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The Times Repents for Dissing Clinton's Book - June 24, 2004 -

Times Watch for June 24, 2004

The Times Repents for Dissing Clinton's Book

The Times is apparently repenting for the fact that its lead book critic savaged Bill Clinton's autobiography. To make amends, the Times is rushing to inform journalist types that it is running a favorable review of the Clinton book in its Sunday book review section-two weeks from now.

Times PR person Kathy Park sent a missive to the liberal-leaning journalist website Romenesko late Wednesday, informing it of the paper's early posting of the favorable review. As if trying to assuage angry liberals for having initially dared to criticize Clinton, Parks quickly assures readers that this review, anyway, is positive: "Larry McMurtry describes 'My Life' as '"the richest American presidential autobiography-no other book tells us as vividly or fully what it is like to be president of the United States for eight years.'"

Editor and Publisher magazine calls the posting of the review, 11 days ahead of schedule, an "unprecedented move." It's indeed strange for the Times to be stepping on its own reviewer, especially in such a cringing manner.

Novelist Larry McMurtry is most famous for "Lonesome Dove," a Western which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The Times apparently chose him based on a proudly lurid and profanity-laced review he penned last October of an anti-Clinton biography, one which made clear McMurtry's admiration for the seamier sides of the former president.

Here's one of the few quotable bits from that risqu" New York Review of Books piece, lamenting Clinton's lack of guts in confessing to the Lewinsky affair compared to the fortitude he believes JFK and LBJ would have shown: "Certainly both would have cheerfully plowed through amber waves of interns without giving the matter a thought."

McMurtry also blamed the press in that review for Clinton's woes, and implausibly claims they were set to drive him out of office: " The American press really didn't like it that Bill Clinton just plain got away with Gennifer Flowers. They've sulked and spat at him from that day to this. Like Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies the press has ever since been determined to steal Bill Clinton's mojo, but they were making no headway at all until Monica Lewinsky came along."

His take on Clinton's new autobiography is basically an extension of that seamy praise. From the beginning the review is pitched at a high note: "William Jefferson Clinton's 'My Life' is, by a generous measure, the richest American presidential autobiography-no other book tells us as vividly or fully what it is like to be president of the United States for eight years. Clinton had the good sense to couple great smarts with a solid education; he arrived in Washington in 1964 and has been the nation's-or perhaps the world's-No. 1 politics junkie ever since. And he can write-as Reagan, Ford, Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson, to go no farther back, could not."

Later he notes: "It was Bill Clinton who had legs-still does-and it's no wonder the press fell upon him with glad cries, which soon turned into yelps of outrage. A yelp or two could be heard just recently, when a select few finally got a look at his book."

(Could that be a reference to Kakutani's negative review, already notorious in liberal circles?)

He sees Clinton's big payday for his big book as payback: "That somehow a long, dense book by the world's premier policy wonk should be worth that much money is amusing, and brings us back to Clinton's long coyote-and-roadrunner race with the press. The very press that wanted to discredit him and perhaps even run him out of town instead made him a celebrity, a far more expensive thing than a mere president".During the silly time when Clinton was pilloried for wanting to debate the meaning of 'is,' I often wondered why no one pointed out that he was educated by Jesuits, for whom the meaning of 'is' is a matter not lightly resolved."

Whatever, Larry-though that is the most imaginative excuse for Clinton Times Watch has seen in quite a while.

McMurtry obviously admires Clinton's horn-dog exploits, and basks in Clinton's (and his own) liberal elitism, as opposed to those Ken Starr-loving troglodytes down in Texas. McMurty ends with an out-of-place attack on Starr, who's apparently one mean hombre: "Before leaving them I might just offer a bit of context. To judge from this book, Clinton has never been able to understand why Kenneth Starr, the special counsel appointed to investigate Whitewater, pursued him so ferociously. The answer is to be found in the soil Kenneth Starr sprang from. His hometown, Thalia, Tex., lies along what local wits sometimes refer to as the 'Floydada Corridor,' a bleak stretch of road between Wichita Falls and Lubbock that happens to run through the tiny town of Floydada, Tex. It's a merciless land, mostly, with inhabitants to match. Towns like Crowell, Paducah and Matador lie on this road, and nothing lighter than an elephant gun is likely to have much effect on the residents. Proust readers and fornicating presidents will find no welcome there. Bill Clinton should check it out. If he makes it to Floydada his understanding of Judge Starr (as he's sometimes called in Texas) will have been substantially increased."

Speaking of Proust, one gets the feeling McMurtry would have Clinton's next autobiography be "Remembrance of Flings Past."

For the rest of the McMurtry review of Clinton's tome, click here.

