NEW YORK -- The New York Times reported on May 17, 2012 that conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts and several Republican strategists were working on a plan to tie President Barack Obama to his controversial former preacher Jeremiah Wright, a strategy that the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) shied away from during the previous election cycle.
The Times’ bombshell story, accompanied by the full advertising proposal online, got significant media pick-up and drew an immediate rebuke from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. "This morning's story revealed the appalling lengths to which Republican operatives and SuperPacs apparently are willing to go to tear down the President and elect Mitt Romney," Messina said.
But according to “Double Down,” the hotly anticipated 2012 election post-mortem from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Messina shouldn't have been surprised by the proposal's existence when he saw the Times' front page that day.
Days earlier, a mystery woman had left a copy of the proposal in an unmarked manila envelope for Pete Giangreco, a “Democratic direct-mail maven” and 2012 campaign consultant. Giangreco then delivered it to Messina, who “convened an Obama world conference call to strategize” about what to do next, according to the book.
Obama's team decided to leak the $10 million advertising proposal to the press, a move that would not only not only expose Ricketts’ plan but also “send a message to conservative mega-donors and Republican operatives that if they crossed the line when it came to race, the would be a price to pay."
The Obama team rightly assumed the news would spark outrage. The group had proposed hiring an “extremely literate conservative African-American” to criticize Obama, who was described in the plan as a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.”
Halperin and Heilemann describe how the campaign went about injecting the story into the media bloodstream:
The Obamans didn’t want their fingerprints on the disclosure, so they used a third-party cutout to funnel the Ricketts document to the New York Times. To preserve deniability, Obama wasn’t told about the scheme. [Top adviser David] Plouffe only informed him that a story about a super PAC planning to smear him with Wright would soon be appearing in the Times.
It's common for political campaigns to provide opposition research and potentially negative stories about their opponent (or opponent's party) to journalists.
But the book lifts the curtain on this process, revealing the document's path from a "Mystery Brunette" to a Democratic consultant to a presidential campaign to an unnamed third-party source to a couple New York Times reporters. The entire process would have taken less than a week, given that the Ricketts meeting took place on May 10 and the story ran on May 17.
When the Times published the story, the paper said the document had been obtained “through a person not connected to the proposal who was alarmed by its tone.”
The Times declined to comment on the book’s claims that the Obama campaign steered the proposal to the paper through a third party.
Halperin and Heilemann’s follow-up to their hugely successful book about the 2008 election, “Game Change,” will not be released on Tuesday, but The Huffington Post independently obtained a copy of the book before its release.
The most talked-about anecdote so far involves Obama’s aides having considered replacing Vice President Joe Biden on the 2012 ticket with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.