Passing a newsstand, I read the cover line on Celebrity Living, one of the several increasingly popular celebrazines. It proclaimed: “Angelina Jolie: Secrets of Her Bedroom.”
Then I passed a bookstore with Ed Klein’s newly released book on display. And, no, the cover line wasn’t “Hill and Bill: Secrets of Their Bedroom.” But it could have been.
Klein’s book–with its 350,000 copies in print and its revelations about the unseemly private life of our senator from New York and her spouse–has already become a major media event. Any book with a 350,000 first printing, in fact, better be an event or the publisher, not to mention the author, is in big trouble. Buzzed about before publication and criticized by those who hadn’t yet read it, the question is will The Truth About Hillary be the summer’s sock-o best-seller or a bit of a fizzle. Currently, it is number three on Amazon. But the not-yet-released Harry Potter is still on top.
Sara Nelson, the new, energetic editor of Publisher’s Weekly feels that Klein’s book is a test case for the conservative imprints several publishers have established. Unlike Regnery–the publisher of Unfit for Command and many other best-selling conservative books–Sentinel, a division of the Penguin Group, which is publishing the Hillary book, was established to market best-sellers, not an ideology. The head of Sentinel is Adrian Zackheim, who also runs Portfolio, Penguin’s business-book division.
Klein, of course, says he is “a registered independent” and that he spent two years doing his job as a journalist while writing the book. That hasn’t stopped him from getting slammed by the usual suspects. A spokesman for President Clinton called the book “trash.” And Dick Morris, who has his own new book about Hillary coming out soon has complained that “personal attacks on Hillary Clinton and her marriage only tend to invigorate her and permit her to characterize all criticism as extreme and personal.” And we all know that Hillary is a master at very effectively playing the victim, both personally and politically. Yes, we all remember how she played the betrayed-but-still-loyal wife in 1998. But do you remember in the 2000 senatorial campaign how she made even poor little Rick Lazio briefly look like an aggressor when he came a bit too close during one of their television debates?
In his defense, Ed Klein told me that his book is about “character”–and nothing reveals character more than those little personal anecdotes. “Also,” he said, “how does one deal with a political figure who happens to be a woman? Do you hold her up to the same standards as a man or not? Some think you have to put on kid gloves if you are writing about a woman, that you can’t be rough with her or people will just feel sorry for her. I don’t agree.”
I guess what I think is that Klein’s book is a lot more like a juicy celebrity’s biography than an analysis of a politician. And the Clintons–Hill as well as Bill–can be treated that way by a writer because they have always behaved more like celebrities than your standard-issue politician. Klein previously wrote three books about Jackie Kennedy and also one called The Kennedy Curse. And Jackie as well as members of the Kennedy Clan understood how, occasionally, politics and superstardom can converge.
The Clintons have always believed in a non-stop public-relations campaign, and have always tried to manipulate the press in order to manipulate the public. I have long thought they secretly relished that their lives were such colorful stories, even when the story was a scandal not exactly to their liking. Bill always knew and Hillary learned that appealing emotionally to the public was the key. And the media today much prefers telling stories than contemplating policy or discussing issues.
Sara Nelson, in an early review of The Truth About Hillary, dismissed the book as a “clip+paste job…unlikely to change a single mind, let alone vote.” I disagree, but not because the book will make people sympathize with poor Hillary. Rather The Truth About Hillary will make Hillary even more of a celebrity. It is the perfect beach read. And in the current culture, when the public is buying three million copies a week of magazines with cover lines like “Angelina Jolie: Her Bedroom Secrets,” that is really the problem.