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Bill Clinton and the press: Two ethics-challenged enablers who seem to deserve each other

It's hard to know exactly who comes off looking worse in the Clinton's latest dust up with the Fourth Billclintonangry Estate.

Is it Vanity Fair writer Todd Purdum, husband of former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers, who pulled together a huge article for the magazine alleging that Clinton's recent gaffes on his wife's campaign may have been a result of mood changes following his heart bypass surgery and that the former president is hanging with a "Rat Pack" of friends with immense wealth and unsavory reputations? The foundation of these charges is a whopping 39 unnamed sources quoted on everything from the reputation of one of Clinton's aides to rumors he was cheating with Walter Mondale's daughter.

Is it former president Clinton, who released a lengthy response to Purdum's article -- over 2,000 words -- that directly addresses almost no points in the piece, but does manage to bring up past Vanity Fair stories that were off base and allegations of unethical behavior by its editor. Two points they did make: Purdum assumed government money allocated for the upkeep of Clinton's office was all spent when it wasn't, and they say a Clinton aide was not involved with a deal the story says he helped organize.

Or, is it Huffington Post blogger Mayhill Fowler, who recorded an angry diatribe by Clinton against Purdum's piece after asking the former president about the magazine's "hatchet job." What she didn't do: identify herself as a journalist or indicate that she was recording Clinton's words for publication online.

Clinton, in his answer to Fowler, claimed that Esquire magazine's editor sent an email calling the the story "the single sleaziest piece of journalism he's seen in decades." But Esquire editor David Granger says he didn't send the email, someone else on his staff did -- someone who was a friend of the Clinton aide criticized in the piece and may have been referring to that part of the article. Clinton also criticized the use of anonymous sources, saying "(Purdum) wrote an article in his head in advance, and he just goes around and tries to find some coward to say what he wants to say."

That may be the most accurate criticism of Purdum's piece -- with so many anonymous sources, it is tough to gauge the validity of his reporting and allegations.

But Clinton is also playing a typical game with these kinds of stories -- a game McCain used to invalidate the NY story about his closeness to lobbyists. Purdum's story Billclintonhillaryclintondoes not say Clinton is cheating or that anyone knows he is cheating on or off the record. That's something the article makes clear in a paragraph up high in the story.

What he is saying, is that a former president, impeached for lying about an affair while in office, whose wife is running for president, probably shouldn't be hanging out with rich, oversexed bachelors and women like a divorced auto parts heiress 20 years his junior and actress Gina Gershon.

Clinton is exaggerating the article's claims so he can attack the unreal version of the story he can easily refute. Just as McCain said the New York Times was accusing him of having an affair -- an allegation he could easily refute -- instead of facing the article's real point, that he was too close to lobbyists and too lost in denial about his own morality to recognize it.

Clinton's problem: he has lied to the world about infidelity before, so he must do more than assail Purdum's character to knock down this story. In many ways, he might be lucky that his wife's candidacy seems to be ending today. Otherwise, these questions would persist to be sure.   

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:47pm]


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