WASHINGTON — The White House faced a flurry of questions Thursday about its 331-page report detailing concerns that well-financed "right-wing" groups are finagling anti-Clinton stories into the mainstream media.
The document says conservative think tanks and individuals use the Internet to legitimize otherwise "fringe stories" that spread conspiracy theories about President Clinton.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said the presidential counsel's office prepared the document about 18 months ago to respond to reporters' inquiries about the various conspiracy theories. The idea was to prevent mainstream media from giving inaccurate information new life, he said.
"We wanted to refute some of the very aggressive charges being made fallaciously against the president, most often on the Internet, coming from a variety of kind of crazy, right-wing sources," McCurry said in a lengthy exchange with reporters marked by unusually sharp language.
He also referred to "conspiracy nuts," "nut case material" and "crazy stuff."
The questions were prompted by a story about the report in Thursday's editions of the Washington Times. McCurry said the report, which mostly consisted of newspaper clippings compiled by the Democratic National Committee, was distributed to journalists as long as 18 months ago.
A report's three-page "overview" says stories work their way up the media food chain this way:
* A well-funded think tank or person underwrites conservative newsletters and newspapers, which publish the conspiracy stories.
* The stories are reprinted on the Internet, "where they are bounced all over the world."
* The mainstream media picks up the story in one of two ways: The British tabloids find a story on the Internet and treat it as major news, or "right-of-center" mainstream newspapers in the U.S. take it directly off the Internet.
* Congressional committees then look into the story.
* Once Congress gets involved, "the story now has the legitimacy to be covered by the American mainstream press as a 'real' story."