If the conservative site Washington Free Beacon is still paying a Republican opposition research firm $150,000 a year to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton, editors might want to renegotiate their contract. Because if Free Beacon's latest installation of its deep-dive into Clinton's past is any indication, GOP investigators have already run out of leads.
The Free Beacon news flash? Back in 1971, Hillary Clinton (then Hillary Rodham) corresponded twice with Saul Alinsky, a liberal organizer and activist of renown in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. More recently, Alinsky's been immortalized as a bogeyman by conservatives who for years have waged a fruitless campaign to portray President Barack Obama as a radical-left acolyte of Alinsky's.
And now the brief Clinton correspondence from more than 40 years ago is being trumpeted: "The letters obtained by the Free Beacon suggest that Clinton experimented more with radical politics during her law school years than she has publicly acknowledged." (Wait, Clinton's a secret commie who's also tight with Wall Street? Very confusing.)
Some conservatives on Monday strained to explain why any of this matters, and why their weird, hard-to-understand obsession with someone like Alinsky ought to be of importance in American politics today. The Free Beacon's meaningless revelation set off lots of Twitter chuckling, but the story itself went nowhere, much to the dismay of Rush Limbaugh, and for good reason: There's no there there. (Favorite line: Hillary's letters were "paid for with stamps featuring Franklin Delano Roosevelt.")
Keep in mind the attempts to attack Clinton by invoking Alinsky are nothing new. Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, conservatives tried to make hay out of the fact that Clinton had written a senior thesis about the author.
After the story failed to make an impact outside the conservative bubble, a Free Beacon editor claimed the article was never meant as a Hillary gotcha. Instead, they were simply sharing "primary documents" with voters. I guess that's one way to spin a swing-and-a-miss.
The whiff highlights what's becoming a growing problem for the right-wing media industry: After operating under the microscope during her 30-year public career, there's not much about Hillary Clinton we don't know or that hasn't been dissected. And there's probably not much more that we're going to learn in the coming years, considering that trolling the Clintons has been an established far-right cottage industry that dates back to the early 1990s.
Based on three decades in the spotlight as a governor's wife, the first lady, a U.S. senator, presidential candidate and then secretary of state, there's simply no other public figure active in the U.S. political arena today (possibly other than the one who currently occupies the Oval Office) who's been more scrutinized by the media, who's endured more "scandal" coverage, who has been thoroughly trashed by the partisan press opponents, and who still comes out the other side marching on.
So now what?
If Hillary dominates the political landscape in the coming election cycle, how does the right-wing media pretend they're uncovering all kinds of new and startling facts about her past, her policies, her influences and her alliances? How does detailing a couple of letters Clinton wrote to a labor organizer 43 years ago fill the right-wing media need for fresh, new, and scary Clinton revelations?
Even when small nuggets of new Clinton information are unearthed, there's no evidence this year that voters and news consumers care about minor events or recollections from Clinton's professional past, especially ones that occurred decades ago. Increasingly, the spectacle of collecting those snippets seems more like right-wing media intramural sport than it does attempts at newsgathering.
Still, the Ahab-like quest continues.
Recall that back in February Fox News hosted discredited smear merchant Kathleen Willey for a session with Megyn Kelly to bash Hillary Clinton. Willey's synonymous with her unfounded allegations of Clinton skulduggery from the 1990s, when she claimed Bill and Hillary may have killed her cat, her husband, and Vince Foster. And that they were definitely behind the burglary of Willey's home.
More recently, Clinton-bashing authors this summer tried to generate some momentum with books claiming to blow wide open the truth about Hillary and her supposedly shocking and immoral ways. The titles included Daniel Halper's Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine, Edward Klein's Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas, and Ronald Kessler's The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents.
But they all shot blanks.
Halper's book embodied the struggle of uncovering anything new (and verified) about Hillary. A supposedly detailed dive into Clinton's political life, Halper came up with very little and he was reduced to gossiping about Bill Clinton's sex life on national television in hopes of drumming up sales interest in his book. (That part didn't work either.)
Edward Klein did score a commercial success with his oddball, fiction-like account of a villainous Bill and Hillary Clinton who came across in his book more as soap opera characters than American dignitaries. But no, the book didn't contain any new information about Hillary. At least not any that a lucid reader would consider to be accurate.
And then there was Kessler, who had previously accused Hillary Clinton of "pathological lying" and pushed the conspiracy theory that she was responsible for Vince Foster's suicide. In his new book, Kessler apparently uncovered so little new material about the former first lady that he essentially copy-and-pasted passages from his previous books in order to fill out the First Family Detail manuscript.
Hillary's determined opponents in the far-right press won't ever stop attacking her or making wild allegations. (That's what passes for editorial content.) But as a possible Clinton campaign awaits on the horizon, those opponents must privately concede that after all these years and after all those hollow allegations, if uncovering innocuous letters from 1971 is what passes for Hillary news, then the oppo research cupboard is running bare.