The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, June 16, 2005  

Ed Klein’s Latest Dreck

Readers following the ruckus over former journalist and gossip columnist Edward Klein’s new and dishonestly titled book, The Truth About Hillary (and if you’ve missed it all so far, I’m not necessarily recommending you jump into this squalor), should take interest in two articles from this week’s New York Observer.

The first, by Sheelah Kolhatkar, “Clinton-Reviled Author Ed Klein Becomes An Issue,” appears on the front page, begins with this passage and becomes no kinder:

This week Edward Klein, brandishing his credentials as the former editor of The New York Times Magazine and the former assistant managing editor at Newsweek, became the pariah of the world that made him -- in an era when media villains aren’t hard to find.

There were still only hints on the eve of the book’s release at the sort of reading experience one can expect from The Truth About Hillary, scheduled to hit bookstores on June 21. A carefully managed series of leaks about Mr. Klein’s forthcoming book about Hillary Clinton were meant to hype it up.

But that very campaign met with indignation from journalists far afield of Mr. Klein’s own august alma maters. On June 10, readers were able to find a rebuttal to Mr. Klein’s reported account of Mrs. Clinton’s college-age lesbian exploits in no less a gossip haven than the New York Post’s Page Six.

Outrage over some of the claims purportedly made in the book -- and carried on the Drudge Report -- were so problematic for editors at the very publications where Mr. Klein had worked for so long that they opted not to reprint the claims at all.

In the same issue, Joe Conason takes on Klein in his Observer op-ed column, this week entitled “Klein’s New Low In Hillary Bashing,” which similarly begins on a strong and deservedly critical note:

Despite all the heavy-breathing hype generated to promote the forthcoming “attack biography” of Hillary Clinton by Edward Klein, citizens hoping to discover anything new about the famous junior Senator from New York shouldn’t waste their time or money on his unoriginal and unreliable rant. […]

Only the latest in an ever-expanding catalog of bad books claiming to tell us the “truth” about the former First Lady and potential Presidential candidate, Mr. Klein’s poisonous invention reveals far more about its author -- and its publisher -- than about Mrs. Clinton.

Even the most fanatical Hillary-haters will be disappointed if they’re expecting to wallow in fresh sewage. Almost all of this crud floated through the pipeline long ago.

To anyone who, like me, has been required to read previous entries in this subliterary genre, The Truth About Hillary emits a strong smell of toxic mold. Its 250-plus pages are padded out with the same old tales and the same old innuendoes, recounted by the same old parade of discredited or unnamed sources. Even the cover bears a startling resemblance to Joyce Milton’s The First Partner, upon which Mr. Klein leans more heavily than that flimsy work can bear.

His clichéd writing soon achieves a predictable rhythm, with page upon page of rehashed material punctuated by a juicy quote or sensational allegation from someone unnamed. In the ultimate form of junk recycling, his footnotes cite books that relied upon anonymous sources. Among computer scientists, this method is called “garbage in, garbage out.” […]

Near his conclusion, Conason picks up a phrase usually applied by right wingers talking about the allegedly liberal New Republic that fits well in this context:

Even Page Six, the New York Post’s Clinton-bashing gossip column, derided the book as a “hatchet-job” and the author as “error-prone.” The tabloid mocked Mr. Klein for identifying a happily married former classmate as Mrs. Clinton’s rumored lesbian lover. He never spoke with this lady -- who denied the smear to the Post -- and he repeatedly misspells her surname, which he evidently copied from another book. The New York Times management must cringe whenever Mr. Klein’s former employment there is cited as his main journalistic credential.

I’m not so sure about that last sentence -- not these days anyway, what with the likes of David Brooks and John Tierney occupying such valuable real estate twice a week -- but we all know what Conason means, and the sentiment, at least, is just right.

[Post-publication addendum: Here’s a shocking bit of information from Kolhatkar’s piece: “Later, Mr. Klein began writing the ‘anonymous’ gossip column in Parade magazine, called ‘Walter Scott’s Personality Parade,’ for a salary that was reported to be around $300,000 at the time.” Emphasis added, though I’m sure that number knocked you over as quickly and painfully as it did me.]

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