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Caveat lector

DON’T BUY THIS BOOK! Blumenthal wrote an important book. Janet Maslin doesn’t want you to read it:

FRIDAY, MAY 16, 2003

THE WARS CONTINUE: Omigod! He criticized Sally Quinn! No wonder the press corps’ knickers are knotted over Sidney Blumenthal’s demonic new book. On page 109 of The Clinton Wars, the gentleman dares offer this:

BLUMENTHAL: Sally Quinn began as a party reporter for The Washington Post, became a clever, irreverent writer of profiles, married the Post’s editor, Ben Bradlee, and moved into a large house in Georgetown, where she became an avid participant-observer in the capital’s social life. Even before Clinton took his oath of office, Quinn began telling the Clintons what to do and what to say, how to shed their provincial habits and learn the ways of Washington.
Blumenthal quotes condescending examples from two published pieces. To Blumenthal, it seemed odd that a person like Sally Quinn would be rattling off rules to an incoming president, elected by the American people. To the “press corps,” of course, such an outlook is troubling. And so, the corps’ scripted tribunes have swung into action. Standard Message: Do not buy this book!

Many pundits have already served, raising assorted inane objections. At the Post, for example, Al Kamen was shocked to see that a memoir of Blumenthal’s years with the Clintons included photos of Blumenthal and the Clintons! But then, Janet Maslin was puzzled by that matter too. Maslin writes for the New York Times. And there’s nothing so dumb she won’t say it:

MASLIN: Beyond his intention to set the record straight on controversies that plagued the Clinton presidency, Mr. Blumenthal has a more personal agenda. Barely mentioning others close to the Clintons, and illustrating this memoir with smiling, convivial photographs of himself in their company (though much of the book is about others, like the less lovable Kenneth W. Starr), Mr. Blumenthal sends a clear message to his administration colleagues: Mom liked me best.
In all likelihood, Blumenthal doesn’t have lots of shots of himself with Ken Starr. But since it’s not clear that Maslin has read this book, perhaps such points haven’t yet become obvious.

Why did Mom like Blumenthal best? Because he’s a kiss-up, Maslin says, peddling the corps’ stalest spin-point. She starts her review with a pointless example, the kind that Mom’s pundits like best:

MASLIN (pgh 1): When her book “It Takes a Village” was published in 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton was assailed for not mentioning the ghostwriter who had been paid $120,000 to help. Her aide and confidant Sidney Blumenthal is now ready to set the record straight on this Clinton contretemps and hundreds of others. His most often repeated assertion, throughout an 800-plus-page memoir and political treatise, is this: “The charge was, of course, completely false.”
Meow! Hiss! Spit! Me-ow!! For the record, you might be surprised to learn that Blumenthal doesn’t write, “The charge was, of course, completely false” in his brief passage about It Takes a Village. In this part of his impressive book, he is helping readers get a sense of the endless, mindless, inane attacks that pundits loved lodging against Mrs. Clinton. And Maslin seems eager to show that he’s right. Blumenthal devotes two paragraphs to this incident (in an 822-page book); Maslin also gives it two paragraphs—in an 1100-word review! Why is this nonsense in paragraph one? To convince you that Blumenthal’s book is pure trivia. But then, early reviews have tended to focus on trivia—the kind our modern “press corps” dearly loves. Blumenthal’s book deals with troubling topics—matters that ought to concern all Americans. But simpering scribes like the Times’ Janet Maslin are eager to turn your gaze somewhere else. They feature minor episodes to avoid discussing the damage that’s been done by their class.

Blumenthal’s book looks at troubling matters—matters that defined a political decade. Eventually, Maslin mentions such matters too. After saying that Mom liked Sidney best, she gives an example which does involve a great theme. How far does Blumenthal’s “loyalty extend?” This far, the lady says, shocked and ashen:

MASLIN: In discussing the first whiff of scandal to affect this presidency — and, Mr. Blumenthal says, to pave the way for widespread, snowballing hysteria from the press—he recounts a conversation with the first lady. “She spoke frankly,” he writes, “explaining Whitewater’s emptiness.”
Maslin knows nonsense when she sees it. “Such acrobatic feats of protectiveness—and they are endless here—take their toll,” she says.

But if you read her review, you will note a sad fact—she doesn’t make the slightest attempt to say what’s wrong with Blumenthal’s statement. More specifically, what is supposed to be “acrobatic” or “protective” about calling Whitewater “empty?” Clearly, we’re supposed to gasp at this fawning remark; we’re supposed to see that Blumenthal’s loyalty extends to the point where he’ll even say that. But by now, almost everyone surely knows that Whitewater did turn out a hoax, even if Maslin doesn’t know, or is willing to pretend that she doesn’t. (The matter is thoroughly explained in the book, and Maslin keeps saying she read it.) By December 1995, for example, the RTC’s “Pillsbury” commission had filed a lengthy official report which exonerated the Clintons of wrongdoing in Whitewater. But exoneration didn’t cut it with Maslin’s slick crowd; on December 22 of that year, the Post’s Howard Kurtz wrote a detailed piece, noting that “the New York Times and USA Today have not run a word about the final report.” Others had kept you clueless, too. The Washington Post “mentioned the findings Saturday in the 11th paragraph of a front-page story about a Whitewater subpoena battle,” Kurtz wrote. “The Los Angeles Times, Washington Times and Chicago Tribune ran 400 or fewer words of the AP story on inside pages.” Guess what? Your “press corps” didn’t want you to know that the Clintons had been absolved of these charges (charges in which the corps had long reveled), and to all appearances, the vacuous Maslin doesn’t want you to know it today. She simpers about the Village tale—and pretends that Blumenthal is faking on Whitewater. But then, the fact that Maslin’s own paper drove the Whitewater hoax is one of the problems this book explores. And you should never expect her corrupt, faker class to cooperate in its defrocking.

