By: Joe Strupp
Carl Bernstein first thought a biography of Hillary Clinton would be worthwhile after watching her live through the Monica Lewinsky affair and the subsequent impeachment of her husband in 1999.
“I decided that, coming out of the Lewinsky episode, she was the one person who came out of it enhanced.” Bernstein told E&P, adding that everyone else involved, from Bill Clinton to the press, saw their images shaken. “She was the exception. It was obvious she wanted to redeem what was looking like a failed presidency and redeem their legacy. It was going to be very interesting.”
Eight years later, the result is “A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” Bernstein’s 640-page report that he contends is “a real biography.” Slated for a June 5 release from Alfred A. Knopf, the book has already gotten some early attention thanks to Bernstein’s old employer, The Washington Post. E&P received a copy on Tuesday and produced two preview pieces.
Bernstein said he had approached the Clintons early on for interviews during his research and they agreed to cooperate. But he said last year they changed their minds, telling him they knew several biographies were coming out and “did not want to favor one….
“They kept putting it off,” he said of his attempts to interview the Clintons for the project, adding that their eventual excuse not to cooperate was “less than convincing…I believe that decision not to talk to me went through the campaign apparatus.”
He said that Clinton lawyer Robert Barnett, who helped both Clintons with their own book deals, sought to dissuade Bernstein from writing the book. “He said no one would cooperate with me,” Bernstein recalls. “That made me want to do it more.”
The Post offered some of the more interesting elements in a Friday Page One story, along with similar tid-bits from another Clinton biography, “Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” by Don Van Natta, Jr. and Jeff Gerth. Bernstein’s book, among other things, claims Hillary Clinton considered divorcing her husband, running for governor out of spite, and even planning to “systematically attack the Washington Post” because of its Whitewater coverage.
The Clinton campaign has quickly dismissed many of the book’s elements as “rehash.” But Bernstein contends their claims are an effort to avoid the real truth, and believes there are positive elements of the book they “should embrace.”
“The idea as the Clinton campaign would like you to believe it before they even had a book, that there is nothing new here, is absurd,” Bernstein said from his New York office as he prepared for a multi-city tour. “First and foremost, this is a real biography and this campaign needs to be about biography.
“Until now, anything that the Clinton’s haven’t had a hand in scripting themselves has unnerved them,” Bernstein said. “This is the first time that the people I have talked to have allowed access.” He added that it “peels back all of the layers.”
Bernstein, whose last book was “His Holiness,” a 1996 biography of Pope John Paul II that he co-wrote with Marco Politi, said the last two presidential elections suffered because there were no such biographies. “In the campaigns of 2000 and 2004, we lacked real biographies about George Bush, disastrously,” he said. “This is a book that enables us to know who this woman is.”
When asked if he believed it would impact Clinton’s presidential run, Bernstein said, “I have no idea, it would just be speculation.” But, he added, “it is about a woman who was first lady and brought a lot of baggage, pro and con” to that position. He also said “she is a lot more interesting and passionate than she gives herself credit for.”
Bernstein says the Clintons’ initial willingness to help also included allowing many friends and associates to speak with Bernstein. “Biography, like journalism, is the best obtainable version of the truth and that is what I have been able to obtain with access to these people,” he said. “I used my own new reporting as a catalyst.”
Bernstein said having another book about Clinton out at the same time was not a detriment to his efforts. “I hope that it’s good, the more that is known about her, the better,” he said. “I think that it is a very different book than mine, much more focused on the Senate. I spent eight years doing a real biography, which I feel is needed.”