• Email
  • Print

A Vast Conspiracy’

To the Editors:

In his review of AVast Conspiracy [NYR, April 13, 1999], Anthony Lewis correctly notes that when the book was first published last January, I “denounced” what its author Jeffrey Toobin had to say about me. Lewis then summarily dismisses my complaints. “I agree with Toobin,” he writes. Your readers might be interested in more recent developments.

After Toobin publicly defended his attack on my role during the Clinton-Lewinsky matter—“I did a thorough reporting job,” he insisted to The Washington Post—my lawyer, Thomas Earl Patton, wrote his publisher, Random House, a fourteen-page letter detailing nearly two dozen serious factual inaccuracies, misquotes, selective quotes, and other egregious distortions of the public record. The letter was accompanied by multiple exhibits, including pre-publication letters I exchanged with Toobin (initiated by me) in which the author turned down my invitation to ask me about anything he planned to write, if only for the sake of ensuring accuracy, not to mention conformity to the usual journalistic standards. Upon reviewing the material, Random House capitulated. In what is surely an exceedingly rare action, the publisher’s associate general counsel recently pledged a series of deletions, revisions, and “clarifications” in all future editions of Toobin’s book, including his upcoming paperback.

The alterations in Toobin’s text are—in context—rather material. Toobin, for example, charges that I was among a number of Clinton “enemies” who was propelled by “greed” in the Monica Lewinsky affair. He then cites as his principal evidence that in the spring of 1997 I talked with Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson about writing a book about the Clinton presidency that Toobin claims was to be called All the President’s Women. Toobin repeats or refers to the title All the President’s Women no less than four times in his book; he then uses the exact wording of the purported title to insinuate that I was “stoking” the Lewinsky story in hopes of landing a book contract. (“It is curious,” writes Toobin on page 131, “that [Linda] Tripp knew the precise title of Isikoff’s planned book.”) In fact, Toobin was wrong on every count. All the President’s Women never existed. The title was invented by Toobin or one of his secondhand, conspicuously unidentified “sources.” My “book project” with Simpson—quite different than the one described by Toobin—had been abandoned months before I ever heard the name Lewinsky.

Confronted with the facts, Random House is now deleting all references to All the President’s Women from Toobin’s book. It is also revising Toobin’s account of my own talks with Simpson—some idle bantering by two Washington journalists that somehow got transmogrified by Toobin into an archly sinister conspiracy. Random House is also excising Toobin’s bogus claim that I was “protecting” Ken Starr’s investigation, rewriting Toobin’s charge that I was used to “launder” sex charges against the President, and correcting Toobin’s brazenly dishonest use of Linda Tripp’s grand jury testimony: Toobin, on page 133 of his book, quotes a fragment of that testimony to suggest that I encouraged Tripp to tape Monica Lewinsky; he omits the sentence immediately before the fragment and immediately after it that directly contradict the claim. The Washington Post columnist Lloyd Grove—after reviewing the text of the correspondence between my lawyer and Random House—wrote an item on Toobin’s revisions under the subheading “A Vast Correction?” The press critic David Carr, writing on the new media website Inside.com, called the alterations “a significant embarrassment for Toobin and his publisher.”

While I am tempted to gloat—and to ask Lewis for an apology—there is actually a larger point to be made about all this. Toobin got into trouble not merely because he is an unusually sloppy writer. He—like many Clinton partisans—paints with the same broad brush as the Clinton enemies he excoriates. Thus, if anybody caused the President any difficulties, they couldn’t possibly be acting out of good faith or for any legitimate professional purpose; their motives and integrity must be impugned. I am hardly the only target of Toobin’s smears. My former colleague Sue Schmidt and some career prosecutors on Starr’s staff are also maliciously tarred in the pages of A Vast Conspiracy—all with the same reckless disregard for the facts with which we went after me. (The Washington Post general counsel recently fired off her own letter to Random House seeking correction of Toobin’s demonstrable falsehoods about Schmidt’s reporting.) None of this is intended to absolve Clinton’s enemies of their machinations or to justify the President’s impeachment. Indeed, the “conspiracy” in Toobin’s title had already been scrupulously laid out—with far greater detail and precision—in my own reporting for Newsweek and, even more so, in the book I ultimately did write about the case, Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter’s Story. It is merely to say what has long since been obvious to most level-headed observers: that in the battle over the President’s conduct, partisans on both sides played dirty pool and neither has anything close to a monopoly on the truth.

Michael Isikoff
Newsweek
Washington, D.C.

  • Email
  • Print