The encyclopedias of spin

Brent Bozell

5/21/2003 12:00:00 AM - Brent Bozell

They say that journalism offers the first draft of history. If that's true, we're about to be subjected to a second draft on the Clinton presidency, and it's a draft suffused with all the same Clinton mythology we heard throughout the Decade of Deceit.

You know the journalism drill. In the year 1992, America made a bold, intriguing choice for president by electing the man from a place called Hope, who felt the pain of working Americans suffering from the injustices of The Economy, Stupid. This was a man with a brain so large it could leap large libraries of policy wonkery in a single bound, a man so compassionate and tender with women, and yet so hounded by that ruthless, sex-obsessed Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.

In two massive tomes you wouldn't want to drop on your foot -- Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars, and then Hillary Clinton's Living History -- we are promised an "inside" look at that tumultuous presidency. We'd be better served if braced to expect about 1,200 pages of spin control and few isolated outbreaks of anything new and positive. After all, is there anything Sid and Hillary would have kept to themselves during their White House years if it made them look good?

Blumenthal, a former Washington Post reporter and political writer for The New Republic and The New Yorker, marked himself early as an utterly servile Clintonite. As the Gennifer Flowers saga unfolded in January of 1992, he composed this still mind-bending sentence that demonstrates the degree to which this crowd would shamelessly spin in search of political points: "While George Bush -- all whiteness -- talks about 'family values,' the Clintons demonstrate them by confessing to adultery."

The political agenda was so obvious that even Howell Raines, then of the Washington Bureau of the New York Times, warned his reporters to steer clear of Blumenthal and fellow traveler Joe Klein. Raines told the Columbia Journalism Review: "When reporters go around campaign planes criticizing reporters who refuse to cheerlead, that's unhealthy."

In a Blumenthal sneak peek in the New York Review of Books, former New York Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld has already outraged Clinton apple-polishers by suggesting Blumenthal's elongated take has little that's new and often feels like a preview of the his-and-hers Clinton memoirs to come: "Familiar narrative corners are cut in familiar ways; obvious omissions are not remarked upon; and presidential self-pity flows between the lines."

The book certainly promises to betray Blumenthal as a Jayson Blair of media analysis. 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." No respectable media critic would claim that Whitewater story had "no facts."

But Blumenthal gets more ridiculous, comparing President Bush, the victor of Afghanistan and Iraq, to Benjamin Harrison and Rutherford B. Hayes. He then asserts that "just as the presidents of the late 20th century operated in the shadow of F.D.R., those of the first part of the 21st century will stand in the shadow of Clinton."

Blumenthal's Bubba-burnishing blather will get only a small fraction of the attention the junior senator from New York will receive when her memoir weighs down the shelves. But never mind the book; its publication will provide the perfect media opportunity to promote her. The Hillary myth will be replayed: The bold pioneer, transporting women from tea and cookies to masterminding socialized medicine; the sizzling superbrain who can testify for hours without notecards on the vagaries of managed competition and Medicare Part B. Despite that, she will remain the wronged spouse who somehow couldn't figure out the Monica Lewinsky affair was credible for half a year, that poor, poor dear.

Already, Newsweek has reported all the network TV divas' plans to swarm Hillary's baby shower for former flack Lisa Caputo in the hopes of sucking up enough to get that first interview (Barbara Walters won the Diva Bowl on this one). That interview better be great. Hillary's first printing is 1,000,000 hardcover copies, and it's not poolside reading -- unless a hurricane threatens to dislodge your lounger.

In the end, all this media spin may cause many to forget the most important characteristic of the Clinton political machine: its factual elasticity. After eight long years of half-truths and untruths, or misinformation and disinformation, these two aren't chroniclers of history. They're hucksters, spinning, conniving, calculated political hucksters.