WEDNESDAY, MAY 21, 2003
TIME HATES SURPRISES: When Lev Grossman limns The Clinton Wars, the word surprisingly tells the whole story. Here is the nugget of Grossmans review in the current Time magazine:
GROSSMAN: The Clinton Wars takes us through Whitewater, [Dick] Morris, Vince Foster, Paula Jones and Monicagate Blumenthals abiding theme is that Clintons presidency was the victim of a right-wing political cabal that manipulated the media and the legal system to make mountains out of dunghills, and he makes a surprisingly convincing case by doggedly following countless news stories and allegations to their origins in tainted, planted, unfounded, retracted, distorted, misleading and plain nonexistent evidence.What did Grossman find in The Clinton Wars? According to Grossman, if you examine countless news stories and allegations against the Clintons, you find that they trace back to evidence that is tainted, planted, unfounded, retracted, distorted, misleading and plain nonexistent. And Grossman tells us how that could be: Clintons presidency was the victim of a right-wing political cabal that manipulated the media.
What an astonishing statement! According to Grossman, the media pushed an endless string of iconic scandals on the basis of fake and bogus evidence. According to Grossman, The Clinton Wars makes a surprisingly convincing case that these astonishing events did occur.
The key word here is surprisingly. Why is Grossman surprised to learn that the case is so strong? He is surprised for an obvious reasonbecause the political reporters at Time (and elsewhere) kept him in the dark for ten years. Grossman is a book reviewer, not a political scribe; like all other American citizens, he relies on the political press to keep him reasonably well informed. And what does he find as he reads this important book? He finds himself surprised by what it reveals about the best-known stories of the past decade! Like everyone else, Grossman had been deceived and misled as that mainstream press pushed that long string of scandal talesstories that were (lets say it again) based on evidence that was planted, unfounded, misleading, nonexistent. Grossman is surprised by the strength of Blumenthals case becauselike every other Americanhes been defrauded for the past ten years by the colleagues in the political press corps.
But Grossman is a professional journalist, and he knows not to take it too far. His review goes farther than any other; to his credit, he explains exactly what Blumenthal says, and he says that Blumenthal seems to be right. But professionals dont betray the pack. Emit a set of low, mordant chuckles as you see Grossman instantly pivot:
GROSSMAN: Blumenthals abiding theme is that Clintons presidency was the victim of a right-wing political cabal that manipulated the media and the legal system to make mountains out of dunghills, and he makes a surprisingly convincing case by doggedly following countless news stories and allegations to their origins in tainted, planted, unfounded, retracted, distorted, misleading and plain nonexistent evidence. Throughout, we get too brief flashbulb glimpses of the real star of the show: Blumenthals Clinton is a smart, extroverted, cardplayer, charismatic, 24/7 conversation junkiebut Blumenthal is much too loyal an ally to make a good portraitist.Grossmans pivot is simply amazing. According to Grossman, the Clinton scandals were largely hoaxes, gimmicked up by the mainstream press. And he understands that most people dont know thisthe case is surprising, he says. But what conclusion does he draw? Blumenthal shouldnt have bothered to tell us! To us, the events he describes already feel like they happened decades ago, Grossman writes. He should simply let them go; instead, he should offer a peaceful perspective. In this pivot, we see how far they will gohow far the mainstream press will always go to steer you away from this story.
According to Grossman, Blumenthal describes an astonishing scandal. His case is strongand his case is surprising. But what is Grossmans advice? Dude! You should drop it! The Washington press corps wants one thing onlyit wants to have its license unchecked. Dont buy this book, Lev Grossman implores. Grossman (or his editor) has an easy, overpaid job. Hes trying real hard not to blow it.
TIME IS PREDICTABLE: Grossman (or his editors) knew where to go after saying that Blumenthals case was strong. The Official Approved Spin-Points followed quickly. Let us count the ways:
Dont buy this book, that headline implores. But then, the press corps will say this again and again. They dont want you to see whats inside it.
Our press corps is defined by its stale, hackneyed workbut Winerip and his predecessor, Richard Rothstein, seem to write from a world away. This column really must be read. Tomorrow, incomparably, we say why.