Responding to David Bernstein: the left invented the “smear machine”

As previously mentioned , in a Five Things post earlier this week, David Bernstein writes in last week’s Boston Phoenix of a vast right wing smear machine.  In a follow up blog post, Bernstein states that conservatives have responded to an imaginary article.  This post will serves as a response to both articles.  First up is a look at Bernstein’s main point that his first article did not mention Cherokee claims, which is easy to disprove.

I did not cite anything related to the Cherokee-heritage claim as an example of this bad journalism. I did point to the number of articles about Warren (most of which are about that issue) as evidence of the intense interest being taken by these right-wing sites and publications. But my article very distinctly and clearly leaves that entire topic out of the line of criticism.

Sorry David, you did.  You used the Cherokee claims to link the MassGOP to the smear machine.  Right near the end of your original article.


To the credit of the Boston Herald and other local media, they resisted promulgating the attacks on the staffer, despite the state party elevating the story. They have also steered clear of the scientific fraud charges. Similarly, they held their tongues when a National Review writer charged Warren with plagiarizing, in a book actually published before the one she supposedly cribbed from.

The papers did, however, have to report when MassGOP Chairman Bob Maginn sent a letter to Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust in May, accusing Warren of “academic fraud” concerning her Cherokee claims.

The state party, and the Brown campaign, are clearly not willing to set any standard of behavior.

Continued after the jump

Bernstein bemoans that the response of folks like William Jacobsen at Legal Insurrection and others focused on the Cherokee claim, claiming that he didn’t mention it.  But he clearly did, in an attempt to bring the MassGOP into his web of the right wing smear machine.  A criticism of his article mentioning the Cherokee saga is warranted.  As this has been proven again and again to be a false claim.  

As to whether or not claiming false Native American heritage is academic fraud, one need only look to the Minority Bar Associations of Color.  Who, in July of 2011, passed a resolution calling the practice just that, “academic ethnic fraud”.  They also blasted law schools for being complicit in the same.  In this respect Maginn was challenging his alma mater on the exact same points as the nation’s pre-eminent Bar Association for minorities.

WHEREAS, the ABA and ABA accredited law schools perpetuate this academic ethnic fraud by refusing to require sufficient documentation of Native American citizenship and refusing to enforce academic fraud, despite decades of requests by the Native American legal community;

In his follow up blog post, Bernstein asks those he’s dubbed as members of the  smear machine to comment on the main points of his article.  The rest of this post will do just that.

If you followed last month’s story about the ousting and reinstatement of University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan, it might surprise you to learn that many Massachusetts Republicans believe that Sullivan was forced out over academic fraud she committed 23 years ago with US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.

That theory was put forward on, the immensely popular conservative pseudo-journalistic Web site. And, while that site later conceded that the UVA situation had nothing to do with the alleged (and entirely unfounded) claim of misconduct, that retraction has not made it to local conservatives – including Rob Eno, proprietor of RedMassGroup, who stood by his post linking to the original article when I spoke with him last week.

This is just one example of how the national right-wing smear machine has begun insinuating itself into the race between Warren and Scott Brown – and it’s just a taste of what is sure to come this fall.

David is right.  The follow up piece remained a mystery to Red Mass Group readers, duly noted.   Sullivan after an outcry of the University of Virginia community has been reinstated.  She will not be stepping down.  The timing was a coincidence.  Something raised by Michael Patrick Leahy at in his original post.  

As to the charge that Breitbart is pseudo-journalism, they say what they are doing is with a conservative bent.  They do not hide their prejudices in their reporting or articles.  What is worse? Pretending to be an un-biased news source, for example Andrea Mitchell and the Wawa-Gate story reported by Sooper Mexican, or letting your readers know your bent.  What is more pseudo-journalistic?  Breitbart has walked back their story.  Mitchell has refused to do so, claiming to this day that they didn’t have time to show the full video.  Something that is, pretty well, refuted by Tracy Connors.

The writer who produced the academic-fraud story is Tea Party organizer Michael Patrick Leahy. Beginning in early May, Leahy had posted 37 consecutive stories about Warren at’s Big Government site when I spoke with him last week. Leahy, listed as a news contributor, declined to say whether he is paid by, or anyone else, for the work.

“The question becomes: if someone is being dishonest about her own heritage, what else would she lie about?” Leahy says. “So, we’re looking into her entire academic record, which appears to be very suspect.”

