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by Bob Woodward
ISBN 0684852632 / 9780684852638 / 0-684-85263-2
Publisher Simon & Schuster
List price $17.95
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There are two ways to look at this bestseller by Watergate scoopmeister Woodward. First, it's an original take on Clinton's sex scandal, framing it as the latest consequence of Nixon's assault on the U.S. political system. Woodward sketches each president's tussles with scandal managing after Watergate permanently turned up the press heat on the White House. Ford lies about a meeting concerning a potential deal to pardon Nixon, but remains convinced he did nothing wrong. Carter's pious advocacy of truth telling backfires when he's confronted with conundrums involving his pal Bert Lance, the fallout from CIA-provided hookers, and cash for King Hussein. Reagan's men try to make him understand the lies and shocking wrongness of the Iran-Contra debacle, but he simply, stubbornly doesn't get it. And by the time prosecutors interview Reagan in 1992, he's so ill he can't remember his own oldest friends and advisers.
All provocative stuff, some of it new. But most readers will flip to the book's second half, a fly-on-the-wall account of the backroom mud-wrestling in both the Clinton and Starr camps in the Monicagate morass. It's a trove of racy facts (mostly from anonymous sources). We read that Clinton called Nixon a "war criminal," yet tried to minimize Watergate in his Nixon eulogy, that he disgusted Ford and Jack Nicklaus by cheating while golfing with them, and that he kept falsely assuring aides, "I'm retired! [as an adulterer]." We hear Hillary's alleged words of agony and see the pain on Bill's face after Chelsea reads The Starr Report on the Internet. Starr comes off like RoboCop without the human side. Woodward calls him "pathetic and unwise" in rejecting his staff's urgent demand not to send the lurid details of presidential sex to Congress. "I love the narrative!" Starr weirdly exulted, according to Woodward's new Deep Throat (or Throats). Since Monica was interrogated at Starr's mother-in-law's apartment, which he called "Grandma's place," ethics expert Sam Dash suggested they call it "Operation Red Riding Hood." What sharp teeth everyone in this book has!
To tell the truth, Woodward doesn't really knit together 25 years' worth of scandals into a single strong narrative. But the Clinton part is the closest thing yet to what we all crave: a tale of Monicagate with some of the flavor of a John Grisham thriller. --Tim Appelo [via]