Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter's Storyby Michael Isikoff
"I realized something that should have been apparent to me much earlier: I was in the middle of a plot to get the president.”
A quarter of a century after Woodward and Bernstein’s history-making expose All the President’s Men stunned the nation by capturing the Nixon presidency in the throes of turmoil, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff gives us an/i>/i>
"I realized something that should have been apparent to me much earlier: I was in the middle of a plot to get the president.”
A quarter of a century after Woodward and Bernstein’s history-making expose All the President’s Men stunned the nation by capturing the Nixon presidency in the throes of turmoil, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff gives us an equally explosive and surprisingly suspenseful behind-the-scenes account of his investigative role in the scandals that have rocked President Clinton’s second term and led to the historic vote for impeachment that will define his presidency.
Isikoff, who is credited with breaking the Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Monica Lewinsky stories, is universally acknowledged as the leading reporter who brought to light the incredible revelations about Clinton’s personal and political lives that have consumed this country and shocked the world. As a reporter for the Washington Post and Newsweek, Isikoff has established himself as an astute observer and chronicler of Clinton's conduct throughout his presidency, following a trail of presidential misconduct from Little Rock, Arkansas, to the Oval Office. But Isikoff also unwittingly became a primary character in the unfolding Clinton drama. This is a story only he could tell, a gripping narrative of how one journalist went from battling skeptical editors and a formidable White House spin machine in his quest for the truth about Clinton to becoming a central participant in one of the biggest scandals in American political history.
Featuring a cast of bizarre characters who make this book as entertaining to read as a novel, Uncovering Clinton is also a nuanced and scrupulously fair account with a wealth of never-before-told information about the major players and events in the Clinton scandals, including:
- The real reasons why some Washington Post reporters and editors believed Paula Jones’ story from the start and why Isikoff’s story nonetheless was later killed before it ran.
- How George Stephanopolous covered for Clinton as Isikoff pursued the Paula Jones story.
- How Lucianne Goldberg’s private notebook and tapes of her phone calls with Linda Tripp show that while Tripp was crying “victim” to the press, she was really plotting to bring down the president and betray Monica Lewinsky and write a book about it all./li>
- The real truth behind Hillary Clinton’s oft-cited “vast right-wing conspiracy” a coterie of right-wing lawyers known as “the elves” who secretly wrote the Jones legal briefs and arranged to bring the Lewinsky story to Ken Starr’s office and to public light.
- How Linda Tripp manipulated Ken Starr’s prosecutors into launching a criminal investigation into the Lewinsky matter while withholding critical information, including her repeated contacts with Isikoff.
Isikoff had no agenda when he started investigating President Clinton’s conduct other than to get at the truth. Now, after accomplishing a remarkable case of journalistic detective work, Isikoff gives us something even more significant: a work that illuminates the psychologically troubling behavior of a president, an Administration that has enabled his actions, a motley crew of Clinton-haters who would stop at nothing to topple the president, and a rapidly changing media grappling with the ever-shifting boundaries between public and private behavior. Uncovering Clinton will surely be the definitive account of our nation’s biggest political scandal since Watergate.
Author Bio: Michael Isikoff joined the Washington Post in 1981, where he covered the Justice Department, the Iran-Contra Affair, and Latin American drug operations. In 1994, he moved to Newsweek, where he covered the Oklahoma City bombing, the 1996 election campaign, and other national issues. His exclusive reporting on the Lewinsky scandal gained him nationwide attention, including profiles in the New York Times and the Washington Post. He is a news analyst for MSNBC and a frequent guest on numerous news programs including NBC's Meet the Press and PBS's Charlie Rose.
The American Spectator
What always gets overlooked in this sort of speculation is an accomplishment that may prove to be Clinton's greatest legacy: his entertainment value. Imagine how boring the past seven years might have been without the unending intrigue that the entertainer-in-chief and his supporting cast have brought us. It's been a drama of operatic dimension, starting with that first weasely 60 Minutes interview during the '92 campaign and building up to Monica Lewinsky's appearance with Barbara Walters, when the fat lady sang. Throughout it all, Clinton has proven himself to be a bold new type of celebrity that no star-hungry citizen can resist. Any student of the Madonna school of fame knows that if you lack talent, you tweak your persona every few years to hold the public's attention. What's so brilliant about Clinton as a performer is that he embodies several personas simultaneously. The president's multiple-identity disorder becomes apparent after rifling through three new books that feature him.