Indeed, if Maslin knows that Whitewater was a dry hole—that is, if Maslin has read The Clinton Wars—she clearly doesn’t want you to know it. Later, she returns to the topic, serving this inane, clowning passage:

MASLIN: A long career in journalism…preceded Mr. Blumenthal’s entry to the White House inner circle. As a result, he observes like a reporter. (In describing how his “lubricated” former friend, Christopher Hitchens, betrayed him, Mr. Blumenthal describes a meeting in a restaurant. It is duly noted that Mr. Hitchens ran up a bar bill of $18.84 before Mr. Blumenthal arrived.) And he debates like a lawyer. The “proper comparison” to Mrs. Clinton’s role in her husband’s administration, he says, “is not to any previous first lady but to Robert F. Kennedy.”

About the Whitewater investigation, he writes: “It would be wrong to say that conjecture in the media swamped the basic facts because those facts were not reported. The facts would have upset the way they were telling the story, so there were no facts.” At another point, citing his responsibilities as a liaison to the press, he notes, “I had to bring to reporters’ attention the facts that otherwise might elude them.”

We’re supposed to think that the Hitchens bar-tab detail is suspect, and that the RFK comparison is more of that pandering. But what are we supposed to think about Whitewater? Again, Maslin quotes two remarks from Blumenthal’s book—while making no effort to give us the merits. Presumably, we’re supposed to be aghast once again at Blumenthal’s condescending tone toward the press. Soon we’re back to catty remarks about how Sidney just loves himself best.

American citizens should be concerned by the events discussed in this important book. A serious review would try to describe them. But Maslin and her counterfeit class stopped being serious long, long ago. Maslin is part of the simpering class that created the problems this volume explores. Her class has very few things on its mind, reaching the Hamptons early Friday chief among them. Reviewers like Maslin don’t want you to know that it’s her corrupt class that is being discussed. Don’t buy this book, their reviews have all said. We strongly advise you: Consider the source. More on these topics next week.

MONDAY: Why you hear about Jayson Blair—and don’t hear Word One on Jeff Gerth.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: How inept is the Times’ Janet Maslin? When last we observed her, she had counted the footnotes in Ann Coulter’s book, Slander, and was raving about the scribe’s dogged “research.” New readers, of course, will assume that we’re joking. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02 and 7/25/02. Meanwhile, when last we looked in on the Post’s Al Kamen, it was December 24, 1999—Christmas Eve—and he was trashing the Gore family’s Christmas card! It made the vice president look “phony,” he said. Peddling Approved Spin on Christmas Eve, Kamen showed how far the store-bought would go in the unfolding War Against Gore. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/24/99, to convince yourself that it did happen. Believe it or not, these really are the fatuous people who steward your failing national discourse. When Margaret Carlson “raps” on her home renovations, these slackers understand. They’re concerned.

ONE WHO TATTLED: In his piece about that Whitewater report, Kurtz quoted a scribe who used an old-fashioned term—“basic fairness.” Incredibly, one newspaper had told its readers about what the RTC said:

KURTZ (12/22/95): “We’ve all spent huge amounts of ink on the speculation people have had about [Whitewater],” said Alan Murray, Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, which on Monday was the only major paper to carry a staff-written story on the [RTC] report. “We could afford to spend a little ink on a report that suggests there wasn’t a problem. Basic fairness requires that you do it.”
Basic fairness requires that you do it! Murray, a traitor to his class, let readers know that the Clintons had been absolved. Maslin—out the door for the weekend—still doesn’t want you to know it.

The Daily update

MUST-READ WP: Molly Ivins’ current column (published in yesterday’s Post) simply must be read. Highly comical, it describes a class of “Shiite Republicans” who are currently in charge down in Texas. You’ll enjoy several good laughs at their kooky remarks. But Ivins says, Stop all yer funnin’:
IVINS: Since all of y’all in the North think Texas is eternally screwed up, I’m not going to try to defend this lunacy (although it has causes). I’m just warning you: This is about to happen everywhere. A good country song says, “Lubbock on Everythang.” Make it bigger, expand that. “Texas on Everythang.” The whole country is being turned into the state whose proudest boast is that sometimes we’re ahead of Mississippi.
In essence, Blumenthal’s book describes the interaction between two distinct classes—Ivins’ group of “Shiite Republicans” and Maslin’s simpering insider press corps. Maslin’s class gains from Bush’s tax cuts, and doesn’t much care about anything else. They aren’t Shiite Republicans themselves, but if you want to get to the Hamptons by noon, it’s better to humor Molly Ivins’ gang of crazies. So Maslin pretends that Coulter has done Big Research, and pretends that Blumenthal is making weird statements. Then she’s out the door for the weekend. But then, her type has always behaved this way. More on these topics next week.