” The writers note their difficulty in envisioning former President Clinton “coming out to the White House briefing room to present evidence showing why people who thought he helped plot the murder of aide Vincent Foster—never mind official rulings of suicide—were wrong” (see April 27, 2011), or former President George W. Bush giving a press conference denying allegations that “he knew about the Sept. 11 attacks ahead of time and chose to let them happen.” Obama’s choice to release the documentation and even to make a personal appearance to announce it are a powerful indication that the political dynamic has changed. Obama advisers explain that he made the decision to do so “because of the radical reordering of the political-media universe over the past 15 years, or so. The decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms has meant the near-collapse of common facts, believed across the political spectrum.” Debunking the myth of Obama’s “foreign birth” means nothing to a large percentage of Americans who still remain unconvinced, or firmly believe the myth, the authors write. After trying to ignore it and mock it into irrelevance, they write, Obama “finally gave in and affirmed a new truth of politics in the Internet era: Nothing can be dismissed and anything that poses a political threat must be confronted directly.” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer says: “We’re dealing with a lot of the same things Clinton and frankly Bush dealt with, but we’re dealing with them at 1,000 times the speed and with fewer referees. That is the downside of the disaggregation of the media. If you don’t want to believe what someone is telling you, you can go somewhere else. If you believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the president is not American, you can go somewhere to find somebody to validate that.” Another Obama adviser, who remains anonymous, adds: “Clinton never had to deal with a fully formed Internet. [Conservative Web gossip Matt] Drudge’s power was born out of the revelations of 1998. A fully automated cable TV universe with the Internet is something that [Clinton] never had to deal with.” Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart says: “You’ve lost the ability to starve a story to death. So what you have to do is raise the price of those who are making the charges. If Donald Trump is out there saying this, you’ve got to make him pay a price for throwing a bomb before too much collateral damage is done.… You literally can’t laugh anything off. There’s nothing neutral in politics. It’s either helping you or hurting you. You’ve got to make sure it’s helping you or you’re going to lose.” The authors note that politicians are learning to use this phenomenon to their own advantage. While Washington Republicans often bemoan the ascendancy of “fringe” pundits like Fox News’s Glenn Beck, the authors write, “they relish the way Beck and ideological confederates excite the GOP base, a contributing factor in the party’s strong performance in 2010.” The authors also point to Democrats’ willingness to allow “liberal commentators” to push for the truth behind George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the National Guard. The authors claim that the Obama team “enjoys giving the stage to the GOP’s most divisive voices,” noting that Gibbs and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel often called conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh “the de facto leader of the Republican Party.” Obama, and his successors, will have to do things previous presidents have never considered, from appearing on less “serious” talk shows such as those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman, or making appearances on networks such as the sports broadcaster ESPN. “It’s hard to see a president doing those things 10 or 20 years ago, but it’s become almost a requirement now,” Gibbs says. It is hard to know where to draw the line, Gibbs continues. “Does it become incumbent to prove everything wrong? You have to be very careful to not fall into that trap because you’ll spend all of your time and energy chasing your own tail.” Pfeiffer says most open-minded Americans will take the “long form” certificate as the evidence required to settle the issue: “There will be some segment of the population who will believe what they’re going to believe, regardless of anything else. But for the majority of the country, we have the capacity to correct the record and convince people of the truth. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but it’s possible.” Pfeiffer notes the “huge amount of time and energy” spent on dealing with the “birther” issue, time better spent, he says, on issues confronting the country. Former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove says the Obama administration has attempted to use the “birther” controversy against Republicans: “The president himself has hoped Republicans would continue to talk about it, thereby damaging their own credibility. It was a useful diversion (see April 27, 2011). But take a look at recent polls. The problem was the view was taking hold among independents. He got worried it was about to spin out of control” (see April 27, 2011). Rove says Obama was attempting to “play rope-a-dope with Republicans,” a charge Pfeiffer denies (see April 28, 2011). “Up until a month ago, nobody really asked for the long form. It was fringe. It was a settled issue for 99 percent of the country.” Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer says: “It’s a terrible problem for the body politic. People like me who have been or are in the arena have an obligation to speak out against people in both parties who push untruths” (see January 25, 2001, January 25-27, 2001, and April 18, 2001). “The political discourse is much worse now, but that’s not always to the detriment of the so-called victim. In this case, President Obama came out looking better.” Lockhart agrees, saying: “Look at the rogue’s gallery of Clinton accusers. Most of them blew themselves up.” Lockhart acknowledges that for some, the issue will never be settled (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 29, 2011). “They’ll probably ask for the first diaper. They’ll want to see the DNA.” [Politico, 4/28/2011]

Entity Tags: Joe Lockhart, Donald Trump, Dan Pfeiffer, Barack Obama, Ari Fleischer, Glenn Beck, Vince Foster, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Robert Gibbs, John F. Harris, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Matt Drudge, Rahm Emanuel, Rush Limbaugh, Jonathan Martin

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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