REWRITING HISTORY

By Dick Morris, with Eileen McGann

Regan. 304 pp. $24.95

When Hillary Rodham Clinton was running for the Senate in New York, a research assistant and I undertook a little project. We kept a count of the number of editorials and opinion columns that each of the three major New York City dailies -- the Times, the Daily News and the Post -- devoted to discussion of Mrs. Clinton's candidacy and, being as fair and objective as human beings can be, assigned each editorial and column a value: positive toward her, negative or mixed.

The Times's writers played it right down the middle, with about 25 pieces in each category. (Viewed for much of the campaign as a presumptuous interloper, Hillary Clinton did not fully win over the city's liberal establishment until quite late in the race). The Daily News skewed slightly against the candidate, with 19 positive pieces and 23 negative ones.

The numbers at Rupert Murdoch's Post, meanwhile, turned out like this: seven positive, 17 neutral -- and 212 negative. That's not a misprint. And trust me, we were being generous with the seven.

Not a few of those 212 were penned by Dick Morris, the erstwhile Clinton adviser whom the paper had once ostracized -- in late 1997, another Post columnist referred to Morris in print as "the Rasputin Whore-Monger." But by 1999, Morris had repositioned himself as a Clinton critic and was, in Murdoch-land, restored to full person-hood, brushed back into the picture like a rehabilitated commissar at Stalin's side. Understanding his new assignment, he scribbled away, tossing out disparaging and -- it turned out -- often inaccurate columns, predicting first that she would pull out of the race and later that she would lose (at a point when anyone paying attention to the way the race was shaping up on the ground knew that she had opened up a lead against opponent Rick Lazio).

Well, we all make incorrect predictions. But the perfervid quality of Morris's prose gave one the suspicion that he was rendering something other than the dispassionate judgments of an expert. And Morris remains true to form with Rewriting History, his newest harangue against New York's junior senator. If you hear a faint echo in that title, it's intentional; Rewriting History is, in essence, a book-length rebuttal of Sen. Clinton's Living History, her wildly successful bestseller from last year.

Living History, you see, proves "how willing Hillary is to distort, exaggerate, falsify, fabricate, invent, omit, or obfuscate facts" to achieve her political goals. Further, it shows us a woman who will "cut, trim, dice, slice, sew, alter, or otherwise conform" any aspect of her personality or past to suit today's needs. It is a sham, an attempt at self-humanization by an author who is in fact "too elitist, feminist, substantive, serious, driven, focused, and careerist" to relate to regular people. Clearly, Morris is quite angry, upset, mad, disgusted, affronted, appalled and beside himself.

The premise, naturally, is that Hillary Clinton won't settle for merely being senator and aches to become president; and that, therefore, we have an obligation to root around in the attic of her past to see if she has the potential to lead this nation. And so the chapters -- Hillary the politician, Hillary the ideologue, Hillary the "material girl," Hillary the inquisitor -- follow the general pattern of reheating old dishes (Whitewater, the commodities futures and so forth) and then, at the end, posing questions about the future that sound as if they were stolen from old Carol Burnett parodies of soap operas. Crank up the organ music and listen: "As president, would the fact that she and her husband have made close to $20 million writing books diminish her appetite for money? Will his $10 million annual income quench her thirst for security? Or will her sense of entitlement . . . still burn so brightly that it might consume a second Clinton presidency as it did the first?"

Now, to be sure, Living History was a rather opaque and sanitized volume. The one reasonably relevant point that occurs to the reader of Rewriting History is that, should she in fact run for president someday, Sen. Clinton, lacking her husband's natural empathy and as a rule still not comfortable speaking publicly from the heart, will surely face some of the questions Morris raises, and Living History did not quite settle them.

But Rewriting History doesn't settle much, either. Mostly, it reaffirms yet again that Clinton-hating remains a thriving industry (Regan Books, which published Rewriting History, is an imprint of HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the man who signs Morris's checks for his New York Post column). And it reminds students of the Morris method, yet again, about his sense of scruple. I'm no political-consultant ethicist, if there is such a thing; but is it really all right for a consultant to reveal on the printed page loads of things former clients told him years ago, presumably in confidence? And I'm no psychoanalyst, but I did chuckle, reading through the pages devoted to Hillary's motives for staying with Bill, when I took note of Morris's co-author. It's his own wife, who stayed with him after his penchant for the fetching female foot was exposed. No mention of any of that in these pages. Rewriting history, indeed. *

Michael Tomasky, executive editor of the American Prospect, is the author of "Hillary's Turn," about the 2000 New York Senate race.