"Clinton Cash" Author Peter Schweizer's Long History Of Errors, Retractions and Questionable Sourcing
Media should be cautious with Republican activist and strategist Peter Schweizer's new book Clinton Cash. Schweizer has a disreputable history of reporting marked by errors and retractions, with numerous reporters excoriating him for facts that "do not check out," sources that "do not exist," and a basic failure to practice "Journalism 101."
Peter Schweizer Is Releasing Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. On May 5, HarperCollins Publishers will release Clinton Cash. A publisher's description claims of the book: "Meticulously researched and scrupulously sourced, filled with headline-making revelations, Clinton Cash raises serious questions of judgment, of possible indebtedness to an array of foreign interests, and ultimately, of fitness for high public office." HarperCollins is owned by NewsCorp, which is headed by Rupert Murdoch and is the sister company of Fox News parent 21st Century Fox. [HarperCollins.com, accessed 4/9/15]
Potential Clinton Opponent Rand Paul Is Touting Clinton Cash And Suggested He Has Access To The Book. During a CNN interview, Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul touted Clinton Cash as supposedly revealing "unseemly" and "troubling revelations." Paul said he's "aware of a book that will be coming out in the next couple weeks that will make" accusations about Clinton, but he's not "at liberty to say" more. Paul added that he could not "prove the veracity" of the book's claims, but "there should be a lot of questions asked" about Clinton based on the book's reporting. [CNN, The Situation Room, 4/8/15]
NY Times: "Conservative 'Super PACs' Plan To Seize On 'Clinton Cash.'" In an April 19 article previewing Clinton Cash, the New York Times reported that "its contents have already made their way into several of the Republican presidential candidates' campaigns," and that conservative super PACs are planning to "seize on" the book:
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which includes Mr. Paul and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have been briefed on the book's findings, and its contents have already made their way into several of the Republican presidential candidates' campaigns.
Conservative "super PACs" plan to seize on "Clinton Cash," and a pro-Democrat super PAC has already assembled a dossier on Mr. Schweizer, a speechwriting consultant to former President George W. Bush and a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution who has contributed to the conservative website Breitbart.com, to make the case that he has a bias against Mrs. Clinton. [New York Times, 4/19/15]
Cause For Concern: 10 Incidents Of Significant Errors, Retractions, Or Questionable Sourcing By Schweizer. Reporters and fact checkers have excoriated Schweizer for massive factual problems over the years. A Media Matters analysis found at least 10 separate incidents in which the media called out Schweizer for botching his reporting.
The following is how reporters have described Schweizer's work: "Incorrect," "inaccurate," "bogus," "a fatal shortcoming in Journalism 101," "the facts didn't stand up," "unfair and inaccurate," "specious argument," "there was nothing there," "suspicious," "the facts don't fit," facts "do not check out," sources "do not exist or cannot be tracked down," "confusion and contradiction," "discrepancies," "admitted a mistake," "neither journalism nor history," "a polemic so unchecked ... that we can't tell the fact from the fiction," sources "have clearly used him," and "tacitly conced[ed] he was wrong."
Schweizer Worked For The Bush White House As A Speechwriting Consultant From 2008-2009.[PeterSchweizer.com, accessed 3/26/15]
Sarah Palin Hired Schweizer To Advise Her On Foreign Policy. Schweizer received $106,250 from Palin's Sarah PAC in 2011-2012, according to Federal Election Commission records. [New York Times, 5/25/11; FEC.gov, accessed 3/27/15]
Schweizer Helped Write Bobby Jindal's Autobiography. Jindal wrote on the acknowledgements page of his 2010 book that Schweizer was "crucial to this book." Jindal is a potential Clinton opponent as he is considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination. [Times-Picayune, 2/17/10; Leadership and Crisis, 2010;Politico, 3/24/15]
Schweizer Has Worked For Breitbart.com And The Conservative Hoover Institution. Breitbart.com states that Schweizer is a Breitbart News senior editor-at-large. He "was the William J. Casey Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution." [Media Matters, 11/13/11; Breitbart.com, 3/20/15; Hoover.org, accessed 4/9/15]
Schweizer Heads The Government Accountability Institute (GAI), A "Free Markets" Organization.[Guidestar.org, accessed 3/26/15]
Schweizer Heads Oval Office Writers LLC With Former Bush Aide Marc Thiessen. The firm states it helps prepare speechwriting, keynotes, congressional testimony, and fundraising help, among other services. [OvalOfficeWriters.com, accessed 4/10/15; accessed 4/10/15]
