Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter's Story. Michael Isikoff. New York, NY: Crown, 1999. 402 pp. $25 hbk.
The book jacket blurb on Michael Isikoff's unseemly story of presidential philandering calls Uncovering Clinton an "equally explosive" story as that of All the President's Men. While an important story about reporting, Uncovering Clinton is not as significant or inspiring a work as Woodward and Bernstein's about Watergate.
Isikoff's chronicles of what the Seattle PostIntelligencer called the White House "big hair beat" could have been called "All the President's Women." But these women represent our rogue president's "bimbo eruptions." The more thoughtful women in Clinton's life, including his wife, are largely ignored. In fact, anyone wanting a thoughtful account of this mess must look outside "Uncovering Clinton."
But many reporters, journalism teachers and journalism students at all levels will want to read this book to learn how Isikoff, a reporter for Newsweek and previously for the Washington Post, managed to be far ahead of the pack in learning about the Monica Lewinsky-Clinton connection and about his earlier reporting on Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and that dreadful duo-Lucianne Goldberg, the raffish, rightwing book agent, and Lewinsky's "special friend" Linda, the infamous taper, Tripp.
Isikoff, a Northwestern journalism graduate now 46, has a lively writing style but what a depressing story he writes. Reading about these dismal sexual exploits page after page is a bit much. And the ethical standards of the other characters involved, whether they are Goldberg, Tripp, Lewinsky, or the cabal of right-wing lawyers who helped engineer Kenneth Starr's investigation of the ClintonLewinsky affair, leave much to be desired. And what about the ethical standards of the press and investigator Isikoff?
It is doubtful that a nonjournalist, other than a rabid Clinton-hater, would come away thinking better of the press after reading Isikoff. Isikoff relates one of his conversations with Goldberg, the New York book agent, where he says that Clinton "thinks you're scum."
"Well we are scum," Goldberg replies. "If anybody ever did to me what we did to him, I would hate them too."
Many citizens might think the mores of journalists no different than one of Paula Jones's lawyers. After Isikoff asked him if he knew about a certain White House intern, the lawyer replied, "You can rest assured we're all over that, like flies over feces."
However much the Washington press corps and Republican Congressmen got worked up about Clinton's clear misconduct, a strong majority of the public never thought this meant Clinton should be driven from the presidency. Members of the public who read this book may well ask-why is it worth several years of the lives of Isikoff and other journalists to hunt down the sexual activities of a politician, even one as important as the President?
Isikoff does not seem highly reflective, and he doesn't give a totally satisfactory answer to such questions. (His reporting on Clinton's affairs started in 1994, long before Starr's investigators discovered Lewinsky).
Isikoff's most compelling justification for his fly-like buzzing around Clinton's sex life, a justification he seems to have formulated at least three years after he began his reportorial quest, is that "Clinton's serial indiscretions really did matter" because "I was now convinced, Clinton was far more psychologically disturbed than the public ever imagined. …