After being hyped for several weeks as the book that will “swift boat” Hillary, June 21st marked the release of Edward Klein’s notorious unauthorized biography, The Truth About Hillary Clinton: What She Knew, When She Knew it, and How She’ll Go To Become President. Published by the rightwing Sentinel Books, an imprint of Penguin Putnam, commentators from all coordinates of the political sphere note its substantive similarities to Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Again John Kerry. Klein clearly implies that Clinton experimented with lesbianism -- almost as ludicrous a claim that John Kerry shot himself to receive a Purple Heart. What makes this book particularly interesting though is not the exaggerated, embellished and outright fabricated claims of the book itself, but the hype, promotion and reactions the book has produced.
Not unsurprisingly, Matt Drudge praises it as “the most aggressive attempt yet to investigate Hillary.” Vanity Fair publishing an excerpt from the book however, is surprising. In April, The Washington Post called it “a roadblock to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's possible run for the White House in 2008 by promising revelations about the New York Democrat that could cast doubt among voters.” With such wide publicity for what amounts to a gossip book on par with England’s royals-obsessed paparazzi, Klein’s book is bound to profitable. Yet, how could such a book receive the attention it has?
Edward Klein, despite his current endeavors, is not an unqualified journalist. Under his reign, the New York Times Magazine gained popularity as well its first Pulitzer Prize. He’s also a former editor of Newsweek. Yet, it is his unpopularity among New York’s publishing circles, coupled with a penchant for writing about prominent liberal families has lead him to pursue less respected writing. No doubt though, his connection from his time at the top have helped him secure promotions for this new book. When someone of Klein’s stature publishes a book on someone of Clinton’s, it receiving a great deal of attention should be no surprise. The problem with all the hype surrounding The Truth About Hillary Clinton isn’t that -- it’s that liberal media outlets are playing straight into the hands of the rightwing hype-machine.
Of the claims the book makes about Clinton, the two most provocative are the implications that she is a lesbian (or rather that she was heavily influenced by the “culture of radical feminism and lesbianism” in her college days) and that Chelsea was the violent product of Bill raping his Hillary. While the second has been dealt with more appropriately the than the first -- casting shame on anyone who seriously believes it, most liberal publications have cowered in the face of the first.
Salon’s feature article reviewing the book doesn’t defend Clinton and her politics so much as cast doubt on Klein. It claims Klein is either misogynistic, wants revenge on the liberal elite of New York publishing houses, or is just downright greedy. Aside from mentioning the lesbian claims and mildly ridiculing them in tone only, the review does very little to defend Hillary than slam Klein. Predictably, in concludes that Klein merely wants a paycheck.
This seems to be about par for the liberal retaliation. Writing in The New York Observer, Sheelah Kolhatkar does little more than point to Klein’s up-and-down career. MediaMatters.com, while taking a broader view, also simply points to the partisan efforts behind the promotion. Very little is done to actually defend Clinton. What all these efforts lack is the gall to say “Hey, of course Clinton’s not a lesbian, but if she were what’s wrong with that?” By focusing solely on the functions of the rightwing hype-machine the hype-machine is still free to win the agenda war.
Clinton’s not a lesbian. As Klein admits in Salon, "If she had had lesbian affairs, don't you think the right-wingers would have uncovered at least one lover?" But setting the record straight is not enough. The more damaging, though subtler, blow being dealt is the demonizing of feminism and lesbians. If the reaction from liberal outlets seeks only to point out the embellishments and lies, the damage may be softened to a degree, but the conservative are still armed with their feminist-bashing weapon. Klein may be apt to fabrication; Sentinel Books may be little more than a propaganda press, but pointing that out does little to win the culture war. So long as the liberal reaction consists merely of such bland pursuits, the right is keeps the upper hand.
Adam Williams is a recent graduate of Indiana University and is currently doing database development for the IU School of Continuing Studies. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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