" Books | Bill Clinton | Michiko Kakutani | Larry McMurtry | Ken Starr

The Right in Manhattan Culture? How Gauche

Is it somehow improper or suspicious for conservatives to participate in Manhattan culture? That's the take-away from Robin Pogrebin's story on the front page of the Wednesday Arts section, "Historical Society Shifts Focus With Its Shift in Leadership."

Pogrebin focuses on two new conservatives on the board of the New York Historical Society, Richard Brookhiser and Richard Gilder, and some resulting changes in the society's focus: "The New-York Historical Society, with a newly hired president and a conservative financier emerging as a board power, is shifting its focus from the city to more national concerns, stirring the objections of some historians and staff members. Reflecting its new direction, the society has canceled an exhibition marking the centennial of Times Square and scaled back others with a local focus. It is mounting a $5 million exhibition on Alexander Hamilton, the most expensive in the history of the 200-year-old society, officials said. The Hamilton exhibition, whose curator is Richard Brookhiser, a senior editor at the conservative National Review magazine, will be used for private receptions during this summer's Republican National Convention before opening to the public in September. This shift in emphasis appears to signal the ascendance on the society's board of Richard Gilder, a stockbroker and a leading fund-raiser for Republican and conservative causes, who became a trustee a year ago."

Of course, liberal Manhattan is inundated with Democratic donors and activists, who are particularly ubiquitous on cultural foundations and boards and who often slant exhibitions and presentations in ways that affirm their political beliefs. Yet the presence of two Republicans on the Society board is treated as newsworthy and possibly disturbing-Pogrebin quotes an anonymous staffer who frets that "Historical materials are being used to encourage patriotism and to squelch criticism of the government."

Pogrebin returns to her "Eek! Republicans!" theme: "Mr. Gilder has been a major donor to conservative causes and candidates since the 1980's. He is on the board of the Club for Growth, a principal fund-raising engine of the conservative movement, and is chairman emeritus of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research group. In the current election year, Mr. Gilder has given $50,000 to the Republican Party, the Club for Growth and various candidates. During the last election cycle, Mr. Gilder gave Republicans $250,000 in soft money donations. Conservatives have embraced Hamilton as a hero because of his role as the father of American capitalism when he was the nation's first secretary of the treasury. But Mr. Gilder said there had been no political motivation behind the Hamilton exhibition. 'He's a great New Yorker; he's a great American,' Mr. Gilder said."

After admitting that Gilder is bringing in money to the society, which once faced bankruptcy, she closes with the hint of intrigue: "Mr. Brookhiser, who is the author of 'Alexander Hamilton, American,' and has never been an exhibition curator before, is being paid $100,000, according to someone familiar with his contract. Mr. Brookhiser refused to confirm this."

For the rest of Pogrebin's alarm at the presence of Republicans in Manhattan cultural life, click here.

" Arts | Richard Brookhiser | Alexander Hamilton | National Review | New York Historical Society | Robin Pogrebin

South Korea "Anti-Iraqi" for Anger Over Beheading?

Reporter James Brooke on Thursday reviews reaction in Seoul to the killing of a South Korean hostage in Iraq, including demonstrations against sending more troops to Iraq. But he also notes the killing "set off an angry backlash. Callers deluged mosques with telephone bomb threats, messages crashed a Defense Ministry Web site with offers to fight terrorists, and nearly one-quarter of poll respondents at two youth-oriented Web sites said the killing of their compatriot prompted them to back the deployment of more troops."

Brooke elaborates: "An unexpected reaction was Wednesday's wave of anti-Muslim and anti-Iraqi sentiment." Brooke blames "conservatives": "At a rally in Seoul, conservative protesters said the government should send combat troops to Iraq, instead of doctors and engineers. 'We want revenge for [murdered hostage Kim Sun Il's] killing,' the conservative protesters shouted."

(We guess Brooke added that second "conservative protesters" in case we'd forgotten it since reading it one sentence beforehand.)

Brooke then notes: "After callers threatened to blow up Seoul's main mosque, riot police officers were posted outside the building."

Times Watch definitely sees the anti-Muslim sentiment (bomb threat) but fails to see what's "anti-Iraqi" about sending more troops to Iraq and wanting revenge for the gruesome killing of a South Korean civilian (by a Jordanian terrorist, by the way, not an Iraqi national). Sending more troops actually sounds rather "pro-Iraqi."

And, for some reason, Brooke doesn't balance his account by blaming the demonstrations against sending more troops to Iraq on "anti-American sentiment."

For the rest of Brooke's piece, click here.

" James Brooke | Iraq War | South Korea | Terrorism