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Living History
'Living History' Cover
(Courtesy Simon & Schuster)
The Trials and Tribulations of a Born Politician (Post, June 8)
Hillary's 'History' Is Now an Open Book (Post, June 7)
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Inside 'Living History'
With Tammy Kennon
Freelance Reporter

Monday, June 09, 2003; 1:00 p.m ET

Hillary Clinton's memoir, "Living History," officially hit bookstore shelves today -- one of the most eagerly anticipated literary events of the year. Despite a nearly iron-clad embargo, The Washington Post purchased two copies on Friday. What does Sen. Clinton reveal? How candidly? Who is mentioned and who isn't?

Freelance reporter Tammy Kennon co-reported on "Living History" with The Post's Linton Weeks. She was online Monday, June 9, to talk about the book and what they learned. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.



Tammy Kennon: The power of the Clintons to polarize and inflame people to extreme passion is well represented in the questions I’ve received so far today. I am not a Clinton expert, nor am I a licensed counselor. What I am is a journalist who has spent the last few days -- a few days ahead of most -- poring over “Living History,” Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new book. I’m here to discuss what’s in the book and what is not, how Clinton has approached the writing, the topics she has chosen and my impressions from reading them.

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Florida: How, exactly, did you get a copy of the book prior to publication and why weren't these details in your story over the weekend?

Tammy Kennon: Saturday’s article covered that. To quote Howard Kurtz from earlier today, “The Post got it the old fashioned way -- with cold cash.” And we paid cover price.

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washingtonpost.com: Howard Kurtz's Media Backtalk

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Taipei, Taiwan: Hil's book will be a riveting read, I'm sure, but does Mrs. Clinton really think the world is dumb enough to believe that she didn't know about the truth behind the Monica Lewinsky affair until the week before his testimony? Hillary may think so, but Americans with any degree of common sense will know that this book is better classified as fiction.

Tammy Kennon: Dear Taipei: “Hil” has addressed your question in the book by providing some context. In part she says, “Bill had been accused of everything from drug-running to fathering a child with a Little Rock prostitute, and I had been called a thief and a murderer. I expected that, ultimately, the intern story would be a footnote in tabloid history.” In another place in the book when the Monica story first broke when her husband was denying everything, the Clintons’ friend and private attorney Bob Barnett presses her, “What if there’s more to this than you know? …you have to face the fact that something about this might be true.” Her reply: “Look, Bob, my husband may have his faults, but he has never lied to me.” Besides, if you read the whole book, you'll find out how smitten she is by Bill Clinton. Let he who has been in love and not overlooked some warts and chosen to believe what he wants to believe cast the first stone. (I'm ducking.)

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Baltimore, Md.: I'm a lifelong Democrat. As long as Hillary was only first lady, I didn't think she needed to answer to special prosecutors. Now that she's a politician, however, it's a totally different story. What happened to the records from the Rose Law Firm?

Tammy Kennon: Nothing really new on that front. She says the same thing she said at the time; same thing she said in a Barbara Walters interview at the time; same thing she told the Grand Jury. She writes that Carolyn Huber, the Clintons’ longtime assistant, found the missing papers as she was going through “hundreds of boxes throughout the residence [White House] and at a special White House storage facility in Maryland.”

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Chicago, Ill.: First let me state that I watched the anticipated interview with Hillary Clinton yesterday and was completely appalled by her and her answers.

Does her book portray her as a cold individual without emotion as well?

Tammy Kennon: Some clearly find Clinton chilly and her rhetoric practiced. Some – including participants in this discussion – think she handled herself well and was warmer than usual. Having read the book before watching the interview, I could tell she was talking almost verbatim out of her book. These were not new revelations or first-time recounts of emotional events. They were well thought out, analyzed, carefully written, edited presentations of events as she wants to portray them. Some will believe her and some won’t.

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Washington, D.C.: My book club is considering reading this book for its new selection. Personally, I am not interested in reading it, but I would like to be objective. Is it worth reading? Would it be able to be discussed?

Tammy Kennon: This book would be pretty compelling book club fodder. Most people will certainly come to it with preconceived notions and likely strong emotion as well. What they get from will follow. Those who love her will find ample material to feed their adoration. Those who hate her will find ample fuel for their flames. This is an autobiography. It is the world according to Hillary Clinton, like it or not. She doesn’t apologize for her version. She doesn’t hedge. She states it outright as if it’s fact. After all, everyone gets to drive her own autobiography. Each reader will have to decide for himself/herself if Clinton's driving a Mercedes or the emperor’s new car.

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College Park, Md.: I'm not a fan of Hillary's politics (short answer, I don't see her as really that far to the left), but a huge fan of her as a person. I'm looking forward to reading the book.

Does the book delve into much detail on her transition from a college Republican to a Democrat?

Tammy Kennon: Yes. She delves into just about everything. She talks at some length about her father's conservative Republican stance and her avid support of Goldwater including her "Goldwater cowgirl outfit" with AuH20 on the hat. She mentions people who influenced her ideas during those times. She also recounts be assigned to represent Lyndon Johnson in a high school debate in 1964 and how that influenced her perspectives.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you state your position at The Post and why you were chosen to "chat" about this topic?

Tammy Kennon: As stated above, I'm a freelance reporter. I'm "chatting" on this topic because I got a two-day headstart on most people in reading this book. Linton Weeks and I co-wrote the articles on the book that were in The Washington Post Saturday and Sunday.

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Washington, D.C.: Just a quick question.

It seems that back during this difficult time for the Clintons, Chelsea was very much protected from the public.

Does Sen. Clinton talk in the book at all about the effect her father's conduct had on her? Whether mother and daughter talked about it or where able to support one another somehow?

