Game Change: The Cliff Notes

Game Change, the dishy, exhaustively researched, and occasionally overwritten new book on the 2008 election by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, has dominated both political gossip and book publicity for the past week. It’s produced a small political scandal, a New York magazine cover story, and innumerable blog chatter. The book has been number one on Amazon since the day before its release, and the print run has reportedly already been increased twice. Nevertheless, the book is difficult to acquire in some parts of the country. For example, in lower Manhattan, the first four bookstores I checked had all sold out all their copies. The Strand had placed twenty-nine back orders for it, while the Union Square Barnes and Noble—where the woman in front of me was also asking for it—had placed about one hundred. With this in mind, we at Mediaite want to give you everything you’ll need to keep up with the chatter on Game Change, without your needing to read it.

We’ve divided the book into eight sections. Every few hours this long weekend, we’ll post a new update that gives you everything really important in the new portion of the book. We’ll tell you what happens, what important new information Heilemann and Halperin have uncovered, and the best scandalous claims that they include. We’ll also include an example of their purple prose, and a particularly funny moment. Let’s start with the first three chapters.

What Happens:

After a prologue during the night of the Iowa caucuses, the book flashes back to 2004 to mid-2006. Hillary Clinton is preparing her Presidential campaign, and Barack Obama, urged on by Senate elders, is beginning to think he might have a candidacy as well.

What’s New:

  • Hillary seriously considered running for President in 2004, and didn’t only when Chelsea expressed reservations about Hillary abandoning her pledge to serve a full Senate term. (pages 15-20)
  • Barack Obama was discussing the possibility of being President as far back as 1989, according to his brother-in-law. (page 26)
  • Schumer secretly urges Obama to run, despite admitting that he’ll have to publicly support Hillary (page 37)
  • The New York Times in 2006 was going to report that the Clinton marriage was essentially a sham. Good press handling by the respective Clintons press secretaries Phillippe Reines and Jay Carson resulted in a much more tepid story by reporter Patrick Healy. (page 47)

What’s Scandalous:

  • Mark Penn and Mandy Grunwald urged Hillary to join the race in 2004, offering to abandon Lieberman’s campaign. Clinton aide and future campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle says to her about their actions, “You know how terribly unethical this is?” (pages 16-17)
  • Harry Reid’s now infamous “Negro dialect” comment (page 36)
  • Mentions D.C. rumors that Bill Clinton was sleeping with Canadian MP and financier Belinda Stronach, wealthy divorcee Julie Tauber McMahon, and Gina Gershon, of Showgirls fame. (page 49)
  • Hillary’s “war room within a war room” concludes that Bill is having a serious affair (pages 50-51)

Purple prose:

“And then it would hit them like a ton of bricks in their psychic solar plexus.” (page 37)

Funny moment:

“After enduring an unceasing monologue by Senator Joe Biden during a committee hearing, Obama passed a note to Gibbs that read, “Shoot me now.” (page 28)

We’ll be back with Part 2 in a bit – I’m not gonna lie to you, folks, this thing really is a page turner. So if you do read it, make sure you don’t have any other plans. It’s like The Da Vinci Code for the political set, with only slightly less guilt.

Nick Rizzo is a political consultant and writer. He lives in Brooklyn. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/nickrizzo.


Time Puts Haiti On This Week’s Cover

They must have been working double-time in the Time offices this week. In the 36 hours or so since Haiti was devastated by Tuesday’s earthquake the magazine has managed to turn around a cover story on the disaster along with a piece by former President Bill Clinton, who during times of natural disasters seems to set the standard for how Presidents can be useful once they leave office. Clinton, by the way, was appointed UN special envoy to Haiti in May of last year.

From President Clinton:

Hillary and I went to Haiti for the first time in December 1975. A banker friend of ours had some business down there. He had built up a lot of frequent-flyer miles and called and said he was giving us a delayed honeymoon. We were married in October, and we went down there in December. Both of us just kind of fell in love with the country, and I have kept up with it ever since.

*
Haiti isn’t doomed. Let’s not forget, the damage from the earthquake is largely concentrated in the Port-au-Prince area. That has meant a tragic loss of life, but it also means there are opportunities to rebuild in other parts of the island. So all the development projects, the agriculture, the reforestation, the tourism, the airport that needs to be built in the northern part of Haiti — everything else should stay on schedule. Then we should simply redouble our efforts once the emergency passes to do the right sort of construction in Port-au-Prince and use it to continue to build back better.

From Michael Elliot’s cover story:

“What makes the earthquake especially ‘cruel and incomprehensible,’ as U.S. President Barack Obama put it, was that it struck at a rare moment of optimism … But the mood of cautious optimism had not yet begun to improve the basic living conditions of ordinary Haitians. For even on its best day, Haiti is a public health disaster. No Haitian city has a public sewage system; nearly 200,000 live with HIV or AIDS, and just half of Haitian children are vaccinated against basic diseases like diphtheria or measles. The quake will make things unimaginably worse. While emergency-response teams have already begun combing through the wreckage, searching for injured who might still be saved, there are ominous longer-term health risks that threaten the island.”


