Moonbeams and Magnolias at the New York Times
                            by Gene Lyons

                       Toward  the end of her astonishing review of Susan McDougal's book
                      "The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk" in the New York Times Book Review,
                      Beverly Lowry condescends to give the author some advice. A novelist and
                      professor of creative writing at George Mason University, Lowry thinks McDougal
                      ought to have sought professional help writing her memoirs, "an editor or writer
                      ...who would have persuaded her all she had to do was tell the story straight."

                        This is big talk from a reviewer who couldn't even summarize the book's
                      basic facts competently. According to Lowry, Kenneth Starr's Whitewater
                      investigation "came up with pretty much of nothing, beyond a felony conviction
                      for McDougal on charges of obstruction of justice and criminal contempt."

                        In reality, Starr's failure to convict Susan on precisely those charges provides
                       the book's triumphant climactic scene. As Judge George Howard read the jury's
                      "not guilty" verdict on the obstruction charge, McDougal writes, "a cheer went up
                      in the courtroom...We had taken on the most powerful prosecutor in the country,
                      an organization with an unlimited budget and incredible resources, and we had
                      beaten them soundly. But as much as I enjoyed being a part of the victory, I was
                      not naïve enough to believe that the verdict was about Susan McDougal. The entire
                      trial was a referendum on Kenneth Starr, and we had succeeded in showing just
                      how corrupt his investigation was."

                        A waspish reviewer might sneer that Susan's triumph over her tormentors has a
                      cornball "Erin Brockovich" meets "The Pelican Brief" quality. It would be mean and
                      stupid, but a defensible opinion. Lowry, however, seems completely oblivious that in
                      the end, Susan McDougal did finally talk. She testified for several days in open court
                      during the aforementioned trial. So did three of Starr's prosecutors. The jury believed Susan.

                        Here at Unsolicited Opinions, Inc., we too have reviewed a bunch of books over the
                       years and have also taught writing to college students. At the expense of pedantry, we'd
                       like to offer our esteemed colleague at George Mason this advice:
                      "Yo, Beverly. Next time, read the damn book."

                        Assuming minimal competence, Lowry simply cannot have done so. She appears
                      to have skimmed the opening chapters for information confirming her own loopy notions
                      about "girl children from the Deep South"--she's the kind of Professional Southerner who
                      peddles moonbeams to Yankees--then winged it. Her summary of what Whitewater was
                      supposed to have been all about is filled with preposterous errors. Joe Conason exposes
                      a half dozen howlers in

                        Part of Lowry's problem is simply bad writing. Check this out: "The future president was
                      governor and the McDougals owned a bank and a savings and loan and were buying and
                      selling land and, like a lot of other  people they knew, making money hand over fist.
                      Unquestionably, the Clintons took part in Whitewater and irrefutably they and the McDougals
                      trampled on some rights and bent some rules along the way. But they were on a roll, life was
                      good, Arkansas sheltered them, and nobody thought life would ever go any other way."

                        The syntax is murky, but if that's supposed to mean the Clintons made money on Whitewater,
                      the fact is they irrefutably lost $43,000. As for trampling rights and bending rules, if Lowry's
                      review were a sophomore's paper, I'd write "BE SPECIFIC" in the margin in big red letters.
                      Which rules? What rights? Even the independent counsel's final report stipulates that the
                      Clintons had no knowledge of Jim McDougal's monkey business, which didn't involve
                      Whitewater anyway. The phrase "Arkansas sheltered them" would rate a big "EXPLAIN,"
                      because insofar as it means anything, it implies improprieties not in evidence.

                        True to the moonbeams and magnolias school of bad Southern writing, Lowry speculates
                      that Susan must have been in love with Bill Clinton, a notion her book lampoons, portraying
                      the former Chief Executive as a glib horn-dog who looks awful in jogging shorts. Lowry also
                      questions if "we" can trust McDougal, given what she calls bizarre charges of "embezzlement
                      of $150,000 brought by the orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta, and his wife, Nancy."

                        Unfortunately, Lowry neglects to mention that the California jury that acquitted Susan of
                      embezzlement in the Mehta case held a press conference denouncing the prosecutor for
                      accusing her without a shred of credible evidence. Several jurors then came to Little Rock
                      to support her in her final showdown with Kenneth Starr. Once again, it's all in the book.
                      To raise such issues without saying so isn't quite as reckless as falsely accusing somebody of
                      two felonies, but it definitely comes under the heading of not "telling the story straight."

                        As for the New York Times, what is there left to say? The cover-up continues. Mention the
                      Clintons or Whitewater, and the nation's single most influential book review metamorphoses
                      into The Drudge Report. Have its editors no standards of professionalism and intellectual
                      honesty whatsoever?

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