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TELEVISION & RADIO | TELEVISION HOWARD ROSENBERG

Telling all? No, but talk shows don't care

June 13, 2003|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Barbara, Katie, Larry and the rest of the sales force pitched hard.

Then came the pundit hordes, speculating about whether author and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would run for president and when. And if she does run, MSNBC's "Hardball" huffed and puffed, "does she win?" And if she wins, someone out there in the TV ether wondered, how does Bill Clinton function as the nation's first first man?

Or would the Clintons even be together then? Hmmmm. Are they really together now? And wait just a minute. Where does this leave Chelsea? When will she run for president?

One whiff of this is all it takes.

So like other junkies, I rushed out to buy a copy of "Living History." Like them, I immediately went to the index and found the Ls. Then with great anticipation, like them, all tingly, hands sweaty and trembling, I turned to Page 398. And there, so hot that it singed my lashes, so torrid that it scorched the page, was what the former first lady had to say.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 14, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Hillary Clinton -- There are 100 U.S. senators, not 50 as was stated in Howard Rosenberg's column Friday about the media swirl surrounding Hillary Clinton's new book.

About Lyle Lovett.

All right, wrong L. I didn't care what she said about Abe Lincoln (Page 147) either.

Instead, I pored over Monica Lewinsky stuff (Pages 440-46, 449, 453, 465-469, 471, 474, 493, 519) in this pastel memoir that I bought, foolishly, after exposure to yet another runaway media bandwagon. This time it was TV's big names and major chin strokers helping a potential presidential candidate market her book in exchange for borrowing her fame and notoriety to market themselves.

It was the latest example of television existing largely to sell us something, whether airing programs intended to gather and hold viewers on behalf of sponsors or making the programs themselves advertisements. If something memorable happens during this process, as it does occasionally, it's a bonus, a windfall.

It's not only TV that's ravenous these days for a full banquet of Hillary Clinton. On Tuesday, this paper ran three pieces related to her just-published memoir. And more free publicity (including this column) would arrive.

When it comes to sheer hucksterism, though, TV is our Energizer Bunny.

As it was with Hillary Clinton much of this week when she worked her way down the TV news food chain. She began on ABC Sunday night with Barbara Walters, who is renowned for making her subjects blubber but appears to be losing it. Did you see her eyes? This time she made herself cry. Yup, watered herself like a philodendron in the presence of controlled, stoical Hillary Clinton.

Then on Monday came Clinton and Katie Couric in a thin band of chat that NBC's "Today" stretched across two days.

On Tuesday night, CNN gave viewers Clinton and Larry King, trying to put a positive spin on his getting sloppy thirds by repeatedly crowing about this being her first "live" interview about her "tell-all book."

As if "live" would make a difference, and King, by being tenaciously amiable, could budge her from her message (buy her book, buy her) and coax her from the "zone of privacy" she evokes when it suits her.

Fat chance. The knee-jerk Hillary Clinton of old -- the one whose rash public statements sometimes bought her trouble -- has been banished to the wings along with the headbands. Not a hair, not a word, is out of place. Center stage now is the carefully rehearsed maestro of finesse.

It was a small thing, for example, but when King asked if her marriage was strong, she replied that she and the ex-president husband were now having "fun." Say what? As responses go, this one was unresponsive. But on they went.

And what was this from CNN about a "tell-all" book? That deceptive promo helped sell King's program that evening and also the book. But "tell-little" or "avoid-all" is more like it.

After perusing "Living History," I wanted to kick myself. It reads, in effect, like a veiled stump speech. Yes, sucked in again.

Meanwhile, the bandwagon careens on, with Clinton scheduled for CBS' "Late Night With David Letterman" on Monday night, because (some cynics will note) history shows that all roads to the White House lead through Leno and Letterman.

Deja vu is thick in the air, for TV is nothing if not the boomerang of history. Out it goes, back it comes.

It wasn't long ago that TV's deepest thinkers were hemorrhaging "what ifs" about Hillary Clinton as a possible U.S. senator. They were aching to learn whether she would seek the New York seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Daniel Moynihan. And if she did, some of them wondered, would she be satisfied with being just one of 50 senators?

She went on the Letterman show then, too, and was subsequently attacked by Republicans, who charged that a "top 10" list she read and was given credit for had been written by professional comedy writers.

Maybe they also wrote "Living History." Maybe it doesn't matter, anymore than it seems to bother TV's talking heads that their chats with Hillary Clinton are not illuminating. Not to worry, though, for at least they fill some time and sell some books.

*

Howard Rosenberg's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be contacted at howard. rosenberg@latimes.com

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