Clinton Smear Book Author's Past Revealed: He Was Ghostwriter for Jesse Helms

Election '16

Something strange is happening in America’s biggest-time media circles. When it comes to mainstream news departments covering the present and future, the past is not important—even when the latest information-bearing source is a walking red flag.

That right-wing propagandist Peter Schweizer has a new book slamming the Clintons is no surprise. But in the weeks since the New York Times and Washington Post used a pre-release copy as the basis for investigative reports criticizing the Clintons while Hillary was Secretary of State, Schweizer’s publisher has issued retractions, including revising the e-book version. The papers should have seen that coming, instead of elevating Schweizer’s latest hit job to something presented as investigative reporting and not partisan opinion.

But they didn’t, raising the question, can sources ever be too toxic? One can only wonder if the Times or the Post knew that Schweizer worked as a writer for North Carolina’s ex-Sen. Jesse Helms, who was not only one of the Senate’s most unapologetic racists but blocked then-President Clinton’s agenda as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair from 1994 to 2000. Schweizer, a foreign policy expert, was brought into Helm’s orbit by spokesman Marc Thiessen, who became his business partner after working as a speechwriter in George W. Bush’s White House.

Helms was one of America’s most divisive politicians. He defended segregation for decades, from protecting apartheid South Africa from sanctions to opposing a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. He blocked foreign aid that mentioned abortion and provided birth control. He hated Clinton’s foreign policy. Helms opposed Clinton in Haiti, Bosnia and the Middle East. He blocked a 1999 Chemical Weapons Convention, helped kill a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for nuclear arms with Russia, and regularly attacked the U.N. In his campaigns, Helms played the race card, including an ad where he said that electing a black senator would kill jobs for whites. Schweizer was tapped to ghostwrite for Helms, Tallahassee magazine said in a glowing 2009 profile.  

Schweizer has made a lucrative career writing books that portray right-wingers as heroes and Democrats as hypocrites. He has a record of making accusations that turn out to be false, even forcing editorial pages—where one expresses a mix of facts and opinions—to run corrections. That history didn’t stop the Times or the Post from treating his latest anti-Clinton screed as an investigative goldmine, when in reality, it reads like typical political opposition research report, filled with innuendo and dots that can’t be proven but leave a sour taste in the mouth.

If the Times and the Post want to go after Bill and Hillary Clinton for ethical lapses surrounding the donations to their family foundation or reveal who is writing six-figure checks for their speeches, they don’t need to rely on an established right-wing provocateur. Political Washington is actually a small town, and it does not take too long to find alternative sources.

When asked if the Times knew of Schweizer’s background, the assistant to Public Editor Margaret Sullivan declined to comment beyond what has already been said. “The information is not being taken at face value; it’s being reported out,” Sullivan wrote. “I’m satisfied that there is no financial arrangement. (Mr. Schweizer surely will benefit from the exposure in The Times, of course; no small consideration.)”

The Post’s spokesman said much the same thing; they will look at anything and then decide what to do from there. Needless to say, neither paper has said much about the errors in their source’s book. Thiessen did not return a call to comment on bringing Schweizer into Helm’s orbit.

These newspapers are supposed to be better than this. Thiessen is a columnist at the Post, where like other columnists, he can say whatever he wants on the opinion pages. But that isn’t the same as the news pages. It’s a sad state of affairs when these papers will sanction reporters to write about a past president’s and current candidate’s blurring of ethical lines, when the source for their investigations has a history of inaccurate attacks and vicious partisanship—as evidenced by revelations of ghostwriting for Helms and forced corrections to the anti-Hillary book.

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