Take Uncovering Clinton, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff's account of how he survived a one-man journalistic sally through the minefield that is the chief executive's sex life. Here, Clinton comes across as a dangerousshadow presence, plotting and manipulating from a throne of treachery to cover his stains. As the reporter spins an entertaining investigative yarn out of the way he snagged the first interview with Paula Jones, hunted down several women who felt the president's pain, and sniffed out Linda Tripp (first impression: "a somewhat annoyed-looking, heavyset woman with disheveled hair') only to be upstaged by gossip hound Matt Drudge, Clinton emerges as a deeply flawed leader with no compunction about abusing his authority. Suspecting Clinton is a sexual predator allows the author to justify delving into such tawdry subject matter, one of many ethical dilemmas he mulls over for all of two seconds before resuming the hunt. Isikoff's compulsion to defend his dogged pursuit of a hot story reaches its hilarious nadir when he rebuts Lucianne Goldberg's complaint in her testimony that he ate more than his share of her gourmet pistachios at their first meeting: "It was late in the day and I was hungry.' Mostly, though, he spares us his whining and concentrates on presenting only the facts behind Slick Willy's indiscretions.
That's why Joyce Milton's The First Partner: Hillary Rodham Clinton is ultimately more fun to readshe's not afraid to dish. Trying to understand the freak show that is the Clintons' marriage from its shaky beginnings to its frigid present, the writer who previously has written biographies of Charlie Chaplin and Martin Luther King Jr. draws on a number of substantiated and unsubstantiated sources, like the juicy Arkansas state trooper stories. "I need to get fucked more than twice a year!' one of the troopers recalls Hillary shouting in an argument, and that seems to have been one of her better days. Her hubby comes across about the only way he can in the context of his married lifea bumbling, horny oaf. A far cry from Isikoff's schemer, this bubba couldn't finagle his way out of a Happy Meal.
Hillary is the brains of the operation, though she jeopardizes Bill's rise to power as much as she helps it. The ice maiden presented in Milton's pages is partially culpable for nearly every controversy of the Clintons' joint political life. When she's not mercilessly picking apart anything and everything about the First Lady, from her liberal activist roots to her White House Christmas tree decorations, Milton even blames her subject for helping to cover up the sexual indiscretions she's known about from the start of her relationship. A marriage of convenience? In a moment of rare sympathy for these two law-school grads brought and stuck together by measureless ambition, Milton points out all the damage they've done to each other and those around them, noting that there is "very little that could be called 'convenient' about the Clintons' marriage.'
After wallowing in the eight hundred pages of Arkansan depravity between these tomes, Dick Morris' guide to modern political survival, The New Prince, surprisingly proves to be the most upbeat of the three. Clinton's former political consultant uses his most famous client as his shining exemplar of the perfect politicianone who understands what the people want and gives it to them. While it seems unavoidable that sleaze would creep into the musings of a confirmed whoremonger updating Machiavelli by citing the career moves of the most publicly disgraced standing president of all time, the book takes a higher road.
Morris makes the assertion that the twenty-first century politician can only succeed by embracing idealism, being honest when faced with scandal, and stressing issues over image. However dubious his assertions, his predominately glowing references to that which Clinton has done right (balancing the budget, reforming welfare, ushering in an age of micro-proposals for improving the everyday minutiae of our lives) are pleasant reminders that there's no need to feel guilty about enjoying the Clinton Show.
The president, after all, has more or less done his job as effectively as any other chief executive, with an added bonus. Running the country well enough to keep his audience comfortable, Clinton has ensured we can enjoy his living theater of passion, betrayal and stupidity without distraction and free of charge. Steve Wilson
The New York Times Book Review
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Read an Excerpt
The next day, November 21 , Tripp called me. There was another courier pickup from the Pentagon this morning. Only this time, it was not a letter. It was a tapefor phone sex, she told me. I called Speed Service and arranged to get the receipt. It showed once again a "Monica" at Lewinsky's extension at the Pentagon calling it in and a delivery to the White House with Betty Currie's extension as the contact number. As luck would have it, the messenger who delivered it also had to make a delivery to Newsweek that morning. I asked him to describe what he had delivered to the White House. It was a package, sort of like this, he said holding up his hands, sort of like a small box. Like a tape? I asked. Yes, he told me, like a tape.
