Super-scribe genius, or baleful manipulator?

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Depending on who you talk to, Sidney Blumenthal is a media genius or a malign manipulator, writes Mary Dejevsky. In the White House, where he is a reportedly highly paid communications aide, he is a resented parvenu or a valued member of the team.

A longtime journalist, as a reporter for the Washington Post, New Republic magazine, and most recently The New Yorker, he is a close associate of Hillary Clinton. It is she, the word goes, who recruited him to the White House last June, after a flurry of rumours that he was leaving The New Yorker.

Aged 49 and a Chicago native, he is seen as a staunch supporter of the Clintons, prompting the quip that when he joined the White House staff he would be paid for doing what he had previously been doing for free. He is an Anglophile, credited with "discovering" Tony Blair in a profile for The New Yorker and smoothing the first encounters between the Clintons and the Blairs.

In the Washington political context, he is regarded as an intellectual. He has been given responsibility for millennium celebrations and has adopted the cause of press freedom around the world as a personal crusade. This sideline could stand him in good stead as he grapples with what could become a landmark legal case. He is suing an exponent of Internet journalism, Matt Drudge - who broke news of the Lewinsky allegations - for $30m (pounds 18m) for insinuating that he beat his wife. The report appeared on Mr Blumenthal's first day at the White House and he sees the allegation as a deliberate smear. The White House is backing him in his suit, which could establish whether reports on the Internet are subject to the same laws of libel as other published material - a subject that may be of as much interest to the President as to his adviser.