April 28, 2014

"All roads led to a mysterious source—the newly exploding Internet," says Chris Lehane, confessing to, explaining, and justifiying his authorship of the 1995 "Right-Wing Conspiracy" memo.

Lehane, a lawyer in the Clinton White House counsel, with access to The World Wide Web, says he felt as though he had been "transported to a parallel universe." His journey of discovery took him to "early versions of chat rooms, postings and other information showing there was an entire cottage industry devoted to discussing conspiracy theories relating to [Vince] Foster’s death, including numerous online reports of people claiming to have seen him."
Those reports would be picked up by so-called news sources that most Americans at the time had never heard of—conservative outlets such as Eagle Publishing’s Human Events or Richard Mellon Scaife’s the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. From there, the story would migrate to right-leaning outlets we were familiar with, such as the New York Post, the Washington Times and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal—all before eventually ending up in the mainstream press.
He had discovered a "media food chain." (Funny that New York Post and the Wall Street Journal didn't count as "mainstream press" to him.)

Lehane says he "realized that this was just the beginning":
We saw the transition from an electorate that passively consumed the information put before it (a joke at the time was that a political rally was a family watching a political commercial on television) to an electorate that could use technology to actively engage in the creation, distribution and self-selection of information.
I have to read that as implying that Lehane thinks an activated electorate is a bad thing. What made it a "conspiracy"? What was particularly "right-wing" about it? I agree it was vast — it was World Wide — but why did Lehane not see it as thrillingly good?

I have to hypothesize that the threat template came immediately to mind because from the perspective of the White House, he was part of a restrictive network of power that exercised immense control over the mainstream press.

The Wide Web really did threaten The Narrow Web.

32 comments:

Big Mike said...

I concur with your hypothesis, Professor.

Of course the Clintons and their acolytes always were ready to whine about their treatment. The easiest way to understand Hillary is as a walking, talking tear duct.

Mike said...

An informed populace is the most dangerous kind to progressives. Only when the political class can enforce omerta through their media partners (part of the academic-political-media complex) can they be assured of "good press" and "fair treatment" that will help them maintain power.

You correctly note that any media outside their control is considered non-mainstream. Funny thing is the WSJ is thoroughly conventional liberal in their new alignment with the NYT, with few deviations. But the fact their editorial pages are reliably conservative (establishment conservative to be more precise) is what throws them outside the "mainstream" as defined by progressives. No deviation can be tolerated.

Saint Croix said...

I have to hypothesize that the threat template came immediately to mind because from the perspective the White House, he was part of a restrictive network of power that exercised immense control over the mainstream press. The Wide Web really did threaten his narrow web.

Yes, that's right exactly. Hillary made the comment because she had read the memo. And now the memo was coming to life before her eyes, with the Lewinsky scandal.

And that scandal was not reported in the mainstream media. It was reported on Drudge.

There was a bizarre period where everybody on the internet knew about the scandal, and everybody watching television or reading newspapers did not.

HIllary's comment sounds bizarre and paranoid. But it's a specific reference to her. She's referencing the memo she has read, and her knowledge that she and Bill cannot contain the scandal.

In other words, her media lapdogs would have kept this story quiet. Hillary and Bill controlled the press, as Obama controls the press.

But they did not control the internet, and they knew it, and feared it. (See also Barack Obama's singling out of Rush Limbaugh, talk radio, and Fox news--they want to isolate and shut down criticism before people can hear it).

Fred Drinkwater said...

By "mainstream" I think he meant network TV news, which was still a thing people watched in those days.

Matthew Sablan said...

Conspiracy theories almost always lead to stupid, sometimes dangerous, things. There's a fine line though between vigilance and political squelching of dissent, and it is important that the government act with clean hands at all times so no one ever has to wonder whether or not it is acting inappropriately.

Of course, if we're going to say that there is a "right-wing media" like the author does, we're working on very different things. The idea of Eagle Publishing ever being on par, with say, TPM or Daily Kos [or Red State on the opposite side.]

Also: The Internet is not a source. I'm not sure whether the author doesn't understand investigations, the Internet, or the meaning of "a source." This is the problem with having non-experts write about things.

I'm also giving him the benefit of the doubt that they spent more than eight hours researching this. I spend more than eight hours researching for writing two to three page papers if the subject is as intricate as this.