I was once more impressed with the reliability of what Tripp was telling me. And with the strangeness of the information: a sex tape couriered to the Oval Office. What would people think if they knew about this? But then I also started, for the first time really, to feel strange myself about what was going onand what I was doing. I realized with a bit more clarity something that should have been apparent much earlier: I was in the middle of a plot to get the president.
I was only covering it, of course. Or so I told myself. But I was covering it from the inside, while it was unfolding, talking nearly every week with the conspirators as they schemed to make it happen. Tripp would at times ask me questions. She would seek my advice. I would, cautiously, give it: No, you shouldn't go to the tabloids with this story, it would only cheapen it, I had told her when she floated this idea. You should deal only with me. Reportershave these kinds of conversations with sources all the time. But in a situation like this, the lines between aggressive reporter and passive co-conspirator can get awfully blurry.
I had tried at every stage to adhere strictly to my role as a journalist: when I wouldn't listen to Tripp's tapes, when I rejected her harebrained scheme to steal the semen-stained dress and give it to me, when I wouldn't give Joe Cammarata the name of Kathleen Willey. But still, I was in treacherous and uncharted territory. There was a lot about Linda Tripp I didn't knowand much that even then made me distinctly uncomfortable. Her duplicity was obvious. Leave aside her tapes, which we had not talked about since that meeting back in October. She was betraying Lewinsky every time she spoke to me. She was relating in the mornings conversations she had been having with her unsuspecting young friend the night beforeintensely personal conversations that Lewinsky obviously thought were taking place in confidence. On a practical level, I found it mindspinningthe cutouts, the code names, the switching on and off between sympathetic friend and devious informant. How did Tripp keep it all straight? And what were these talks between Tripp and Lewinsky really like? What was Lewinsky like? Who was she? I had no idea, really, and no effective way to find outwithout tipping her off to what was going on, without betraying the woman who was betraying her. Yet it was the betrayer who was my source.
We all like to think of ourselves as ethical people, even headline-hungry reporters. But the ethics here looked a bit bewildering. I retreated to more comfortable terrain: my professional obligation as a journalist. On this score, I felt sure, I was safe. I reminded myself that neither I nor Newsweek had decided to publish anything. And for a good reason, too: I couldn't prove that any of this was real and that Monica Lewinsky wasn't some psychotic fantasist. I was only doing my job: listening, collecting evidence, testing what my sources were telling me to see if the information would hold up if and when Newsweek decided there was something here worth sharing with the public. According to Tripp, Clinton was using his office to get Lewinsky a job. That, in and of itself, was suspect. There was also a lawsuit out there in which the alleged sexual compulsiveness of the president of the United States was a central issue. This thing could well come up. I was doing only what any good reporter under the same circumstances would do, I concluded. What was I supposed to do? Tell Tripp and Goldberg to get lost? Say to them, "How dare you provide me with evidence of presidential misbehavior"?
Still, I was uneasy and told myself again I had to be extremely careful.
From the eBook edition.
Meet the Author
Michael Isikoff's exclusive reporting on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal gained him national attention, including profiles in the The New York Times and the Washington Post, and, in 1999, the National Magazine Award for Reporting, which he received together with Newsweek. He is a news analyst for MSNBC and a frequent guest on numerous news programs. Isikoff lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
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I guess I'm somewhere in the middle of the other reviewers. I appreciated Issikoff's detail, and there were many interesting facts that Issikoff pointed out that I wasn't aware of (like Vince Foster's last words). But I think the real impeachable offense was the China scandal. If that thing is true, then Clinton should have been impeached, that is much worse than anything Nixon ever did. I'm disappointed at the significant investigative efforts that have gone into semen-stained dresses and wired lunch conversations. I would have rather that Issikoff and the other highly qulalified people plunge their energies into what really happened with nuclear arms and China.