Thank you for making yourself available for us to ask our questions.

Regards,
JK

Tammy Kennon: Thanks for the question. Clinton doesn't divulge the details of how they broke the Lewinsky news to her. She does talk about "my confused and hurting daughter," but doesn't elaborate much. Clinton writes that as Chelsea got older she took more interest in the scandals surrounding her parents and followed the stories closely. Clinton says Chelsea wanted to know what her mother was feeling rather than being protected from it.

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Washington, D.C.: I find it interesting that even with all that the Clinton's accomplished in the White House (and yes I think Hillary was a major positive contributor) -- even under the constant scrutiny of an over zealous special prosecutor and a right-wing machine doing whatever it took to bring down the president -- I find it interesting that we are still talking about sex.

How is the rest of the book?!

Tammy Kennon: As Tom Shales said about last night’s Barbara Walters interview, “It was by no means an hour chock-full of surprises, but neither was it ever a bore.” I would say the same about the book.

There are certainly parts that some will find boring. I expect few will have the patience for a three-page briefing on the history of health care in our country. However, Clinton’s writing style, and her device of sticking to a strict chronology, has her peppering in personal anecdotes and side references where you might not expect them. Perhaps the intent was to give the reader a glimpse of how life was for her in the White House, abruptly shifting from the role of hostess to legal analyst to mother to policy wonk in the course of minutes, or in the book, paragraphs. It also means if you skim, you're likely to miss something. Since she has chosen to address everything that happened during the White House years, there's not much snooze time between scandals.

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Washington, D.C.: Could you tell from reading the book how involved Hillary was in writing it? I've heard reports that said there were four writers and she just edited it. Does it just read like a press release?

Tammy Kennon: The book has many personal, some private references that collectively could only come from Hillary Clinton. It reads much like she talks, which some might say is similar to a press release. Did she use her very own fingers to type on her own keyboard? I don't know the answer to that.

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Toronto, Canada: As a foreigner often observing American politics, I find myself riveted by the personal attack approach that exists in your wonderful country. It does exist in Canada as well, but perhaps in not such a direct way.

That said, did you find in reading Mrs. Clinton's book firstly, that there really is an air of truth and clarity about it? Did you also find that she expressed party politics and the personal attach approach?

Tammy Kennon: As we mentioned in the article, Clinton uses this book as an opportunity to provide a point-by-point refutation of allegations against her, her husband and the administration, no matter how small. Party politics is everywhere. She expresses her own opinion and gets in her shots at those who have clearly offended her. She has strong words about the 2000 presidential election and its eventual outcome. As usual, she doesn't mince words: "Seldom if ever in our history has the people's right to choose their elected officials been thwarted by such a blatant abuse of judicial power." About the Florida recount she writes, "Their solution was to deny the right to vote to all citizens subject to the recount, no matter how clearly their ballots were marked."

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Whittier, Calif.: Does Mrs. Clinton give any hint as whether or not her future marital status might change in the coming years, and does she address the complaints of many feminists regarding her choice to "stand by her man"?

Tammy Kennon: She says she reached a decision about her marriage during the time she also decided to run for the Senate. "I hoped Bill and I could grow old together. We were both committed to rebuilding our marriage with the tools of our faith, love and shared past." The book ends when they are leaving the White House.

As I said earlier, she addresses the feminists and, now that you mentioned it, the "stand by your man" quote that got national attention back in the 1992 campaign.

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Washington, D.C.: Ms. Kennon,

I have no knowledge of any bookstore in the D.C. area displaying for purchase "Living History" on the date The Post supposedly acquired "two copies." Therefore, how, exactly, were these acquired? Or, is this a case of protecting your source(s) AND The Post? Still, it was both unprofessional, unethical and perhaps illegal, to participate in the act, including publishing the piece.

Tammy Kennon: We had knowledge of a bookstore that was selling it. We bought it just like you could have walked in off the street and bought it. We read it and reported on it. It's what we do.

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New York, N.Y.: I get the sense from Sidney Blumenthal's "The Clinton Wars" that the White House was used to being barraged with charge after charge after charge only to have each one found utterly baseless. So it doesn't stretch credibility to believe Hillary and others on the staff were fully expecting Clinton to be "cleared" of the Monica charge.

Does Hillary render a portrait of her feelings for Ken Starr, Linda Tripp, et al. on the right?

washingtonpost.com: FYI, Blumenthal will be online with us tomorrow to talk about "The Clinton Wars."

Tammy Kennon: You'll get that sense from this book as well (charge after charge theory).

Clinton writes at length about Ken Starr and his investigation. While she doesn't necessarily make personal attacks, she certainly gets her shots in.

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Provo, Utah: If you could summarize the theme of Hillary's book, what would it be?

Tammy Kennon: "I Did It My Way"? "Stand By Your Man"? No. Kidding, really. As I've said before, every reader will take away their own ideas. It's a play-by-play summary of the Clinton years as Hillary Clinton saw them and lived them. It's not boring. It's not earth-shattering. It's only theme is Hillary Clinton.

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Germantown, Md.: Would someone who doesn't follow politics be interested in the book and be able to follow it? Her feelings on Bill and the affair have certainly been the most discussed in the news, but there's obviously more to her book. I would like to read her book and learn more about her, but not if it's all politics.

Tammy Kennon: Yes. The book recounts major news events of the '90s that you can't help but recognize. It is peopled with characters that you will know. If your goal is to learn about her, you will. You'll just have to use your own grain of salt.

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Tammy Kennon: Thanks to all of you who have participated today. I'm signing off now. Happy reading.

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washingtonpost.com:

That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.


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