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Press claims Chamber of Commerce story's too "convoluted." Like Whitewater wasn't?

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Question: When are allegations of foreign sources funding American elections deemed to be deeply troubling and instantly newsworthy?

Answer: When the money is allegedly flowing to Democrats.

And when are the same type of allegations dismissed as perplexing and unbelievable?

Yep -- when the money benefits Republican candidates.

Last week, ThinkProgress made news by reporting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, committed to spending tens of millions of dollars blanketing television markets with partisan, anti-Democratic ads this year, "funds its political attack campaign out of its general account, which solicits foreign funding." In other words, donations gathered from around the world from foreign corporations are being used by the lobbying behemoth to influence elections in America and specifically, to defeat as many Democrats as possible.

That's big news. Period.

But note how Time's Mark Halperin, speaking on behalf of "elites," moved this week to quickly dismiss the Chamber story [emphasis added]:

Not only is this issue convoluted and far-fetched, but it also distracts from the issues voters care about, frustrating political insiders and alienating struggling citizens (not that many are following such an offbeat story line).

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Read that highlighted portion again as the Time scribe downplayed allegations that the Chamber of Commerce is using foreign funds as part of its 2010 blitzkrieg to take down the Democratic Party in November. I'm still a bit shocked that a journalist would dismiss any news story based on the premise that it's "convoluted and far-fetched."

I'm pretty sure Iran-Contra at first seemed "convoluted and far-fetched." And so did Watergate and so did the Valerie Plame story and so did dozens of other big, juicy news Beltway stories over the years. (And even modestly juicy ones, which the Chamber story might qualify as.) Instead Halperin, playing news editor, waves journalists off the Chamber story because it's "convoluted and far-fetched." Oh, and because voters aren't following the "offbeat" story.

And could that be because journalists like Halperin are not covering it?

Note that Halperin spent more time in his Time piece mocking the story than actually explaining the details of the unsettling allegations. Note that the fact the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will spend tens of millions of dollars this election year airing tens of thousands of attack ads that are often riddled with inaccuracies is of little concern or interest to a media player like Halperin.

His only take on the story was to belittle Obama for talking about it. The Chamber is spending more money than God trying to defeat Democrats, and some of that money might be coming from foreign sources (it's impossible to tell for certain since the Chamber won't disclose its donor list), but for Halperin, the only take-away is that Obama looks small for defending Democrats against the Chamber's tidal wave of attacks.

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Oh brother.

And here's the kicker: Halperin is part of the same Beltway press corps that during the Clinton years chased every conceivable harebrained conspiracy theory dreamt up by the Clinton's right-wing haters. During the '90s, the press preferred it when the Clinton gotcha stories were "convoluted and far-fetched." That only added to the intrigue and drama.

Go to Nexis, search the years between 1993 and 2000, type in "Bill Clinton and Whitewater," and prepare to be drowned by the more than 35,000 news hits for the preposterous financial "scandal" that literally defined the phrase "convoluted and far-fetched."

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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a (more...)

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BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you -- I guess I would put it th... by Tom Murphy on Thursday, Oct 14, 2010 at 8:14:57 PM
The Chamber of Commerce, if indeed it had the inte... by John Sanchez Jr. on Friday, Oct 15, 2010 at 8:46:33 AM
Tom needs to open his eyes to reality, but prefers... by Vaikunthanath Kaviraj on Friday, Oct 15, 2010 at 1:55:11 PM
"Instead they stonewall all queries in the matter.... by Tom Murphy on Saturday, Oct 16, 2010 at 8:01:53 AM
Truth will out. It may take longer than the electi... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Oct 16, 2010 at 8:25:00 AM
"Truth will out."Yeah. I noticed how well this sl... by Tom Murphy on Saturday, Oct 16, 2010 at 2:51:40 PM
By way of background--if a non-American had legal ... by Margaret Bassett on Friday, Oct 15, 2010 at 1:46:41 PM
Take action link: by Lynne Kringler on Friday, Oct 15, 2010 at 3:00:49 PM