Media

The Daily Caller’s 'Exclusive' Hit Piece on Bill Clinton Is a Hoax

It’s a harbinger of the depths to which the right-wing press will go to slam the Clintons as 2016 draws near.

The Daily Caller’s hit piece on Bill Clinton, which attempted to link the former president to a Holocaust denier, was posted right before New Year's Eve. So it can be seen as either the worst example of irresponsible journalism from 2014 (a title it would easily win), or the worst example of irresponsible journalism from 2015 (granted, the year has just begun, but the Daily Caller piece is that bad).

The piece, dramatically titled “Bill Clinton Once Praised An Undercover Holocaust Denier For Keeping ‘The Lessons Of The Holocaust Alive,’” (claimed that Clinton, while president, sent a “commendation letter” praising the work of David Cole, whom reporter Patrick Howley bafflingly refers to throughout the piece as “an undercover Holocaust denier,” “an undercover Holocaust revisionist,” and “an undercover Hollywood gadfly,” without devoting even one sentence to explaining what those terms mean.

But in a way, Howley’s tangled prose is irrelevant, because the story is based on a hoax. There is no “Clinton commendation letter.” It never existed, and shockingly for a site that has built itself up as one of the most “respected” conservative news sources on the web, neither Howley nor his editor Vince Coglianese asked to actually see the letter in question before posting their “scoop.”   

The lack of journalistic ethics and standards in this case is astounding. The total absence of editorial diligence and oversight should cast everything on the Daily Caller into question. By the way, if the name Patrick Howley rings a bell, he’s the hack who was condemned by almost every respectable media organization in 2011 for “infiltrating” an Occupy DC protest and instigating an assault on the Air and Space Museum because the actual protesters were being too law-abiding and non-violent and he wasn’t getting the story he wanted. So phony journalism is nothing new to him.

Knowing that, here’s how the Daily Caller came to run a 100% false story about a still-living former U.S. president. David Cole, who is Jewish, was active in the early 1990s as what he calls a Holocaust revisionist. That term is up for debate. When the Guardian profiled Cole in 2013, the reporter and editors made a conscious decision after reviewing Cole’s work to use the term “revisionist.” However, the Huffington Post, MSNBC, the Wrap, and Yahoo News have preferred to use “denier.” Either way, the nature of Cole’s work is not in question: he claims that Auschwitz was never an extermination camp.

In 1998, after a bounty was put on his head by the Jewish Defense League, Cole started living under the name David Stein, producing mainstream Holocaust films.

Floating out there in the ether of the Internet, on a site called ZoomInfo, is a quote, supposedly from Bill Clinton, lauding “Stein’s” work on a documentary titled Nuremberg (the last film of legendary screenwriter Budd Schulberg, of On the Waterfront fame). The film is genuine; the Clinton quote is not.

Here’s how things unfolded, according to Cole/Stein:

“In late October 2014, I was contacted by Patrick Howley, who requested an interview. ‘I have no agenda,’ he proudly exclaimed. I already didn’t like Howley. Earlier that month, he’d included me in a story in which he misattributed a quote from a TV show (the Phil Donahue Show) that I’d done in 1994. He took a quote from Donahue’s pre-taped intro to the show, and falsely attributed it to someone else on the panel.

“When Howley contacted me, I told him about the misattributed quote, assuming that he’d, you know, fix it. When he didn’t, I knew I was dealing with a major knobhead. He told me he’d come across the Clinton ‘blurb’ on ZoomInfo, and he wanted to know more about it. I told him, in writing, point blank, that I was ‘afraid it might prove false.’

“At this point, I assumed he’d either abandon the article, or, at least, ask to seethe damn letter. It didn’t even enter my mind that he would go ahead with the story, even after my warning. I mean, he’s a reporter for one of the top conservative sites in the nation, right? You’re going to write a story about a U.S. president sending a commendation letter to a ‘Holocaust denier’ without actually asking to see the letter? Who would do that?”

Indeed, Howley proceeded with the story even after Cole’s warning. And Howley’s editor Vince Coglianese never asked to see the letter either. They had a Clinton “gotcha,” facts be damned.

“I’ll admit, I just sat back and watched with amusement,” Cole says. “I didn’t punk them; they punked themselves. And I let it happen because journalism that bad should be publicly humiliated. These idiots are a disgrace; they deserve what they get.”

According to editor Coglianese, his concern was never whether there actually was a Clinton commendation letter, but simply whether or not Howley properly quoted the ZoomInfo blurb. The idea to ask the man who supposedly had the letter to produce it never occurred to him. 

So where did that “blurb” on ZoomInfo come from? Cole explains:

“It’s a complete invention, never meant to be seen beyond the month it was used. I had a friend, a country-rock star named Julia Garlington, who had been an opening act for Blake Shelton. Julia had fallen on hard times ... Her family, especially her sister, who was my closest friend at the time, asked me to help her get a corporate job. So, over the course of a week, we created a limited-use website and a bunch of phony credits for her to make it look as though all the time she’d been hooking, she was actually working as my ‘director of public relations.’ We fabricated quotes, letters of recommendation, etc. When Julia found employment, I took everything down. But it got caught in ZoomInfo’s net. I never expected to hear about it again. But I also never expected that a reporter for a ‘respected’ news site would base an entire story around a ZoomInfo blurb, without wanting to see the document in question.”

It’s a disgrace that the Daily Caller would enable Patrick Howley, with his reprehensible track record of fabricating scoops, to run a blatantly false story about Bill Clinton. And it’s a harbinger of things to come, the depths to which the right-wing press will go to slam the Clintons as 2016 draws near. But it’s also indicative of the complete lack of standards at the Daily Caller, a site with an undeserved reputation and a lack of principles that is due either to sheer incompetence or an intentional desire to deceive.

This article has been updated to fix an editing error.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Environment
Food
Media
World