Schweizer Headlined Republican Party Fundraisers. According to event notices, Schweizer headlined 2012 Republican fundraisers for the Wakulla Republican Committee in Florida and the Republicans of Hoboken in New Jersey. [WakullaCountyChamber.com, accessed 3/25/15; The Jersey Journal, 3/28/12]
Schweizer Regularly Speaks To Conservative Groups And Conferences. He has spoken to conservative groups and conferences such as the Charles Koch Institute, the 2012 National Conservative Student Conference, 2015 Conservative Leadership Conference, and Young America's Foundation's 2011 West Coast Leadership Conference. [YouTube, 2/10/14; CSPAN, 8/3/12; Sched.org, accessed 3/26/15; YAF.org, 11/3/11]
Schweizer Was A Contributor To A Glenn Beck Book. Schweizer is listed as a contributor to former Fox News host Glenn Beck's book Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure (Threshold Editions, October 2010). [Amazon.com, accessed 3/26/15]
Schweizer's Books Attack Liberal Ideology. His books include Architects of Ruin: How Big Government Liberals Wrecked The Global Economy -- And How They Will Do It Again If No One Stops Them; Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic And Envious, Whine Less...And Even Hug Their Children More Than Liberals; and Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy. [Amazon.com, accessed 3/26/15]
Schweizer Donated To Republican Adam Hasner's 2012 U.S. Senate Campaign. [FEC.gov, accessed 3/26/15]
Schweizer Suggested Sen. Whitehouse Committed Insider Trading. As The Providence Journal noted, Schweizer alleged in his 2011 book Throw Them All Out that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) benefited from a stock sale because of his position in the U.S. Senate:
Schweizer's overall case is that members of Congress enjoy deep access to valuable inside business information that they, unlike other citizens, can legally exploit for personal benefit, such as well-timed stock transactions.
One episode in the book concerns a large volume of stock sales made by legislators in mid-September 2008, just after a private session in which top executive branch officials briefed congressional leaders on details of the unfolding financial crisis. The book notes that Whitehouse sold holdings in a financial stock at that time. That trade came amid the senator's largest volume of trading for that year.
Schweizer's other brief mention of Whitehouse concerned a regulatory agency's announcement on May 15, 2007, that Medicare reimbursements would be curtailed for Amgen's highly profitable drug Aranesp. Schweizer writes correctly that Whitehouse sold between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of Amgen stock on May 9 and asks whether he "knew anything" about the adverse regulatory action to come a week later.
"We cannot be sure," Schweizer writes in part. "But the timing seems too good to be true" because Amgen stock prices fell quickly. [Providence Journal, 11/19/11, via NewsLibrary.com; Google Books, accessed 3/30/15]
Journal: Schweizer's Reporting Was Wrong. The Journal noted numerous factual problems with Schweizer's allegations, including that Whitehouse wasn't a member of the committee in question at the time:
Whitehouse rebutted with three points. First, he said he didn't know about the trades because his financial adviser was empowered to make them unilaterally. Second, he wasn't present at the leadership meeting and he said he had no inside information to act on. Third, he suggested that defensive sales were the obvious strategy for a trader at that moment in 2008 because of such public crises as the fall of the Lehman Brothers securities firm.
But Schweizer writes incorrectly that Whitehouse sat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and hints that membership could have conferred access to information about the coming Medicare decision on Amgen's drug.
Whitehouse was not a member of the health committee in 2007, although he joined it later.
Schweizer's account omits many months of very public findings and questions on Aranesp and another Amgen anemia drug which, according to independent biotech industry analysts, might have prompted investors to sell shares in the company at any number of points. Contemporaneous stock tips, agency statements and news accounts seem to establish, moreover, that it would not have required insider information to surmise that adverse regulatory action on Amgen's products was possible, if not probable. [Providence Journal, 11/19/11, via NewsLibrary.com]
Schweizer Retracted His Allegation Against Whitehouse. The author was forced to retract his attack against Whitehouse:
Whitehouse was not a member of the health committee in 2007, although he joined it later. If Schweizer had realized that, he was asked in an interview, would he have included Whitehouse in this passage of his book?
