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Still, allowing a subject to retract material that has already been written and edited is considered beyond the pale--even at VF. As Columbia journalism professor James William Carey puts it, "Once you concede authority over the text, you end up in endless argument, and it becomes unclear who is the writer. We might as well let the source write the piece and save ourselves the work and the public the deception."
VF's publicist, Beth Kseniak, called the episode "a very serious breach of the editorial process." And Carter says that nothing like this has ever happened at Vanity Fair in the five-and-a-half years he's been editor.
The magazine did explore the possibility that a staffer at VF could have surreptitiously snuck a copy of the profile to either Seinfeld and/or his erstwhile publicist. Last week, the magazine's management convened a meeting with everyone who worked on the story to see whether or not there had been a leak. Management concluded that while VF cannot prove Hirschberg responsible, access to the piece was so limited that she is the only plausible suspect.
One significant person who might be able to clear up this explosive disagreement is Seinfeld himself. Elizabeth Clark of Castle Rock Entertainment, who's currently handling Seinfeld's publicity, said: "He's stepping back from this, and not commenting. I don't even know what happened."
Jones's Landmark Decision
Paula Jones--as of this writing--is still unannounced about whether or not she will appeal the decision to toss out her sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton. But a number of journalists have been posing a question about a decision she made four years ago.
Supposedly, Jones's outrage began when she read David Brock's original Troopergate story in The American Spectator in December 1993. It quoted a trooper's recollection of bringing a woman identified only as "Paula" to a room in the Excelsior Hotel where governor Clinton was. Upon exiting, according to the trooper, "Paula" said that she was willing to become the governor's "regular girlfriend."
If Jones was offended by the implication that she'd had consensual sex with Clinton, why did she pursue the very risky strategy of suing the president? Wouldn't it have made more sense to sue the Spectator--or at least to force it to run a retraction?
Brock himself addressed--but did not answer--the question in his renowned April Esquire mea culpa. "That she sued you," Brock wrote in a parenthetical addressed to the president, "rather than me may have been an early clue to her motives."
The question arose again in the April 12 front-page Washington Post profile of Jones. The Post quoted an unidentified friend of Jones's who said: "She just wanted a retraction at first....There was no talk about suing. In her mind, she thought [attorney Danny] Traylor would just call The American Spectator and say, 'Hey, you have to take this back. It didn't happen. She said no to Bill Clinton.' Traylor never got the retraction."
There's a reason he never got a retraction from the Spectator. According to two knowledgeable sources, neither Traylor nor anyone working on Jones's behalf ever contacted the Spectator about correcting their original story.
Why would that be? Well, if you believe a recent Salon story by Murray Waas, it's because attorneys for the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation "advised Jones and Traylor not to sue the American Spectator." Landmark, as reported here last week, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the anti-Clinton billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who also happens to have generously funded the Spectator. An important Spectator source confirmed to the Voice that "at the time, I was told she was persuaded not to go after the Spectator by the Landmark lawyers, that there was a feeling like we were all on the same side."
Landmark president Mark Levin did not return calls seeking comment.
Research: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie