Hillary's Rev. Jeremiah Wright is Richard Mellon Scaife.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
March 25 2008 6:47 PM

Hillary's Rev. Wright

His name is Richard Mellon Scaife.

Hillary Clinton has told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that she would have left her church if her pastor had made divisive comments like those of Barack Obama's minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. "He would not have been my pastor," sniffed La Clinton. "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend."

The obvious reply is that you also choose which ministers receive the honor of an invitation to a White House prayer breakfast addressed by the president of the United States. Well, OK, maybe you don't, but the Clintons did, back in 1998, when Bill Clinton was seeking political absolution for his affair with a White House intern. As the Obama campaign is all too happy to point out, Wright was invited to that breakfast. (Click here for a picture of Wright shaking President Clinton's hand.)

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But I hope this riposte doesn't obscure a larger question. What the hell is Clinton doing meeting with reporters and editors of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review? The Tribune-Review is a money-losing fringe publication published by Richard Mellon Scaife, a bilious and wealthy crank who spent the 1990s manufacturing vile innuendo about the Clintons. If the "vast, right-wing conspiracy" on which first lady Hillary Clinton famously blamed her troubles can be said to exist, its chairman and chief executive officer was Scaife. Scaife gave the American Spectator $2.3 million to dig up dirt on Bill Clinton, and he used the Tribune-Review to spread, among other things, the reprehensible allegation that Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster, a clinically depressed deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in 1993. Scaife was quoted more than once calling Foster's death "the Rosetta stone to the Clinton administration," adding in an interview with George magazine, "Once you solve that one mystery, you'll know everything that's going on or went on—I think there's been a massive coverup. … Listen, [Bill Clinton] can order people done away with at his will. He's got the entire federal government behind him. … God, there must be 60 people who have died mysteriously."

"Hate speech [is] unacceptable in any setting," Hillary Clinton today told the Tribune-Review. We turn now to this excerpt from a 1981 Columbia Journalism Review profile of Scaife by Karen Rothmyer, in which the reporter describes a conversation with the distinguished publisher and philanthropist:

"Mr. Scaife, could you explain why you give so much money to the New Right?"

"You fucking Communist cunt, get out of here."

Well. The rest of the five-minute interview was conducted at a rapid trot down Park Street, during which Scaife tried to hail a taxi. Scaife volunteered two statements of opinion regarding his questioner's personal appearance—he said she was ugly and that her teeth were "terrible"—and also the comment that she was engaged in "hatchet journalism." His questioner thanked Scaife for his time. "Don't look behind you," Scaife offered by way of a goodbye.

Not quite sure what this remark meant, the reporter suggested that if someone were approaching it was probably her mother, whom she had arranged to meet nearby. "She's ugly, too," Scaife said, and strode off.

For whatever reason, Scaife decided last summer to extend the hand of friendship to Bill Clinton, whose post-presidency he professes to admire. Perhaps Scaife was looking to burnish his image with the judge then presiding over his extremely nasty divorce. Maybe he wanted to get even with the former Mrs. Scaife, who apparently prefers Obama. (She gave Obama's campaign $2,300 in February.) Bill Clinton overcame whatever scruples he might harbor to raise money for his foundation. Hillary Clinton is now doing the same in the interest of her candidacy. She is free, of course, to associate with whomever she pleases. But she is not free, while paddling the sewers with Scaife, to judge Obama publicly for belonging to Wright's church. Compared with Scaife, Wright is St. Francis of Assisi. The only possible reason why any Pennsylvanian might judge Wright more harshly than Scaife is that Scaife is white and Wright is black. That must be obvious even to Hillary as she cozies up to this repulsive billionaire.

[Update, March 26: On National Review's "The Corner," Byron York observes (from watching a video of Clinton's interview at the Tribune-Review; I couldn't get my computer to download the damn thing) that Scaife himself attended the interview, and sat on Hillary's right.]

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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