Edward Klein and his new gossip book The Truth About Hillary show us how mangled the definition of “journalism” has become.
The dust jacket of the book describes Klein as a “distinguished journalist.” It notes that he was once the foreign editor at Newsweek and the editor of The New York Times Magazine. It does not describe the job he has held for the last 14 years: gossip columnist for Parade, under a pseudonym—Walter Scott.
In his book about Hillary Clinton, Klein paints a nasty picture of the former first lady, who is now a U.S. senator many see as aiming at the White House in 2008, which would make her America’s first woman president. The Truth About Hillary focuses heavily on sexual issues. Lesbianism is a recurring theme. One chapter, titled “A Night to Remember” and based entirely on unnamed sources, is given over to an account of how, on a Bermuda vacation, Bill Clinton “raped” Hillary, leaving behind a bedroom that looked “like World War III . . . pillows and busted-up furniture all over the place.” The chapter goes on to purport that the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, was conceived on that night.
Critics of all stripes have dismissed the book as innuendo and anonymous character assassination. Major figures from both political parties have called it malodorous. The New York Times wrote a news story about the hullabaloo; distancing the paper from Klein, the piece noticeably failed to mention that he once worked there.
Some in the news business were chagrined that they had in the past believed Klein was a serious journalist. Klein himself insists he’s a serious journalist. In an interview with National Review Online, a website generally hospitable to criticism of Hillary Clinton, Klein was asked:
“Are you nervous putting out a product that seems to be based on a lot of anonymous sources?” Klein replied: “Were Woodward and Bernstein?”
Then he was asked: “Why should anyone trust or believe your portrait of Hillary Clinton?” His reply: “Because it is written by a journalist with impeccable credentials. . . . My record is impeccable.”
Klein has in fact written some untawdry articles in his career, but that was many years ago. Let’s say that was the Good Ed. The Cheesy Ed has taken over now. Look at the stuff he writes pseudonymously in his day job, the weekly column in Parade, the insert stuffed into Sunday newspapers all over the country along with the funnies.
The column is a list of reader questions and Ed’s answers about Hollywood people and other celebrities. It’s called Walter Scott’s Personality Parade.
A few excerpts will give you an idea of Walter’s gravitas:
Q: I’m against killing animals for fur. Does Jennifer Lopez use real fur in her Sweetface fashion line?
A: She isn’t called JenniFUR for nothing.
Q: How many more seasons will Larry David do Curb Your Enthusiasm? Does he have other TV projects in the works?
A: We phoned Larry in L.A. and posed your questions to him. “Tell your letter-writer that my answer to both questions is ‘I don’t know,’ ” said the comedian, 57. And this time Larry wasn’t kidding.
Q: What can you tell me about the little lost dog in the MasterCard commercials?
A: That’s Toby, a 2 1/2-year-old Boston Terrier. Director Scott Hicks told us he selected Toby . . . because “he had a Charlie Chaplin quality.”
Q: Why is it that celebrities like Whitney Houston and Robert Downey Jr. aren’t satisfied with fame and turn to drugs?
A: Fame is a kind of addiction that makes one feel great for a while but soon wears off, so some turn to other stimuli.
Q: I heard that soft-porn star Krista Allen is pregnant with George Clooney’s child. True or false?
A: False. That rumor spread after Allen, 31, who disrobed for the lead in Cinemax’s sexy Emmanuelle series, left the L.A. production of Orgasms over a disagreement with the director. (He then reportedly started the pregnancy tale.)
Note: The Walter Scott job is reported to pay $300,000 a year.
All right, now for the serious entries in Ed’s curriculum vitae. He became foreign editor at Newsweek and later assistant managing editor. In 1977, he went over to The New York Times as editor of its Sunday magazine. That job ended a decade later, not by his choice. Since then, he has written celebrity profiles for Vanity Fair, morphed into Walter Scott at Parade, and produced four gossipy, thinly sourced, and financially successful books about the Kennedy family.
I know little about Klein’s time at Newsweek, except that he was a controversial figure there. While I was reporting from Cambodia in 1973, Klein as foreign editor sent a telex to Newsweek correspondent Tony Clifton in Phnom Penh at the height of the American-backed war with the Khmer Rouge guerrilla army. The wire gave Clifton an urgent assignment. He was to take a photographer and interpreter and immediately head into the bush to make contact with the guerrillas and write a major piece for Newsweek about life on the enemy side. Any editor anywhere who had been following the Cambodia story should have known that the Khmer Rouge had a take-no-prisoners reputation and, more importantly, that a Japanese reporter who had recently gone on such a suicide mission had not returned and his body was never found. Clifton swore at Klein’s cable, sent a sardonic reply, and did nothing about the ridiculous assignment.
Klein was also controversial at the Times, where I was then metropolitan editor and later an op-ed columnist. Questions were raised internally about his ethics. My contacts with him were infrequent. On one occasion, though, he lobbied the newsroom to do a story about a dispute that a woman friend of his was having with a contractor and local officials in the Woodstock area over some renovations on her house there. Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal asked me as metro editor to have someone look into it. Two reporters spent a couple of days interviewing and going over records and came up with a dry hole. Klein had presented the situation as a broad town-gown social story about locals swindling and stonewalling a newcomer. The reporters concluded it was just a garden-variety dispute with a contractor. It appeared to them that Klein was simply trying to impress the woman with his influence at the Times. No story was written.
Q: Walter, what’s your opinion about all this unfair criticism of Ed Klein?
A: I don’t know what to make of it. He’s always been a beacon of distinguished journalism for me.
See Kristen Lombardi’s “Dyke Hillary! Dyke Hillary!”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 21, 2005