The July 2005 issue of Vanity Fair contains an excerpt from the forthcoming The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President (Sentinel, June 2005), a book-length attack on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) written by Edward Klein with the stated intent of inflicting electoral damage on her. But a review of the error-ridden excerpt in Vanity Fair suggests the book may inflict more damage on its author, publisher, Vanity Fair, and other news organizations that take it seriously than on Clinton. The first verifiable claim reportedly from the book turned out to be false; a Mail on Sunday article showed that Klein is peddling gay-baiting sexual innuendo and gossip; now, the Vanity Fair excerpt reveals the book to be a sloppily researched, factually challenged hit piece that merely recycles long-debunked and dismissed criticism of Clinton.
Perhaps the most sensational allegation against Clinton in the Vanity Fair excerpt is Klein's claim that she "suddenly turned up a long-lost" Jewish relative in response to furor over her controversial embrace of Suha Arafat. Klein portrayed the incident as an example of Clinton's supposed opportunism and pandering:
When Hillary made the obligatory trip to Israel to win Jewish votes back home, she went to the Palestinian-controlled city of Ramallah. There she appeared onstage with Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, who made the outrageous charge that Israel was poisoning Palestinian women and children with toxic gas. At the end of Mrs. Arafat's speech, Hillary marched to the podium and gave Suha Arafat a big hug and kiss. The photo of the two women kissing, which was played around the world, sowed serious doubts about Hillary in the minds of many Jewish voters.
When Hillary realized that she had gotten herself in a jam with Jewish voters, she suddenly turned up a long-lost Jewish step grandfather -- an announcement that was dismissed by many cynical New York voters as an example of her pandering.
But Klein, trying to portray Clinton as a political opportunist, got the facts completely wrong: News of Clinton's Jewish step-grandfather came long before the Suha Arafat incident, as even a cursory check of the facts would have quickly revealed. The story about Clinton's Jewish family members received extensive media coverage in August 1999, three months before the November 1999 incident with Arafat:
- Washington Post, 8/7/99: "Her audience seemed to have little interest in the two media obsessions surrounding the first lady -- her recent remarks on her husband's infidelities, and the fact that her step-grandfather turns out to have been Jewish. (Headline in the New York Post: 'Oy Vey!')"
- Rita Cosby, Fox News, 8/5/99: "Another surprise from the first lady. As she campaigns in New York, she tells a Jewish newspaper that her step-grandfather, Max Rosenberg, was Jewish."
- Seth Gitell of the Jewish newspaper Forward, CNN, 8/5/99: "What we've found is that Hillary Clinton's grandmother, a woman named Della Murray, married a Russian Jewish immigrant named Max Rosenberg and had a daughter who was Hillary Clinton's half-aunt, who Hillary was in touch with until that woman died in December."
Klein later wrote of Clinton's supposed metamorphosis during the campaign:
At the start of the campaign Hillary had come off poorly in small groups. Now she seemed more at ease schmoozing potential donors. Gone was the left-wing Hillary, the gender feminist who sounded to many people like a radical bomb thrower. In her place was the newly minted Hillary, a kinder, gentler, family-oriented candidate who championed such issues as children's mental health.
This is a patently absurd example of the ongoing effort by some media figures and conservative activists to pretend that Hillary Clinton was a "left-wing radical" who has moved to the center out of political expediency. Mrs. Clinton has long "championed such issues as children's mental health," as a nearly 20-year-old April 25, 1986, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article makes clear:
About 200 guests gathered Thursday for a ground-breaking ceremony at the site of a new Sturgis Adolescent Center that will be built adjacent to the Elizabeth Mitchell Children's Center at 6601 West Twelfth Street and heard Hillary Clinton proclaim the event "an important day for the children of Arkansas." Later, to the applause of the guests, Mrs. Clinton sat at the controls of a large backhoe and, under the supervision of a professional operator, scooped up a shovelful of dirt and deftly set it aside.
More than $1,050,000 has been raised to build the center through a capital campaign that Mrs. Clinton, wife of Governor Bill Clinton, helped begin in January 1985.
The Children's Center is a mental health agency for emotionally troubled children and their families and provides private counseling for children and families and intensive residential treatment for children aged six to 16 who are experiencing severe emotional problems.
D. Eugene Fortson, the capital campaign chairman, said at the groundbreaking that the new two-story Adolescent Center would meet the needs of disturbed adolescents who often have had to go outside the state to find approved medical care.
He noted that Act 588 of 1985, which was proposed by Mr. Clinton and guided through the legislature by state Senator Max Howell of Jacksonville, had provided a $ 200,000 matching grant for construction of the Adolescent Center.
