An open letter to the Penguin Group from David Brock
June 20, 2005
Susan Peterson Kennedy
375 Hudson Street
New York, N.Y. 10014
Dear Ms. Peterson Kennedy,
I'm writing today to seek a public explanation of what, if any, editorial standards and fact-checking processes the Penguin Group applies to its imprints. Specifically, I believe the public, and the Clinton family, deserve an explanation for why Penguin has chosen to publish through its Sentinel imprint Edward Klein's attack book on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It and How Far She'll Go to Become President, which pre-publication reports have already exposed as an obviously false and defamatory tract.
In light of its false and defamatory charges, many of which are easily discredited, your publication of this book constitutes gross negligence at best.
Throughout his book, Mr. Klein engages in gay-baiting innuendo . One of the most striking examples of such negligence occurs on page 94, where Mr. Klein introduces Nancy Pietrafesa, whose name he misspells throughout, as someone "rumored to be Hillary's lesbian lover." An attorney for Ms. Pietrafesa, a non-public figure, told the New York Post: "These allegations are totally false and unsubstantiated. Klein has apparently done no investigating. This is scurrilous, despicable and politically motivated." On June 15, The Syracuse Post-Standard quoted Ms. Pietrafesa, who has been married for 35 years and is the mother of three sons, as saying, "This could hurt my family. This could be an insidious, totally destructive thing in a family. Having that even as a question about my love and loyalty to my husband is very hard, and very sad." As Ms. Pietrafesa told the New York Post: "No one deserves this kind of crap."
Proper legal and editorial review of Mr. Klein's manuscript would have alerted the publisher to Ms. Pietrafesa's contention that Mr. Klein did not even bother to contact her before repeating a false rumor as if it might be true. That a newspaper in Syracuse easily determined the falsity of the Pietrafesa story suggests a serious lack of due diligence on the part of Mr. Klein and you, his publisher.
Indeed, as illustrated by the Pietrafesa example, much of the gay-baiting "evidence" is simply Klein's repetition -- or creation out of whole cloth -- of scurrilous, unsupported and unsupportable tabloid-style gossip grossly unbefitting a publishing house of Penguin's pedigree.
Another example: Page 12 contains the following passage about the Clintons (attributed to "water-cooler gossip"):
Was it true they slept in separate beds?
Were there any telltale signs on the presidential sheets that they ever had sex with each other?
For that matter, did the Big Girl [Hillary Clinton] have any interest in sex with a man?
Or, as was widely rumored, was she a lesbian?
And on Page 13, Mr. Klein writes of Sen. Clinton with no sourcing:
She was a mother, but she wasn't maternal.
She was a wife, but she had no wifely instincts.
She said she was passionately in love with her husband, but many of her closest friends and aides were lesbians.
Fifty-one pages later, Mr. Klein is still at it, writing without attribution, "From her days in Wellesley onward, Hillary was often mistaken as asexual." He then quotes a "clinical sexologist" to contend that women described as "asexual" have in fact "shut down" their real sexual feelings. This passage introduces an anecdote wherein Sen. Clinton allegedly "made a point of sitting next to Nancy Wanderer" at her 25th Wellesley College reunion in 1994. According to Mr. Klein, "Hillary reached out and ran the palm of her hand over Nancy's butch [hair] cut."
Mr. Klein makes much throughout the book of "how the culture of lesbianism at Wellesley College shaped Hillary's politics." As you may know, Ms. Wanderer, a non-public figure who had been married in college, told the New York Post, in a June 10 article about Mr. Klein's book ("Hillary-Basher is Error-Prone"):
"Yes, I am a lesbian, but I wasn't at Wellesley or for 20 years afterward. There was no lesbian culture there at the time. I couldn't have told you one person who was a lesbian. If there was, it was underground.
"I hope [Klein] doesn't suggest there was anything going on, because there just wasn't. And if the hair episode is being portrayed as a sexual thing, it wasn't that at all. I have a very short haircut, and we were all talking about it [at the reunion]. Probably everyone at the table touched it."
According to the Post, Mr. Klein did not speak Ms. Wanderer for his book, just as he did not speak with Ms. Pietrafesa.
As for the chapter sardonically titled "A Night to Remember," in which Mr. Klein indicates that the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, was conceived during the rape of her mother by her father, a responsible publisher would certainly require more than a single purported "anonymous source who was with the Clintons in Bermuda" before suggesting such heinous criminal conduct on the part of a former president of the United States. A Drudge Report posting about the rape story led numerous observers to denounce the book, including several conservative commentators -- but not before this thinly "sourced" smear generated publicity for the book, damaging Penguin's reputation in the process.
What are Penguin's standards for such reportage? Was the so-called "source" identified to Penguin editors and lawyers to your satisfaction? Penguin's website claims, "Our values: In everything we do, we aspire to be brave, imaginative and decent." Does Sentinel, a self-described conservative Penguin imprint, adhere to the same standards of editorial decency, or does Penguin have one set of rules for Sentinel, and another for everyone else?
A Penguin executive, Adrian Zakheim, has been quoted as saying that the publisher stands behind the book and its author "100 percent." But such empty assurances are insufficient. I believe it is incumbent upon Penguin to substantiate this maliciously grotesque rape claim and either confirm it publicly as legitimate, or else retract it as a fabrication and apologize to the public and the Clintons.
In the interest of brevity, I won't list all of the many factual errors  already documented in the book even before its release to the general public, though I will note a few of them to demonstrate Mr. Klein's routinely reckless disregard for basic facts. Mr. Klein falsely claims  that Sen. Clinton "suddenly turned up a long-lost" Jewish relative in a cynical move to quell a controversy over an appearance she made with Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha. But the news that Sen. Clinton's step-grandfather was Jewish had broken three months before the Arafat incident, as should have been clear to anyone with access to a newspaper archive. Writing about Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's endorsement of Sen. Clinton's Senate candidacy, Mr. Klein quotes Sen. Moynihan as saying, "I'm here to say that I hope she will go all the way." Then Mr. Klein writes, as if to demonstrate Sen. Moynihan's coolness toward the candidacy, "For Moynihan, apparently it was easier to say 'she' than 'Hillary.'" Yet according to an easily available transcript, Sen. Moynihan had, in fact, referred  to Sen. Clinton as "Hillary" in the prior sentence.
Finally, Mr. Klein writes of an allegedly testy meeting between Sen. Moynihan; his wife, Liz; and Sen. Clinton in anticipation of the Senate campaign. Sen. Moynihan's daughter Maura, who attended the meeting, told  New York cable news channel NY1 that Mr. Klein's account is "utter nonsense," "utterly and completely false," and that her mother never gave Mr. Klein the quotes falsely attributed to her.
One accurate claim Penguin has made about this book is in the headline on its dust-jacket copy, which reads, "The truth about Hillary is more frightening than you can imagine." For the sake of your own well-earned reputation as a quality publisher of authors such as Nadine Gordimer, Garrison Keillor, Salman Rushdie, Lewis Lapham, Al Franken, Terry McMillan, Kevin Phillips, Maureen Dowd, Eric Alterman, and Michael Ignatieff, among many others, not to mention the confidence of the book-buying public, I implore you to clarify how this frightening smear job of a book could have made it past your editors and into print.
I suppose it is not an accident that the Penguin imprint Sentinel has analogized  this book to the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Sen. John Kerry last year. Frankly, the public has had more than its fill of drive-by political character assassinations. I can assure you that if this matter is not redressed satisfactorily, Penguin's actions won't be forgotten as progressives shop for books.
President and CEO
Media Matters for America
- Klein's "The Truth About Hillary"