"No, I probably would not have mentioned him," the author replied. Schweizer said he would correct the mistake. [Providence Journal, 11/19/11, via NewsLibrary.com]
Schweizer Claimed Al Gore "Receives $20,000 A Year In Royalties" From A Zinc Mine. In an August 10, 2006, USA Today op-ed, Schweizer attacked Al Gore for "hypocrisy" and a lack of "credibility," writing: "Humanity might be 'sitting on a ticking time bomb,' but Gore's home in Carthage is sitting on a zinc mine. Gore receives $20,000 a year in royalties from Pasminco Zinc, which operates a zinc concession on his property. Tennessee has cited the company for adding large quantities of barium, iron and zinc to the nearby Caney Fork River." [USA Today, 8/10/06]
USA Today Correction: Schweizer's Reporting Was "Inaccurate." USA Today subsequently attached a correction to Schweizer's piece, writing: "Correction: In this column that appeared Aug. 10 on the Forum Page, writer Peter Schweizer inaccurately stated that former vice president Al Gore receives royalties from a zinc mine on his property in Tennessee despite his environmental advocacy. He no longer does, as the mine was closed in 2003." [USA Today, 8/17/06]
Schweizer's GAI Released Data Claiming Obama Skipped More Than Half Of His Presidential Daily Briefings. The Washington Post wrote in 2012 of research by Schweizer's Government Accountability Institute:
The notion that Obama has skipped his intelligence briefings was promoted by a right-leaning research group called the Government Accountability Institute, which published a report detailing that the president's daily calendar shows Obama receiving an in-person briefing on the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) 43.8 percent of his time in office. (The percentage dropped from a high of 48.8 percent in 2010 to 38.2 percent through May of 2012.) [WashingtonPost.com, 9/24/12]
Wash. Post: GAI's Data Is "Bogus." The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog examined a political ad that used GAI's report and strongly criticized GAI's data, awarding the briefings claim "Three Pinocchios" and concluding:
Clearly, different presidents have structured their daily briefing from the CIA to fit their unique personal styles. Many did not have an oral briefing, while three -- two of whom are named Bush -- preferred to deal directly with a CIA official. Obama appears to have opted for a melding of the two approaches, in which he receives oral briefings, but not as frequently as his predecessor.
Ultimately, what matters is what a president does with the information he receives from the CIA. Republican critics may find fault with Obama's handling of foreign policy. But this attack ad turns a question of process -- how does the president handle his intelligence brief? -- into a misguided attack because Obama has chosen to receive his information in a different manner than his predecessor. [WashingtonPost.com, 9/24/12]
Wash. Post: By This Standard, Reagan Missed 99 Percent Of His Briefings. The Post wrote: "As it turns out, no president does it the exact same way. Under the standards of this ad, Republican icon Ronald Reagan skipped his intelligence briefings 99 percent of the time." [Washington Post, 9/24/12]
ABC News: The Report "Appears To Be More A Matter Of Semantics Than Hard Fact." ABC News wrote that the GAI report "appears to be more a matter of semantics than hard fact" and quoted White House officials stating that "Obama has never 'skipped' a Presidential Daily Briefing, aides say, even if an in-person briefing isn't listed on his schedule." [ABCNews.com, 9/14/12]
Schweizer Claimed Obama And Health And Human Services Secretary Had "Just One" Meeting Together In Three-And-A-Half Years. Schweizer wrote a Politico Magazine piece -- headlined, "When Barry Met Kathy: Almost never, it turns out" -- claiming his organization could only find one instance where the president and the former Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, met:
A new Government Accountability Institute (GAI) analysis finds that from July 12, 2010, to Nov. 30, 2013, the president's public schedule records zero one-on-one meetings between Obama and Sebelius. Equally shocking, over the same period, the president's calendar lists 277 private meetings with his other Cabinet secretaries (excluding full Cabinet meetings).
Given these startling findings, and the fact that the White House calendar did not reflect meetings prior to July 12, 2010, GAI researchers then performed a second analysis using another respected recorder of presidential activity, the POLITICO presidential calendar. The results: Just one April 21, 2010 entry was found listing a White House meeting between Obama and Sebelius--and even that was a joint meeting with then Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. [Politico Magazine, 12/5/13]
TIME Fact Check: "The Problem? Sebelius And The President Did Meet-- A Lot." Reporter Kate Pickert documented problems with Schweizer's reporting:
The problem? Sebelius and the President did meet-- a lot. "She is frequently at the White House for meetings related to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including dozens with the President in the last year alone," says Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for HHS. "In fact, she met with the President just yesterday."
The problem with Schweizer's analysis is his data set: Cabinet Secretaries who regularly come to the White House are not always recorded in the White House visitors log or listed on the president's public schedule. But Schweizer, a former foreign policy adviser to Sarah Palin and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, based the column on an analysis of the official presidential schedule and a presidential calendar published by Politico. [Time.com, 12/6/13]
The Hill: "Sebelius Was In Frequent Contact With President Obama And Senior White House Aides." The Hill filed a Freedom of Information Act request and found:
The documents reveal that Sebelius met with or attended calls and events with Obama at least 18 times between Oct. 27, 2012, and Oct. 6, 2013, including at least seven instances in which the two were scheduled to discuss the new healthcare law, according to the secretary's draft schedules. [The Hill, 2/13/14]
Washington Post's Wemple: Schweizer Story "Bears A Fatal Shortcoming In Journalism 101." Post opinion writer Erik Wemple wrote that Schweizer's "story bears a fatal shortcoming in Journalism 101. Judging from the text, Schweizer never approached the White House or HHS for comment on his research. The White House confirms that it was never asked about it, and HHS declined to comment." [Washington Post, 12/9/13]
Presidential Records Expert Said Schweizer's Analysis Was Flawed. Towson University Professor Martha Joynt Kumar, who studies presidential records, told the Washington Post:
Martha Joynt Kumar offers a different perspective on things. She's the Towson University professor who spends her time poring over presidential records in a much-cited and ongoing effort to document the media's access to presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. If there's one thing Kumar knows, it's the comprehensiveness of advance presidential schedules. Or non-comprehensiveness. "Presidents have never released the full accounting of what a president was going to be doing that day," Kumar says. "There are a lot of meetings that wouldn't appear."
