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Leak Won't Stem Flood of Interest in Publication of Clinton's Memoir

June 06, 2003|Geraldine Baum | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Despite threats of lawsuits and posturing about reprisal, few in Manhattan's media and publishing world were overwrought Thursday that Associated Press quoted fragments of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir, "Living History," before its Monday release.

The passages, which describe the former first lady's anger and angst after she learned that President Clinton had lied about his affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, have apparently only piqued interest in and increased publicity for the Simon & Schuster tome.

"The controversy surrounding the leak only makes the book hotter," said former Talk magazine editor Tina Brown -- who should know. Brown went through a similar ordeal when parts of a 1999 interview with Hillary Clinton, which also focused on her husband's shenanigans, were leaked before they were to appear in the first issue of Talk. The pre-publication only boosted interest in the interview and sales of the now-defunct magazine, Brown said, adding: "At first I was extremely upset but realized later it was the best thing to happen to us."

Even David Rosenthal, president of Simon & Schuster, acknowledged that the Associated Press story and the headlines it generated -- such as "Hillary's Book Bombshell" -- probably created more curiosity about Clinton's promotional tour.

For several months, the senator's handlers have been negotiating magazine excerpts, key network TV interviews and strategic appearances by Clinton at bookstores, all timed to coincide with the launch of the book next week. About 1 million copies are expected to go on sale Monday, not just in the U.S. but in at least 17 other countries.

"It's not what we anticipated. It's certainly not what we wanted," Rosenthal said Thursday of the scoop and the hype that has followed. "But I don't think it hurt us. It demonstrates the interest in the book. Ultimately, it whets the appetite for it." His larger concern is that the tidbits, gleaned from a leaked copy, do not mislead readers that the almost-600-page book is no more than a superficial telling of Clinton's pain over her husband's infidelity and other hand-wringing about her White House years. The Associated Press quotes -- fewer than 300 words -- do not give a sense of "how broad and big this book really is about this woman's whole life," Rosenthal said.

Simon & Schuster is weighing several remedies, including whether to take legal action against Associated Press, Rosenthal said. Executives have also launched an investigation to find out who may have slipped a copy of the book to the news service, which put the story on the wire Tuesday night. "This is not going to be the Iran-Contra hearings," Rosenthal said. "We just want to know how this happened."

It's not the first time portions of a book have appeared in unauthorized venues. In fact, the carefully timed leak has become almost as much a ritual as the carefully coordinated marketing campaign. Parts of autobiographies of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, former First Lady Barbara Bush and former President Ford found their way into the media before they were published. The publishing of passages about Ford's pardon of Watergate figures prompted a lawsuit that left the Nation magazine liable for thousands of dollars because Time magazine had purchased excerpt rights.

Describing the choreography of setting up interviews with Barbara Walters, Larry King, Katie Couric and the New York media, Clinton attorney Robert Barnett said the leak upset a lot of people. "We've all known each other a long time and gone through this with a lot of books. So there was no shouting," said Barnett, a prominent Washington attorney. "But that said, you write something and you want to release it on your own terms, not on the AP's terms."

Nonetheless, none of the television divas or first choices for newspaper interviews were canceling their opportunities to discuss the book with the New York senator or changing their broadcast or publishing schedules. In fact, they were all covering the leaks.

Brown and others in publishing circles speculated that if there is an injured party, it is probably, again, Time magazine, which paid to run an excerpt in its next issue and had planned to put Clinton on the cover. Time magazine editor Jim Kelly said he was "deeply irritated" that juicy parts of the book were leaked. However, he added, "absent an act of God," he was still planning to publish a chunk of the book. He had not decided whether Clinton would make the cover, and said he had "ginned up" an alternative.

"The leaks definitely hurt the surprise factor," he said, quickly adding, "and we paid good money for that." Time and People together had reportedly agreed to pay $100,000 in cash and advertising for two excerpts. The publishing-world buzz was that the magazines would probably pay less than that now that Time's exclusivity had been undercut.

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