Does Game Change Mark The End Of ‘Off The Record’?

Now that the dust has settled over the initial and headline-making revelations of the new campaign book Game Change, a number of people are beginning to question how authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin managed to get all the juicy quotes they included in the book. Halperin described the process to Time managing editor Rick Stengel:

We interviewed some of the major figures in the book more than half a dozen times. We had interviews that lasted up to 6 or 7 hours. It was not at all unusual for our interviews, over 300 interviews with over 200 people, to last several hours. That was the norm.

No one, of course, is doubting that these interviews took place. It’s more the nature of the interviews and under what rules they were conducted and how they were attributed that is causing the furor: there are a lot of anonymous quotes in this book and a lot of supposed in-the-room recountings, which no doubt are far easier to make when you don’t suffer under the fear of retribution or vetting. Per HuffPo’s Jason Linkins:

In their book, Halperin and Heilemann establish a set of rules governing how things are attributed and what quotation marks are meant to convey in their authors’ note: “Where dialogue is in quotation marks, it comes from the speaker, someone who was present and heard the remark, contemporaneous notes, or transcripts. Where dialogue is not in quotes, it is paraphrased, reflecting only a lack of certainty on the part of our sources about precise wording, not about the nature of the statements. Where specific thoughts, feelings, or states of mind are rendered in italics, they come from either the person identified or someone to whom she or he expressed those thoughts or feelings directly.”

So if these guidelines were followed, how then did Harry Reid’s “negro dialect” comment get reported but the identity of Bill Clinton’s supposed girlfriend did not? Reid says he was under the impression his remark, and discussion with the “two disarmingly charming book authors” was off-the-record. In Politico’s account of how the quote came about they say “Capitol Hill veterans said there was no way that such inflammatory words from a Senate majority leader would remain off the record, even if that had been the arrangement.” Which, as Linkins points out is utterly “absurd” and galling. Andrew Sullivan says he “cannot square this story with the principles of ethical journalism as laid out by the authors themselves.”

Of course, what all this anonymous sourcing also leaves itself open to is cries of stories being distorted, which Sarah Palin was happy to make last night on the O’Reilly Factor “These reporters weren’t there…I don’t think I have ever met these guys. They certainly didn’t interview me for the book.”

Is the lesson here that nothing should be considered off-the-record anymore? Fairly or not, the easy access of the blogosphere and Twitter has put a lot of things up for fair game that would have otherwise remained under wraps. Remember Obama’s “jackass” remark? That was also supposed to be off the record but made it on to Twitter courtesy of veteran journo Terry Moran. It would appear, that like it or not, Halperin has merely taken the new journalism ethos of Twitter (with some original The Note added in) and applied it to campaign book publishing.


Game Change: New Book Has Media And Washington In Gossip Girl Mode

Who says no one is reading books anymore! Washington is still reeling today from revelations made in the uber-gossipy yet-to-be-released Game Change penned by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. A copy of the book, which was technically under embargo until today, was discovered by the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder in a D.C. bookstore who shortly thereafter began posting the “juiciest bits” which shortly thereafter made international headlines.

Not to be outdone the NYT apparently shortly thereafter got their hands on a copy and whipped up an embargo breaking review that called it “a spicy smorgasbord of observations, revelations and allegations — some that are based on impressive legwork and access, some that simply crystallize rumors and whispers from the campaign trail.” It’s true! Thus far the headlines sound like D.C.’s version of the behind the high school gymnasium gossip mill. And who could resist that.

The juiciest, and thus far most damaging revelation has been Harry Reid’s private remark during the campaign about how he liked Barack Obama because he was a “light-skinned African-American with no negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Oy. And that may be just the beginning.

There is reportedly details about President Clinton’s (allegedly) more recent affairs and Hillary’s private war room that was set up to deal with them. And then there’s the Edwards, neither of whom come out looking good, to say the least. New York is running a train wreck of an excerpt the most surprising part of which may be hearing Elizabeth Edwards described by former staffers described as a”"abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending, crazywoman.” They make Sarah Palin look tame and one wonders if Elizabeth Edwards won’t suffer the most of anyone involved from the publication of this book. Meanwhile, if Heileman and Halperin have anything good to say about anyone at this point it has yet to surface. All in all, it’s a bit like the two got their hands on the private diaries of all the main players and published them. One half expects the chapters to be signed XOXO.

Michael Calderone calls the media blitz that has arisen of this weekend’s leaks and excerpts a “freak show.” Gossipy election history tomes, of course, are not new. The difference is that five years ago the audience for this sort of thing would have been limited to the beltway and a smallish group of political junkies. Not so now that we are a nation of politico’s! There is a national audience for this sort of thing and one wonders if Harry Reid is going to survive the tumult (probably he’s hoping for more shocking revelations regarding others to emerge today).

