On the afternoon of June 2, Wolf Blitzer was talking to Vanity Fair national editor Todd Purdum about his 9,647-word piece about Bill Clinton.
“Some people who work for him now say that he seems to be angry all the time, angry when he gets up in the morning and angry when he goes to bed at night,” Mr. Purdum was saying.
At about the same time, Mr. Clinton was giving a live demonstration of his mood when he met up with Huffington Post reporter Mayhill Flower after a campaign event in Milbank, S.D.
Gripping her arm and “refusing to let go,” according to her account, he unleashed a tirade on the topic of Todd Purdum.
“[He’s] sleazy,” he said of Mr. Purdum. “He’s a really dishonest reporter. And one of our guys talked to him. … And I haven’t read [the article]. But he told me there’s five or six just blatant lies in there. But he’s a real slimy guy.”
Mr. Clinton also called Mr. Purdum “a scumbag.”
This was not in fact a sudden burst of temper, but a flare-up in a slow-burning fury that had been unleashed publicly with the release of a 2,457-word response from the Clinton camp about Mr. Purdum’s story.
The e-mail, which was released to Politico’s Ben Smith and picked up on the Drudge Report, really amounted to one very long rant full of borderline hilarious retorts. (“President Clinton has helped save the lives of more than 1,300,000 people in his post-presidency, and Vanity Fair couldn’t find time to talk to even one of them for comment.”)
Jay Carson, the spokesman responsible for the memo, sent out the response to “people who inquired about the piece,” he said to Off the Record.
The piece made Mr. Clinton look pretty bad, and the sourcing was transparently thin–that is, thin, but transparently so; in other words, honest. It cites, for instance, “a public sighting of Clinton, Bing, and a ravishing entourage in a New York elevator that, a former Clinton aide told me, led a business leader who saw them to say: I don’t know what the guy was doing, but it was so clear that it was just no good.”
Even so, the Clinton memo is a risibly ridiculous document at times; and after Bill Clinton’s dramatic South Dakota rant, it looked like a Valentine.
The memo digs into the clips and revisits a four-year-old story about Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “[S]everal news outlets including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported in 2004 on Editor in Chief Graydon Carter’s capitalization on his position at Vanity Fair to explore consulting and investment deals,” the memo read in part, going on to recall Mr. Carter’s role in the inception of the box-office hit, A Beautiful Mind, for which he received a $100,000 consulting fee.
To prove the point, the memo quotes an L.A. Times story where Ed Kosner—former editor at Newsweek, Esquire, New York, The Daily News—criticized Mr. Carter and a May 2004 editorial in these pages that called Mr. Carter “unconscionable.”
“The responses from the former president and his camp are very saddening in their own ways,” said Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, in an e-mail to Off the Record. “Characteristic, but nevertheless shocking.”
In all this, Mr. Carter comes off as somewhat more successful at overcoming the Clintons’ slings and arrows than some of his Condé Nast brethren. Ben Smith of Politico reported in September 2007 that the Clintons exerted pressure on GQ to kill a piece on Hillary Clinton. The piece, by Joshua Green, did not appear; but Mr. Clinton did appear on the cover of GQ’s December issue, over the headline “Bill Clinton Leads Our Men of the Year.”
What’s more, the Clinton camp’s e-mail about Mr. Purdum’s piece doesn’t actually dispute any of Mr. Purdum’s facts. His story grabbed headlines mostly because it was about Bill Clinton’s behavior on the campaign trail, which anyone can agree has been very watchable!
But the e-mail does charge that Vanity Fair sustains a “loose relationship with facts.”
Meanwhile, across town, Esquire editor David Granger got an e-mail directing his urgent attention to another of Mr. Clinton’s claims to the Huffington Post’s Ms. Flower, out in South Dakota.
“The editor of Esquire—he sent us an e-mail yesterday and said it was the single sleaziest piece of journalism he’d seen in decades,” Mr. Clinton told Ms. Flower. “He said it made him want to go take a shower, and he was embarrassed to be a journalist when he read it.”
But it wasn’t Mr. Granger who sent the e-mail. He quickly got to the bottom of it: Another editor at Esquire—whom he refused to identify—is apparently friends with a longtime Clinton aide, Doug Band, who shows up as a character in Mr. Purdum’s story. That Esquire staffer sent the e-mail personally to Mr. Band; after Mr. Clinton’s tirade, Mr. Band wrote the Esquire editor to apologize that the quote had been taken out of context and misattributed.
“It’s just odd that something is attributed to me that I didn’t say. I haven’t even had time to read Todd’s piece,” said Mr. Granger.
That’s O.K., neither has Bill!
Later that evening, Mr. Granger picked up the phone and dialed Graydon Carter’s office to explain what had happened. He left a message with his assistant.