Advance public schedules for any given president, Kumar says, are commonly just a page in length; the diary of what actually happened that day may stretch to five pages. Such is the chasm between what's planned and what happens. It's in that space, HHS appears to be saying, that the president and Sebelius have matched wits in recent years. The retrospective diaries of actual presidential meetings generally aren't released until 12 years after a president leaves office, Kumar says. [Washington Post, 12/9/13]
Schweizer Claimed 80 Percent Of A Department Of Energy Loan Program Went To Companies Run Or Owned By "Obama Financial Backers." Schweizer wrote that "In the 1705 government-backed loan program, for example, $16.4 billion of the $20.5 billion in loans granted went to companies either run by or primarily owned by Obama financial backers." [Throw Them All Out, pg. 79-80, 2011, via Media Matters]
17 Of The 25 Companies That Schweizer Identifies Did Not Receive 1705 Loan Guarantees. Among several problems, Media Matters found that only 8 of the 25 "politically connected" companies Schweizer listed actually received loan guarantees through the 1705 program. [Media Matters, 11/18/11]
Many Of The Alleged Obama Cronies Listed By Schweizer Also Supported Republicans. [Media Matters, 11/18/11]
FactCheck.org: Schweizer's Reporting Suffers From Numerous "Problems." A February 2012 FactCheck.org article heavily criticized Schweizer's reporting, writing that his data had numerous "problems" and explaining that he couldn't back up his assertions when asked:
In checking Schweizer's $16.4 billion claim, we found it to be too high by nearly $6 billion. In his book, Schweizer lists 25 companies he says were headed by "Obama bundlers, large donors and supporters" who he said received a total of $16.4 billion in loan guarantees.
Schweizer says in his book that all of that came from the Department of Energy's 1705 program (which awarded stimulus dollars for renewable energy systems, electric power transmission systems and leading-edge biofuels projects). But by our count, only seven of the 25 companies on Schweizer's list got 1705 loan guarantees. And they totaled about $3.7 billion, not $16.4 billion.
We did find that some companies on Schweizer's list got aid from other federal clean-energy programs, but not enough to total $16.4 billion. For example, two firms got DOE loan guarantees through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) Loan Program. But those companies -- Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors -- secured less than $1 billion.
In all, the Department of Energy reported clean energy loans of only about $4.7 billion to firms on Schweizer's list. Some others on the list got loans or grants through other programs with the Department of Agriculture and Treasury Department.
There are other problems as well. Four of the companies on Schweizer's list received conditional commitments for loan guarantees but never ultimately got the money (either because they were unable to provide necessary documentation in time to meet application deadlines, or because they decided to seek private, commercial financing). Schweizer told us he included them because "that doesn't undermine the point that political connections helped at the federal level." That may be, but the ad claims the companies received the money, and they did not. Schweizer also claimed Summit Texas Clean Energy got $1.5 billion in federal aid, which isn't so. In fact, the Department of Energy provided the company $450 million in grants, for a $1.7 billion project financed mostly by industry. Together, those factors inflated Schweizer's figure by nearly $6 billion.
We asked Schweizer about the problems with his figures. He responded via email: "There are other companies besides those mentioned in the book that got money. It's not presented as a complete list." But he did not supply the "complete list" for us to validate. [FactCheck.org, 2/9/12]
Schweizer Attacked Pelosi For Hiring Non-Union Labor For Work On Vineyard. In his book Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, Schweizer attacked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):
Apparently, however, these fundamental rights do not apply to families that may be picking grapes in Pelosi's own vineyards. Congresswoman Pelosi and her husband own a vineyard in the Napa Valley, on Zinfandel Lane in St. Helena, worth almost $25 million. [Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, 2005]
The Pelosis Paid Workers Higher Wages Than Unions. San Francisco's ABC affiliate investigated Schweizer's research and found "the facts don't fit Schweizer's claim. For starters, the Pelosis pay more than union workers are paid in the same valley -- that from the pastor at St. Helena's Catholic Church, a well known advocate for farm workers who's involved in labor negotiations with the same labor manager the Pelosis use ... Of the more than 300 vineyards, fewer than four are union, and most of the farm workers in the Napa Valley get paid better." [KGO, 11/28/06, via Internet Archive]
KGO: If "Pelosi Wanted To Have Union Workers She Could Not Ask The Union For A Contract. It's Illegal." KGO reported that Schweizer's claim was bunk because Pelosi couldn't legally unionize her workers. When pressed about this detail, Schweizer dodged accountability:
But all of that aside, if Nancy Pelosi wanted to have union workers she could not ask the union for a contract. It's illegal and has been since 1975.