Actually, all that Leahy has reported so far is a single accusation concerning the 1989 book Warren co-authored with Sullivan and Jay Westbrook – which was investigated, and found meritless, by both the University of Texas (where the research took place) and by the National Science Foundation (which provided funding). Leahy calls those investigations “a whitewash.”

First off the single accusation isn’t some fly by night accusation.  It was a 60 page comprehensive critique of Warren and Sullivan’s work by a respected Rutgers Professor, Phillip Shuchman, who was well respected in their common field.  It was published in the Rutgers Law Review .

Second, it is not the only case cited by Leahy in that June 2012 article.  In that article Leahy showed how the themes espoused by   Shuchman in his critique have been echoed and amplified, time and time again by critics of Warren’s academic endeavors.

But Zywicki has provided extensive criticisms that go right to the heart of the credibility of Ms. Warren’s academic research. Professor Zywicki told Breitbart News:

Questions about the validity of Warren’s scholarly findings have haunted her since early in her career. Reviewing her first major scholarly work, a co-authored book, noted bankruptcy professor Philip Schuchman (now deceased) stated bluntly, “In my opinion, the authors have engaged in repeated instances of scientific misconduct.” Similar questions have continued to nag her scholarship throughout her career, especially her usage and handling of empirical data and the conclusions she draws from it.

For example, her high-profile claim that half or more of personal bankruptcies attributable to medical problems has come in for especially withering criticism. Her first major academic study on the topic claimed that almost half of personal bankruptcies were attributable to medical problems and that the number of bankruptcies annually attributable to medical issues had increased 23-fold in 20 years. But as I wrote in critiquing that study, “Notwithstanding the long consensus that relatively few bankruptcies are caused by health problems and health costs, a recent study concludes that approximately half of consumer bankruptcies are caused by medical problems, a twenty-three-fold increase over a twenty-year period. Both conclusions are fundamentally unsupportable, however, and rest primarily on the way in which the researchers define and count what constitutes a medical bankruptcy rather than an actual increase in the number of bankruptcies caused by medical problems.

Then they came back with a follow-up study that claimed that between 2001-2007 the number of medical bankruptcies had actually increased to an amazing 62 percent of bankruptcies–suggesting that the number of bankruptcy filings attributable to medical problems and debts had soared in just six years. The reality was far different: in fact, the only reason that the percentage of medical bankruptcies had risen was because the total number of bankruptcies overall had plummeted as a result of a bankruptcy law enacted in 2005 that tightened the bankruptcy laws and led to a dramatic drop in the number of bankruptcy filings. As I wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “After Congress made it harder for people to skip out on their debts in 2005, the number of bankruptcy filings plummeted. In 2001, the year Ms. Warren used for the first study, there were 1,452,030 personal bankruptcy filings; in 2007 there were 822,590. Even if we are to accept the methodologies of the two studies for the sake of argument, there were 670,838 ‘medical bankruptcies’ in 2001 and 510,828 medical bankruptcies in 2007-a drop of 160,000 per year. Yet Ms. Warren’s article nowhere acknowledges that the absolute number of bankruptcies and purported medical bankruptcies declined.” She has never responded to questions on this point.

Professor Zywicki and the late Professor Shuchman are not alone in the academic community in their criticisms of Elizabeth Warren’s shoddy academic research. In subsequent articles in this series, Breitbart News will explore these criticisms in even greater detail.

In subsequent articles, Leahy did point to more than one instance of what has been described as Warren’s shoddy academic work.  In conversations with Bernstein for his piece, he relayed that yes there are people who have criticized her work.

As to the whitewash claims, Leahy is on solid ground.  He documents multiple factual errors in the Texas report, and refutes Bernstein’s claim that the NSF cleared Warren.  This did not happen, as is evident in Leahy’s extensive, well documented report.  Perhaps the strongest case is that Rutger’s University has never backed down from their publishing of the critique.

Despite an invitation to Warren and her co-authors from officials at Rutgers University and the editors of the Rutgers Law Review to defend themselves publicly against charges of scientific misconduct Shuchman made in his 1990 Rutgers Law Review article, neither Warren nor co-authors Teresa A. Sullivan and Jay Westbrook have ever publicly defended themselves against Shuchman’s charges in an academic journal.

They did, however, as subsequent articles in this series will demonstrate, use the cover provided by the University of Texas whitewash report to encourage the unsuccessful attempts by the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania to put pressure on Rutgers University to force Professor Shuchman to recant.  

