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Thursday, May 22, 2003
 
"Not a Story"

In a semi-coherent look at Sid Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars, Tina Brown wrote:

Blumenthal was absolutely right, of course, back in 1995 to keep insisting -- almost alone, and in the face of the frenzy of the press pack and my own anxiety about missing the bus -- that the allegations of Clinton corruption in the Whitewater affair were a big load of nothing. On the other hand, he was absolutely wrong to maintain -- as he put it with maddening loftiness -- that "It's not a story." Not a scandal, perhaps, but not a story? A cabal of right-wing fanatics manipulates the press, the judiciary, and the FBI to the point of nearly destroying a president and it's not a story? It was a helluva story -- as Sidney's book amply shows. And the story isn't over yet, as the Clinton wars continue to be fought in the reviews.

This woman ran the most famously literate publication in America, and she can't parse a sentence? "The Clintons did something bad in Whitewater" was not a story. The malignant skein of the Clintons' implicit "fecklessness" and "immorality" the press wove around it, the actions of Scaife and Starr and their carniverous ilk, yes, that was a story. Sid thought so. He wrote an 800-page book about it.

As I doubt even he would bother to deny, Sid was in the tank for the Clintons. (He just thought the tank was full of Evian.) The truth is, I would have been more tolerant of Sid being in the tank if it had delivered the New Yorker a string of scoops. The big problem with being relentlessly nice to politicians or even just fair and balanced is that they repay you by never giving you any real news. Their press secretaries save the red meat to throw off the back of the sled at the ravening wolves from the Washington Post. Why else would G.W. Bush invite scary Bob Woodward in to write an authorized account of the buildup to the invasion of Afghanistan? So he doesn't write the other book, the one where all the enemies talk. The Clinton White House knew Sid was the Democrats' samurai so they went elsewhere to break their hottest stories.

If Blumenthal had brought her incontrovertible proof that Whitewater and the carnival of crap that went with it was a complete sham, would she have considered that a "scoop?" It sure wasn't getting play anywhere else in the media.

To hell with parsing sentences, Brown can't even think clearly. "Being nice" to Clinton would have caused him to direct his press secretary to "save the red meat" for the people who weren't nice to him? The idea is absurd. Does she believe the press is following this strategy in its dealings with Dubya? They're being nice to him and being fed horseshit. To all appearances, they don't want any "real news." Otherwise, they'd call him on his administration's duplicity, arrogance, and, to all appearances, corruption. Deviate from the party line and you're in Siberia. With the kind of treatment Clinton was getting in the press, does Brown really believe Clinton would deliberately withhold information from a sympathetic reporter to instead give it to someone whose intent was to gut him with it?

No wonder she couldn't see the scoop sitting in her lap.

A general point about book reviews needs to be made, I think. If the facts presented in a book are true and fly in the face of conventional "wisdom," it's important. That's the essence of a good story, not whether and why the author actually had a reason to care about the subject of his/her book. We use this principle in our courts: the motive of the prosecution is to convict, of the defense, to acquit. Neither motive has any bearing on the truth of the case at all, but we still think of this system as the best way of getting to it. If the author gets the story right, it doesn't matter what the motive was.