A Tell-All That Doesn't

  • Books by people seduced and betrayed by the President are coming out of Washington at the rate of one a week. Just as Monica's Story was hitting No. 1 on the best-seller list, George Stephanopoulos uncorked All Too Human: A Political Education, an account of his years at Clinton's side. While it is a good read--galloping through the 1992 campaign and Clinton's bumpy first term--it will be known as the latest example of disloyalty at the top, an attempt to cash in on trickle-down celebrity with an instant book.

    In a nonstop round of interviews, George has been hit with scathing criticism. On NBC, Katie Couric asked him how it felt to be called a "turncoat" whose take on the President was "kind of creepy." Over at CBS, Mark McEwen said the author was being called a "backstabber" and an "ingrate." On CNN former Clinton adviser Mandy Grunwald noted that if the President hadn't given George the "opportunity of a lifetime," George might still be a Capitol Hill aide, not a "multimillion-dollar book writer and commentator" (inside the White House make that "commentraitor"). And James Carville says Washington has become The Truman Show, broadcasting Clinton's private life in something approaching real time.

    Even George, at one time, wouldn't have approved of George. Commenting on Dick Morris' memoirs, George said, "You have a responsibility not to embarrass the President. It hurts the country. It's just stupidity and weakness." That sentiment may have held Stephanopoulos back. He may have been disloyal enough to take nearly $3 million to write the book, but something kept him from stripping Clinton bare. And so he may lose twice--damned for being disloyal and damned for not being disloyal enough to truly spill the beans.

    He shows us Clinton's familiar warts--the chaos he creates, his poll-driven policymaking, his scouring, literally, of a government directory for Attorney General nominees, and the easy way he lies. We get a behind-the-scenes look at Hillary feeding Clinton honey-soaked lemon wedges but then the usual, albeit accurate, picture of a paranoid First Lady, responsible for many of the early mistakes. George doesn't like it that she didn't trust him. Of course, she may have had good reason, since George goes on to disclose that Whitewater made her cry. Ouch.

    While we don't learn much that's new about Clinton, we do learn a lot about George. He's weepy and can find the cloud in any silver lining. He was so stressed when he realized what an inept press secretary he was that his face broke out and he grew a beard to hide it. He delayed seeking therapy and antidepressants because he feared an unflattering story would leak to the press.

    It's nice to know that George is a sensitive sort, but it doesn't make up for the shortfall of sensitive information in his book. Tantalizingly, he leads us into the marital breakfast nook, where Bill is hunched over the table, shoveling cereal into his mouth while Hillary wags a finger at him. Then on to the bedroom, where the President is talking to George and Hillary while getting dressed, making George uncomfortable. And then--nothing. Why put us in these rooms if you're not going to shed light on the most mystifying marriage on the planet? Still, it's this breach of confidence that bothers Carville most. "Even if I were in Starr's bedroom," he says, "I'd respect his privacy. I wouldn't tell you about it."

    Stephanopoulos is suffering from the lingering resentment that he was nearly the first pundit to use the "I" word when the Lewinsky scandal first broke. Boy, he was furious then--and he didn't yet know that the lovebirds had had sex in his office! Anyone in George's position would have been angry, but his critics weighed in because Stephanopoulos' outrage rather conveniently gave him cover to cross over from Clinton aide to ABC pundit.

    Of course, if Stephanopoulos were to call this sorry President fully to account, he would destroy himself as well--his judgment, his sacrifices, his putting life on hold for an existence fueled by skim lattes, serial crises and the coronary poison of campaign food. Residual affection may have given him pause as well. Like Monica, George may still feel the magnetic pull of those early, heady days, when he thought he had found his soul mate. He felt "uniquely known and needed" after meeting Clinton, and his decision to sign on with him instead of Senator Bob Kerrey came from his heart, not his head. Emotion overcomes intellect for him again at the end of the book. Wired up at ABC watching the videotape of Clinton's grand jury testimony, he writes, he saw the President flicker on the screen, alone and unprotected, and "felt a tug inside. Maybe it came from seeing his reading glasses again... But the whole scene was heartbreaking. For the first time in months, I began to sympathize... Off camera, I quietly started to cry." Now what kind of betrayal is that? George, your problem is you're all too human.