Also: I think it is weird to use Birtherism as your go-to example of conspiracy mongering instead of, you know, 9/11 Truthers. 9/11 Trutherism is probably the best case study of the Internet feeding into a loop of conspiracy hackery. The entire section on Fox News is just partisan hackery, that could at least have been salvaged if the author mentioned "Fake but accurate."

The author is a bit of an idiot, or he was sadly edited in such a way that took away a lot of room for anything other than political rah-rahism.

SJ said...

Just this past weekend, I was at the NRA Annual Meeting.

The TV stations that were in town did their best to find and interview the craziest-looking person attending, and show the Moms Demand Attention protest which was 2 miles from the convention center.

All my information about what went on at the event was gathered through weblogs and online news from sources friendly to the NRA.

This is another example of what could be called a "horizontal interpretive community", making connections and disseminating news outside of the Usual Sources for disseminating news.

It's the same pattern that Lehane saw then. The Usual Sources for news are saying one thing. There is a large component of interested parties saying something else. And those non-Usual-Sources are using the World Wide Web to step around the Usual Sources and communicate with each other.

Talk about "Vast Conspiracy".

Matthew Sablan said...

Other better conspiracy theories than Birtherism: The Moon Landing Was Faked!, any JFK magic bullet theory [with the benefit of pre-Internet era comparison/contrast available!.

Audacity17 said...

Hasn't the press always covered over the minor transgressions of Presidents? Don't they really have to dislike someone(Nixon) to go after them? They like being the gatekeepers of the relevant, and prefer the people not have a say in the headlines. During the 90s, I was amused at the foibles of the Clinton gang, before and during his presidency. Then, on the nod of Christopher Hitchens, I read the Secret Life of Bill Clinton, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. Unbelievably scary. Made me appreciate Lord Acton and the founders much more.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

What he is leaving out of these reminiscences from the summer of 1995 was that the White House was still smarting from the pasting Democrats received in the fall 1994 mid-term elections and feared losing the White House in 1996.

But it hardly started on the internet.

Alan Stang, who I can remember railing on the radio with conspiracy theories against Nixon and Rockefeller in the 1970s, does not have a Wikipedia page.

And then of course there were the Ron Paul newsletters.

Ralph Hyatt said...

I remember back in the early to mid 90s there was much talk about how the Internet was going to democratize the gathering and dissemination of news.

Those who benefited from the then current model were of course horrified.

Whether the threat was from the left or right was simply a matter of where the observer sat on the political spectrum.

Oso Negro said...

Organized whining isn't violent revolution. Yet.

CStanley said...

The Wide Web really did threaten The Narrow Web.

Which explains the evolution of Aptostichus barackobamai — the new trapdoor spider.

tim in vermont said...

"The problem with the internet is that there are no gatekeepers." - Hillary Clinton.

Michael K said...

"Christopher Stephen "Chris" Lehane (born June 2, 1967) is an American political consultant and crisis communications expert who has served as a lawyer, spokesperson and expert in opposition research for the Clinton White House, Democratic candidates for public office and various business, Labor, entertainment and professional sports organizations."

Of course these guys don't want citizens educating themselves. They might go off the reservation although they seem to be safe with blacks, like Crack.

chrisnavin.com said...

If you have to fight all your life for your ideas, rounding people up as you bring the light they did not want, why should you then have to deal with the opposition?

They're all a bunch of loons, conspiracy theorists and opportunists anyways. Politics is a Bloodsport, and Tong Po is always waiting in the shadows.

Once there are enough educated people out there, reasonable people who live in the modern world, sensible people who believe in freedom and progress and equality, that's all that matters.

Who doesn't want to live in a liberal democracy, bending towards justice?

Mike said...

Correction to my 11:22 post: Funny thing is the WSJ is thoroughly conventional liberal in their news alignment with the NYT, with few deviations.

Henry said...

Papa Leo Decimus writes his memoirs:

All roads led to a mysterious source—the newly exploding printing press... In print we found vernacular versions of holy texts, excerpts of classical works and other information showing there was an entire cottage industry devoted to printing conspiracy theories relating to the fallibility of the church, including numerous editions of critics claiming to have written their own stuff.

Saint Croix said...

