White House Cites Steamshovel Press

Steamshovel Press editor Kenn Thomas' article for the Washington Post, "Clinton Era Conspiracies" is among the first articles appearing in the 322-page White House Report entitled "Communications Stream of Conspiracy Commerce." The report made headlines in January when details emerged in Wall Street Journal (1) and the Washington Post (2) of its conspiratorial conclusions. The report suggests that right-wing ideologues report rumors get picked up by the British press--it singled out columnist Ambrose Evans- Pritchard--and transformed into hard news and reported in the mainstream US media, a magical "media food chain," without which apparently nothing bad would have ever been written about the Clinton administration. According to the Post, such a view "has long been expressed by Clinton strategist James Carville and other Clinton advisers" but the report "lays down the suspicion laden theories in cold-print, under the imprimatur of the White House."

Steamshovel once offered "Clinton Era Conspiracies" as a subscription premium. It deconstructed the give-and-take process of dealing with the Washington Post in Steamshovel Press #11 ("Things Are Gonna Slide: Post-partum Suppression"). Steamshovel concluded that it had minimized the inevitable watering down of info- underground reporting in a mainstream DC paper. It concluded, however, that the Post had stripped the article of important details and its presentation made it look like glib satire. The unedited essay now appears in the Steamshovel back-issue anthology, Popular Alienation (pp. 263-268). It certainly does not have its genesis in a right-wing think-tank, as the "Conspiracy Commerce" report might suggest.

Information from the Steamshovel article "INSLAW Octopus in Whitewater Currents," outlining the interest of the Clinton administration in the Danny Casolaro story, also found its way into the White House report second-hand, through an article by someone named Bixman who relied heavily on it.

The size and scope of "Communications Stream of Conspiracy Commerce" was obsfucated by The Nation magazine when it reported that "Mark Fabiani, then of the White House Counsel's office, aided by some lowly staffers at the Democratic National Committee, decided to illustrate the ["media food chain"] phenomenon and came up with 328 pages of supporting material. He added a two-and-a- half-page cover memo with the extremely infelicitous title...and began handing it to reporters..." (3) The report does primarily consist of photocopied newsclips and Internet download/print outs. It practically looks like the garden variety con zine of the 1990s. Pages of analysis accompany the photocopies, though, and ideology clearly informs the Nation's misrepresentation. But if White House counsel received its usual chunk of taxpayer money for the work, the xeroxing and net searching certainly left plenty of change for power lunch conspiracy chats. Interestingly, the White House does not make "Communications Stream of Conspiracy Commerce" available as a government document. It can only be had through the DNC, although Steamshovel will supply it to readers at cost.

As with much of what it reports, Steamshovel affirmed part of the White House "Communications Stream" conspiracy theory in issue #14, which appeared in Fall 1995. In "The Conspiracy Conspiracy", author Jack Burden discusses at length Floyd G. Brown, the public relations hack responsible for George Bush's "Willie Horton" ads, who is the first subject of deconstruction in the "Communications Stream" report. Burden writes:

"A huge amount of what you've read about Whitewater has not, contrary to what you may think, been dug up by the reporters whose bylines appear on the stories about the affair. The financial labyrinth of it all is too boring and time-consuming for your average journalist (or, for that matter, your average reader). [Steamshovel debris: Although it makes no direct connection with Brown, the "Communications Stream" report traces the money to Richard Mellon Scaife, who "uses the $800 million Mellon fortune...to propagate extremist views" and was described by Wall Street Journal as a "conservative philanthropist." "Communications Stream" analyzes Wall Street Journal as a mouthpiece for Brown.] Most of the Whitewater press emanates from an organization called Citizens United, headed by a the 33 year old Brown, who looks like Rush Limbaugh's younger, more desperate brother.

"Brown describes himself simply as a concerned conservative and claims no affiliation with the Republican party. He admits to having a financial base of some $3 million, supposedly raised by direct mail solicitations. His organization works round the clock to unmask what he sees as the Clinton Menace, devoting most of its expensive energy to Whitewater. Brown and co. issue daily press releases and hourly fax updates on the topic. They have a Whitewater conspiracy press kit they send out to reporters that practically writes the story for them. If a reporter asks them to, they'll probably set the type and cook the coffee.

"Of course Brown and company are just doing this because they "want to see the truth come out." Mainstream Republicans are supposedly embarrassed and disgusted by Brown's sleazeball tactics and shameless taste for the smear.

