Mark Halperin and John Heilemann are laughing all the way to the bank at the mess Harry Reid is facing. The hottest backstage tidbit of their new campaign chronicle, "Game Change," is that Reid praised Barack Obama's political appeal as a "light-skinned" black man with "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
The prestige these authors have among their media colleagues was weightier than the Democrats pleading to be spared the headache. (Halperin is now at Time after many years at ABC; Heilemann is at New York magazine.) For his part, President Obama quickly proclaimed, "The book is closed," even if the uproar was just beginning. Obama did not comment on the book's report that Ted Kennedy was furious at Bill Clinton after Clinton sneered that Obama was so inexperienced that "a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee."
The authors said "trust us" on the book's anonymous sources because we know these campaign sources so thoroughly that we know all their motivations. Which leads to Question No. 2: If you know these sources so well, why did it take a year or two to unload these scoops?
Because Obama is safely elected? Or because now they can cash in?
Don't always trust the first draft of history -- or as Ronald Reagan would say, trust, but verify. Some stories come cloaked in anonymity from campaign staffers who want to stab their old employers in the back with a machete, and then go out and get the next job with no fingerprints. The authors are very Bob Woodward-like, offering detailed reconstructions of scenes and conversations they did not witness firsthand, with no audio or video to back up the allegations.
Reid owned up to his racial remarks, but Clinton stayed quiet. Conservatives were passionate in underlining an obvious point about Democrats. They play the race card obsessively, but when the arrow turns back on them, we see Obama asserting Reid is a good man "on the right side of history." Just weeks ago, Reid was comparing conservative opponents of a government takeover of health care to those who clung to slavery and segregation. Why does he deserve a pass on this -- especially when he owns the quote?
But Reid and his excusers aren't the most shameless people. That dishonor should go to "60 Minutes" and CBS. They had the "Game Change" book in advance. But they completely ignored the pages that embarrassed Reid and Clinton. They spent the lion's share of their time with McCain aide Steve Schmidt going savagely on the record (again) against Sarah Palin. At least Schmidt wasn't mauling Palin anonymously. He's tried to be Palin's Freddy Krueger for months now. Schmidt and CBS made Palin out to be so stupid that she didn't understand anything about any of America's wars in the 20th century.
Surely, CBS gave Palin and her defenders a chance to respond? No, they didn't -- not on "60 Minutes," and not on "The Early Show" in the several segments promoting Schmidt's attacks before and after the interview. Instead, the 17 people who watch this morning program saw Bob Schieffer declare once again that he thinks Palin is political roadkill.
Anderson Cooper, who interviewed Schmidt and the authors as a guest correspondent on CBS, asked about Reid, Clinton and race with these authors on CNN on Monday night. CBS wasn't just one-sided; its approach was propagandistic and corrupt -- a lot like the phony documents war on George W. Bush in 2004.
The most underplayed scoop in the "Game Change" book is the story of John and Elizabeth Edwards. Some of their former staffers went on the record by name and talked about their candidate's soaring ego, his sloppy affair with Rielle Hunter and what the authors called "the lie of Saint Elizabeth." They said the candidate's wife was "so unpleasant that they felt like battered spouses."
This is worth underlining. They felt "there was no one on the national stage for whom the disparity between public image and private reality was vaster or more disturbing. What the world saw in Elizabeth: a valiant, determined, heroic everywoman. What the Edwards insiders saw: an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending crazywoman."
Edwards staffers started to panic at their own success with the servile media, said the book: "The mainstream media, yet again, was determinedly ignoring the Enquirer." If that trend continued, Edwards could win the nomination and be trounced by the Republicans when the truth of Edwards' affair proved true.
The sugary television stories of John and Elizabeth celebrating their love-filled marriage at Wendy's look like fraud. So you can see why this would be downplayed. It suggests all of the media's gooey Democratic love stories look, well, propagandistic and corrupt.