A spokesman for the United Farm Workers Union explains.
Marc Grossman, United Farm Workers Union: "It is patently illegal for any grower to even discuss a union contract, which is the only way you can supply union workers, without the workers first having voted in a state conducted secret ballot election."
I asked Peter Schweizer, the Hoover Research fellow, if he had researched those facts before he called Pelosi a hypocrite.
Peter Schweizer: "It's really for her to explain why there is this inconsistency. It's not my responsibility to go and find out how every single particular circumstance is handled on the Pelosi vineyard." [KGO, 11/28/06, via Internet Archive]
Schweizer: McDermott Committed Insider Trading Related To Bioterrorism Bill. In his book Throw Them All Out, Schweizer wrote of Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA):
[Throw Them All Out, p. 22, 2011]
Seattle Times: Schweizer's Reporting Was Wrong. While Schweizer claimed that "With the passage of Project Bioshield, ID Biomedical would secure $8 million from Washington to develop a plague vaccine," then-Seattle Times reporter Kyung M. Song found that his reporting was wrong:
The book, by Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said McDermott "bet big" by buying 2,000 shares in ID Biomedical of Quebec for $10 apiece in June 2004. That was six weeks before the House of Representatives passed the $5.6 billion bill dubbed Project Bioshield.
It turns out, however, that an $8 million grant for ID Biomedical's Bothell subsidiary a grant that Schweizer said resulted from the legislation's passage actually was funded by a separate competition launched a year before by the National Institutes of Health.
And McDermott says he didn't pick the stock. Instead, he said, the purchase was initiated by his financial consultant at the time at Wells Fargo, Jane Suzick, and he merely gave consent.
"I never make suggestions about what to invest in and I don't suggest when to buy or sell anything. I just take advice from my financial consultant and approve what she suggests," McDermott said through his spokesman, Kinsey Kiriakos. "Alas, I'm no richer than I was years ago."
Suzick, now with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney's Seattle office, declined to comment.
Yet even if ID Biomedical were to have benefited directly from the passage of Project Bioshield, the fate of the legislation was no secret.
It passed the Senate unanimously, 99-0, on May 19, 2004, and the House approved it 414-2 on July 15, 2004. McDermott bought his shares two weeks after the Senate vote and six weeks before the House vote. [Seattle Times, 12/10/11]
Former Seattle Times Reporter: Schweizer Lacks "Credibility" And His Reporting "Was Unfair And Inaccurate." Media Matters investigative reporter Joe Strupp spoke with Kyung M. Song, the Seattle Timesreporter who covered Schweizer's book. She told Media Matters of Schweizer and his reporting: "I don't think he has much credibility as an author. I just felt that it didn't stand up, the facts didn't stand up. It was really sensational. It was unfair and inaccurate."
Song, who left the Times earlier this year after 15 years and now works as associate managing editor forAerospace America magazine, said Schweizer attacked McDermott unfairly.
"Clearly he was making a specious argument specifically with regard to McDermott," she said. "The allegation against Jim McDermott was that you had this congressman profiting from insider trading, but insider trading requires a position of privileged information, meaning non-public information and you act on that information to your advantage and that certainly wasn't the case with Jim McDermott."
She later added, "the allegation looked sensational, but when you got into the details, there was nothing there. He was clearly building a case against Jim McDermott and other people. He was trying to spin something with bits and pieces of information that didn't amount to anything really. I didn't think that he had a case and he spun it out of nothing." [Media Matters interview, 4/8/15]
Sunday Times Reporters Found Enormous Problems With Schweizer's Reporting; Schweizer Was Forced To Admit Severe Errors. Sunday Times (UK) reporters David Leppard and Nick Rufford investigated Schweizer's book Friendly Spies and concluded: "Facts that are checkable do not check out. Individuals credited for supplying information do not exist or cannot be tracked down. Requests to the author for help and clarification result in further confusion and contradiction."
The Sunday Times was trying to confirm Schweizer's reporting that, as the Times summarized, a "British Foreign Office diplomat, close to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, had been recruited by the French secret service. During clandestine meetings at the plush Paris Sheraton, the diplomat had betrayed sensitive details of the UK's proposed negotiating position at European Community (EC) summits."
