Carl Bernstein’s Sloppy “Woman in Charge”

Carl Bernstein is one of my journalistic heroes. I know, big shock coming from a child of the 70s. I grew up with tales of Woodstein and read both All the President’s Men and The Final Days after watching the movie as the first movie we ever watched in our VCR. Maybe it was just a preference for Hoffman over Redford, but I was always more drawn to Bernstein than to Woodward. My affinity was strengthened by Loyalties, his memoir about his parents in the 50s (and survived Jack Nicholson’s unflattering portrayal of him in Heartburn).

Last week a friend passed me a review copy of Bernstein’s Hillary bio, Woman in Charge. I’m no Clinton expert– like everyone else, I watched the War Room, the doc about the 1992 Clinton campaign and read Wodward’s The Agenda and, of course, Joe Klein’s Primary Colors, but that’s about it. I have a much better understanding of HRC given Bernstein’s portrayal of the pre-White House days, particularly antediluvian 1960s Wellesley. But the flood of errors about things I do know about has me questioning the rest of the book.

The sloppiness with dates, at least the ones obvious to me, start on page 9 with a reference to Clinton’s “1992” inauguration.

Page 133 has this incorrect statement: “In 1980…Governor Ronald Reagan sought to drastically reduce funding for legal services for the poor in California.” The problem is, Jerry Brown succeeded Reagan in 1975 and was still governor in 1980.

Page 154 mentions that “Bill Clinton had become governor of Arkansas in 1981…” As the book makes clear, Clinton painfully lost his 1980 re-election bid.

 

Beyond the errors with dates, Bernstein has a tendency towards hyperbole. For instance, he tells us that the tab of the1993 inauguration blow-out came in at more than $25 million— “a record unsurpassed until George W. Bush’s $40 million extravaganza in 2000.” Besides the fact that Bush assumed the presidency in 2001, is it really noteworthy that the ’93 shindig held the cost record until the subsequent president took over?

Each of these errors is minor and could have been picked up by a fact check. I assume corners were cut in a rush to get the book out before, or simultaneous to, the Her Way, the book by old Clinton pal, and Whitewater reporter, Jeff Gerth. I don’t mind that much, the problem is that such sloppiness engender a loss of confidence in the rest of the book.

UPDATE: I left out another error. This one does not relate to dates, but rather an apparent conflation of the two Chicago daily papers. On page 280, Bernstein refers to “a [1993] Chicago Sun-Times column by Bill Zwecker” about a Billary altercation.  “Zwecker reported, without attribution, that Hillary had smashed a lamp during a fierce argument with Bill in the family quarters.” On page 330, refers to the “leaked item in the Chicago Tribune (about her supposed lamp-throwing tirade).”

 

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