February 19, 2004

Why Kerry should sue the Sun: Some of the British media are too happy doing Drudge's dirty work

It's the Media, Stupid.

Sidney Blumenthal, Guardian/UK: "Screw journalism! The
whole thing's a fraud anyway," Drudge once proclaimed.
Though he calls himself an "information anarchist", he
is anything but independent. He is a reliable
submissive to his partisan "sources". One independent
study of his "exclusive" stories determined that only
one-third were true. His latest "intern" revelation is
the sound of his master's voice at the beginning of a
campaign Republicans fear losing.

Break the Bush Cabal's Stranglehold on the Corporatist
News Media, Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush
(again!)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1151093,00.html

Why Kerry should sue the Sun: Some of the British media are too happy doing Drudge's dirty work

Sidney Blumenthal
Thursday February 19, 2004
The Guardian

One question remains unanswered about the politically
inspired lie that Senator John Kerry had had an affair
with an "intern". Which interested source planted it
with the rightwing internet hooligan Matt Drudge and
with the conservative British newspapers that put it
into wide public play? Its timing was fortuitous.
Immediately after George Bush went into a tailspin,
falling behind the Democratic presidential
frontrunner, John Kerry, in the polls, Kerry became
the subject of smears filled with remembrance of
things past.
First, a phoney composite photograph was circulated of
Kerry standing next to Jane Fonda at an anti-Vietnam
war rally. Unfortunately, not only did Fonda denounce
the ploy as a "dirty trick", but so did Republican
senator John McCain, heroic Vietnam prisoner of war,
Bush's rival for the nomination in 2000 and a close
friend of Kerry's. The attempt to revive the dread of
the Nixon era failed, and the scarlet letter of the
Clinton years was unfurled. The Drudge Report,
claiming 15 million readers, alleged that a young
"intern" had a "mystery relationship" with Kerry and
that several major US news organisations were already
investigating. But none published a word, though
political society in Washington and New York was
instantly consumed with gossip.

On February 13, on the eve of Valentine's Day, Rupert
Murdoch's Sun newspaper screeched, "New JFK rocked by
sex scandal", naming the woman as Alexandra Polier and
quoting her father as calling Kerry "a sleazeball". On
February 15, the Tory papers, the Mail and the
Telegraph, quoted her "friend": "This is not going to
go away. What actually happened is much nastier than
what is being reported." Murdoch's Sunday Times
repeated the "sleazeball" quote and winked knowingly:
"It is a tale of two Americas, as the Democrats might
say."

Back in the US, frustrated rightwing media tried to
force the issue, using the authority of the British
imprimatur. Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show
host, broadcasting on more than 600 radio stations,
boomed: "It's all over the UK press! It's front page!"
He suggested that President Clinton was the source of
the story in order to bump off Kerry and help Senator
Hillary Clinton become president. The neoconservative
former Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote in National
Review: "Isn't it curious how after a story like this
breaks there turn out to be dozens of people who were
in on the secret?" On CNN, the Sunday Times columnist
and Drudge pal Andrew Sullivan held forth: "Can you
anymore not talk about something that's on the front
page of the Times of London, front page of the Drudge
Report, on everybody's minds? There comes a point at
which the media has to acknowledge people are
talking."

On February 16, Polier spoke for herself, declaring
the story "completely false" and explaining her motive
in stepping forward. "Because these stories were
false, I assumed the media would ignore them. It seems
that efforts to peddle these lies continue, so I feel
compelled to address them." It turned out she was not
even an intern. Her father said that the notorious
"sleazeball" quote attributed to him had been
fabricated. Drudge, ever gallant, blamed the story on
the young woman's imagined seductive behaviour:
"Polier's flippant remarks and flirtatious manner,
according to friends, fuelled the intrigue."

The defamation, the media amplification through the
conservative network, the British blowback was all
well-rehearsed. Drudge initially gained his celebrity
by libelling me on the day I began work in the Clinton
White House in August 1997, reporting as fact that I
was hiding police records of domestic violence. Within
hours, conservative media were spreading the story
like wildfire. Drudge admitted that Republican
operatives had given him the story and that he had
been used. It is his usual method.

"Screw journalism! The whole thing's a fraud anyway,"
Drudge once proclaimed. Though he calls himself an
"information anarchist", he is anything but
independent. He is a reliable submissive to his
partisan "sources". One independent study of his
"exclusive" stories determined that only one-third
were true. His latest "intern" revelation is the sound
of his master's voice at the beginning of a campaign
Republicans fear losing.

In the US, there is virtually no legal protection for
a public figure, especially a political one, from
defamation. Libel laws are de facto defunct. Public
opinion is inevitably swayed by this tainting, all
journalism has fallen under suspicion and truth cannot
easily be distinguished from malicious fiction. Only
if Kerry (or Polier) were to sue the Sun under British
libel law, for example, would this transatlantic
corruption of the press be truly engaged. Then a
British court would begin to set important rules in
American politics.

Sidney Blumenthal is a former senior adviser to
President Clinton and author of The Clinton Wars

Posted by richard at February 19, 2004 04:35 PM