Bernstein continues his article:

Eno, to be fair, does try to distinguish the credible from the conspiratorial. There are plenty of popular right-wing sites he won’t touch, and he makes more efforts than most to seek out responses before posting his own material.

The problem is that true believers like Eno, Leahy, and others are prone to believe even the craziest things about those on the opposite political side.

Those on the left often fall into the same mindset and pass along equally outrageous claims. Few charges against Warren have been as cringe-inducing as the speculation among some Massachusetts Democrats that Brown invented the story of being molested, which appears in his memoir.

But, while both sides have grapevines through which bad messages travel, there is nothing on the left comparable to the national right-wing machine generating those stories.

There is no liberal equivalent to, or the American Spectator, or the dozens of other places employing teams of pseudo-journalists to generate dirt, out of whole cloth if necessary.

Readers will never see links on the front page of Red Mass Group to the following sites,, WorldNet Daily or Alex Jones’ InfoWars.  The reporting at those sites has been factually wrong on many occasions, and for that reasons are not trusted.  

Bernstein, to his credit, does say that leftists often parrot news from their networks, and often it is much more of a smear than what conservatives talk about.  However this is given one line.  Furthermore the notion that a “smear” infrastructure and as Bernstein calls it, “pseudo-journalism” does not happen on the left is ridiculous on its face.  In fact sites like, the Daily Caller, the Free Beacon, the Watchdog Network, amongst others are a direct response to the left wing smear machine.  Most of that machine comes out of the Colorado project outlined in the book The Blueprint: How the Democrats won Colorado, and why Republicans everywhere should care.

The book outlines how the left set up a machine to relentlessly attack Republican politicians, outside of the network of the Democratic Party.  It involved the creation of Media Matters, ProgressNow, and spawned national allies like ThinkProgress, TPM, amongst others.  The left invented the echo chamber, amplification approach to attacking politicians.  The right is catching up, to say that the network doesn’t exist is both factually incorrect, and borderline dishonest.  

Bernstein then turns his attention to the series of stories on Alethea Harney.  Saying that Harney shut her twitter account after an anonymous account was harassing her.  The claim is that her twitter account was her private account, and that anything she said there shouldn’t be news.  First on the twitter harassment claim, as anyone who reads the #mapoli feed knows, the proprietor of this blog is the constant recipient of what could be termed harassment on twitter. There are two choices accept it and respond, or basically ignore it.  Alethea chose a third choice, making her account private.

That’s, where this became a legitimate story.  As explained by those at Free Beacon, in Bernstein’s piece.

“I stand by the story as it is,” Continetti says. Public Twitter accounts are fair game, he says, and her turning it private raised questions and made it newsworthy – although not worth placing a call to the campaign first. “I literally put up dozens of posts a day,” says Continetti, “all of them critical of Democrats in the news.”

That story was picked up on other conservative sites, most of which played up the supposed racism of the staffer, a racial minority. (Some of the comments, unsurprisingly, are ugly.) Massachusetts Republican Party Communications Director Tim Buckley called the story “more embarrassment (of the racial variety)” as he tweeted a link to the RedMassGroup post about it. The party’s next weekly newsletter named it Best of the Blogs, and “a serious gaffe from the Elizabeth Warren campaign.”

Buckley and the MassGOP declined to comment for this story. Meanwhile, Eno and others continue unapologetically digging up material about the staffer.

It is important to note that during the time-frame of Harney’s tweets she was a public employee, and not just any public employee.  She was in public relations for State Government, first for the stimulus program, and most recently for Treasurer Steven Grossman.   Are the publicly recorded statements of a public relations official, ever considered private and personal?  That perhaps is the lesson to be learned here for others in Harney’s situation.  If you make your statements publicly readable, they are public.

What did we at Red Mass Group, “dig up” on Harney?  Merely the facts that while in college she considered herself a member of the Secret Service on John Edwards Vice Presidential campaign.  That is newsworthy.  What Bernstein fails to mention in his article are the numerous stories from the left regarding Brown’s staffers.  All of which were published before anything on Harney.  Stories on staffers have been reported for a long time, Harney doesn’t have special dispensation, except apparently from Bernstein.

When a story is proven false, Red Mass Group will, when notified, print a retraction.  Red Mass Group will strive, when reporting original news, to get both sides of a story.  Bernstein’s insistence however, that what he describes as a “smear machine” exists only in the ether of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, is laughable on its face.  The left was first, and is quite frankly better at it.  The right is just catching up.

About Rob "EaBo Clipper" Eno