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BENDING HISTORY (PART 2)! Hillary’s book is dull, they’ve said. Which convinces us—they haven’t read it:

FRIDAY, JUNE 20, 2003

LET THEM DRINK SPIN: Washington’s scribes all know the Key Points to recite about Living History. Mrs. Clinton is simply lying, they have said. She blames everything that happened on her enemies. And of course, her book is surpassingly dull. Just how boring is Clinton’s new book? In fact, Living History is such a dog that a string of scribes who haven’t read it have been able to discard it as dull! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/19/03.)

Living History is surpassingly dull, they all say. We find this a puzzling viewpoint. Living History isn’t great literature; clearly, it’s drawn from the easy-reader school. But pundits who say that the book is dull are simply serving their cohort’s interests. In fact, the book directs a surprising array of wicked shots at major Washington players. Its assessment of the Clinton Scandal Years is anything but mealy-mouthed—and anything but dull. But pundits played an active role in the pseudo-scandals which Clinton discusses, and they’re out there reciting a hoary old plea: Please don’t read this book.

Dull? Where else will you find a sitting senator calling a sitting Chief Justice a crook? In Living History, Clinton more or less renders this judgment about Chief Justice Rehnquist. As First Lady, why did Clinton oppose renewing the Independent Counsel law in 1994, when Robert Fiske was already on the Whitewater case? Because of Chief Justice Rehnquist:

CLINTON (page 243): Because of the growing Republican criticism of Fiske, I had argued against signing the legislation unless the appointment of Fiske was grandfathered into the bill. I feared that the Republicans and their allies in the judiciary, led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, would figure out some way to remove Fiske because he was impartial and expeditious.
That is a remarkable charge, one Clinton spells out in more detail. (Fiske, of course, did get removed, replaced with Kenneth Starr.) But to your pundits, this is all deadly dull. Translation: Your insider pundits have no intention of discussing the ways of the Clinton impeachment. Their news organizations were deeply invested in the “scandals” which eventually led to impeachment, and they have no intention of discussing the role that Rehnquist may (or may not) have played. So they paw through the book looking for the “good parts,” and—simpering openly, as is their wont—inform you that the rest is just boring.

And Rehnquist is hardly the only major domo hammered in Clinton’s book. Could this possibly be true about Starr?

CLINTON (page 348): In June 1995, Starr was using threats and indictments as a tool of intimidation, threatening everyone he could and offering to cut them deals if they would say something—anything!—to incriminate Bill and me.
Clinton even gives examples, but to our snoring pundit class, this is too dull to discuss. So, of course, is this tangy section about Whitewater hound Al D’Amato:
CLINTON (page 297): The Republicans opened up a new front when Al D’Amato…opened hearings on Whitewater. I have since made my peace with Senator D’Amato, now one of my most prominent constituents, but the hearings he and his fellow Republican Senators and their staffs conducted inflicted great emotional and monetary damage on innocent people.
Again, Clinton goes into detail. But it’s much too dull for your scribes to consider. They played along with the conduct which Clinton describes, and they don’t intend to evaluate it now. When these passages are mentioned at all, they’re all swept aside with one Key Spin: Clinton blames everything on her enemies.

Clearly, Clinton does attribute misconduct to her “enemies.” But are her charges on the mark? Your pundits are too bored to care. Is it true? Is it true (page 245) that Rush Limbaugh said, “Whitewater is about [defeating] health care?” It’s too dull for the press corps to contemplate. Is it true? Is it true that (page 332) “the RTC filed a supplemental report [to the Pillsbury Report] confirming that the billing records supported my account of my legal activities?” Matters like this are far too dull for our lords and ladies to dirty their hands on. It’s much easier to mouth Standard Spin and repair to the latest fine party.

For the record, there’s one other part of Living History that is far too dull for your pundits to ponder. An example of this tiresome theme appears during Clinton’s trip to Bangladesh in 1995:

CLINTON (page 283): [T]his was another country I had long wanted to visit, because it was home to two internationally recognized projects—the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research (ICDDR/B) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the Grameen Bank, a pioneer of microcredit…Dysentery is a leading cause of death, particularly among children, in parts of the world where there are limited sources of clean drinking water. The ICDDR/B developed oral rehydration therapy (ORT), a solution composed mostly of salt, sugar and water, that is easy to administer and is responsible for saving the lives of millions of children. This simple, inexpensive solution has been called one of the most important medical advances of the century, and the hospital that pioneers it depends on American aid.
Here at THE HOWLER, we happen to know a bit about oral rehydration, because our darling niece happens to work in the field. And because she has now spent two years at Johns Hopkins Public Health, we have met some of the inspiring, brilliant, cheerful young men and women who still go all around the world trying to save the lives of (millions of) children. But dehydration is rarely a problem at salons where your pundit class swills its fine waters. Their only thirst is for the “good parts.” So they warn you: Don’t buy this dull book.

TOMORROW: Laughter with Charlie.