"But check it out: The last time Republicans were "embarrassed" by Floyd G. Brown was in the 1988 election, when they were embarrassed all the way to the White House. It was Brown who produced the racist Willie Horton TV ad which practically won the election for George Bush singlehanded. When Bush was confronted with complaints that the ad combined racist stereotypes with outright lies, he too condemned it. The ad continued to run, however, because it was the "independent" work of Brown and so, supposedly, out of Bush's control. Thus Bush was able to benefit from a race-baiting appeal while giving lip service to its condemnation. Of course Brown, Bush and the rest of the "conservatives" involved in this incident were completely unacquainted with each other and just wanted to see the truth come out. Just ask Michael Dukakis.

"This is the way the game is played by the well-funded media manipulators of the right. Consequently, it's not surprising to see right-wingers like Limbaugh, Falwell and D'Amato promoting the Clinton conspiracy cartoon. What's disturbing is the way that people who should know better--members of the countercultural left- -have been sucked into the scam."

What distinguishes Burden's point of view from that of the "Communications Stream" report is the notion of blowback--that rumor reports by Brown and others are picked up by British tabloids and then concretized as hard news when the US press picks them up from Britain. Burdens argues instead that:

"Part of the psy ops strategy here is the exploitation of popular interest in conspiracy. Though mainstream rationalism would have it that American politics always proceeds in an open, orderly, democratic fashion--that conspiracy can't happen here--contemporary Americans know better. They've learned better. The Kennedy assassination seems to shriek conspiracy...Watergate was unquestionably a case of the C word, as was Iran-Contra. Conspiracies, at very high levels of the US establishment, do occur. This history has, understandably, made Americans profoundly suspicious of the words and deeds of the high and mighty.

"It has also contributed to the emergence of a new genre of popular culture, one we might call conspiracy noir. This genre is large and growing, and includes everything from the fiction of Robert Anton Wilson and Umberto Eco to TV shows like the X Files, Hollywood movies like JFK and comics like The Invisibles. Combining existential dread, political cynicism, fascinating occult mumbo jumbo and the sense of significant things hovering just beyond the veil, this genre has immense appeal as both entertainment and cultural myth.

"In Euro-American politics of the right, there is a tradition of conspiracy theory, an extremely checkered one. Far-rightists can always tell you the names and phone numbers of the members of the Ruling Cabal. And though such analyses are shrill, naively personalistic and often racist, they do arise from political conditions, of oppression and corruption, that are actual, though typically misread by the rightists."

Process aside, Burden considers the particulars of malfeasance and corruption that have been percolating about Clinton as having been over-reported, especially compared to the Teflon shield that protected serious examination of Iran-contra and other scandals of the previous Republican administrations. Whitewater, for instance, is "the kind of financial scam that the upper classes consider their birthright, the sort of thing for which the Republicans and the Wall Street Journal ordinarily give out medals." Burden says of the Iran-Contra airfield in Mena, Arkansas, "the stories...have the ring of credibility, given what else we know about Oliver's army [Oliver North]. The claim that then-Governor Clinton knew about and approved the use of the airstrip by the North network is a bit flimsier, but let's assume it's true. Does this mean that Clinton is part of what the Christic Institute calls the `secret team'? Is he a national security neofascist of Ollie North proportions? And if he is, then why are North and his political cronies working so mightily to destroy Clinton?"

It could well be argued that American politics now seemingly consists of internecine warfare and false dialogue among equally reprehensible politicos on supposedly varied ends of the spectrum. The process by which covert information becomes rumor, becomes news report and then becomes canon for any real public political dialogue that remains can only be described subjectively in a report like "Communications Stream". The report in effect tells the White House that there's nothing wrong, only right-wing rumors bent out of proportion by British blowback.

Buried in the Wall Street Journal coverage of the "Communications Stream" report, however, is the story of Kevin Ives and Don Henry, two kids who may have been killed because they happened upon the drugs-and-guns operation in Mena. No rumor here: those kids are dead and Fahmy Malak, the Clinton-supported medical examiner who declared that they fell asleep on railroad tracks after smoking pot, was visibly corrupt. The US attorney in Little Rock, Paula Casey, has done nothing to investigate the deaths. Unlike the Paula Jones picadillo and the Whitewater brouhaha, the story has not been caught up the "communication stream of conspiracy commerce", even though it fits neatly into what has been suspected about Mena by conspiracy students for many years. If it never emerges from the small reportage in the obviously partisan Wall Street Journal and on The Mena Connection, a videotape with oral history documentation Little Rock local news footage that circulates in the info-underground, will the White House communication conspiracy theory be put to rest?


(1) Morrison, Micah, "White House Heat on Whitewater Beat," Wall Street Journal, January 6, 1997

(2) Harris, John F. and Baker, Peter, "White House Asserts a Scandal Theory," Washington Post, January 10, 1997

(3) "Full-Court Press: A Stupidity Conspiracy," The Nation, February 10, 1997, p. 5