June 13, 2005

You Must Have Standards

Ed Klein has gotten vast amounts of publicity for his unpublished book on Hillary Rodham Clinton, “The Truth About Hillary.” It is difficult to assess the book’s faults and virtues, however, because the publisher, Sentinel Books, won’t send review copies to journalists or book critics. Instead, publicists apparently have been leaking juicy tidbits to Matt Drudge and WorldNet Daily, hoping to rope in readers that way.

You may have seen the latest allegation, that Bill Clinton raped his wife during a 1979 sojourn to Bermuda, and that the rough encounter produced Chelsea Clinton. Klein — again, based on Drudge’s account, since none of us in the press business have actually seen the book — relies on several pieces of “information.”

The first is an unnamed source’s assertion that Bill Clinton, parting from some friends, said, “I’m going back to my cottage to rape my wife.”

Then comes another unsourced assertion that the bungalow “looked like World War III. There are pillows and busted-up furniture all over the place.”

Unsourced assertion No. 3 is that the missus didn’t tell her husband about her being with child and that he learned the happy news in the Arkansas Gazette.

Finally comes this passage, also unsourced:

“The fact that his wife didn’t tell him that she was pregnant before she told a reporter doesn’t seem to phase him one bit, because he says, ‘Do you know what night that happened?’

“‘No,’ I say. ‘When?’

“‘It was Bermuda,’ he says ‘And you were there!’”

Note the pattern: Not a single quote is attributed, and the entire story smells like a rotted carp. The tale doesn’t seem credible for a number of reasons:

Bill Clinton is not an idiot. Only an idiot would say something like, “I’m going to rape my wife,” even in jest, and only a profoundly moronic idiot would offer up such a boast before committing a rape.

There is no physical proof of sexual assault. There are no police reports, no accounts of the missus in physical or psychological distress after the encounter (one is led to believe that she accepted the assault with equanimity — presumably because she believed his husband a sure ticket to lasting political power). There is no independent corroboration, such as people in nearby shacks hearing arguments, screams or sounds of splintering furniture.

Nor is there any sign that anybody who heard the alleged Clinton “rape” comment thought anything of it — either that, or we’re to believe that the Clintons hang out with people who take rape casually. In the real world, people react with alarm when they believe someone is about to commit a violent crime. Often they try to intervene — by alerting the intended victim, stopping the potential aggressor, notifying police. These folks, however, just went back to sipping their Mai Tais — at least according to the Klein account.

The report of a disheveled room tells us — what? Nothing.

The concluding puzzle pieces — an account of Clinton’s learning of his wife’s pregnancy by reading the paper and crowing to a friend, “and you were there!” — add up to a great big zero as well. It is equally credible to assume that the Clintons enjoyed a night of furious passion, and that the future president was remembering the night fondly.

So what to do. If Sentinel is smart, it will gather up all the copies of the book right now and stuff them in an oven, even though Vanity Fair magazine has promised to carry an excerpt in the next issue. The thing seems shabby, cruddy and radioactive. “Sources” tell me that it’s actually pretty thin on new content as well. If the tidbit we have seen is at all indicative, the volume strings together gossip, rumor, innuendo, with an odd fact added for the sake of variety.

Then there’s the prurient interest angle. Every “tell-all” book feasts upon people’s secret suspicion that the rich and powerful lead lives that are both more glamorous and darker than our own — that they lock in their trove of secrets tales of horrific intrigue. Thus does Kitty Kelley earn her keep, along with other sensationalists whose works come and go, creating a brief flash of sensationalism, before dissipating into the ether (and the remainder bins).

The whole thing seems unworthy of even the wackiest Clinton-hater. It so crosses the line of good taste without identifiable, credible support that decent people recoil in disgust. The aim of the book seems less to inform than destroy — not just Hillary but Bill and Chelsea and heaven knows who else in the process.

Ironically, Klein’s tome will have the opposite effect. It will insulate Sen. Clinton from any future journalistic scrutiny by letting her paint even the slightest bit of bad news as evidence that the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is at it again. Klein effectively is running interference for her political career under the guise of penning a scalding expose.

It doesn’t take a reporter’s instinct to know that this thing reeks. Really reeks. Makes your nose hairs smolder and curl. This may be why Sentinel won’t distribute advance copies. And it may be why some Democrats see the book less as a threat to Sen. Clinton than as a devastating preemptive blow to anybody who might write a thoughtful and factual critique of the woman who wants to be president.

Share your thoughts with Tony. E-mail him at tonysnow@foxnews.com.