The Times vs. Scurrilous Biographies - September 25, 2003

Times Watch for September 25, 2003

The Times vs. Scurrilous Biographies

Sometimes Michiko Kakutani, the Times main book critic, reviews an anti-Clinton biography, Bill Clinton: An American Journey by British historian Nigel Hamilton. She doesnt like it one bit: A pasted-together compendium of recycled news, familiar observations and base gossip, she writes in Tuesdays Times, Nigel Hamilton's new biography of Bill Clinton represents a sleazy new low in the chronicling of presidential lives. It regurgitates the most scurrilous and unsubstantiated rumors about Mr. Clinton and his wife; dwells, with voyeuristic fascination, on his sex life and uses soap opera prose and sociological hot air

She sniffs that the book is heavily indebted to secondary sources, ranging from credible ones like David Maraniss's First in His Class to rabid conspiracy-minded ones like Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's Secret Life of Bill Clinton; from thoughtful, analytic memoirs like George Stephanopoulos's All Too Human to panting, pulp romanesque ones like Gennifer Flowers's Passion and Betrayal.

Got that? Liberal journalists like Washington Post reporter Maraniss (and George Stephanopoulos, Clinton advisor turned host of ABCs This Week) are credible and thoughtful sources, while right-wing journalists like Evans-Pritchard are rabid.

Kakutani continues: Mr. Hamilton makes little effort to independently verify assertions made by his more questionable sources, and he lards these pages with innuendo and conjecture. She lambastes the books trashy tone and unwillingness to discriminate among fact, rumor and speculation, and says it resurrects some of the most heinous and uncorroborated accusations made by Clinton haters.These are the sorts of rumors and conspiracy mongering that were once the province of right-wing extremists and right-wing publishers like Regnery, which published the Evans-Pritchard book on Mr. Clinton, as well as the former F.B.I. agent Gary Aldrich's Clinton-bashing book Unlimited Access. Kakutani concludes: It is perhaps fitting that the prose in these pages is so melodramatic, reductive and foolish; after all, those are the very qualities embodied by this entire unfortunate book.

Her argument against the growing tabloidization of biography writing would be more convincing had the Times not in the past been willing to devote its front page to a tabloid biography that slandered a Republican administration. The April 7, 1991, edition of the Times placed Maureen Dowds analysis/review of Kitty Kelleys trashy biography of Nancy Reagan on its front page. Though the Kelley book contained (as Kakutani says of the anti-Clinton book) base gossipscurrilous and unsubstantiated rumors, that didnt stop the Times from rehashing rumors about Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Dowd crowed how Kelleys book could add allegations of scandalous sexual behavior to the folklore of the Reagan era.the new biography also offers sensational claims that the Reagans practiced a morality very different from what they preached. Dowd then rehashed the details of Kelleys allegations. So its a bit late for the Times to act offended about tabloid biographies.

For the rest of Michiko Kakutanis review of Nigel Hamiltons biography of Bill Clinton, click here.

Book Review | Bill Clinton | Maureen Dowd | Nigel Hamilton | Michiko Kakutani | Kitty Kelley | Nancy Reagan

Times Skips The Full Teddy

Thursdays piece by Carl Hulse, Democrats Step Up Attacks on Iraq War, is true to its word: The increasingly tough tone was first struck by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and a consistent opponent of the war, who charged the administration with perpetrating a fraud with its justification for the war on Iraq. Mr. Kennedy's comments, in an interview last week with The Associated Press, drew a strong Republican rebuke, but Senate Democrats, including their leader, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, defended his right to speak his mind on the Senate floor. Mr. Daschle himself has been leery of taking on the president over Iraq after coming under intense political fire for his criticism just before the start of the war.

But Hulse failed to the full paranoid flavor of Kennedys unsubstantiated anti-Bush charges. Heres Sen. Kennedys fraud quote in full, from an interview with the Associated Press: There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud.

In the interview, Kennedy also reacts to a Congressional Budget Office report showing only $2.5 billion of the $4 billion being spent monthly on the war could be accounted for by accusing the administration of bribery: My belief is this money is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops.

Hulses story ends with a Bush-bash from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a hearing: Peter's coming home to pay Paul now, because you've come in for huge money without a way to pay for it, and in a war that many of us think was generated for the wrong reasons."

A wrong-headed war, Hulse may have mentioned, that Feinstein voted to wage.

For more on Sen. Kennedy and Bushs other Democratic critics, click here.

George W. Bush | Carl Hulse | Iraq War | Sen. Ted Kennedy

President Bush, Bubble-Boy-in-Chief

Bush hurt the Times feelings when he told Fox News that he rarely reads newspaper stories, judging by Thursdays editorial response, The Presidential Bubble.

The Times sniffs: But it is worrisome when one of the most incurious men ever to occupy the White House takes pains to insist that he gets his information on what the world is saying only in predigested bits from his appointees. Mr. Bush thinks of himself as a man of the people, but carefully staged contacts with groups of supporters or small children does not constitute getting in touch with the people. It is in Mr. Bush's interest, as well as the nation's, for him to burst the bubble he has been inhabiting, and take a hard look at the real world.

For the rest of the Times story on Bush in the bubble, click here.

George W. Bush | Editorial