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.