The Media's Made-Up Catfight Between Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren

Here comes the return of the '"Dems in Disarray" narrative.

Hillary Clinton at PA Election Night on April 22, 2008 (National Journal)

On Sunday, Edward Klein wrote what was supposed to be an explosive story in the New York Post setting up the "blood feud" between the Obamas and the Clintons in 2016. Klein is the author of Blood Feud, a new book documenting the (allegedly) frosty relationship between the Obamas and the Clintons. Klein's book currently sits at No. 2 in The New York Times' list of nonfiction bestsellers­—right behind Hillary Clinton's own book, Hard Choices.

In his Post story, Klein reports that President Obama "quietly promised" to fully support Elizabeth Warren if she decided to run for president, and he instructed Valerie Jarrett to "conduct a full-court press to convince Warren to throw her hat into the ring."

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal alley-ooped Klein's thesis with its own story positing that Clinton is trying to distance herself from the Obamas "in tone and substance." The evidence? A less cheery tone about the economy, and this money quote:

Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and former chief speechwriter for Pete Wilson when the Republican was California's governor, suggested that Mrs. Clinton's distancing strategy at least partly reflects Mr. Obama's lackluster popularity.

This type of sourcing is completely irrelevant and guaranteed not to produce any real news, just pot shots (it's not Whalen's fault; if you give a mouse a cookie, etc.). But the narrative that Klein et al are crafting is basically Dems In Disarray, 2.0—a theme that relies on reports from both conservative and liberal voices that are short on facts and long on speculation.

It's true that Clinton and Obama don't exactly have a Vulcan mindmeld—but they never have. Check the 2008 Democratic primaries. That doesn't mean Clinton is "distancing" herself from Obama. It means that Clinton and Obama have always held fundamentally different views on some topics (such as foreign policy), and now is a convenient time in the news cycle to talk about them.

The reports of an impending Warren-Clinton catfight are also overblown. Warren has repeatedly said, "I am not running for president," while avoiding a Shermanesque statement about whether she will be running in the future. In 2003, Warren called Clinton a hypocrite for allying with corporate interests on a bankruptcy bill. Since then, however, Warren has publicly endorsed a Clinton candidacy. "All all of the women—Democratic women, I should say—of the Senate urged Hillary Clinton to run, and I hope she does. Hillary is terrific," Warren told ABC in April.

Klein also doesn't attribute any of his juicy tidbits to a source until the 10th paragraph of the story—and all of his sources are, naturally, anonymous. In the story, one "Obama administration source" tells Klein that Warren, like Obama, "wants to transform America into a European-style democratic-socialist state." But, ruling out some serious Deep Throat-level subterfuge, it's hard to believe that a source with that negative a view of Obama would have the clearance level within the White House required to actually know that.

Klein does not exactly have the reputation of Woodward and Bernstein. In the past, Klein has suggested that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian. His support? Clinton attended Wellesley, an all-women's college, and has friends who are gay. Klein has somewhat of a fixation on powerful women—he's written one other book about Clinton, along with a book about Katie Couric and three separate books about Jackie Kennedy.

Media Matters has called Klein a "smear peddler" and a "conspiracy theorist," and points out that even conservative pundits such as Brian Kilmeade, Rush Limbaugh, and James Taranto have called Klein's sourcing into question. (All of these accusations raise the question: If the Clintons are as devious and coldly strategic as Klein paints them, wouldn't they have ferreted out his sources by now?)

And then there's the criticism Klein has gotten from the left. When his last book, The Amateur, came out in 2012, White House spokesman Eric Schultz had this to say: "Ed Klein has a proven history of reckless fabrication in order to sell books. Nobody in their right mind would believe the nonsense in this one."

Unlike Klein and his ilk, left-leaning news outlets haven't settled on a unified Warren-versus-Clinton narrative. Last August, Daily Kos argued that a Clinton-Warren primary challenge would be terrific for the Democratic Party. In November, Noam Scheiber wrote a much-shared cover story for The New Republic calling Warren "Hillary's Nightmare" (since then, he's written another cover story calling Clinton the inevitable Democratic pick).

It's a good rule that when there is a news vacuum, pundits will happily fill the void with "truthy" theories about 2016. But until you see photos of Warren and Clinton brawling outside a Georgetown bar, you'd do well to take these reports with a big block of Himalayan salt.