The Washington Post reports on the top of the front page Friday that it's been given copies of the new Hillary biographies by former Post star Carl Bernstein and New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Don van Natta. Since they're media-elite fixtures and not "ideological enemies," they "could be harder to dismiss," the Post says. Reporters Peter Baker and John Solomon explained: "The Hillary Clinton who emerges from the pages of the books comes across as a complicated, sometimes compromised figure who tolerated Bill Clinton's brazen infidelity, pursued her policy and political goals with methodical drive, and occasionally skirted along the edge of the truth along the way." Talk about your weasel words!
While the Clintonista spokesmen emerge with the usual lines (It's old news, "cash for rehash"), the most interesting part of the Post summary is how the books underline how preposterous it was for Hillary to describe herself in her 2003 memoir as "gasping for breath" at the idea of Clinton's adulterous liaisons with the intern Monica Lewinsky. Instead of the clueless ingenue of her fictional memoir, Hillary plotted to destroy Bill's bimbos, even interviewing them herself:
While in Arkansas, according to Bernstein, she personally interviewed one woman alleged to have had an affair with her husband, contemplated divorce and thought about running for governor out of anger at her husband's indiscretions.
"Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton," by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., reports that during her husband's 1992 campaign, a team she oversaw hired a private investigator to undermine Gennifer Flowers "until she is destroyed." Flowers had said publicly that she had an affair with Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas.
Those revelations don't really arrive in detail until paragraph 17, when the reporters explore more of Bernstein's findings:
The women who also figured in Bill Clinton's life in Arkansas make a return appearance in the book, most notably Marilyn Jo Jenkins, a power company executive he fell in love with and almost left his wife over, according to Bernstein. Jenkins has been linked to Clinton before -- she was spirited into the governor's mansion at 5:15 a.m. for a final, furtive meeting with him the day he left for Washington to assume the presidency -- but Bernstein's account makes clear her pivotal role.
Bill Clinton wanted to divorce his wife to be with Jenkins in 1989, Bernstein reports, but Hillary Clinton refused. "There are worse things than infidelity," she told Betsey Wright, the governor's chief of staff. The crisis frayed Wright's relationship with Bill Clinton too, and she told Bernstein that she arranged for the two of them, Wright and Clinton, to see a therapist together.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, turned to her best friend, Diane Blair, obliquely raising the prospect of divorce during a long walk. "She was thinking that they had not made much money," Blair told Bernstein before her death in 2000, and she was concerned about her daughter. "Chelsea was there now. What if she were on her own? She didn't own a house. She was concerned that if she were to become a single parent, how would she make it work in a way that would be good for Chelsea."
The Clintons stayed together, but out of "anger and hurt" she considered running for governor in 1990, when he presumably would step down to prepare his 1992 presidential campaign. The idea ended after consultant Dick Morris conducted two polls showing she had no independent identity with Arkansas voters and compared her to George Wallace's wife, who ran to succeed him in Alabama -- an analogy that offended her.
By the time Bill Clinton was running for president, Hillary Clinton suggested to Blair that victory would be good for the marriage because her husband's sexual compulsions would be tempered by the White House and the ever-present press corps, Bernstein reports -- a flawed assumption, as it would turn out.
In Bernstein's account, both Clintons went to great lengths to keep the lid on his infidelities. At the behest of Wright and Hillary Clinton, two partners with Hillary Clinton at the Rose Law Firm, Webster L. Hubbell and Vincent W. Foster Jr., were hired to represent women named in a lawsuit as having secret affairs with the governor. Hubbell and Foster questioned the women, then obtained signed statements that they never had sex with Bill Clinton. On one occasion, Bernstein reports, Hillary Clinton was present for the questioning.
Bernstein also reports that Bill Clinton, with Morris's help, pressured Wright to issue a false statement denying comments she had made to David Maraniss, a Post reporter, for his book "First in His Class," in which she said Arkansas state troopers had procured women for the governor.
This story of forcing falsehoods into the public arena is apparently what the Post reporters call "occasionally skirting along the edge of the truth."
The important test for the media on these books is whether they (rather traditionally) follow along sheepishly with the "old news" line, or really underline for the public what is new in these books. How many Americans know who Marilyn Jo Jenkins is? Or knew the Clintons were very close to divorce? This is not a "rehash." The train wreck that is the Clinton marriage -- and Hillary's lust-for-power management of her husband's utter lack of self-discipline -- is a nagging (perhaps insurmountable) political problem for her campaign, whether the media plan to acknowledge it or not.