Stripped Bare

07.14.14

The Strange Leak of the New Exposé ‘Clinton, Inc.’

Sure, hotly anticipated books leak all the time. But 10 days early? And by a tipster who seems to be posing as a Tea Partier—but who one source suspects is affiliated with the Clintons?

The marketing and publicity folks at Broadside Books, the conservative imprint of HarperCollins, had ambitious and detailed plans for the rollout of Clinton, Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine.

They included plentiful television and media appearances by the author, Daniel Halper, who is online editor of the right-leaning Weekly Standard—notably an early guest shot on The OReilly Factor, the highly rated prime-time show on the Fox News Channel, of which HarperCollins is a corporate sibling.

But those plans were dashed over the weekend by a prolific but mysterious rogue distributor who somehow got a copy of Halper’s book and blasted out a series of mass-media emails containing PDFs—or portable document formats—of the entire 317-page, 12-chapter volume that was officially under wraps until the designated publication date, July 22.

On Sunday the publisher was caught flat-footed and scrambling to respond to the leak. Although the email blast happened on Saturday night, HarperCollins officials didn’t learn of the breach until the following morning because the corporate email system had been taken down for maintenance.

“I’ll have to talk to my colleagues tomorrow and we’ll figure it out,” HarperCollins publicity manager Joanna Pinsker told The Daily Beast when asked how the leak will affect the book’s marketing campaign. “It certainly didn’t come from the publicity department,” she added, noting that bound manuscripts—but no finished books—were sent only to journalists who signed nondisclosure agreements promising not to break the July 22 embargo. She said the marketing department is investigating the real source of the rogue emails, and once he or she is identified and located, a stern letter will follow.

“We really have no idea” how the premature release occurred, said Adam Bellow, Broadside’s top editor. “The book was closely held prior to release, but now that it is physically in shipment there are many ways of obtaining a copy. It does seem strange, however, that this totally obscure person has somehow obtained the private email of dozens of top political and media reporters.”

On Saturday night, emails from someone who identified himself, unusually, as Robert Josef Wright—a name not immediately accessible on Google or other commonly used databases—began blasting to more than 100 prominent and less prominent print and online journalists and television anchors, occasionally using their personal addresses. Among the copied recipients were NBC News President Deborah Turness; The Washington Posts media reporter, Paul Farhi; CNN’s Jake Tapper; New York magazine’s Joe Hagan; and Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

“Here is a book I bought today that you all must read. Its [sic] coming in several emails so it doesn’t spam you,” Wright—or, rather, “Wright”—wrote in his initial email. “Someone has exposed The Royal Clinton’s [sic]. King Smarmy Bill, Queen Smug Chilary, and Princess Spolied Chlesea [sic]. I don’t know David Halper or his other books. But he obviously knows people who have been dying to tell the truth and finally have.

“Will you take it seriously or will the liberal press coronate the Clintons by attacking the messenger.

“More chunks to come soon.”

The email was signed: RJW/ Spreading The “Wright” Message

While the contents of hotly anticipated titles occasionally leak prior to their publication dates—notably Hillary Clinton’s State Department memoir, Hard Choices, which Politico obtained and summarized three days before its official June 10 release—it’s rare that a book is stripped bare more than a week ahead of its scheduled unveiling.

“When a book is being shipped to whatever bookstores, the people working in the bookstores are expected to keep them in the back of the store in their sealed boxes, and they’re not supposed to unpack them until the day the book goes on sale,” Pinsker said. “But time and again, they do just that”—i.e., open the boxes early and stack the books on the shelves. Respecting release dates has gotten more problematic, of course, with the advent of PDFs, she added.

Bellow, for one, was skeptical of “Wright”’s claim that he purchased Clinton, Inc. “I don’t think that is possible unless he bought it off the back of a truck,” the editor emailed.

Another publishing source, who asked not to be named, said “Wright”’s online identity as a Clinton-hating wingnut with sloppy spelling and grammar issues is also cause for suspicion.

“The working theory of who it might be is somebody who wants to come across as a conservative, but in a way it seems like they’re trying too hard,” this source said. “So it might be somebody who’s not a conservative. They have an excellent, sophisticated media list, including people who are not commonly known, so this is somebody with some Washington-New York media savvy. The most likely suspect would be someone affiliated with the Clintons.”

That, of course, is pure speculation, unsupported by evidence. The Daily Beast’s emails requesting comment from spokespeople for former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received no response. But various Clinton loyalists were apparently more than curious about Halper’s research and reporting process as the book project was under way; Halper writes that an assistant to longtime Clinton political guru James Carville asked for the names of interviewees and a detailed description of the scope of the book—questions the author dodged.

And, of course, there's another possibility here: that "Wright" is actually part of a sophisticated PR ploy by the author or publisher to gain attention for Clinton, Inc.

Unlike scandal-monger Ed Klein’s fantastical No. 1 best-selling narrative about the supposed Blood Feud between the Clintons and the Obamas, Halper’s study is juicy and gossipy, yet scrupulously researched, drawing on numerous on-the-record conversations (as well as many not-for-attribution interviews) with prominent Democrats and Clinton insiders, past and present.

Among those who participated openly in Halper’s project are former Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry, White House scandal spinmeister Lanny Davis, former Clinton-era United Nations ambassador and secretary of energy Bill Richardson, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former senator Joe Lieberman, and Sen. John McCain; also interviewed for the book were several unnamed former Clinton aides who provided occasionally jaded observations of Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s Bill Clinton who emerges as selfish and coldly calculating in the portrait drawn by Halper’s reporting, and Hillary who comes off as warm and caring, albeit charmingly transactional for political gain, particularly with her Republican colleagues in the Senate. All the Clintons are described as obsessed with enriching themselves, using their charitable foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative not only to perform good works but also to help support an imperial lifestyle and provide Hillary’s presidential ambitions with a vast political infrastructure.

A chapter devoted to Chelsea, titled “Daddy’s Little Girl,” portrays the former first daughter as scarred by life in the political fishbowl and the public humiliation of her father’s philandering, but also the entitled beneficiary of both her parents’ feelings of guilt over the weirdness of her upbringing. “When you screw a young White House staffer,” a source “very close to the Clinton family” told Halper, referring to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, “you’re paying the price for the rest of your life. When your daughter wants to buy a ten-million-dollar apartment, the question isn’t ‘Are you crazy?’ It’s ‘Where do I wire the money?’”

In a chapter titled “Charm Offensives,” Halper reports on a very strange encounter the former president allegedly had with a group of rich Republicans at the 2003 running of the Preakness, where Clinton allegedly told off-color jokes at the Turf Club of Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.

According to Halper, Clinton—“always eager to please”— told his embarrassed audience a joke that began: “These two old Jews are walking down the street.”

“As the joke begins, everyone around the table looks dubious,” Halper writes. “Where is he going with this? Surely the former president of the United States is not about to tell an anti-Semitic story in front of people he hardly knows. This, of course, is exactly what he does, according to a number of people present.”

Briefly, the joke has the two Jewish codgers walking by a Catholic church, where a sign out front offers $100 to converts. One of the Jews, named Abe, agrees to convert and give half the proceeds to his friend. Abe meets with the priests, learns the traditions of the church, is declared a Catholic, and collects his reward.

“Hey! Look at the new Catholic here,” Abe’s friend says. “You got my money?”

To which Abe retorts: “You fucking Jews. It’s all about the money, isn’t it.”

Halper writes: “As the former president laughs, the others offer weak smiles. No one wants to offend him.”