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And Soon a Tell-All Takes on a Favorite Target, the First Lady

July 11, 1996|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Few people are watching the media's feeding frenzy over published allegations about President Clinton and his administration more closely than John G. Ekizian.

For Ekizian, director of publicity at the Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, can expect to face the same hungry pack when his company publishes David Brock's "The Seduction of Hillary Rodham" after Labor Day.

Described by Ekizian as a political biography that will begin with the first lady's childhood and also explore the Whitewater affair, the book offers the tantalizing prospect of putting Hillary Clinton in the sights of the tough, conservative and controversial investigative reporter who had a bestseller with "The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story" (Free Press, 1993).

Despite the intense interest of reporters who want an early look at Brock's not-yet-finished goods, Ekizian says he plans to resist the idea of spoon-feeding to the media whatever juicy revelations the book may contain. "Instead of highlighting only the X, Y and Z in the book, I hope to give A to Z, describing the full scope of the book," he said. At the same time, as Ekizian realizes and recent days have shown, the media are more likely to focus on the sizzle, not the steak.

For example, how many people know what is in Bob Woodward's new bestseller, "The Choice" (Simon & Schuster), besides its widely echoed details of Hillary Clinton's sessions with a believer in spirits? Yet these psychic seminars constitute only one of the items listed by the publisher in six legal-sized pages of highlights. ("The Choice" explores the preparations of Clinton and Bob Dole for the presidential campaign.)

Gary Aldrich's "Unlimited Access," in which the former FBI agent alleges a variety of misdeeds during his assignment inside the Clinton White House, has hardly been slowed by serious questions about the sources for some of the author's claims. Appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live" last week, Brock urged Aldrich's Washington publisher, Regnery Publishing Inc., to retract the book's serious charge having to do with the president's supposed late-night whereabouts. Why? Because Brock, the apparent source for Aldrich's charge, says he told the former agent that it wasn't true.

Still, according to Regnery consultant Harry McCullough, demand for "Unlimited Access" has escalated so quickly since Aldrich's allegations were first picked up by ABC News and other major media late last month that the publishing house had had to more than quadruple its initial printing of 30,000 copies.

*

Another book covering the territory--not counting James B. Stewart's Whitewater investigation, "Blood Sport" (Simon & Schuster), a bestseller for more than three months--is historian Roger Morris' "Partners in Power," which presents a decidedly negative portrait of the Clintons, their lifestyle and their rise through the political system. Henry Holt and Co. sought to take the high road on publication last month, omitting some of the book's more scandalous charges from the summaries that accompanied review copies given to reporters and turning down a request to run excerpts in the New York Post, which has been attacking the Clintons aggressively in its editorial and news pages. This restrained approach may have resulted in a slower response to "Partners in Power" by the media, but it did not prevent the book from finding an audience and landing on the New York Times' national bestseller list, with more than 200,000 copies in print.

Kenneth T. Walsh, the senior White House correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, says he's never seen anything like the current wave of interest in anti-Clinton titles, because book-length assessments usually appear after a campaign or an administration has become history. But as Walsh maintained in an interview, and spells out in his own new book, "Feeding the Beast: The White House Versus the Press" (Random House), the Clintons have done a poor job of telling their own story and establishing an effective working relationship with the media since their bruising encounters four years ago with reporters' accounts of womanizing and draft dodging. In Walsh's view, the latest wave of books (with more to come) fill an unsatisfied appetite for information.

"There's a lot that we don't know about the Clintons, about their relationship with each other and their relationship with their daughter--and there's a lot they don't want us to know," Walsh said. "The White House has not fed the media beast, to use a phrase of mine, perhaps fearing that the information will be misconstrued and used against them, so along come these books to fill the void."

Although the attention paid to Aldrich's book has given rise to second-guessing within the media about whether questionable assertions should be reported at all by respectable journalists, the fuzzy line between rumor and fact often is crossed in the drive to keep pace with the competition.

Afterwords: It's the kind of high-profile signing that Rob Weisbach was expected to bring about since launching his own imprint at William Morrow & Co. It was announced Tuesday that Whoopi Goldberg will put her observations into a hardcover Rob Weisbach Books plans to release in the fall of 1997. "I decided to write this book because I felt it was really time to say something--and I have a lot of 'somethings' to say something about," Goldberg said in a prepared statement.

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Thursdays.

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