After questioning, Schweizer admitted some fault in his reporting and retracted one detail: "Through his publisher and an attorney, Schweizer has told us he now accepts that the original names and address he gave us for his sources were incorrect. He also admitted a mistake over the Sheraton hotel. But he says he did not fabricate the story."
The reporters documented how their "extensive efforts" to verify Schweizer's reporting "left us suspicious" in a nearly 2,000-word Washington Post piece on April 11, 1993. From the article, which is not available online:
It was a story we naturally wanted to report in our paper, so we went to great lengths to check it out. Yet our extensive efforts have left us suspicious. Facts that are checkable do not check out. Individuals credited for supplying information do not exist or cannot be tracked down. Requests to the author for help and clarification result in further confusion and contradiction.
Schweizer told the Sunday Times that two retired directors of the French foreign intelligence service, the DGSE, would confirm his story. He also provided the names of two French agents who he said were directly involved in the operation. He would not give us their telephone numbers but faxed us copies of letters he said he had sent them on our behalf, requesting that they cooperate with us. Last month two reporters from the Sunday Times' investigative unit flew to Paris to begin background inquiries.
Schweizer had assured the Sunday Times that Adm. Pierre Lacoste, a retired intelligence expert who was the DGSE's director from 1982 to 1985, knew of the French espionage story. But when we spoke to Lacoste, he insisted he knew nothing about the Sheraton hotel operation.
Sunday Times reporters showed Lacoste page 117 of Schweizer's book, where he states: "In [March] 1984, at the suggestion of President Mitterand [sic], DGSE director Pierre Lacoste issued an order to Service 7 to implement a program of intelligence collection within the European communities."
Lacoste recalled giving an interview to Schweizer in his Paris apartment. But he insisted that no such order had been received or issued, from Mitterrand or anyone else. He said that Service 7, the special operations directorate of the DGSE that Schweizer said had been told to carry out the order, did not exist in 1984.
Asked whether the DGSE had ever had a spy in the British Foreign Office, Lacoste replied, "During my term, definitely not."
Schweizer expressed surprise that Lacoste did not confirm his story.
Sunday Times reporters then met with Lacoste's predecessor, Pierre Marion, who lives in retirement in the village of La Celle-St-Cloud. This time we were acting on Schweizer's assurances that Marion had given him the names of the two DGSE agents who became sources for his book -- agents named Pascal Fasquelle and Francois Lorot.
Like Lacoste, Marion confirmed he had granted an interview to Schweizer. He was also frank about several sensitive intelligence operations not included in Schweizer's account. But the retired spymaster insisted he knew nothing of the Sheraton operation. Moreover, he categorically denied giving Schweizer the names Fasquelle or Lorot. He said he had never heard of Schweizer's two sources.
Why would Schweizer lead us to his sources if they could not confirm the story? Perhaps the French spy chiefs had told Schweizer too much and were now covering up. Or maybe Schweizer doubted that the Sunday Times would go to Paris to interview his sources. In search of an explanation, we began to hunt in earnest for Pascal Fasquelle, the retired DGSE agent who Schweizer insisted had handled the Sheraton espionage operation.
In a previous telephone conversation, Schweizer had declined to give Fasquelle's full address, saying only that he lived in Vanves, a seedy suburb in west Paris. So the newspaper employed a professional tracing agent while reporters checked the local electoral register and telephone directories. We spoke to local postmen to see if they had ever delivered mail to a Pascal Fasquelle. There was no trace.
In growing frustration, we rang Schweizer and told him we were beginning to wonder if Pascal Fasquelle existed. Schweizer assured us he did. To prove it, he described the apartment block in Rue Auguste Comte where he claimed he had visited Fasquelle at home. Schweizer would not give us the apartment number, he said, out of loyalty to his source.
Eventually, we found the shabby 12-story building on the outskirts of Vanves, but none of the many residents interviewed there had heard of Pascal Fasquelle. No Fasquelle was listed in the resident's directory. A concierge said she did not recognize the name.
However, a post box did show the name Pascal Lorot -- the same forename as Fasquelle and the same surname as the second DGSE agent Schweizer claimed was involved in the spying operation, Francois Lorot. Had Schweizer accidentally mixed up the two names?
In a telephone conversation later that day, Schweizer insisted he had not confused his two French agents. He expressed surprise that there was a Lorot living in Vanves and said he was sure there had been no mistake. "I know the address, I remember the area and I know the address checks out perfectly," he insisted, referring to a notebook.
Explaining the apparent coincidence that a Lorot lived at Fasquelle's address, Schweizer said: "Lorot is a common name in France." In fact, Lorot is a name from the Burgundy region and is almost unknown in Paris. No Lorots are listed in the Paris telephone directory.
