Joe Conason was born on January 25, 1954 in New York City. During the 1930s his parents, Emanuel and Eleanor, had participated in the Michigan-based Sunrise Colony, a communal experiment in collective, socialist living founded by Joseph Cohen, Conason’s paternal grandfather. Cohen was an editor of Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labor), the main Yiddish-Anarchist newspaper in the United States from 1890-1977. Between 1970-80, Joe Conason produced a number of filmed interviews to document stories about that publication and its founder.
Conason grew up in White Plains, New York, where, as a high-school senior in 1971, he edited the Paper Workshop, a county-wide underground newspaper that in raw language preached antiwar politics and student rights. Conason subsequently attended a community college for one year and then transferred to Brandeis University, where he earned a degree in history in 1975.
After college, Conason worked as a reporter for the alternative left-wing East Boston Community News and then as a staff writer for its Cambridge competitor, Real Paper. He covered environmental, racial, and political issues for both publications.
From 1978-90, Conason worked variously as a columnist, staff writer, political editor, and national correspondent for the counter-cultural Village Voice in New York City. His investigative reporting in 1985 exposed the hidden holdings of Manhattan real estate by Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos (and his wife Imelda), thereby helping to topple their pro-American government. This in turn led to the loss of U.S. Air Force and Naval bases in the Philippines.
During 1986-87, Conason traveled repeatedly to the Philippines to write about politics there. In 1989 he arrived in Beijing the night after the Tianamen Square massacre and covered its aftermath.
From 1992-2010 Conason served as a columnist, political editor, executive editor, and national correspondent for the New York Observer, a weekly publication whose founder, Arthur Carter, had previously been associated with The Nation.
In 1998 Conason also began writing a column for the left-wing webzine Salon.com, where he continues to contribute regularly.
During the Clinton Administration scandals of the late 1990s, Conason’s face became familiar to millions of television viewers as one of the president’s most ardent and steadfast defenders. Indeed, Conason claimed that the allegations against Clinton were mostly concoctions of a well-funded conservative conspiracy intent upon smearing the president and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In an effort to discredit the Clintons’ critics, Conason eagerly exploited sexual-misconduct allegations against Republican members of Congress who helped impeach the president—the kind of information for which fellow Clinton allies, most notably pornographer Larry Flynt and Conason’s Salon.com employer David Talbot, offered money.
In the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, Conason was equally committed to whitewashing Al Gore‘s obvious acts of malfeasance such as: (a) his involvement in a Buddhist Temple fundraiser where he sat at the head table between two Chinese Communist agents who had previously provided several million dollars in illegal contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaign coffers, and (b) his participation in dozens of “White House coffees”—$50,000-per-person fundraisers that were illegally held in government buildings. In a Salon piece titled “A Republican Hatchet Job,” Conason dismissed the allegations against Gore as “a tired rerun of an old flap” by unscrupulous right-wing conspirators.
In 2000, Conason and Arkansas journalist Gene Lyons co-authored the bestselling book, _The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and _Hillary Clinton. Four years later, Conason co-produced and co-starred in a film—directed by Clinton propagandist Harry Thomason and narrated by actor Morgan Freeman—based on that book. Conason also authored the 2003 New York Times bestseller, Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth. Asserting that “the media have turned to the right,” this book aims to “debunk conservative mythology,” including the “palpably ridiculous argument” that “liberals control the media.” And in 2007, Conason published It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush.
Between 2007 and 2010, Conason was a member of JournoList, an online listserve of media professionals that functioned essentially as a secret society of bloggers and reporters who coordinated the way they presented certain stories so as to advance leftist political candidates and agendas.
In the fall of 2009, when the notoriously corrupt community organization ACORN was immersed in a massive voter-registration-fraud scandal, Conason lauded the group for its “history of honorable service to the dispossessed and impoverished,” and blamed ACORN’s troubles on conservative “propaganda.” “Like so many conservative attacks,” said Conason, “the crusade against ACORN has been highly exaggerated and even falsified to create a demonic image that bears little resemblance to the real organization.”
In 2015, when Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was similarly mired in scandal as a result of her illegal fundraising activities and her unlawful use of a personal email account throughout her tenure as Secretary of State, Conason wrote an article titled “The Fake Clinton Scandals Are Back.” Therein, he lamented that ever since the infamous “Whitewater” investigation of the 1990s, “The Clintons have spent their entire political lives in the capital dogged by one fake scandal after another.” Notably, the Whitewater probe was far from frivolous; it had resulted in 24 indictments and at least 16 convictions.
In addition to the journalistic pursuits discussed above, Conason has also served as a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and as an investigative editor for the American Prospect. Today he is editor-at-large for the Investigative Fund, a left-wing outlet “dedicated to improving the scope and overall quality of investigative reporting in the independent press and beyond.” Conason is also editor-in-chief of National Memo, a daily political newsletter and website.
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