EAVESDROPPING: How Obama’s Spin Doctors Do Brain Surgery On The Fourth Estate Over The Phone


MEcropped2.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA Today I listened in on another one of those campaign conference calls to reporters, this time from the Obama people. Same deal as the Hillary campaign conference call, you get an email announcing, with little or no warning, that the conference call is happening in 40 minutes, along with an 800 number and a special code to punch in. Representing Team Obama was Chief Strategist David Axelrod and Communications Director Robert Gibbs. Axelrod pointed out that Clinton Chief Strategist Mark Penn yesterday raised the issue of transparency, while assuring reporters that Senator Clinton has been ‘fully vetted.’ But the fact of the matter is, Axelrod continued, “Senator Clinton is a veteran of non-disclosure.” He then cited the fact that Senator Clinton has yet to release her income tax records, or where exactly she dispersed the estimated $2 billion in pork earmarks she has attached to legislation over the course of her tenure in the Senate.

By contrast, Axelrod pointed out, Senator Obama has made both his tax returns and earmarks available to reporters. He said that Senator Clinton said at one point she would release her tax returns AFTER she got the nomination — which is kinda like saying I’ll show you all the evidence after the trial is over. In short, Axelrod called on the Clinton campaign to release four key data dumps: The Clintons’ income tax returns; the $2 billion in earmarks Senator Clinton requested for her constituency; the names of the donors to the Clinton Library; and all relevant documents pertaining to the Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady, which the Clinton Library has to date refused to release to reporters. “We will leave it to them to explain why they have not,” said Axelrod.

Axelrod concluded by saying that asking for the release of this information was not, as the Clinton campaign characterized it, a Kenn Starr-style fishing expedition, but a reasonable call for Senator Clinton to match the standard of transparency set by Senator Obama . Furthermore, Common Cause, the non-partisan public interest watchdog, has made the very same request of the Clinton campaign. And then they opened it up to questions from reporters.

Some bloke from the London Telegraph wanted to know “how could Obama not know” about these controversial things that his pastor has said, for example, that America is run by rich, white people, and that the Bush administration lied when they said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they lied when they said 9/11 was connected to Iraq, and also, how, like, Hillary Clinton has never been called a nigger. “How much damage could this cause and when will you know if it’s causing damage?” he asked. After a pregnant pause, Obama Communications director Robert Gibbs stressed that Reverend Wright was no longer a part of the campaign, nor was he currently the pastor of SenatorObama’s church. But just to be clear, the controversial statements making the rounds of the media right now “do not represent Senator Obama’s views, nor do they represent the sum total of Reverend Wright.”

After a few questions about the fate of the Michigan and Florida primaries (Michigan legislature is about to vote on June 3rd redo; Florida is still a big question mark) Phawker got a turn to ask a question. “Hello, Jonathan Valania from Phawker.com here in Philadelphia,” I fairly bellowed into the phone before realizing it wasn’t necessary to shout. “The Clinton campaign is saying you guys are writing off Pennsylvania and giving up without a fight, and to be honest I have yet to hear a convincing rebuttal from you guys.” After chucklingobamadunkindonuts.jpg gently, the Obama dudes point out that this is the longest primary battle in the history of the Democratic party. One quarter of all the delegates going forward will come from Pennsylvania and they will be fighting them tooth and nail.

But as they point out, they are up against it in Pennsylvania: the Governor is putting the might of the PA Dem machine behind the Clinton campaign. Likewise, outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a demographic mirror image of Ohio, fat with the kind of low-wage, uneducated white voters that typically skew Hillary. Which may in part explain why the Obama campaign is pressing for the release of the Clinton’s taxes. It will hard for Hillary to venture into the hardscrabble wastes of Pennsyltucky and tell Joe and Jane Six Pack that she feels their pain when she and her husband share a tax bracket with Donald Trump. Likewise, the reason the Obama campaign has been sending mixed signals about their prospects in PA is they are trying to manage perceptions and avoid a repeat Ohio. Even if they lose, they want to deny Hillary the chance to crow about it being some kind of mandate/superdelegate tipping point. “When the Clinton campaign looks at the flag they see seven stars,” the Obama dudes said. “When we look at the flag we see 50 stars.” Either way, the Obama dudes said, “we will be there.” And sure enough, an email showed up a couple hours later announcing that Obama will be in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Damn, that’s service!

senator_john_mccain.jpgJOHN MCCAIN CAMPAIGNING IN IRAQ, POSSIBLY STAYING FOR 100 YEARS: On April 1, 2007, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) strolled through the open-air Shorja market in Baghdad in an effort to prove that Americans are “not getting the full picture” of what’s going on in Iraq. In a press conference after his Baghdad tour, McCain told a reporter that his visit to the market was proof that people could “walk freely” in parts of Baghdad. What McCain failed to mention was that he was accompanied by “100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships overhead.” He also appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest during his visit. Since that trip, McCain has claimed that the situation in Iraq has improved even more. A few months ago, McCain claimed that “we’ve succeeded militarily” in Iraq. Things, of course, are going so well, that he wants to keep U.S. troops there for at least 100 years. McCain is now back in Iraq for a “surprise visit with Iraqi and American diplomatic and military leaders.” He is joined by fellow Iraq war defenders Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). But it’s unlikely they will be visiting the Shorja market again. Today, CNN reported that they tried to visit the Shorja market, but it was too unsafe and they were unable to go. [via THINK PROGRESS]

CHENEY IN BAGHDAD TO MARK FIVE LONG YEARS OF MAKING BEAUTIFUL WAR: Vice Presidentcheney-penguin.jpg Dick Cheney landed in Baghdad today on an unannounced trip for meetings with U.S. military commanders and Iraqi officials before a progress report on the war set for delivery to Congress next month. Cheney, arriving just before the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion, scheduled meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as well as Army General David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and other leaders. Petraeus and Crocker are scheduled to brief Congress on progress in Iraq since President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of 30,000 extra U.S. soldiers a year ago. Cheney flew by helicopter from Baghdad International Airport to the fortified Green Zone for talks. He told reporters it was `”especially significant” that he was in Iraq five years after the March 20, 2003, invasion that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and ended “Saddam’s tyranny.” In his discussions, Cheney said he was given evidence of “dramatic improvements in the security situation.” Shortly after the vice president’s arrival, two explosions rocked Baghdad, Agence France-Presse said. A U.S. military officer confirmed one of the explosions. One was caused by a mortar attack on the Green Zone, AFP said. Details of the second blast weren’t available. [via BLOOMBERG NEWS]

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