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New Fiction From Bill Clinton and the New York Times

Commentary by Greg Lewis / Washington
June 22, 2004

A couple of candidates for the Ignobel Prize for Fiction have surfaced in the past week or so, just in time for the summer beach reading crowd: Bill Clinton's My Life and the New York Times' reporting on the 9/11 commission findings. Add a recent Maureen Dowd editorial based on a moral equivalency so outrageous it's difficult to imagine even Dowd could have come up with it, and the past week was replete with examples of why you never want your son or daughter to work on a Democrat's staff or grow up reading left journalism without an interpreter.

We would expect nothing less than egregiously self-serving smarm (to back-form a noun based on the adjective "smarmy") from Bill Clinton. Nor would we expect Maureen Dowd to suddenly demonstrate intellectual integrity. But it's really difficult to have the message drummed in day after day that the New York Times is no longer a functioning newspaper in any meaningful sense of the word. I know, I know, I've been watching the Times slide down the slippery slope that characterized the tenure of the recently terminated Howell Raines just like everyone else; but despite that, I guess I still find it tough to believe that journalistic standards have gone completely out the window at so venerable an institution.

OK, the 9/11 Commission Report was important news, but I kept waiting for someone at Shinnecock Hills Country Club, where the U.S. Open Golf Tournament was played over the past weekend, to do something politically incorrect, so the Times could send out its crack cadre of a dozen or more reporters — reporters who cut their teeth on the Master's brouhaha stirred up by Martha Burke — to really do justice to news America needs to know about. "We've temporarily suspended coverage of the 9/11 Commission Report to bring you news from the golf course" were words I expected to read in the Gray Lady nearly every day.

Alas, the Times was forced to cover the Commission's report after all. And cover it the Times did. They might as well have buried it under a pile of coal dust, so effectively did they cover it, and so different from the Commission's findings was the reporting on them done by Times writers. The Times' fictionalized account of the 9/11 Commission's findings focused on two things, neither of which was part of the report, or, for that matter, of history.

A June 20 story under Christine Hauser's byline contained this lead: "The leaders of the Sept. 11 commission reiterated today that they did not see any evidence of a collaborative relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and that this position did not differ from the view of the Bush administration." Two sentences later, Ms. Hauser wrote that the lack of a collaborative relationship "seemed to weaken one of the main justifications for the decision to invade Iraq last year and overthrow Mr. Hussein." Hell, it's not even good fiction; it's fiction that contradicts itself. I would suggest that in the next installment of her serial novel, Ms. Hauser (and other on the Times staff who are collaborating in perpetrating such fabrications) at least re-read their material and remove internal contradictions. Shouldn't we expect the Times' fiction editor to demand at least that much?

Even Lee Hamilton, the 9/11 Commission Chariman, was moved to comment on how inaccurate the Times' coverage of his Committee's findings was. He was forced to reiterate several times that the Bush administration did not claim a collaborative relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. He also repeated what all but the most adamant fictionalizers of recent events have known for months: There were multiple contacts between Saddam Hussein's regime and agents of Al Qaeda.

In the midst of the flap over the fictionalized reporting on the commission report came advance pub about Bill Clinton's new novel, My Life. Among the most interesting fabrications in the book was Clinton's claim that he had sex with "that woman, uh, Ms. Lewinsky" simply, in his words, "because I could." Now one wouldn't expect the writer of a potboiler to delve too deeply into his main character's motivations, even given that the main character is a surrogate for the writer. But not to present his protagonist as a silly, immature doofus with an absolutely adolescent notion of human sexuality makes Clinton's roman a clef even less believable than the events it fictionalizes. Indeed, this reviewer found the former Prexy's performance far from convincing and so far from the truth as to stretch even the boundaries of historical fiction. I'm certain most of his readers will simply not let him get away with the inaccuracies contained in My Life.

Rounding out a week in which the New York Times once again topped itself as the nation's leading purveyor of misinformation for the purpose of sabotaging the re-election of George W. Bush was a column by Maureen Dowd entitled "Because They Could." Ms. Dowd, in a mind-boggling moral equivalency that has to rank among the most daring fictions ever perpetrated, wrote that "[t]he Clinton alpha instinct on Monica, fueled by a heady cocktail of testosterone and opportunism, was the same one that led W into his march of folly with Iraq."

Well, I guess so. Given that Saddam Hussein spent most of his time in the West Wing, hobnobbing with President Bush, trying to get him to make war on Iraq, I guess you could make that comparison. What was Bush supposed to do? Ignore Hussein's overtures. When a dictator repeatedly flaunts his iniquity in front a guy, what's wrong with the guy taking the opportunity to amass a force of 250,000 or so soldiers and the arms and equipment and supplies to support them outside the dictator's digs and, well, just saying 'yes' to the opportunity. No red-blooded, testosterone-driven President could resist, I'm sure we all agree.

And so, the good news is that there's a lot of interesting fiction available for your reading this summer. The bad news is that it comes from highly unreliable sources. About the only advice this reviewer has to give to them: Don't believe everything you write.

Greg Lewis is the co-author of the Warner Books hardcover "End Your Addiction Now."

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