Other better conspiracy theories than Birtherism: The Moon Landing Was Faked!, any JFK magic bullet theory [with the benefit of pre-Internet era comparison/contrast available!.

You forgot the pro-life movement, Matt. We are treated by the media like a conspiracy theory (certainly a "vast" right-wing conspiracy theory).

Our fight over abortion is not really a fight about whether killing a baby is bad. We all agree that killing a baby is bad.

We're arguing about reality, about facts. Does abortion kill a baby at all?

The pro-life movement offers a different reality from what our media/government complex has to say. If this is a false narrative, the media should disprove it, with photographs, with evidence.

The media went to great pains to explain why the 9/11 truthers were wrong on the science, on the facts. We have no such careful examination of the evidence when it comes to the homicide accusation of the pro-life movement. It's almost as if people are scared that pro-lifers might be right (or at least have a point). So they would rather not read the indictment against Gosnell, for instance. Or report his trial and conviction. And that was a guy who was charged with killing newborns.

Would that story had made the news if there was no internet?

I believe the internet is a huge danger to Roe v. Wade.

Marshal said...

Fred Drinkwater said...
By "mainstream" I think he meant network TV news, which was still a thing people watched in those days.


Since he used the term "outlets" he couldn't be limiting the term to one platform. So those excluded from "mainstream" [Post, WSJ] fail for another reason. That other reason can't be circulation since the WSJ was then the second largest in the US. So that other condition was almost surely viewpoint. To him the mainstream is left-supporting so those papers are by defninition not mainstream.

"Revealing" would be the word I would choose over "funny".

Anthony said...

There was a lot of conspiracising on Oklahoma City, too. And don't forget Mumia!

AJ Lynch said...

I agree with Lehane- without the internet, we'd never hear about the dumbshit, Jen Paski, who is failing big time as State Dept spokesman.

traditionalguy said...

The two scariest words in the wide world are Drudge and Breitbart.

They are Digital Terrorists.

PB Reader said...

She probably believes there still is a vast right wing conspiracy - and thus a primary justification for the vast left wing conspiracy.

Roger Sweeny said...

Ironic that very soon after this, the World Wide Web exploded with the Daily Kos and a million other left sites and communities, the "netroots."

David said...

LeHane definitely is a Democrat, and a typical one, in the sense that his entire life is built around the manipulation of government. Not saying that there are not Republicans who have done the same thing, but the left has made it into a high art.

Racism is not the only evil abroad in the land.

Emil Blatz said...

Given the amount of administrative overhead devoted to covering up Bill Clinton's misdeeds, this must have been a very threatening observation to a chump like Lahane. They were barely keeping a lid on things under the cozy old media world. What's this? Drudge is reporting that Newsweek has spiked a story on... Oy vey!

Teresa Dvoracek said...

The Dems did a SWOT analysis. The internet was a threat, so they turned it into an opportunity.
The Republicans did a SWOT analysis. The 3 networks were a threat, but didn't bother looking for an opportunity that was staring them right in the face

Alex said...

This is old news. I remember Bill Clinton calling out Rush Limbaugh in 1993/1994. The left had a monopoly on media pre-Rush/pre-internet/pre-Fox News. They can't stand it that the paradigm has shifted.

gadfly said...

Chris Lehanes conspiracy just cannot cross the right-left divide - a major logic fault. He even links to a Media Matters propaganda piece when discussing the restricted access afforded investigators in the unsolved deaths of Americans in Libya. Come to think of it, the questions surrounding the mysterious death of Vince Foster failed to raise his curiosity as well.

The failure to recognizance that Solyndra was a scam and the IRS 501(c)4 scandal is real are examples of his simply digging a hole in the sand and inserting his head - rather than question the actions of his allies.

Politics is the art of winning by any means, so why should this self-aggrandizement piece surprise me?

Tyrone Slothrop said...

The first definition of "conspiracy" in Wiktionary:

The act of two or more persons, called conspirators, working secretly to obtain some goal, usually understood with negative connotations

How, exactly, is this any different from community organizing?

SGT Ted said...

Who doesn't want to live in a liberal democracy, bending towards justice?

Progressives and other authoritarians, that's who.

deepelemblues said...

I'm from the Pittsburgh area and the Trib was and is nothing more than a straight newspaper outside of the editorial section. Fuck Lehane.