That said, some media folks are less thrilled than others with the results. Says Salon’s Glenn Greenwald “Generally, the people who most love royal court gossip are the courtiers, courtesans and hangers-on – like Mark Halperin.” Meanwhile, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman tells Politico that Halperin “more or less created the world that we now live in—the 24-7 always-on, hyper-linked, web-based, D.C. political media world we live in now with ‘The Note.’” Either way, assuming they book has nothing that damaging to say about the President (and if they did we probably would have heard it by now) one suspects Obama may relish a few days of having the press’ attention diverted away from realities of 2010.


Game Change: Mark Halperin’s Cindy McCain Hypocrisy

Game Change, the book out today by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, is  making waves in NY and DC with its sensational revelations about the 2008 presidential campaign. One of those excerpts, posted by The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, struck me as just a bit hypocritical. It concerns Cindy McCain and a previously discredited rumor, resurrected in Halperin’s book.

Here’s the passage, as posted by Marc Ambinder:

McCain aides confront Cindy McCain over reports that she had an extramarital affair (page 281):

“The man was said to be her long-term boyfriend; the pair had been sighted all over town in the last few years. Members of McCain’s senior staff discussed the unsettling news, and their growing concerns that Cindy’s behavior had been increasingly erratic of late. [John] Weaver and others suspected that the Cindy rumor was rooted in truth. It was upsetting, Weaver believed, but not a threat.”

This is exactly the kind of thing that a vociferous media critic pointed out, in the wake of the 2008 election, as an example of “extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage,” and a “disgusting failure” by the media. In fact, the exact thing:

“The (New York Times) story about Cindy McCain was vicious. It looked for every negative thing they could find about her and it cast her in an extraordinarily negative light. It didn’t talk about her work, for instance, as a mother for her children, and they cherry-picked every negative thing that’s ever been written about her.”

That defender of Cindy McCain’s virtue was…Mark Halperin.

Although I haven’t read the book yet, but unless Ambinder left out the part where Halperin has ironclad sourcing and actual facts, Game Change seems to do little more than repeat a rumor, and add to it a rumor that a McCain adviser believed the rumor.

Also interesting, given Halperin’s November 2008 j’accuse to the rest of the media (while he was already writing the book with Heilemann), is the fact that Marc Ambinder has released excerpts that devastate McCain, Harry Reid, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin, but describes the parts of the book about Obama thusly:

About Obama himself the book includes plenty of observations about his manner and temperament, many astute and some original, though no earth-shattering revelations.

Physician, get thyself out of the tank.


White House Cancels Sunday Press Pool Coverage – Game Change?

Late last night, the White House announced that there would be no pool coverage for Sunday, January 10. While the President had no scheduled events this weekend, there was pool coverage yesterday.

It could be a mere coincidence, or it could be that the White House is trying to catch its breath before responding to bombshell revelations in the upcoming book Game Change,excerpts of which poured out all day yesterday. President Obama already issued a statement about Harry Reid’s “negro dialect” quote, but even more explosive passages have emerged since.

The newest passages from the book to hit Marc Ambinder’s blog could be even more explosive than Reid’s, as several of them involve the Clintons. Among these is an anecdote about the late Ted Kennedy taking offense at President Clinton’s assertion that “A few years ago this guy (Barack Obama) would have been getting us coffee.”

While pool reporters are normally just there to observe and report, the only thing stopping them from peppering the President with questions is the icy stare of the press staff.

Also of interest, Jake Tapper reviews President Obama’s responses to other racially incendiary remarks in the past, which have some crying “Hypocrisy!” I would point out that the devil is in the details. In each case, Obama provides a fairly clear rationale. In Reid’s case, it seems he earned a storehouse of goodwill that the others cited did not.


New Book: Sarah Palin Couldn’t Remember Joe Biden’s Name

Past is prologue? Just in time for the 2010 mid-term election bonanza comes the much-anticipated Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. So anticipated in fact that what is billed as a “sweeping, novelistic portrait of this historic and unusual race” is under embargo until Monday. Ahead of the release the two are being interviewed on 60 Minutes this Sunday along with John McCain’s former top campaign strategist Steve Schmidt. Additionally, Drudge has devoted a entire box to it, including what yesterday looked like an excerpt, but which appears to have since been removed.

This from CBS (video below):

Asked by Barack Obama if she would be his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton – after initially turning him down – was concerned that her husband’s penchant for causing controversy would interfere with her new role. Sarah Palin was so overwhelmed by the amount of information she needed to learn to debate Joe Biden that campaign staffers thought the debate might be a “debacle of historic and epic proportions”…Palin had a reflexive tendency to refer to Biden as “O’Biden,” says Schmidt, something that had to be fixed before the debate. He says others in the campaign came up with a solution. “It was multiple people – and I wasn’t one of them – who all said at the same time, ‘Just say, Can I call you Joe,’ which she did.”

Schmidt says he took over the prepping, simplified it, and says she “more than held her own” in the debate. But not without one “O’Biden” slip on national television.

It will likely be a must-read in media circles as well. Mark Halperin, currently a journalist for Time, and formerly for ABC News (he was the original The Note) was once dubbed by the New Yorker as “leading purveyor of inside dope.” Heilemann is the much-read political columnist for New York. The book, which initially sold to Harper for six figures has already been optioned by HBO.


Watch CBS News Videos Online