Sidney Blumenthal

The White House

Sidney Blumenthal with Bill Clinton

I grew up in the 1950s in West Rogers Park and down the block lived Sidney Blumenthal, who went on to such big achievements in journalism that Wikipedia lists him among our high school's (Sullivan in East Rogers Park) “notable alumni” (along with Shecky Greene, Chuck Percy, and Jan Schakowsky).

Throughout his career, Blumenthal, now 64, has managed repeatedly not only to report the news, but to become the news. There he was last week when his AOL email account was hacked and the hacker, “Guccifer,” gained access and distributed “to a wide array of congressional aides, political figures, and journalists worldwide” confidential memos Blumenthal wrote to his close friend Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. The four memos released so far—and Guccifer probably has scores more , according to The Smoking Gun, "on foreign policy and intelligence matters"—involve the still festering story of what happened last September, 11, 2012 at the American consulate in Benghazi when our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were murdered.

Some background:

Blumenthal went out of state for college (Brandeis) and started his career at the Boston Phoenix before moving up to such publications as The New Republic, The Washington Post, and, in 1992, to The New Yorker as its Washington editor. I interviewed him just once over the years, in his Washington New Yorker office in May 1994 when I was writing a biography of Si Newhouse, the publication's ownerThat same year, he lost his prestigious title—although he remained at the magazine for another few years—because he seemed unable to hide in print his admiration for two of the key players on his beat, then-president Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton.

Blumenthal’s excellent reputation—in 1980 he coined the phrase “the permanent campaign” (also the title of his first book and relevant to our current President)—took a hit. Colleagues began to question his objectivity. The Baltimore Sun’s Carl Cannon wrote that Blumenthal was “dogged” by “a reputation for getting too close to those he covers….” His New Yorker successor, Michael Kelly, wouldn’t take the job, Cannon reported,  until he was assured that Blumenthal would not be allowed in the office. Cannon quotes Kelly as complaining that Blumenthal "seemed to be in regular communication with the first lady as a sort of confidant.” A Los Angeles Times reporter would later write that Blumenthal talked to Hillary by telephone a couple of times a day and that London’s Daily Telegraph dubbed Blumenthal “Hillary’s own Sid Vicious.”

In 1995 President Clinton began clandestinely to solicit advice from political consultant Dick Morris, and, during the 1996 campaign, Blumenthal, still at The New Yorker as a special correspondent, began to advise Morris. Then-Washington Post reporter John Harris wrote that Morris and Blumenthal would meet for weekly “brainstorming sessions” aimed at boosting Clinton’s popularity. (Morris was forced out of the White House in the summer of 1996 over a toe-sucking-prostitute scandal. He subsequently moved aggressively to the right and became a regular on Fox News, until his prediction of a Romney 2012 landslide cost him his gig.)

In August, 1997 Blumenthal finally crossed from journalism to advocacy and moved to the White House as a senior adviser to Bill Clinton, “expressely recommended,” writes Harris,  “…by Hillary.” 

The evening before he was to report for his first day of work at the White House, Blumenthal read on the Drudge Report a story alleging a cover up of Blumenthal’s “spousal abuse past.”  The story was false. Blumenthal and his wife, Jacqueline, filed a $30 million defamation suit against Drudge, who retracted the story the next day and apologized. The case was settled without much money changing hands.  

In the White House, where he remained until the end of Clinton’s term in January 2001, Blumenthal became a fierce advocate—not only for Bill, but also for Hillary, the Clinton to whom he was closest, especially after the Monica Lewinsky/impeachment mess erupted in January, 1998. 

Blumenthal was so given to harboring and hatching conspiracy theories that he was given the nickname G.K. (as in Grassy Knoll, the supposed location of the a second gunman in the JFK assassiation) by another intense White House operative, Rahm Emanuel. “The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy” idea that Hillary used to dismiss the Lewinsky charges (at first) issued from the brain of Sid Blumenthal, who worked to defeat and discredit independent counsel Ken Starr. Starr, in turn, accused Blumenthal of distributing to his former press colleagues negative stories about Starr and his prosecutors.

Again, Blumenthal became the headline when he was subpoenaed to appear before the Grand Jury and to testify (via videotape) before the Senate considering the verdict on Clinton’s impeachment.

By 2007 he was named a senior adviser to Hillary’s campaign for president and ardently worked for her in the primary race against Barack Obama. 

Shortly after Obama won in 2008, he named Hillary to the job of Secretary of State. Hillary wanted Sid Blumenthal in the State Department with her. In the meantime, Obama had hired Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff, and he was in a position to veto that plan, and he did.

When news broke that email accounts of such figures as George Bush, two of Bush's siblings, Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, Lisa Murkowski, assorted Rockefellers, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte had been hacked, there among the names of the targeted famous was Sid Blumenthal’s.

Blumenthal could have the last laugh.  If Hillary runs and wins in 2016, this time she, not Rahm Emanuel, will decide whom she wants at her side, and my money’s on Sid Blumenthal.