Georgetown Dean gets inside Clinton’s head?

That’s what New Yorker reporter George Packer would have you think. He uses the experience of our own Barbara Feinman Todd, Associate Dean of Georgetown’s brand-new graduate journalism program and the reason Georgetown even has what anemic undergraduate offerings do exist, to explain how Senator Hillary Clinton has a “habit of undermining herself, when the worst might have been averted by a little candor and grace—a tendency that has reappeared in the past few weeks.”

Feinman Todd, before and while at Georgetown, worked as a freelance journalist and particularly as a ghostwriter, and her most famous job was working with the then-first lady to write “It Takes A Village.” Clinton didn’t thank her in the book’s acknowledgments, causing a minor scandal at the time, but Packer’s sources, apparently editors at Simon & Schuster, claim that Feinman Todd really did a bad job and didn’t deserve the credit. I e-mailed Feinman Todd, who declined to comment specifically due to a confidentiality agreement, except to say that she believed the piece to be inacccurate. I’m waiting to hear back from Packer about the story, but in the meantime you can read the relevant excerpt after the jump and judge for yourself.

That year, Clinton began writing a book about children and society called “It Takes a Village.” The thing that Washington insiders remember best about the book is Hillary’s failure to thank Barbara Feinman, the writer hired by Simon & Schuster, the publisher, as a collaborator. The truth, though, is more complicated, and shows Hillary to be less a Machiavellian liar than a woman whose guardedness leads to self-sabotage.

Editors at Simon & Schuster reacted to early chapters with dismay, and worried about the quality of Feinman’s contributions, but they kept their reactions private. Over the summer, a manuscript emerged, but neither the publisher nor Clinton’s aides—nor, especially, Hillary herself—were pleased with it. When Feinman left for vacation, Clinton, a Simon & Schuster editor, and a few key aides, working on their own time, continued on the book without her. (Feinman fulfilled the terms of her contract, and was never told by the publisher that her work was unsatisfactory.) In November, the Simon & Schuster editor spent three weeks at the White House, working intensively to expand and refine the material with the aides and with Clinton, who filled yellow legal pads with incorrigibly wonky prose, in “round, schoolgirlish handwriting,” the editor told me. In private, Clinton was strikingly relaxed, padding around the Book Room and Solarium in sweatpants and Coke-bottle glasses, the editor said, calling her “buttercup.” Clinton’s personality, the editor found, “is refreshingly sharp and clear—but she can’t show it.”

“It Takes a Village” appeared in January, 1996, with an acknowledgments page that mentioned nobody. Clinton had apparently given in to the urge to pay her ghostwriter back (as had Simon & Schuster, which considered withholding the last portion of Feinman’s hundred-and-twenty-thousand-dollar fee but quickly relented). Clinton’s omission aroused the enmity of powerful friends of Feinman’s at the Washington Post, and journalists began covering the slight, their suspicions roused by Clinton’s explanation that she had forgone names in the acknowledgments for fear of leaving someone out. Hillary’s triumphant return to the public eye became another embarrassment. As with so many other Clinton scandals, the press framed the story in the worst possible light, and got its essence wrong, suggesting that Feinman had written the whole book and that Clinton had stolen the credit. Instead, Clinton had micromanaged every aspect of the book’s development. The episode captures her habit of undermining herself, when the worst might have been averted by a little candor and grace—a tendency that has reappeared in the past few weeks, as her campaign has responded to the shock of Obama’s challenge

The rest of the story is here.

—Tim Fernholz, Contributing Editor

Portions of this article have been corrected and updated.

2 Comments on “Georgetown Dean gets inside Clinton’s head?

  1. Mr. Fernholz,

    I’m upset to see the Voice, a paper that I read and respect, publish such an unsubstantiated and biased article about Dean Feinman Todd, whom I can attest is an invaluable asset to this university. As a senior English and Government double major, I have taken numerous journalism courses at Georgetown–two of which were taught by Dean Feinman Todd–to prepare me for a career in journalism. Thanks to the education I’ve received from her as well as a handful of outstanding adjunct professors (many, if not all of whom were hired by Dean Feinman Todd), I’ve secured highly competitive internships at NBC News, Rolling Stone Magazine, and New York City’s 1010 WINS news radio, as well as a PR firm and a Teaching Assistant position at the University. I credit a great deal of this to Dean Feinman Todd’s mentorship.

    What I don’t understand is how you can call a journalism program that has afforded me so many outstanding opportunities “anemic.” I assure you it is anything but.

    I expect more from the Voice. It is embarrassing for me as an undergraduate to see a student publication showing such utter disrespect for a person who has single-handedly been fighting for more classes, better professors, and more opportunities for us– Georgetown’s student journalists.

    –Erin Delmore

  2. Erin, we’ve known each other since we were freshmen: call me Tim. Anyways, I call the undergraduate journalism program anemic because it consists of three to four courses each term, one of which seems to be half graduate students, and because we do not offer a degree or certificate in journalism. Reasonable people can disagree about that, of course. Congrats on the internships.

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