Well, it's going to be an election year, and here in New York it appears that the GOP Goon Squad is already hard at work.
Now the squad is targeting Eliot Spitzer, the crusading state attorney general who's the front-runner in this year's race for governor. And the story is a bit complicated.
The first sucker punch came a few days before Christmas. John Whitehead, a sometime GOP fund-raiser who used to be the chairman of Goldman Sachs and now chairs the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and Lower Manhattan Development Fund, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal alleging that Spitzer had threatened him because he'd written an earlier op-ed criticizing Spitzer's investigation of Hank Greenberg, head of the insurance firm AIG. Whitehead claimed Spitzer phoned him when the piece appeared; his account of what was said deserves the sort of portentous music that accompanies death threats on daytime soap operas:
...After asking me one or two questions about where I got my facts, he came right to the point. I was so shocked that I wrote it all down right away so I would be sure to remember it exactly as he said it. This is what he said:
"Mr. Whitehead, it's now a war between us and you've fired the first shot. I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter."
... He went on in the same vein for several more sentences and then abruptly hung up. I was astounded. No one had ever talked to me like that before. It was a little scary....
As New York Observer blogger Matthew Schuerman and others have pointed out, there's something odd about the timing of this. Whitehead's article appeared in April. Whitehead waited eight months to tell this tale, then claimed he had to tell it now because "there have been rumors in the media as to what happened next" -- even though there really haven't been any such rumors. What's going on?
Now for Part Two.
You know that terrorist trick -- I think the IRA invented it -- of setting off a bomb and waiting for the police to arrive and a crowd to gather, then setting off another bomb? Well, that appears to be what the Goon Squad is doing with stories about Spitzer. Now, according to an "exclusive" in today's New York Post, we have what seems to be a miraculous case of recovered memory on the part of a top figure on Sean Hannity's radio show. This guy says that he recalls a Spitzer threat, too! And all because of Whitehead:
...Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is being accused again of threatening to use his office to punish an opponent -- this time, nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Sean Hannity....
[Eric] Stanger [of Hannity's staff] told The Post that the alleged threat reminded him of the charges now being leveled by ... John Whitehead....
"That's really brought back memories," Stanger said....
It's like an episode of Perry Mason -- the second Whitehead op-ed was so shocking it cured Stanger's amnesia!
And if you think Whitehead's prose reeks of cheap melodrama, check out the dialogue Stanger's cooked up:
...Stanger ... said Spitzer was a telephone guest on the Hannity show in 2000 and at first hung up in anger in response to comments made by the conservative-oriented host.
"A minute later, I looked down and the hot line was ringing. It was Spitzer, very angry, very agitated, very upset, and he said, 'Let me tell you something: I fully intend to use the capacity of my office to act on this,' " Stanger told The Post.
"I was really floored, and I said, 'Is that a threat, sir?' " Stanger continued. With that, Stanger said, Spitzer "quickly changed his tone," insisting, "No, no, no. It's not a threat."
But Stanger said Spitzer then threatened to organize a boycott of the Hannity show, saying, " 'I have a lot of friends in government, and I'm going to organize a boycott of the show.' And then he hung up."
Let's review: Eliot Spitzer is the attorney general of the state of New York. He wants to be the state's next governor. And Stanger and the Post want us to believe he would endanger his political career by announcing to a top aide to a highly influential radio and TV host that he's going to misuse the power of his office ("I fully intend to use the capacity of my office to act on this").
Moreover, Stanger and the Post want us believe Spitzer would announce this threat by saying, "I have a lot of friends in government."
That's beyond stupid. Think about it: If Russell Crowe were threatening a hotel clerk, what would he say? Would he say something as pathetic as "I have a lot of friends in Hollywood"?
Oh, but it gets better:
Stanger ... add[ed] that Hannity has ordered that a search be made for the audiotape of the incident and, if found, may play it on his show this week.
Oh yeah -- I'm sure that tape will really turn up.
Somebody decided to launch this campaign at the beginning of the year because now is when the governor's race starts to get serious. That's why Whitehead didn't write his op-ed until eight months after he allegedly had his "scary" conversation with Spitzer.
And the real point of all this was to make the war on Spitzer a crusade of the Fox/talk radio right. Maybe Spitzer can be made a national pariah among these yahoos. Maybe the smear campaign will open their wallets. I bet it's working like a charm.
I won't even get into the accompanying Post op-ed, which chides Spitzer for being a wealthy man's son and accuses him of being an enemy of the common man because he goes after Wall Street guys. I'm not making this up; it actually makes sense if you're a wingnut. ("His zealous prosecution/persecution of Wall Street companies, supposedly to protect investors and shareholders, has consequences that might be lost on a born-to-riches man whose political career was bankrolled by a real-estate mogul father.") It's basically GOP Attack Politics 101 -- the Democrat is always the devious, effete elitist (remember that Poppy Bush said the policies of son-of-immigrants Michael Dukakis were "born in Harvard Yard's boutique").
And we've got ten more months of this to go before Election Day.
Oops, almost left this out: According to the January 1 Post, a "top Democratic operative" chided Spitzer for what he allegedly said to Whitehead -- and what do you know, the "top Democratic operative" is anonymous! Oh, but I'm sure this person exists! And "other Democratic insiders" -- also anonymous -- say Spitzer's temper makes him a "walking time bomb."
These people in the GOP and right-wing attack media really are sewer rats.