Journalism for the incurious at the New York Times

The story sounded so good from the headline on p.1 of the Times’ Business Day section on July 11: “A Provocateur’s Book on Clinton Overtakes Her Memoir in Sales.”

The provocateur is Edward Klein, long-time nemesis of Hillary Clinton and author of ”The Truth About Hillary.” (2005). And now his latest hit on the Clintons, “Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas” has just overtaken Hillary Clinton’s memoir “Hard Choices” in sales on the Times’ own bestseller list.

How mortifying that Klein’s dishing of “implausible” dirt on both families was outselling the former Secretary of State’s own display of grand vision and noble compassion the Clintons sell as the raison d’ etre for past and future service in public life.

It was too much for the Times’ reporters Amy Chozick and Alexandra Alter. In the second paragraph they label passages in Klein’s bestseller “implausible,” but don’t show us what makes them “implausible.”

Two paragraphs later details in Klein’s book are called “factually suspect” and cite Bill’s demand that Hillary get a face-lift as suspect, as well as his response to her refusal: he got a face-lift instead.  Readers may not be convinced that this episode must be “factually suspect,” given what they know about the former president’s romantic escapades.

The story credits Klein with having written a “suspenseful page-turner and “Shakespearean (if unbelievable) portrait of power, lust and clashes between and within the two first families.” The clashes, between and within, may not strike all readers as “unbelievable,” but the comparison to Shakespeare likely will. The face-lift story, for example, fits better into “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or “Real Housewives of Orange County” than “Macbeth.”

And we are never told why any of the strife is “unbelievable.” The Obama family irritations could have been investigated.  Cozick and Alter tell us that the president “got so fed up with her (Michelle’s) behavior that he actually encourages Michelle to take separate planes when they go on vacation.” Surely the White House and the Secret Service keep logs on the first family’s flights, and these logs could have been made available to curious reporters.

Taxpayers might also want to know if the president’s annoyance cost them an extra bundle in these hard economic times. Air Force One is a pretty big aircraft, they might insist, so couldn’t POTUS and FLOTUS just sit apart from each other in different sections of the same Boeing VC-25?

To support their insistence that Klein’s anecdotes don’t ring true, the Times’ reporters relied on, of all people, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. “Some of the quotes (in the book) strike me as odd,” he said. “I don’t know people who speak this way.” By “this way” he could be referring to the quote attributed to Bill Clinton in the book: “I hate that man Obama more than any man who ever lived.” Rush just doesn’t get around in the right circles.

But Rush is as good as it gets for making a case against Klein. And that’s just not good enough. Curious minds will have to wait for the National Enquirer or a Washington insider to disclose if Klein’s claim about the stories in the book—“I don’t make this stuff up”—holds up.


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