Despite the enormous hype surrounding Edward Klein's scathing and hearsay-filled book about Hillary Rodham Clinton, the author has been ignored by all but two television talk shows.
This collective cold shoulder hasn't stopped "The Truth About Hillary" from hitting No. 2 yesterday on the coveted New York Times list. "It's the biggest example to date of how major media censorship doesn't stop a book anymore from being a bestseller," Klein declares.
Censorship is clearly the wrong word, since networks have no obligation to interview any author. The refusal to book Klein could just as easily be viewed as the drawing of a line by news organizations over a highly personal attack that has drawn fire from several conservative columnists as well as those on the left.
"It's just been a total blackout," says Klein, adding that talk radio and some Web sites, including the Drudge Report, have driven sales of the book. "I definitely think there's something organized going on here."
Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines says Klein "didn't even rate a full 15 minutes of fame on national television" because the book is "full of blatant and vicious fabrications."
"There's been an effort to make sure people know about the inaccuracies," Reines says. "Anyone who has called, we've made the case: 'Why would you even give him any airtime at all?' People have editorially made the decision it doesn't warrant airtime. It's beyond the pale."
The book's tone is clear from the second page of Chapter 1: "Was it true they slept in separate beds? Were there any telltale signs on the presidential sheets that they ever had sex with each other? For that matter, did the Big Girl have any interest in sex with a man? Or, as was widely rumored, was she a lesbian?"
Klein did not get a warm reception in his two cable interviews. Fox's Sean Hannity asked whether, in questioning the former first lady's sexuality, Klein was being "too personal" and had crossed "a boundary that ought not to be crossed in political dialogue." CNN's Lou Dobbs told Klein it was "extraordinary" that the author was "suggesting that she is a lesbian" and noted that Maura Moynihan, daughter of the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "said you were lying when you said that he despised Hillary Clinton."
Klein says that MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews, CNN's Paula Zahn, Fox's John Gibson and ABC's "Good Morning America" were among those who had tentatively booked or expressed strong interest in him, only to drop him like a hot potato. "I can't prove this," he says, but "the Hillary people" have told the networks "she would be mightily displeased if I got on."
"The book is uninteresting to Fox News," says spokesman Paul Schur. "We've moved on." Klein "has kind of just fallen off everybody's radar screen."
Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, said his staff "thought I'd be excited about it because it was obviously a hot booking." But when he looked at the book, "the deciding factor" was its mention of a supposed incident of marital rape. Scarborough says he also called Reines, Clinton's spokesman, and said: "Send me everything you've got."
"I just applied the Kitty Kelley test," Scarborough says, referring to the celebrity author who published a harsh biography of George W. Bush last fall. "If it was inappropriate to have Kitty Kelley on because of unsubstantiated charges, it would be improper to have Ed Klein on." Fox's Bill O'Reilly made a similar point.
Kelley's book "The Family" also relied on numerous unnamed sources. Bush's former sister-in-law, Sharon Bush, disputed allegations of past drug use by the president that were attributed to her, and the White House communications director dismissed the book as "garbage." Yet Kelley was granted a three-part interview on NBC's "Today" and appeared on a spate of other television shows.
Klein, whose book has a major first printing of 350,000, is a man with solid journalistic credentials. He is a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, which excerpted "The Truth About Hillary," and has written four previous bestsellers on such topics as the Kennedys, which he promoted on a wide range of shows. He calls himself "a non-ideological person" and not "part of the vast right-wing conspiracy."
But the publisher, Penguin's Sentinel imprint, described the book in its catalogue as one that would do to Clinton's 2008 presidential chances what the Swift Boat Veterans did to John Kerry. ("A bit of marketing hyperbole that probably went too far," says Klein.) And while the right has embraced a steady stream of anti-Clinton books, some conservatives have denounced Klein's assault.
Wall Street Journal contributor Peggy Noonan, the author of a Hillary book, called Klein's volume "poorly written, poorly thought, poorly sourced and full of the kind of loaded language that is appropriate to a polemic but not an investigative work." New York Post columnist John Podhoretz branded it "one of the most sordid volumes I've ever waded through. Thirty pages into it, I wanted to take a shower. Sixty pages into it, I wanted to be decontaminated."
Asked about such criticism, Klein defends the use of unnamed sources as necessary. "Did I go too far on a personal level? I've asked myself that. I've come to the conclusion that no, I didn't go too far. The question of Hillary's sexuality, which seems to have bothered a lot of people, I didn't invent that question. . . . If I did anything wrong, I violated the politically correct standard by talking about lesbianism."
With the book in bestseller land, why does Klein sound so perturbed? With more television exposure, he says, maybe it could be No. 1. Next week it slips to No. 4 on the Times list.
C. Boyden Gray, who was White House counsel under President Bush's father, recently signed on as a Fox News consultant to hold forth on the coming battle to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's Supreme Court seat.
Gray is also chairman of the Committee for Justice, an advocacy group he founded that is playing an increasingly visible role in trying to get the president's nominees confirmed.
Is the dual role for Gray, who in one case was interviewed on Fox without a liberal counterpart and mistakenly labeled a network "analyst," a problem? "He's a contributor," says Fox News spokesman Brian Lewis. "We pay contributors for strong opinions."
Sean Rushton, the committee's executive director, says Gray's "exclusivity arrangement" with Fox "basically means he gets a lot of time on their network." Fox erred by initially mislabeling Gray, Rushton says, but "as long as he's identified as an advocate, I don't see what is the big deal."
Nowhere to Go but Up
President Bush got better network news coverage of the first 100 days of his second term than the first time around -- but only by a hair.
The Center for Media and Public Affairs says that 33 percent of the comments about Bush on the CBS, NBC and ABC evening news were positive earlier this year, compared with 29 percent during his first 100 days. ("NBC Nightly News" was kinder and gentler this year, with 43 percent positive evaluations.) In neither period, the center says, did the president approach the positive coverage accorded Bill Clinton (43 percent) or Bush's father (63 percent).