An excellent recent Salon piece by Daniel Denvir covers several of the key points having to do with the vile and dishonest history of the Berniebro smear routinely brandished by Clinton loyalists. But there is surely much more, possibly even a book to be written on the topic (more or less along the lines of Jerry Lembcke’s Vietnam era classic, The Spitting Image) once the rage subsides and we know more of the facts.
One of the things Denvir doesn’t mention is how sectors of “the left” were more than happy to do Clinton’s work by circulating it and the (closely related) Bernie-as-white-supremacist smear. As can be seen by googling the phrase, a relatively high fraction of the returns link to our supposed allies in “the movement”. And the phrase “Berniebro” is still passed around by soi-disant leftists as if it has any basis in fact other than as a transparent and cynical canard, circulated by Clintonites for the sole purpose of maintaining her completely undeserved “firewall” among women and African American voters. A truly disgraceful performance by all concerned.
Also undiscussed in the piece is the question of whether there was any central coordination on how the talking point was to be disseminated. Denvir, over twitter, expressed skepticism as to whether that might have been the case. According to him, the journalists in question “believe what they write”. These include, of those he mentions, the New Yorker’s Alexandra Schwartz, Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer and Yoni Applebaum, NYU tech guru Clay Shirky, Janell Ross at the Washington Post, Charles Blow on the New York Times op ed page, and former Salon editor, now Nation columnist Joan Walsh. Unmentioned are figures such as Dara Lind at Vox, one of the first to amplify the smear, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte, Rebecca Traister in New York magazine, and, maybe most alarmingly, the unhinged rants of Sady Doyle in, of all places, the venerable left outpost In These Times.
Denvir was possibly correct that this herd, including high end journalists as well as aspirants to that status, was made up of individuals who “formulate their own opinions” rather than following orders from a central command. But the precision by which the smear was broadcast recalls and shares important similarities with a military psy-op (Psychological Operation) against an enemy population. The analogy might seem extreme but it has a clear precedent in the Reagan Administration which, as Noam Chomsky noted, “had a massive enterprise to control the public mind. In fact,” Chomsky continues, “when this was exposed during the Iran/Contra hearings, partially exposed, one high administration official described it as the most successful operation carried out. He said it’s the kind of operation that you carry out in enemy territory.” Chomsky observes that the official “expresses the attitude toward the population completely. The population is the ‘enemy, and you’ve got to control ‘enemy territory’ by very extensive public diplomacy — meaning propaganda.”
There is little doubt that Clinton’s advisors, who commission their own internal, private polls to assess the public mood, are well aware that of the widespread contempt for Clinton not as a personality, but more fundamentally, for the policies she has promoted throughout her career.
One of these is Joel Benenson who, as his official bio states, served the Proctor and Gamble corporation as their “chief strategic researcher for the launch of Olestra,” the fat substitute, the ingestion of which included, as side effects, “anal leakage” and “intestinal distress.” It makes sense that he would now turn his professional attentions towards the sales of a still more disliked product.
The public encountering Clinton or Olestra is, for public relations specialists, in an important sense, an “enemy” whose resistance needs to be subdued. But the most conspicuous enemies are those who tell the truth and expose the lies on which the sales pitch is based. They need to be marginalized and discredited by any means necessary. While it is only speculation that the Berniebro smear was concocted for this purpose in the back rooms of a K street or Madison Avenue office, it is certain that communication strategies, both positive and negative, were conceived long before Clinton announced her run. These were developed in full confidence they would be widely circulated a compliant journalist corps hopeful of receiving much coveted “access” to or even positions within a Clinton White House.
All those responsible for passing it on should be ashamed of themselves.