Hillary’s Mean Machine Scores a Hit

At times in the past, the Clinton machine has been too ferocious for its own good.

In February, Mr. Wolfson responded sharply and publicly to a Maureen Dowd column in The Times in which David Geffen, a Hollywood mogul who left the Clinton camp for Mr. Obama, criticized Mrs. Clinton as overambitious and dishonest.

But that early attempt to knock Mr. Obama off the principled pedestal of “a new kind of politics,” and down to the wrestling mat with Mrs. Clinton, was widely seen as an over- aggressive reach that breathed extra life into a negative column about Mrs. Clinton.

One of those critics at the time was veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who basically said that they had made a major gaffe. But after seeing how the Clinton campaign handled the Obama memos, Mr. Shrum said they had clearly gotten their act together.

“They are very effective and efficient and disciplined and learned from the Geffen episode,” said Mr. Shrum. “They turned a story about the finances of Hillary into a story about Obama’s negative tactics.”

The sense of defeat at the hands of the Clinton press operation was palpable in the Obama camp. The Obama campaign source insisted on Monday that the memo contained plenty of worthwhile questions about Mrs. Clinton’s position on outsourcing and the lack of transparency in Bill Clinton’s business practices, but then declined an invitation to articulate those questions.

The campaign had taken its lumps and just wanted to move on.

Mr. Jordan said that other factors contributed to what amounted to such a clean and professional hit on Mr. Obama. Chief among them, he said, was that the Obama campaign had “willfully and cheerfully tied its hands when it comes to the normal hand-to-hand combat of Presidential campaigns.” But he also argued that a “New York–centric” press corps has seemed absolutely eager to accommodate Mrs. Clinton’s spin.

“The press corps has happily played along. They are looking for conflict and the Clinton campaign has created it,” said Mr. Jordan. He said that the combination of the aggressiveness of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and the hometown attitude of the press “conceivably could affect the race a lot.”

Adam Nagourney, The Times’ chief political reporter, said that more than anything else, the situation of the leaked memos reflected the case-by-case basis and fluidity with which reporters need to judge what to do with the copious amounts of opposition research that rolls in from most campaigns nearly every morning.

“I did not have to deal with that situation. If I had, I would have felt really creeped-out,” said Mr. Nagourney about how The Times obtained the memos from the Clinton campaign. “In other words, if the Obama campaign had come to me and said, ‘Do you want this information?’, and I had said, ‘No,’ and the Clinton campaign came to me and said, ‘We have this information, do you want it so we can nail Obama for putting it out?’, I don’t know what I would have done.”

The story carrying the Obama memos ran on A1 of Friday’s Times.

Speaking generally about the political climate a hostile press office can create, Matthew Hiltzik, a former spokesman for the New York Democratic Party who worked on Mrs. Clinton’s first Senate campaign, made the comparison to a dominant football team.

“When you are playing a great team,” said Mr. Hiltzik, “there is even greater pressure to seize an opportunity and even greater pressure to not make the game-changing mistake. The margin for error is much smaller. That can play with your head.”

Just ask Mr. Obama, which is exactly what the editorial board of The Des Moines Register did as he campaigned in the crucial primary state of Iowa on June 18.

“I thought it was stupid and caustic,” Mr. Obama responded when asked about his campaign’s memo. “It was a screw-up on the part of our research team.”

—additional reporting by Azi Paybarah