On Tuesday, June 10, Gloria Borger didn’t seem to know what was actually in Clinton’s book (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/19/03). But by Friday, June 13, she’d received a promotion; she’d been assigned to report on the book for the pundit show, Washington Week. But snore! The book was so boring:
BORGER: Well, I didn’t really learn anything new in it, Gwen. There was nothing really surprising in it. And why should there be? This is a campaign book. This is a, this is a book about the 2008 presidential campaign. It’s really a lot of policy wrapped in the cotton candy because when you get $8 million to dish a little bit, you’d better dish. And there, and there is a little bit of that in this book, talking about the Monica Lewinsky affair, etc., etc.. But there are mentions of Travelgate, Whitewater and all the rest, and that’s what you do in a campaign book. Somebody asks you—we’re all journalists here. Somebody asks you a question, oh, you know, “What did you think about what, what happened to the Rose Law Firm billing records?” or whatever. You know, you can just go to page 200, “Oh, I dealt with that. I’ve, I’ve dealt with that before.”
Borger knew how fake it all was. And when Clinton called Chief Justice Rehnquist a crook? “Nothing surprising in the book,” Borger said. Oral rehydration? Gloria Borger: “Cotton candy.” As she continued, Borger voiced another Standard Press Judgment:
BORGER: But the book, though, may be unintentionally revealing, Gwen, because it really confirms something that I remember a source of mine at the White House told me when they were in the White House about Bill and Hillary Clinton, which was one of the things that joined them together and that kept them together was a mutual distrust and hatred of their enemies. And what this book has a lot of in it is a lot of discussion about the enemies of Bill and Hillary Clinton, most notably, of course, Ken Starr and the now-famous “right-wing conspiracy.”
Hillary Clinton hates her enemies. But what did she say about those “enemies?” Borger, bored to tears, doesn’t say. And are her comments about them accurate? We don’t hear that evaluated, either. What do we hear? The corps’ Approved Points. And this, of course: Don’t buy this book.

The Daily update

DUMB AND DUMBEST: On Thursday, vague reports that Al Gore was planning a cable channel brought pundits away from their gooey desserts. For the record, reports of the project were extremely vague; no one had the slightest idea what Gore might actually be doing. In the New York Times, an informed observer explicitly said that Gore’s project would not be political. But no matter! Pundits quickly began pretending that Gore was creating an all-liberal “Gore TV.” On Hardball, guest host Mike Barnicle discussed the prospect with John Fund and—who else?—Margaret Carlson. Let’s say it again: None of them had the slightest idea what Gore was actually planning (if anything). But all of them knew their Official Points. And all saw the chance to showcase their cohort’s greatest insight: Al Gore speaks too slowly.

The hapless Barnicle started the session. As usual, he couldn’t begin to understand the complaints about conservative punditry:

BARNICLE: Is the media so conservative that we need Al Gore as a new media mogul? I mean, John, help me out here. And Margaret, help me out here. I realize I’m stupid but I’m not dumb. I just don’t get this whole thing about conservative media hammering liberals and liberals have no place to vent or no place to go. What’s the deal?
To his credit, Barnicle knew his faults—and John Fund wanted to help. Ticking down his list of spins, he quickly said that Gore talks too slow, and compared him to—who else?—the French:
FUND: Well, first Mike, I’d like to welcome Al Gore back to the rank of journalism. He was a former editorial writer. He’s decided to come home.

The only problem is if you watched Al Gore’s debate performances in 2000, he gave the best imitation of the snootiest, most ponderous French waiter you ever saw. So it’s not going to work if he’s going to be the talent.

Now if he’s going to be the power behind the scenes, I don’t know if I can trust Al Gore’s, you know, judgment. What is he going to have? Endless shows about the Florida recount?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Now Barnicle turned to Carlson for help. Why are conservative commentators more popular? he asked. Carlson had a hackneyed reply:
CARLSON: The reason may be that it’s harder to explain, or it’s harder to get fierce, about a liberal argument than a conservative one. I think it’s easier to make the case that, “Hey, Saddam is gone, that’s great, let’s not look back” than it is to make the argument, “It’s good Saddam is gone, but let’s make sure going forward the United States is clear about going to war with other countries.”
It’s harder to get fierce about a liberal argument? Does Carlson remember tens of thousands of people chanting, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Actually, all Carlson remembers is the latest Standard Points. And, pressed by her fair-and-balanced host, she now came up with another:
BARNICLE: Do you think that the two factors of arrogance and boredom on the left combine to have people just turn liberals off?

CARLSON: I don’t know about the arrogance, but the boredom is clear. And also, you know, Mike, as we proved here tonight. One of the absolute essentials is talking fast. And Al Gore is one of the slowest talkers in America. Do you remember the Bob and Ray record—

BARNICLE: They were great. Yes.

CARLSON: —the Slow Talkers of America? That’s Al Gore!

Remember: Al Gore talks too slow. Carlson recites the point all through her new book (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/12/03), and was eager to showcase her insight again. Meanwhile, Barnicle kept trying to sort it all out. “John Fund, is it the pace of his vocabulary? Or is it the content?” he puzzled.

Readers, think back to your young adult years—to the idealism Carlson describes in her book. Could you ever have dreamed that your public discourse would be in the hands of such fakers as these? Even when Newton Minow denounced the “vast wasteland,” could you ever have dreamed that you’d turn on TV and observe such surpassing stupidity?

Barnicle, of course, still can’t understand the complaints about conservative punditry. “I just don’t get this whole thing about conservative media hammering liberals,” he confessed.