Mystified, we remembered that in an earlier telephone conversation, Schweizer had told us that a Wall Street Journal reporter had also checked the French espionage story, interviewing the two DGSE sources. But now Schweizer could not recall the reporter's name. "It was something Jewish," he said.
The next day the Sunday Times visited Pascal Lorot at 18 Rue Auguste Comte. To our astonishment Lorot confirmed that he knew Schweizer very well.
But Lorot, who is 32, said he was not a retired DGSE agent. He is in fact an economist at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development in London, where he lives for part of the week. He told us Schweizer was an old friend he first met in 1985 during a seminar at George Mason University in Virginia. In fact, Lorot had invited Schweizer to stay at his Vanves apartment while the American was researching "Friendly Spies."
We explained the remarkable set of coincidences that had led us to Lorot's door. We also uncovered another coincidence. The letter Schweizer claims he sent to Pascal Fasquelle urging his cooperation with the Times ends: "Send my love to Katarine." The real Pascal Lorot had a wife called Catherine, pronounced "Katarine."
"This is terrible," the real Pascal Lorot told us. "I had trusted Peter as a friend. But I cannot understand this. I think my trust has been maybe misplaced."
Our doubts about Schweizer's French espionage story were heightened by further, smaller discrepancies, like his claim that the secret agents had met repeatedly at the Paris Sheraton. According to ITT-Sheraton in Boston, there was no Sheraton hotel in Paris between 1982 and 1992 -- in other words, during the entire time of the meetings described by Schweizer. But when we queried Schweizer for an explanation, his answer was tantalizingly incomplete. "They [Sheraton] didn't own anything?" he said. "That's very unusual."
Meanwhile, we contacted Jacques Delors, the president of the EC, about another detail in Schweizer's account: that Delors posed for a photo with the information-trading British diplomat shortly before the Brussels summit. Delors said through a spokesman that he had no recollection of posing with any British diplomat at that time. Further, Delors' office in Brussels pointed out that he has never had a private office in Paris, where Schweizer claims the photograph was taken.
We have been unable to talk directly to Schweizer since telling him we had found Pascal Lorot. Through his publisher and an attorney, Schweizer has told us he now accepts that the original names and address he gave us for his sources were incorrect. He also admitted a mistake over the Sheraton hotel. But he says he did not fabricate the story.
Since Schweizer is now unreachable -- Atlantic Monthly Press chairman Morgan Entrekin informs us he is holidaying in a camper somewhere in the Midwest -- the Sunday Times has enlisted the publisher's assistance in proving Schweizer's claims. We have asked to hear the taped interview with Lacoste, the DGSE chief, which Schweizer said he made. We have asked again for the name of the Wall Street Journal reporter who interviewed Schweizer's sources. We have asked Schweizer to call Pierre Marion and ask him to confirm on tape the names of the DGSE agents that Schweizer said Marion gave him. And of course we would be convinced if Schweizer could put us in touch with the two agents themselves. So far, none of that information has been forthcoming. [Washington Post, 4/11/93, via Nexis]
LA Times Review: Schweizer Book "Neither Journalism Nor History." The late veteran journalist Jonathan Kwitny documented numerous problems with Schweizer's book Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union in a 1994 Los Angeles Times review. Kwitny, who worked for PBS and The Wall Street Journal, wrote that Schweizer practiced "neither journalism nor history" and argued "he evidently doesn't believe in picking up a phone to check" his sources' assertions. From the review:
Considering that the 1980s saw the most dramatic shift in international politics of our lifetime, maybe of any decade in history, Schweizer had a unique opportunity to produce a journalistic and historical landmark. Sadly, this book is neither journalism nor history. Its many valuable revelations and insights have been spun into a polemic so unchecked and, for the reader, often un-checkable, that we can't tell the fact from the fiction.
The book yields no indication that Schweizer accepted his new data as leads and went back to where the action happened--Afghanistan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Central Russia and elsewhere--to talk to the people involved. Such reporting might have humbled, at least a bit, his thesis. He says a handful of people in Washington by their mere resolve and willingness to work long hours and spend tax money unflinchingly were able to turn Communist success into the destruction of Communism around the world. He knows this because they told him.
Though Schweizer's source list includes some honorable men, some others have clearly used him to skewer their enemies and embellish their own spots in history. He includes occasional footnotes, but mostly doesn't say who told him what. And he evidently doesn't believe in picking up a phone to check their various assertions.
The point is that to judge what is right in these weighty and controversial matters, a reader needs from an author a candid accounting of the various possibilities. Readers are not well served by the unsupported boasts of former officials who would like to take credit for a famous victory, and certainly not by the unsubstantiated purported thoughts of long-dead CIA directors.
