Will Tina Fire Lucinda?
Brown's Mag Can Stand for Truth or Talk.
Posted Monday, August 9, 1999
"It is clear that very few people have carefully read
the article. If they had, they would understand that she
never makes a connection between his chaotic childhood ... and
his sexual infidelities. Hillary Clinton never made that connection."
Your reporter, Lucinda Franks, spent the middle part of last week righteously denying that in her Talk profile Hillary Clinton made any connection between her husband's childhood and his sexual faithlessness. Then, when that claim became too ludicrous -- especially after the airing of the "smoking gun" quote from page 248 -- Franks changed her story to something completely contradictory. It was like that old Martin Short routine where the corporate mouthpiece heatedly denies an accusation and then, when that becomes untenable, says without skipping a beat, "Of course. We knew that."
Is this the standard of truthfulness you wish to establish for Talk? Specifically, are you going to keep this proven public dissembler on your masthead as a "contributing writer"? Keep in mind, I'm not talking about anything Franks said in her Talk piece itself. It was a dumb, fawning profile but you were right to publish it because it was (perhaps inadvertently) quite revealing about the First Lady. I'm talking about Franks' behavior afterwards, in which she let herself become part of the Hillary spin machine and began saying things to reporters and TV cameras that were patently not true. (On Crossfire: "You're making a link that is not there, Bob .....") She could have just said "I stand by my story." She chose instead to echo the (false) White House line that, as Hillary's spokeswoman Marsha Berry said on August 5, "[Hillary] did not say the president's childhood in any way caused his behavior...".
Was Franks consciously lying? I don't know -- but in order not to be consciously lying she would seem to have to have been unaware of both what was in her own article and what she now says is "obviously ... absolutely" true. But maybe Franks was in denial. That can happen to anyone when someone they love is threatened. And maybe Franks had a traumatic childhood.
Either way, what she said was untrue and said at least with "reckless disregard," as they say, for whether it was untrue. It's one thing for James Carville to put himself before the public and spout obvious crap. Carville is a professional B.S.-artist. That's what he gets paid to do, and everyone knows it. Also, he may have honestly believed Hillary made "no connection" because he'd missed page 248 of the Franks article. Franks doesn't have those excuses. Unlike Carville, she's paid to be a journalist -- presumably to discover and tell the truth.
Maybe at Talk the truth isn't a top priority -- not as important as being entertaining, or writing well. After all, when you edited the New Yorker you hired Joe Klein after he'd staked his "journalistic credibility" on his denial that he wrote Primary Colors, and you published a cracked essay by Henry Louis Gates Jr. that argued in favor of routinely placing loyalty over truth. (See a discussion of Gates' essay here.) But Klein and Gates are worth it; they're great writers. Franks isn't. (Plus Klein publicly admitted he'd screwed up.)
Anyway, as you know, a magazine's reputation can get fixed early on in the heat of high publicity. So you realize that by keeping Franks on you semi-permanently establish Talk as a compromised we-cover-up-for-Hillary book. (Maybe you could change the name to Tank!) And if I remember right, you soured on Sidney Blumenthal when you sensed that, though he'd written at least one piece highly critical of the White House, he was perceived as embarrassingly pro-Clinton.
Well, that's how Franks is perceived. She's just gone on national television and humiliated herself, and your magazine. What are you going to do about it? The buzzers are watching.
Copyright 1999 Mickey Kaus.