The Hatchet Job

Let us stipulate that, as the Los Angeles Times recently put it, President Clinton’s head exploded with his recent tirade against both Todd Purdum and Barack Obama. That doesn’t make Purdum’s article any less of a hatchet job. It’s not only a disgusting piece of so-called journalism. It’s a summary of how the press has failed the country for the last decade and a half.

One paragraph on the first page of the piece pretty much sums up the whole thing. Purdum writes:

To know Clinton is, sooner or later, to be exasperated by his indiscipline and disappointed by his shortcomings. But through it all, it has been easy enough to retain an enduring admiration—even affection—for a president whose sins against decorum and the dignity of his office seemed venial in contrast to the systemic indifference, incompetence, corruption, and constitutional predations of his successor’s administration. That is, easy enough until now.

Oh, yeah? Where the hell has Todd Purdum been over the last eight years? Did he bother to spend even an iota of time exposing the systematic indifference, incompentence, corruption, and constitutional predations of his successor?

No–he wrote puff-pieces on Dick Cheney’s daughters. Or he summarized John Roberts’ life as “rooted in faith and respect for the law”–a description that is laughable in light of Chief Justice Roberts’ headlong attack on voluntary school desegregation.

But yawn. Isn’t that all so boooring? Isn’t it just so much more fun to describe Clinton’s personal aide as his “butt boy”? Isn’t it better to insinuate that Clinton had an affair with Gina Gershon (leading the actress to threaten a libel suit)? Really–what’s the press, for, anyway?

Later, Purdum says

It is beyond dispute that Clinton’s foundation has done worthy work around the world, funneling low-cost anti-retroviral drugs to more than a million aids patients, shining the singular power of a presidential spotlight on the good work of others, and raising millions of dollars for practical programs in places much of the world’s power establishment never bothers with.

Very well. And that is pretty much all you hear about the Clinton Foundation in the piece. Purdum then proceeds to attack the way Clinton has raised money for the foundation–perhaps the most legitimate criticism in the entire piece. But what about the foundation, anyway? Doesn’t Clinton deserve some credit for it? He’s certainly done more than the Ronald Reagan Foundation–which appears to exist solely to magnify the Gipper’s image in history.

But again–yawn. Who cares? A bunch of African kids with AIDS. Big deal.

How much more fun to head right back to whom the former President is sleeping with–except that it’s not about whom the former President is sleeping with, because Purdum doesn’t have an iota of information about it. In fact, after suggesting that Clinton is having a riotous time on Ron Burkle’s plane, he has to admit that, yes, Chelsea was there, and no, nothing that Clinton did was anything less than above board.

But none of that matters. And none of what Clinton’s successor has done matters. And none really of what Clinton has done matters. What matters is that Purdum wanted to write that Ron Burkle’s aides call the mogul’s plane “Air F*ck One.” Now that’s a story!!!

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.