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Hillary's Red Herring By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 14, 2000

TO GENERATE THE REVENUE that fuels her campaign for the US Senate, Hillary Clinton has had to seek donations from some familiar albeit unseemly sources. One is the Loral Space and Communications Corporation, which is under Justice Department investigation for exporting satellite technology to the Chinese government. Its chairman, Bernard Schwartz, contributed more than $1 million to the Democrats between 1992 and 1998, for which he received the loosened federal trade restrictions that made Loral's dealings with China possible. Two years later, Schwartz and his wife, Irene, are back to their giving ways, having sent more than $40,000 to the Hillary-for-Senate effort.

That tawdry tidbit, and sundry others, made the front page of Wednesday's New York Times, but, thanks to Clinton machinations and a gullible press, went no further. By 9 am that morning, the First Lady and her staff had managed to change the subject. They staged an angry press conference complete with the faux expressions of shock and fury that attract controversy-starved reporters in hordes. The First Lady loudly announced that she was "appalled" that her likely Senate opponent, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, had been so audacious as to criticize some of her views on religion and public life. Within an hour her aides were busily handing reporters copies of their smoking gun, a four-month old Giuliani fund-raising letter that had been reprinted the day before in New York City's weekly tabloid of leftist politics and sexual perversion, The Village Voice.

Give Mrs. Clinton credit; she knows how to steal headlines, and unlike her husband, she need not bomb pharmaceutical plants to do it. Her protest was overblown, her grievances nonexistent. The media fell for it anyway.

Ostensibly, Mrs. Clinton objected to a line in the Mayor's letter that accused her of a "hostility toward America's religious traditions." As "a person of faith," she claimed to be "outraged" that Giuliani "injected religion into this race"—which, of course, he never did. The letter makes no mention of Mrs. Clinton's faith or, for that matter, the Mayor's. Instead, it chides Mrs. Clinton for her opposition to using religious organizations to perform public services, and for her support of using taxpayer funds to subsidize last fall's blasphemous and profane "Sensation" art exhibit in Brooklyn.

The First Lady, for what it's worth, now maintains that she does support letting faith-based charities tackle social problems with public funds, although this seems more like a Clinton flip-flop than a Giuliani false charge. In September, she said that she was "concerned and cautious" that such programs "could be constitutionally devised and implemented." She also insists that she was "personally offended" by the "Sensation" show, which demonstrates a modicum of good taste on her part, but does not answer the Mayor's complaint that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for displays that insult their religion.

In any case, the substance of Giuliani's letter was policy—fair game in a race for national office—and not the sectarian smear that the First Lady made it out to be. A more critical press, one not so easily lured by hints of acrimony, would have recognized her scripted rage for the diversion that it was. Mrs. Clinton, however, is second only to her husband in the art of media manipulation. The press took the bait, giving her a free ride on the troubling fund-raising practices the Times had unearthed only hours earlier. Mrs. Clinton's ire over Mr. Giuliani's direct-mail appeal dominated the day's news.

The next morning, her staffers must have rejoiced at the sight of New York City's three major newspapers—the Times, the Post, and the Daily News. All three played up the First Lady's histrionics and ignored the question of her shady fund-raising. The Post headline read "Hill Gives Rudy Holy Hell over Religion Attack." Mission accomplished.

Forgotten were the inconvenient questions the Times had raised: Why does the First Lady's roster of contributors largely overlap with attendance lists from White House coffees and Lincoln Bedroom sleep-overs? Why did she let alleged influence-peddler William Brandt Jr.—a $20,000 contributor—host a campaign fund-raiser for her at his South Florida home? What are the ethical implications of accepting $40,000 from the chairman of Loral Space and Communications Corporation, subject of an ongoing investigation from her husband's Department of Justice?

Those would have been tough questions for Mrs. Clinton to answer, but all it took was one well-orchestrated brouhaha to get her off the hook. Well, one well-orchestrated brouhaha and an easily duped Fourth Estate. Sadly, the media have now fallen for the same trick twice. Earlier this month, when a Federal Elections Commission filing showed a questionable $1.1 million transfer from two Democratic committees to the Hillary-for-Senate campaign, the First Lady's office managed to distract attention by noisily bemoaning Mayor Giuliani's "campaign of lies and deceit"—pro-Giuliani mailings sent out by conservative groups unaffiliated with his campaign. As long as the strategy keeps working, the Clintonites will keep using it.

As Bill Clinton once famously if unoriginally put it, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.

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