If Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Hillary Clinton's campaign told him that they had some dirt on Obama, would Obama's staff react as they did to the Robert Novak column of November 17? And yes, I am putting Novak in the same category as the crazy Iranian leader. Novak has damaged U.S. national security as much as Ahmadinejad with his exposure of Valerie Plame and the subsequent destruction of her clandestine intelligence network.
Why has Senator Barack Obama kept the Novak story alive through repeated statements for days? Is he just naïve or is he misinformed? Is he really so unfamiliar with the journalistic incest of Washington and Novak's status as a Republican hit man? Why would Obama focus his campaign on unfounded "smears" circulated by Novak? Why would Obama, the candidate of "hope," pump up the claims of Novak, "the prince of darkness"?
Let's be clear. I am not saying Senator Obama should have ignored the rumors. Hell no. Confronting them head on is appropriate. But you go after the source, in this case Novak, rather than act as if there is substance to the charge that the Clintons are shopping trash to Novak.
The Republican smear masters had already tipped their hand for dealing with Hillary Clinton. Look at Karl Rove's debut column in Newsweek, where he lays out the strategy that Obama appears to be parroting:
And so the question to John McCain from a woman at a town hall in South Carolina last Monday was tasteless, but key: 'How do we beat the [rhymes with witch]?' Right now, Republicans are focusing much of their fire on Senator Clinton. Criticizing her unites the party, stirs up the unsettled feelings many swing voters have toward her and allows each candidate to say why he is best able to beat her.
With Rove's instructions to Republicans in mind, take a new look at Obama's reaction to Novak. Is Obama wearing a wrist bracelet that says, "what would Karl Rove do"?
Robert Novak is a seasoned conservative columnist with a long history of publishing falsehoods, distortions and gossip. And he has been in bed with Karl Rove in running "information ops" against democrats. For decades he has been renowned for inflating shreds of tidbits of rumors into major stories to support various Republican efforts. In 1992, Karl Rove, one of Novak's regular sources, was fired from the campaign of President George H.W. Bush for leaking derogatory information to Novak about Bush's campaign manager and friend, Robert Mosbacher. In 2003, Rove again served as a source to Novak, leaking the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. Even though the CIA warned Novak not to disclose her CIA identity in the interests of national security, he did so, insuring that Rove got a copy of the column before it was published. In 2004, Novak promoted the smear campaign of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against Senator John Kerry's heroic Vietnam War record. When it was revealed that Novak's son was the marketing director for the right-wing publisher of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth tract defaming Kerry, Novak expressed disdain about the conflict-of-interest: "I don't think it's relevant."
By his own admission Novak's latest hyped controversy has no basis in fact. On November 17, he wrote, "Agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent for the party's presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, but has decided not to use it." His sourcing consisted of "word of mouth" and unnamed "experienced Democratic operatives." Two days later, on Fox News, where Novak is a commentator, he confessed that he had heard a rumor from someone who had heard a rumor from someone. In short, he had no facts, perhaps explaining why Novak has been dubbed "No Facts" for years.
Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson's categorical statement would seem to have put an end to this pseudo-event: "The Clinton campaign has nothing to do with this item." But it did not end. Instead, it is being kept artificially alive.
As soon as Novak published his rumor, Obama elevated and dignified it as though it had credibility. "But in the interest of our party, and her own reputation, Senator Clinton should either make public any and all information referred to in the item, or concede the truth: that there is none," he declared. Obama turned the alleged smear upside down. Rather than acknowledge that the predictable right-wing smear artist Novak was responsible for the innuendo, Obama accused Senator Clinton of being ultimately to blame. With this extraordinary statement, Obama lashed himself to Novak's credibility as a reliable source on a story that transparently lacked any true source.
Even when the Clinton campaign forthrightly again denied the item was true and that no one involved in the campaign had anything to do with it, Obama's campaign refused to let the matter die. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe once again accused Senator Clinton and her campaign of doing what Novak claimed: "Are 'agents' of their campaign spreading these rumors? And do they have 'scandalous' information that they are not releasing?"
Once again, the Clinton campaign openly stated it had nothing to do with the story at all. Then, Plouffe made another statement that suggested Obama had somehow wrung a confession out of the Clinton campaign and still implied that it was behind Novak's lie: "The Clinton campaign has admitted that they do not possess the 'scandalous information' in question and we take them at their word. But what we don't accept is their assertion that this is somehow falling for Republican tricks."
The following day, November 19, Obama began a new line of attack, picking up a discredited story circulated months ago. "I'm not in this race to fulfill some long-held plan or because it was owed to me," Obama said. An Obama spokesperson reinforced the point: "Barack Obama has not been mapping out his run for president from Washington for the last 20 years like some of his opponents."
But where did this new attack originate? Just as he had used Novak's false story for the previous two days, now he tried to damage Senator Clinton's reputation by using another patently false story. Months ago, Jeff Gerth, the reporter who spent years hyping the Whitewater fables as real, and his co-author Dale Van Natta, attempted to promote their anti-Hillary screed, Her Way, with the supposedly startling revelation that Hillary and planned to run for president 20 years ago. But Gerth and Van Natta had no actual source. And the one source to whom they did attribute the story, Pulitzer Prize winning historian Taylor Branch, was someone they never interviewed and who told the Washington Post, "The story is preposterous. I never heard either Clinton talk about a 'plan' for them both to become president."
Despite this story's exposure as false for months, Obama eagerly exploited it to try to portray Senator Clinton as Lady Macbeth. First using Novak and then Gerth for his materials, he painted her as a dirty trickster, dishonest and recklessly ambitious.
But why does Obama do this? Once Novak's story was exposed as a smear itself, why didn't he stop? Why did he keep it going? And why did he revive the Gerth falsehood to tarnish Senator Clinton's character?
Obama's tactics appear in sync with Rove's script. His feigned victimhood is a negative attack on Senator Clinton's character to drive the numbers, which in turn Obama hopes will determine the nomination. While posing above the fray, but executing Rove's strategy and exploiting Novak's innuendo, Obama has embraced the audacity of hype.