A person is never without reasons for swinging by National Review’s website — Michael Ledeen’s one-man campaign to carpet-bomb the whole of the Mideast into submission, Donald Luskin’s ongoing struggle with the principles of basic arithmetic, Stanley Kurtz’s hilariously self-important screeds against gay marriage, Richard Brookhiser’s increasing unease at having found himself surrounded by such a crew of yahoos — sizzling celebrity tidbits, though, generally aren’t foremost among the publication’s charms. Nevertheless, a week or so back, insomniacs lucky enough to catch a certain late-night rebroadcast of CBS’s Insider gossip show were treated to the delightfully bizarre spectacle of anchor Pat O’Brien quoting at length from the online edition of William F. Buckley’s once august rag.
The man responsible for this happy, if somewhat unsightly, union? None other than once-respected journo turned Kitty Kelly-wannabe, Ed Klein.
Klein, as most everyone who might care has heard by now, recently authored a biography of Hillary Clinton, wherein he implied/alleged that, among other things, New York’s junior senator had an affair with Vince Foster, smacked around a former boyfriend, did a bit of Sapphic dabbling while in college, and was raped by Bill on the night that Chelsea was conceived. The last of these allegations was picked up by Matt Drudge and spawned the sort of minor shitstorm that Klein’s publicity people had no doubt been counting on all along.
Which is where NRO entered the picture. On June 17th, site editor/den mother Kathryn Jean Lopez announced that she had scored an exclusive interview with Klein about the bio. The Drudge allegations had probably “turned off a lot of conservatives to the book,” she noted, but still, she said, she “was curious.” Was there more to Klein’s book, Lopez wondered, “than salaciousness?” “I’ll be giving him a hard time,” she assured whatever lonely skeptics might still remain amongst NRO’s readership, “and bringing out, I hope, some worthwhile insights on the woman who could be president.”
And so it was with a pure heart and the most noble of journalistic intentions that Lopez sat down with Klein the following Monday for an interview that featured more softballs than Randall’s Island on a midsummer weekend. The promised “hard time” consisted of little more than a few half-hearted challenges designed to give Klein a chance to recap, restate and refine the accusations that had incited all the commotion in the first place. In other words, it was just what anyone who’s been paying attention would have expected from K-Lo and the gang. Shortly thereafter, O’Brien cited quotes from the encounter on Insider, and the awkward alliance between the country’s most prominent conservative magazine and its favorite drunk-dialing television host was born. And while I, for one, would never dare cast aspersions on Lopez’s motives, I don’t imagine she much regretted her role in helping Klein’s innuendoes find a bit wider distribution.
The next day, Lopez’s colleague Tim Graham, a man capable of finding liberal media bias in the ingredients list of his morning breakfast cereal, lent a bit of unintentional hilarity to the business when he applauded her for being “rough” on Klein. “But,” he continued, “it’s also vitally important to understand that the Clinton machine is out to malign any book that does not accept the gauzy myths they prefer as ‘trash for cash.’”
And there it seemed we had the makings of a game plan. The concerned “but” — perhaps the most obvious play for any conservative looking to work the affair. As in, “now I don’t go in for all of that scandal business…” but “still I was curious,” à la Lopez, or, but “it’s also vitally important…” à la Graham, or, after the fashion of a review from that jolliest of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s many elves — Tony Blankley — but “I was advised to take a look at this book.”
It’s a wholly transparent yet still somehow necessary ploy — something like mixing a tube of toothpaste in with a condom purchase at the drugstore. Even the lowest-bred among us understand that a person ought not just come out and blatantly declare that they intend to keep the rumor mill grinding, but cloak said intentions in a guise of, say, journalistic duty or professional curiosity, and you’ll always have at least a shred of plausible deniability to cling to. It’s very easy once you try it. Honest. Here, we can say it together:
“Now, certainly I don’t approve of everything in Klein’s book, but, you must admit, he does raise some interesting questions…” Yes, I had great expectations for the construction.
Apparently, though, I was wrong. Despite my admiration for Lopez’s efforts, few on the right followed her template. More typical, in fact, were the sentiments of John Podhoretz (another NRO cohort) and Peggy Noonan who called Klein’s book, respectively, “one of the most sordid volumes I’ve ever waded through” and “poorly written, poorly thought, poorly sourced…” It’s quite a remarkable achievement when you consider it — writing a Clinton hit piece so bad that even the hard right by and large refuses to champion it.
Of course, there’s always the thought that it’s in their best interests not to. Not to dismiss the right’s commitment to journalistic integrity, but there are a number of perfectly self-serving reasons for conservatives to want to keep the thing a low-key affair. As has been noted, many of Klein’s claims, far from painting Hillary in a negative light, lend a touch of victimhood to her ice queen image. Other attacks are so irrelevant or outlandish as to take attention away from Hillary’s more pedestrian sins. And then there’s the possibility that, with the main event still some three years off, everyone has simply decided to keep their powder dry. As any scandalmonger worth his salt can tell you, timing is everything. One can’t help but wonder if the right would still be opting for the high road were it July ’08 instead of July ’05.
At any rate, the real story here has never been “what’s the deal with Ed Klein’s book?” but rather, “what’s the deal with Ed Klein?” Here is an established journalist, the former assistant managing editor at Newsweek and one-time editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine, who, over the last decade, has taken to writing half-baked political bios seemingly designed to shred as efficiently as possible whatever is left of his reputation. Adding a certain masochistic twist to the whole affair is the fact that in this, undoubtedly one of the nation’s most liberal cities, Klein has taken as his targets first the Kennedys and now Hillary Clinton — two of the left’s most visible icons. Imagine. The man must go over at Manhattan dinner parties like Darwin at the Kansas School Board. Whatever one thinks of Klein’s work, you can’t help but be fascinated by a person so apparently eager to soil his own nest. Which brings to mind a modest suggestion — perhaps as subject for his next book, he might like to take on himself.