The Times Pummels Hillary Clinton Bio by Its Own Reporters - Again

Whatever happened to old-fashioned journalistic back-scratching? The Times again reviews two recent Hillary bios, and again its guest critic prefers one by former Washington Post Watergate legend Carl Bernstein.

Whatever happened to old-fashioned journalistic back-scratching?

Once again, a negative review of a book by two Times reporters appears in the pages of the Times itself. The Sunday Book Review featured New York magazine writer Jennifer Senior's long compare-and-contrast of two recent Hillary biographies, one by former Washington Post reporter and Watergate second banana Carl Bernstein, the other, "Her Way," by former Times reporter Jeff Gerth and current Times reporter Don Van Natta Jr.

Senior's "Good Hillary, Bad Hillary" arrived at the same general conclusion that liberal historian and Times favoriteRobert Dallek did in his June 5 review of the same two books: Bernstein's book is better because it's more sympathetic to Hillary.

Senior: "While Bernstein can barely conceal his skepticism about Whitewater - you call this a scandal? I put the 'gate' in -gate! - Gerth and Van Natta describe in detail what this and other Arkansas business deals were made of, including Hillary's brief and lucrative adventure in commodities futures. Based on their lucid reporting, it's clear there was indeed something alternately naïve and inappropriate about these ventures, and that Hillary was less than forthright about her legal work for a savings and loan whose business was regulated by the State of Arkansas. However, they also flatly declare that 'Hillary was unaware' - not claimed to be unaware, but actually was - of Jim McDougal's unlawful Whitewater transactions and the ways her brokerage firm played fast and loose with the rules. They also say, 'Her likely indiscretions were altogether modest.' If that's the case, these matters hardly deserved the reams of coverage they got at the time, and Bernstein is right to make the determination that they certainly don't deserve to be revisited now.

"Gerth and Van Natta do point out in their introduction that Hillary's stubborn refusals to admit she might have made a mistake repeatedly get her into trouble. Her world seems a lot like Bushworld in this way, they shrewdly note, right down to the secretive loyal coterie of advisers. But their initial explanation for Hillary's secrecy and defensiveness - 'She feared that admitting a mistake would arm her enemies and undermine her carefully cultivated image as an extremely bright person who yearns only to do good for her fellow citizens' - never evolves into something more nuanced."

Like Senior, Dallek also faulted the authors for dwelling on Hillary's apparently unimportant scandals: "The book's greatest flaw is its flogging of all the Clinton scandals, not simply because they are so familiar and ultimately came to so little, but also because they give us insufficient clues to what sort of president Mrs. Clinton might be....Mr. Gerth and Mr. Van Natta seem to detect no angels in Mrs. Clinton's nature whatsoever, much less better ones, and the result is a one-sided figure who never quite springs to life or feels truly authentic."