Schweizer Claimed Al Franken Spurned Minority Hiring, Employing "Only One" Black Individual Out Of 112 People. In his 2005 book Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, Schweizer accused Al Franken of a "lack of diversity among [his] own employees," claiming he had hired "only one" African-American throughout his career (emphasis original):
In total, we are talking about 112 people whom Franken either hired directly or had a strong influence in determining whether they would work on a project. Only one was black. What this means, of course, is that Al Franken's staff is actually whiter than Bob Jones University (which manages a 1 percent black enrollment), a school that Franken labels "racist."
Franken has insisted over the years that the lack of diversity among Republicans and conservatives is a proof of latent racism. What can be said about the similar lack of diversity among Franken's own employees? [Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, 2005]
Franken Did Not Hire "Only One" African-American. In an August 2006 letter to National Review, Franken refuted Schweizer's hiring claims:
There was a "non-white" student who helped research Lies and the Lying Liars. I was never executive producer of SNL, but when I served as producer for the 1985-6 season, we hired Danitra Vance, who was both a writer and a cast member and was African American.
One of my researcher/producers on my Air America show is black. When we first started, the second researcher I hired was black. He left to finish Yale Law School. Our archivist is black.
In his book Schweizer makes up some statistic that I've hired something like a 107 people during my career and only one has been black. First of all, it appears that Schweizer came up with his number by rather creatively manipulating the definition of who I've hired. For example, he counts the writers of my projects. Well, I am a writer, often the sole writer, on all my projects. So he counts me several times. And, yes, I admit it. I am always white.
Also, he includes the producers of my projects, almost all of which I produce. Since the projects I produce are those for which I am a writer, he counts me twice for each of those. And again, when I produce, I am always white. For some reason, Schweizer doesn't include Sanaa Lathan, a cast member of my sit com Lateline, nor Lenny Garner who directed an episode of that show. Sanaa is now a movie star, but not because of Lateline. Schweizer doesn't include any of the skilled crew of that show or any of the other projects that I've been involved in. [National Review, 8/25/06]
Bad Data: Schweizer Criticized Franken For Hiring Practices Of Project In Which He Wasn't Responsible For Hiring. In a September 2006 letter, Franken wrote:
How does Schweizer arrive at his 112 number? Remember he looked at "projects Franken was in charge of and looked at who received credited positions." Then he writes:
His 2004 documentary Fox vs. Franken includes 11 senior people. (Al is one of them.)
The fact is Fox vs. Franken was not my project. It was directed by Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob and produced by Pennybaker Hegedus Films for the Sundance Channel. Yes, I was the primary subject of the film, and received a "starring" credit. But I did not have a producing credit and was not in charge of the documentary in any way whatsoever. I certainly had nothing to do with hiring anyone.
The fact is that it's impossible to tell who hired whom by looking at credits. The way people get hired on TV shows or movies or radio shows is unique to each production. [National Review, 9/5/06]
Huffington Post: Schweizer "Tried To Reformulate His Argument Against Franken -- Tacitly Conceding He Was Wrong." Attorney and writer Ankush Khardori, then a blogger for The Huffington Post's Eat The Press blog, wrote that Schweizer responded to Franken's rebuttal by "tacitly conceding he was wrong to say Franken has hired only one minority in his career":
Now, Franken has written a rebuttal to Schweizer's response to Franken's initial letter (confusing, I know). As it happens, Franken takes aim at a number of other claims that Schweizer makes in his book.
Schweizer has tried to reformulate his argument against Franken -- tacitly conceding he was wrong to say Franken has hired only one minority in his career, Schweizer now says Franken didn't hire enough minorities -- and [National Review writer Catherine Seipp] Seipp might be tempted to do the same in defense of her piece. I think that's a transparent dodge about the veracity of Schweizer's book, but for our purposes here, it would also be beside the point. [The Huffington Post, 2006; National Review, 8/30/06]
Simple Picture Shows Baselessness Of Schweizer's Claims. The cast for Franken's 1998-1999 NBC sitcom LateLine, which Franken created and executive produced, included Sanaa Lathan (black), Miguel Ferrer (Hispanic), and Ajay Naidu (Asian).
[Amazon.com, accessed 3/27/15]
Disclosure: The Writer Of This Research Item Worked For Franken And Is Not White. In addition to his book claims that Franken spurned hiring minorities, Schweizer wrote in a letter to the National Review: "At the time that I wrote my book Franken had no minority producers working on the show." Schweizer's book was published in October 2005. The writer of this research item, Eric Hananoki, was hired by Al Franken for his radio program from June 2005 to February 2007 as a researcher, webwriter, and segment producer. He was also hired by Franken as the director of online communications for Franken's political action committee from 2006-2007. He is not white. [National Review, 8/30/06; Publisher's Weekly, 8/15/05]
Media Matters' Joe Strupp contributed reporting to this item.