A heavily redacted memo from then-President Bill Clinton’s White House, released last week as part of a vast cache of papers from the Clinton Library, revealed that the disgraced administration was frantic about the rise of the free Internet and its implications. The radical document expresses paranoia about the fact that Americans — especially those on what it calls the “right wing” — could now bypass the establishment media to spread the truth and ideas, all of it “unregulated.” Gasp!
The White House counsel’s office and the Democratic National Committee feverishly sought to stop the earth-shattering developments, even conspiring with their allies in the old “establishment” media while demonizing their foes as “right wing” so-called “conspiracy theorists.” It appears, however, that they largely failed to stop the Internet revolution, at least so far. Indeed, the Web continues to be the bane of establishment political and media classes in the United States and worldwide — and those trends are only intensifying as the implosion of the “mainstream” media’s credibility accelerates.
The 1995 so-called “conspiracy commerce memo,” shared with key figures in the “mainstream” press and first acknowledged publicly in 1997, describes how the budding Internet was becoming a “mode of communication employed by the right wing to convey their fringe stories into legitimate subjects of coverage by the mainstream media.” According to the document, the process often began with reports from a conservative newsletter or think-tank. From there, the story would hit the Internet before being picked up by elements of the establishment media through a variety of means, the memo complained.
“The internet has become one of the major and most dynamic modes of communication,” explains the document, authored by an as-yet unnamed White House bureaucrat with collaboration from the DNC. “The internet can link people, groups and organizations together instantly. Moreover, it allows an extraordinary amount of unregulated data and information to be located in one area and available to all. The right wing has seized upon the internet as a means of communicating its ideas to people.”
Beyond just bypassing the so-called “mainstream” media and communicating ideas to “people” — a frightening prospect to those in power with something to hide, or establishment figures with a deeply controversial agenda that would be rejected if exposed — the White House had an even bigger reason to be concerned. “Moreover, evidence exists that Republican staffers surf the internet, interacting with extremists in order to exchange ideas and information,” the document continues, with “extremists” presumably referring to non-establishment voices opposed to Clinton’s agenda.
In other words — while hardly surprising — the ruling establishment had a well-founded fear that it would be exposed now that Americans could instantly communicate with each other and share information in an “unregulated” manner. Even worse, the White House was paranoid that everyday Americans might even obtain a greater voice in government by “interacting” with congressional staffers on the World Wide Web. After redaction, the 331-page memo has been whittled down to just 28 pages, but even what was released publicly has sparked alarm.
Especially troubling to critics of the dangerous Clinton White House paranoia exhibited throughout the memo was the use of the term “unregulated.” It was not clear whether the document was referring to actual government regulation of speech, or simply to the near-monopoly “gate-keeping” role over information and ideas once held by the increasingly discredited establishment press. Still, critics said the use of the term offers insight into the totalitarian mindset so prevalent in the halls of power.
“The left has never forgiven, or forgotten, the lesson they learned in the Hillarycare battle that ‘unregulated data and information’ delivered through the new and alternative media empowers grassroots conservatives and other opponents of big government,” explained direct-mail titan and conservative heavyweight Richard Viguerie, referring to liberty-minded forces’ victory over the Clinton administration’s federal healthcare plot. “And that is why they will never stop trying to reestablish their power over the means of delivering information to the American people.”
Among the specific stories that had the administration in panic mode in 1995 were the “theories” surrounding the suspicious “suicide” of White House Deputy Counsel Vince Foster, which many analysts and critics suspect was actually an assassination. Also of concern to the administration were the growing chorus of sexual-assault, infidelity, and rape accusations against Clinton himself made by women such as Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Sally Perdue, and more.
While the accusations against Clinton had been accumulating for decades, the establishment press had tried its best to protect its ally, either ignoring or dismissing any charges regardless of their veracity. The unregulated Internet, however, was making that harder by the day as Americans increasingly sought out the truth from non-establishment sources online. The worst for Clinton and his allies was yet to come, of course.
The 1995 memo came just three years before a then-unknown Matt Drudge — now a towering figure in the world of journalism — used the “unregulated” Internet to help expose the Clinton-Lewinski sex scandal. Newsweek, the press, and the White House had sought desperately to conceal it. Thanks to Drudge and the free Internet, though, they failed; Clinton was exposed not only as an unfaithful husband with dubious morals, but as a perjurer on top of that.
Analysts say the Lewinski bombshell drastically and irreversibly changed the media scene in the United States. Simultaneously, the explosive news broken online accelerated the long-term process of demolishing the credibility of the political class and its apologists in the inaccurately termed “mainstream” media. Today, polls show less than one fourth of Americans trust the establishment press — and those numbers are still plummeting.
“One almost feels pity for the Clintons, as they huddled Macbeth-like in their castle (our White House) assessing the media furies gathering outside,” observed Vice President of Communications for The Heritage Foundation Mike Gonzalez in an analysis of the Clinton memo. “It was true that the Internet did allow an extraordinary amount of unregulated data to — for the first time in history — become available to all. It must have dawned on the Clintons that this was the end of an era; the days when three networks and a couple of newspapers defined the ‘news’ were all but over.”
One man in particular is singled out in the White House memo: billionaire publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, described as the “vanguard” of the movement spreading “conspiracy theories” about Clinton. In the “conspiracy commerce” document, Scaife, who has since become a fervent Clinton apparatchik and donor, is accused of helping to put questions about Foster’s suspicious death into the limelight. “Scaife along with a handful of other wealthy individuals and foundations use their power to control the Republican Party's agenda and viewpoints,” the memo also complains, citing his backing of Newt Gingrich.
Fast forward to today, nearly two decades after the memo was written. It is now common knowledge that totalitarian-minded regimes — from Communist China and Cuba to Islamist Iran and Saudi Arabia — do their best to limit what information the victims of their tyranny can access online. The brutal Chinese dictatorship’s infamous “Great Firewall” censorship regime is perhaps the most well-known example. In recent years, though, the effort to censor and regulate the web has moved beyond tin-pot socialist and Islamist autocrats — and into the halls of the United Nations, the so-called “dictators club.”
Last month, the Obama administration quietly surrendered the final vestiges of U.S. control over the architecture of the Internet to "global stakeholders." With the UN and its largely autocratic member regimes openly foaming at the mouth for global “regulation” and even taxation of the Web, concerns are growing that it could be just a matter of time before the Free Internet of the last decade becomes a thing of the past.
Based on Clinton’s memo and more recent fiendish efforts to censor and discredit the Internet, it is clear that the global establishment understands well the threat posed to its domination by the new technology — and the truth it can deliver to people worldwide. Whether liberty-minded Americans do too may well determine if the Internet remains free going forward. For freedom to survive, though, it is essential that the “unregulated” flow of information continue.
Alex Newman is a correspondent for The New American, covering economics, education, politics, and more. He can be reached at