If Klein (or his editors and publishers) cared enough to check the facts behind Clinton's supposedly newfound interest in children's mental health, it wouldn't have been hard to do: A rudimentary Nexis search for "Hillary Clinton and children! w/5 mental w/5 health" yields 112 results, the oldest of which is the Democrat-Gazette article quoted above.
Elsewhere, Klein repeats tired old complaints about Mrs. Clinton that have been debunked and dismissed countless times. Klein writes:
When the Yankees won the World Series and went to the White House, Manager Joe Torre presented Hillary with a team cap. She promptly put it on and declared that she had "always been a big Yankees fan." After the laughter died down in the saloons and taverns throughout New York City, Hillary looked more like an out-of-touch carpetbagger than ever.
But Klein inexplicably decided not to tell readers the whole story: Clinton "looked more like an out-of-touch carpetbagger than ever" because her political opponents and the media rushed to mock her, ignoring the inconvenient reality that she had, in fact, always been a big Yankees fan.
Again hammering on the "carpetbagger" issue, Klein claims to have found an anonymous "New York-based politico" who was willing to suggest -- in remarkably florid prose -- that key Clinton adviser Harold M. Ickes was an odd choice to run her campaign, since he didn't live in New York:
"It was clear from the way Harold ran the meeting -- and the fact that he brought along [former Clinton-Gore '96 campaign official] Laura Hartigan -- that he was going to be in total charge of Hillary's Senate campaign," said a New York-based politico who was there. "I found it strange that Hillary, who was going to face the sensitive carpetbagger issue, would choose Harold, who now made his headquarters in Washington, D.C., not in New York, and was seriously contaminated by his alleged connections to so many financial scandals.
"Let's face it," this person continued, "Harold might be a brilliant political strategist, but he's not a good guy. And he hated Bill Clinton for having fired him [in the wake of the 1996 campaign-finance scandals, in which Ickes was implicated]. True, Hillary had conspired with Bill behind the scenes to fire Harold, but she pretended otherwise, and was able to good-cop Harold back into her camp for the Senate race. That this seriously compromised guy was her guru said an awful lot about the character of Hillary Clinton."
Klein must have spent a great deal of time tracking down someone willing to argue that Ickes might somehow exacerbate Mrs. Clinton's "carpetbagger" problem, as Ickes's ties to New York were certainly not in question at the time:
- Newsday, 3/11/99: "Few are better equipped to help Clinton navigate New York's choppy political waters than Ickes, the son of a New Deal cabinet secretary and a longtime veteran of New York's bare-knuckles political wars. ... 'Harold is one of smartest political strategists in the country,' said Judith Hope, state Democratic chairwoman. 'And anybody would be fortunate to have him on their team, especially anyone looking to build a career in New York State.' In addition to his link to the Mineola law firm, Ickes also runs his own consulting business with former aide Janice Enright. They count among their clients some of New York's most powerful forces, including the United Federation of Teachers and the New York City Council."
- New York Observer, 2/28/99: "[A]t the very moment the Senate was voting to acquit the President, Hillary was sitting down to what aides call 'just a social lunch' with Ickes Jnr, by now the party's prime wheeler-dealer in New York, to make him her point man in the upcoming campaign."
- The Baltimore Sun, 5/19/99: "He represents New York's City Council and other high-octane interests through his Washington consulting business and still works for a politically connected Long Island law firm. ... Having worked on nearly every level of New York campaign short of dog catcher, his state connections remain solid."
- New York Associated Press political writer Marc Humbert, 7/26/99: "While Republicans are fond of dismissing her as a 'carpetbagger' who has never lived or worked in New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton has put together a political team with strong ties to the state. Republicans aren't convinced it will turn the trick for her. 'Her problem is not her advisers not being from New York, it's her not being from New York,' veteran GOP operative Kieran Mahoney said. But there is no denying her organization has a strong New York flavor. Heading up the first lady's troupe is Harold Ickes, a former White House deputy chief of staff who played key roles in both of Bill Clinton's successful presidential runs. The son of one of the late New York Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's top presidential advisers, Ickes is a veteran of the New York political scene and was a key adviser to former New York City Mayor David Dinkins."
To support his claim that "Ickes seemed intent on turning Hillary's Senate campaign into a dry run for the White House," Klein wrote:
A quick scan of the document [outlining campaign fundraising plans] revealed two major surprises. First, the plan set a staggering goal of $25 million in direct contributions, or so-called hard money, to the candidate. This was a huge amount for a Senate race.
$25 million is, indeed, a "huge amount" -- but less than the $27 million in hard money that another New York senator, Republican Al D'Amato, raised for his unsuccessful 1998 re-election campaign. Put in that context, Mrs. Clinton's fund-raising goal was a bit less "staggering."