Topic: Media

Double Standard for "The Truth about Hillary"

Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post’s provocative media commentator, has recently documented how thoroughly the broadcast media has chosen to ignore Edward Klein’s slash-and-burn book about the junior Senator from New York, despite the fact that the book is selling briskly. Even the bottom-feeding cable news channels, who are so desperate to fill airtime that they would interview a talking skunk if it had authored a book on the New York Times best seller list, have shunned “The Truth About Hillary.” Far from being a talking skunk, Klein is a respected journalist and author whose previous published work was well-regarded.

This state of affairs raises several ethical issues, though perhaps not the ones one would expect.

Klein, Kurtz reports, feels that the media is turning up their metaphorical noses at his book because of that ol’ bugaboo, liberal bias. It would be hard to make a plausible argument that this isn’t part of the problem. No matter what criticism one can legitimately level against Klein’s book… that it’s full of gossip, that it’s more a polemic than a book, that it uses anonymous sources, that it’s nasty and motivated by ill-will…none of these factors kept the same television programs from flacking similarly flawed books by the likes of Kitty Kelley, Joe Conason and Al Franken. And neither Kelley nor Franken come within miles of Klein’s bona fides as a legitimate reporter and author. Apparently, says Kurtz, Senator Clinton’s staff has been burning up the phones urging media outlets to ignore the book. That’s their right. But the media outlets are supposed to use a consistent standard, and they aren’t. The book is about a likely presidential candidate, it has provoked interest, it is selling well, and its author has earned credibility. Whatever standard is being applied here, it is one that hasn’t been applied consistently by the likes of “60 Minutes” and “Today” when Bush-bashing best-sellers were involved. Obviously, double standards are unfair.

Ironically, however, the standard the media wants to apply to “The Truth About Hillary” now should have been the standard all along. Kitty Kelley’s book, for example, was out-and-out trash; for NBC to feature a three-part interview with her to promote her book during the 2004 presidential campaign was inexcusable. Is Klein’s book really less worthy of an interview than that of Joe Wilson, who was unimpeded on his tour of the talk shows to promote his own anti-Bush administration hit piece, which was almost immediately shown to be both dishonest and self-serving? Less credible than Dan Rather’s faux National Guard memo? Clearly not. The fact is that none of these deserved respectful attention. If the cable talk shows and news networks have finally decided to apply a responsible standard, it’s long overdue. The fact that earlier books that trashed conservatives received publicity that Klein’s book will not remains unfair, but that doesn’t mean that the ethical solution is to apply the same indefensible standard to “The Truth About Hillary.” What your mother told you still applies: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Only time will tell whether this decision is really a course correction by the networks, or simply further proof that in the jaundiced eyes of a liberal media, published personal attacks on conservative politicians are inherently airworthy, while book-length attacks on liberal icons are not. If Edward Klein is skeptical, he has good reason to be.

There is more involved here, however, than the stereotypical “liberal media bias.” Kurtz points out that the conservative political talk show hosts, such as Joe Scarborough and Bill O’Reilly, have also refused to book Klein. This is really hard to justify, because the authors they have readily and recently featured, such as professional mouth-foamer Ann Coulter and Bernie Goldberg (not to mention the popular Kerry-hating Swiftboat veterans during the presidential campaign) have been promoting books that make “The Truth About Hillary” look like “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.” For example, Goldberg’s most recent tome, “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America” is nothing but a sop to conservatives who never tire of standard invective against the usual liberal bogeymen and bogeywomen like Hillary, Gloria Steinem, Ward Churchill, Ted Kennedy, Dan Rather and Jimmy Carter. If Goldberg took more than two days to write it, something’s the matter with him. But Bernie’s book has had no trouble getting bookings. What’s spooking the conservative talk shows and causing them to blacklist Klein?

Maybe part of it is the “L-word.” Klein’s book delves into the persistent rumors that Hillary Clinton is a closet lesbian, and there is speculation that a general consensus exists on the right and left that this topic is off-limits, that exploring the sexuality of a public figure is inherently wrong.

Why? If a public figure, especially one running for president, misrepresents or hides such a core aspect of his or her character and make-up, isn’t this important for the public to know? The public needed to know about President Bush’s history of alcohol abuse, for example. The public should have been informed about John F. Kennedy’s physical maladies and sexual obsessions, though they were not. It appears that Senator Kerry went to some lengths to avoid letting his grades at Yale become public, because they showed him to be no better a student than the man he liked to deride as an intellectual light-weight, George W. Bush. The public should have had that information too. Gay activists persuasively argue that gay Americans who feel forced to hide their sexual orientation are being pressured by a bigoted society into denying “who they are.” If…and that is a big if… being gay is part of who a national elected official is, then both that candidate’s sexual orientation and the fact that it has been systematically denied is a legitimate topic for investigation and discussion.

There are good, solid, journalistic justifications for withholding television publicity from Klein’s book. It remains to be seen if any of these are really behind the media’s determination to do so.

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