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(unnamed) Friends in high places

January 13, 2010 - Jim Anderson
I have no plans to read “Game Change,” the new book about the 2008 presidential campaign by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

There’s been some discussion about whether “Game Change” is journalism or gossip, and maybe it’s a little of each.

We’ve already heard much about the book, what with the stories it has generated about Harry Reid, Bill and Hillary Clinton, John McCain, John and Elizabeth Edwards and Sarah Palin, to name a few.

One of the problems that many people have with the book — on both the right and the left — is that it often relies on anonymous sources.

For instance, a recent blog by Greg Sargent (The Plum Line) centers on whether Bill Clinton actually belittled Barack Obama by telling Ted Kennedy something like, “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.”

That claim about Clinton, Sargent notes, comes on page 218 of Game Change as follows:

The day after Iowa, (Bill Clinton) phoned Kennedy and pressed for an endorsement, making the case for his wife. But Bill then went on, belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy. Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.

The remark about getting coffee is not in quotes, Sargent emphasizes. The book’s authors had this to say about whether dialog was placed in quotes in their book:

“Where dialog is not in quotes, it is paraphrased, reflecting only a lack of certainly on the part of our sources about precise wording, not about the nature of the statements.”

By the authors’ own stated guidelines, then, Clinton might not have actually used the words “getting us coffee.”

Yet, Sargent points out, is has become the basis for hints of racism.

“This really illustrates the perils of this approach to sourcing, particularly in the current media environment,” he continues. “And at bottom, it’s just absurd that this has provoked so much discussion, with little to no media figures also noting how tenuous and insubstantial the claim itself really is.”

My point isn’t to defend Bill Clinton. I’m well aware, through his public campaign statements, that at times he had an underlying animosity towards Sen. Obama. But, as the saying goes, that was then and this is now.

The book is also highly critical of Sarah Palin, who is apparently portrayed as a know-nothing campaigner of questionable mental stability.

Palin’s response: It’s nonsense, and the reporters weren’t there.

If Sarah Palin is going to be a serious factor in American politics, she can rise or fall on the credibility of her known public statements and leadership. End of story.

At, Glenn Greenwald echoes the notion that political tales like those revealed in “Game Change,” are more akin to the ridiculous nature of modern reality shows than important discourse in a nation confronting a recession and two wars.

“The real value of a book like this lies in the opportunity it presents for Washington’s elite class to distract themselves and everyone else from the oozing corruption, destruction, decaying and pillaging going on — that these same Washington denizens have long enabled,” he writes.

In other words, it isn’t much about actually making things better.


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