We gave it a C
Hillary Clinton’s labored defense in Talk magazine of her husband’s philandering — that unspecified childhood trauma led him to a life of screwing around — couldn’t have come at a better time for veteran celebritologist Christopher Andersen. His disingenuous new book, Bill and Hillary: The Marriage, carves up ”one of history’s most remarkable couples” with the sharpened scalpel and pointy tweezers usually reserved for the dissection of frogs, while the author adopts the clinical tone of a surgeon wearing a sterile mask. It’s a cold, damning book, jammed with tattle. I assume much or all of it is true, unless it’s not; how are we to know?
Either way, it’s a miserable story of a marriage. Bill Clinton, the author reports, has cheated on the wife he nicknamed ”The Warden” regularly and copiously from the day they met nearly 30 years ago. Andersen names names. He proffers quotes, many from the women with whom Clinton dallied. He does that insidious, breezy thing of reconstructing extemporaneous conversations he couldn’t possibly have heard. And he lets the betrayed rattle on. One, and only one, vile example: ”At the time, [Clinton’s former longtime lover] Dolly [Kyle Browning] was unaware of Bill’s alleged sexual assault on Juanita Hickey Broaddrick. But she would later hear the story of his attack on her — and similar attacks on other women. ‘Do I believe Billy is capable of rape? Absolutely,’ she said. ‘There is a very cruel side to Billy.”’
Andersen would probably swear that his point is simply to describe an unusual union. Isn’t it interesting, he asks without inflection, that Mrs. Clinton — far from clueless about her husband’s behavior — sticks with Mr. Clinton because she loves him and because she enjoys being in the position to forgive, just as he enjoys being bad and risking getting caught? But this obsessive project is of little lasting value beyond feeding those who disapprove of the Clintons with more fuel for their ire (when the woodshed’s already plenty full of kindling). Aside from a superficial thesis about how the two get off on one another, Andersen cares little for what glues these two tarnished emblems of the baby-boom generation together. And he cares even less for the lasting effect their private relationship has had on the commonweal in everything from health care to foreign policy.
Written to make big headlines and fast money, Bill and Hillary is a prime example of a kind of opportunistic celebrity muckraking — sometimes known as selling people out — that has become junky big business since a decade ago, when J. Randy Taraborrelli tittered with Call Her Miss Ross. Rich, noisily powerful, and litigious would-be subjects can sometimes block publication, as the Versace family did with Christopher Mason’s aborted tell-all, and J.D. Salinger managed, at least until recently. But few can keep Kitty Kelley away, or David Brock, or, in the case of Foster Child by Buddy Foster, Jodie’s own brother. It’s all too likely that every scribbler who ever knew John F. Kennedy Jr. or the Bessette sisters is at work on a book proposal right now.
As so many issues of celebrity do, this brings us to the late Princess Diana — who was, not coincidentally, the subject of Christopher Andersen’s previous rubbernecking project, The Day Diana Died. Aside from the Kennedys, probably no human being in modern times has earned so much money for so many publishing houses. In life, everyone from a blabby lover to a crabby housekeeper seemed to have a book in them about Diana, their royal meal ticket. (Tit for tat, she maneuvered the media shrewdly for her own benefit as well.)
But in death, with the Diana industry noticeably slowed, Diana in Search of Herself is an unusual and mournful addition. Written by well-respected biographer Sally Bedell Smith, author of Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Churchill Harriman, and in the works even before the princess’ death in 1997, this calmly persuasive tome re-reports well-known facts and events with a new purpose: to psychoanalyze the glamorous royal divorcee the world thought it knew. With no cooperation or any real firsthand knowledge, Smith diagnoses that Diana was, in all likelihood, a seriously unstable woman with a major ”borderline personality” disturbance who would have benefited from psychiatric hospitalization. And who, far from finally finding love, etc., with Dodi Fayed in her last months, was more skittish and unmoored than ever.
Smith’s aim may be nominally deeper than Andersen’s, but the reader’s caution should be similar. We can assume much or all of this is true, unless it’s not; how are we to know? Bill and Hillary: C Diana in Search of Herself: B-
Bill and Hillary: The Marriage BY Christopher Andersen $27.50 MORROW
Diana in Search of Herself BY Sally Bedell Smith $24 TIMES BOOKS