WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 2003
MARGARETS CHOICE: Margaret Carlsons new book really isnt one. Although youd never know it from reading the jacket, or from reading the six fawning blurbs-on-the-back, Carlsons new volumeAnyone Can Grow Upis really a collection of columns from Time, stitched together with a few short original chapters. The firstPersonal or Family Mattersis the longest new chapter, at 26 pages. Carlson also offers 18 new pages about George Bush, and ten new pages on Bill, Hill and Al. Most of the book is those tired old columns, held together by these new, scripted thoughts.
And Carlson is brilliantly scripted. Was HRC surprised in August 1998, when her husband fessed up about his affair with Lewinsky? All pundits know the Hard Pundit Law: They are required to mock this fool notion. But Carlson was already spinning the point one month before Living History appeared! The Clintons headed off for a Marthas Vineyard vacation shortly after the president confessed. Mrs. Clinton seemed angry and upset. But then, as all Clinton-haters must do, Carlson explains just how fake it all was:
CARLSON (page 154): Hillary never touched her husband, even ducking under his arm at the entry to the Marine One helicopter Wearing sunglasses, she looked like an aggrieved widow, not a betrayed wife. It was a boffo performance.Its perfect Hillary-bashing! She played the role of aggrieved widow, Carlson says. But then the utterly fake First Lady joked and laughed all the way to the Vineyard!
Its consummate, Grade A Hillary-bashingbut is this pleasing tale truthful? We dont know when Sheehy reported this tale, but it certainly wasnt in her own well-known book. In December 1999, Sheehys new biography, Hillarys Choice, described this airplane ride in detailand it didnt sound like a barrel of laughs. How did Sheehy describe the scene? The stricken First Family set off for a twelve-day vacation from Hell, she began. Here is her fuller description:
SHEEHY: On the helicopter ride to Andrews Air Force Base, the Clintons were frozen in silence. Hillary looked numb and Chelsea inconsolably sad. On the plane to Marthas Vineyard, Clinton read a mystery novel and Hillary dozed. When they arrived, the President climbed down the steps of his plane and fell into the huge, forgiving hug of Vernon Jordan. Hillary let the President cool his heels, alone, on camera, while she hung back.But wheres all that joking and laughing by Hillary? It doesnt appear in Sheehys book. Nor did it appear in her lengthy Vanity Fair article (February 1999), the article on which her book was based. In her written work, in fact, Gail Sheehy has always held that Hillary only learned the truth at the end. Where does the joking and laughing come in? Weve searched Nexis, but we cant find it. Carlson first described this Sheehy report in an August 2000 column (Gail Sheehy reported that after that somber walk across the White House lawn the Clintons actually laughed and joked on the plane all the way to Marthas Vineyard.) But we cant find a place where Sheehy said itand as near as we can tell, no one but Carlson has ever mentioned this pleasing but puzzling report.
Is Margaret Carlson making it up? Here at THE HOWLER, we dont have a clue. But as well see in the next few days, her books Clinton/Gore-bashing is truly clown-likeand there are other occasions when well-known facts give way to create pleasing tales. For example, is President Clinton a Great Big Liar? Carlson is eager to say that he is. So eager, in fact, that she plays Jayson Blair, doctoring a thoroughly well-known quote from the start of the Monica Madness:
CARLSON (page 153): During this period, [President Clinton] was alone in his lie, unless you count Dick Morris, who had some inkling that the worst was true. Clinton asked him to poll the public on how they would feel if it turned out that he had indeed had an affair. When Morris told Clinton that he would be run out of town, Clinton, according to Morris, said, Well, well just have to lie then.And lie he did, Carlson triumphantly adds. The story creates perfect Bill Clinton Spin; unfortunately, the story is simply untrue. Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea what Clinton said to Morris. But according to Morris famous account, Clinton actually said this: Well, we just have to win, then. The quote has been reprinted a thousand times; its right there in the Starr Report. But Carlsons memory played a few tricks. She Jaysoned the quoteserving spin.
But then, Carlson displays a rare ability to rearrange well-known facts. In one of the ugliest parts of her reprehensible book, she struggles and strains to help us see how disgraceful those Clintons really are:
CARLSON (page 157): With the Clintons, transactions trump relationships. Forget that and you end up in prison (Hillarys law partner and deputy attorney general, Webster Hubbell, whom the two never called once he went off to jail), [or] dead (Hillary law partner Vince Foster, who committed suicide because he couldnt play the blood sport of the White House)Its hard find words for such ugly, evil writing. Did the Clintons ever call Webster Hubbell? We dont know, but it was hardly their fault that he wound up in jail. As you knowas Carlsons readers dontHubbell pleaded guilty to defrauding the Rose Law Firm of at least $390,000. Since Mrs. Clinton was a partner at the firm, some of that money belonged to the Clintons! Carlson leaves that out of her piece; instead, she makes it sound like it was the Clintons fault that Hubbell landed in jail. Then they cruelly abandoned him. Regarding the Foster matter, no words can suffice. Foster didnt use the term blood sport; that is another of Carlsons embellishments. And he hardly attributed the ugly conduct described in his suicide note to Bill and Hillary Clinton. With apologies for revisiting this tragedyand with apologies to anyone wrongly accused in his noteheres what this despairing man actually wrote in the note Carlson viciously toys with:
No one in the White House, to my knowledge, violated any law or standard of conduct, including any action in the travel office. There was no intent to benefit any individual or specific groupHere, ruining people is considered sport, Foster wrote. Ten years later, Carlson shows what he meant. And, as well help you see in the next four days, we think that Carlsons ugly book traces back to a key decision. Well give it a name: Margarets choice.
TOMORROW: Comic-book clowning on the Clintons (and Gore) is found all through this strange volume.
GAILS JUDGMENT: For the record, in all her writing and TV appearances, Sheehy has said that HRC learned about Monica in August. At one time, of course, that seemed to be Carlsons judgment too. On August 24, 1998, for example, she wrote this is a Time column:
CARLSON: To many viewers, Hillarys full-throated defense on the Today show in January, in which she blamed her husbands enemies for the scandal, was pure spinning for her man. But it was easy for her to believe that the same amalgam of right-wing moneymen, zealots and Clinton haters who had launched investigations into (and made movies about) whether Vince Foster was murdered could be behind a starstruck groupie suddenly in the clutches of both Ken Starr and Paula Jones lawyers. Certainly, if she believed the charges against her husband, the lawyer in her would never, ever have conceded to Matt Lauer that an adulterous liaison with an intern, if proven true, would be a very serious offense.CarlsonWorld was a different place then! Back then, Carlson actually criticized people who gimmicked up vicious tales about Vince Fosters death. But that, of course, was back in the daybefore Carlson made Margarets choice.
The Daily update
CHARLIES FOLLY: Complaints have poured in about Mondays Charlie Rose, in which Rose booked both Margaret Carlson and Chris Matthews to discuss the new Clinton book. This is not unlike booking Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham to discuss the wonders of Islam. We didnt see the show in question, and it wont be posted on-line for a day or two. But yeswe do look forward to catching that groaner! How in the world did Charlie Rose ever make such a ludicrous choice?