When reporters began to ask last weekend about a bruising profile of Bill Clinton that appears in the July issue of Vanity Fair magazine, the former president's aides struck back with this scathing rebuttal.
To: Interested Parties
From: Office of President Clinton
Re: Vanity Fair Article on President Clinton
Date: June 1, 2008
A tawdry, anonymous quote-filled attack piece, published in this month's Vanity Fair magazine regarding former President Bill Clinton repeats many past attacks on him, ignores much prior positive coverage, includes numerous errors, and ultimately breaks no new ground. It is, in short, journalism of personal destruction at its worst.
Any balanced account of President Clinton's post-presidency - which other publications have referred to as one of "a great philanthropist;" the face of "the power of philanthropy" and "a major force in fighting the pandemic [HIV/AIDS]" - would recognize that the lion's share of his work is his multi-million dollar charitable foundation, which works in almost 50 countries around the world. [The Economist, 9/23/06; Fortune Magazine, 9/7/06; The Wall Street Journal, 1/14/04] Vanity Fair, however, has chosen to publish thousands of words on former President Clinton, but to devote only a single paragraph to his enormous charitable accomplishments.
The piece also takes gratuitous and baseless shots at President Clinton's longtime Counselor, Doug Band, a key architect of the post-presidency, in sections that are rife with mistakes and which, in particularly galling taste, go as far as to criticize Band's wife, who started, and is the CEO of a multi-million dollar global company. The article even criticizes his wedding. The critiques of Band are baseless, and President Clinton has credited Band with being the originator of CGI and has noted that "I couldn't have done half of what I have done in my post-presidency without him."
The author, Todd Purdum, acknowledges speaking to over 50 people (almost all of them anonymous Washington insiders) before contacting President Clinton's office about his piece. Though he researched the piece for several months, his first contact with President Clinton's office was several weeks before he closed the story. Most revealing is one simple fact: President Clinton has helped save the lives of more than 1,300,000 people in his post-presidency, and Vanity Fair couldn't find time to talk to even one of them for comment.
Below are facts and information for those who want to know the real story.
I. The Real Facts about President Clinton's Post-presidency
II. Vanity Fair's Troubling Ethical History
III. Fact versus Fiction About this Piece
I. THE REAL FACTS ABOUT PRESIDENT CLINTON'S POST-PRESIDENCY
In six years, the William J. Clinton Foundation has grown from a small staff with two offices in the U.S. into a leading global non-governmental organization, with over 800 staff and volunteers in 44 nations with the mission to strengthen the capacity of people throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence.
The Clinton Foundation is made up of seven initiatives that address some of the most pressing global challenges, including HIV/AIDS, climate change, childhood obesity in the United States and economic development around the world.
The Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) is focused on expanding access to HIV/AIDS care and treatment. Through the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative:
1.4 million people - nearly half of all people on treatment - have access to HIV/AIDS treatment at reduced prices reflecting CHAI negotiations.
Over the last two years, prices for pediatric ARVs have been reduced by 89%. CHAI has achieved 7 breakthrough price reductions on ARVs and diagnostics in four years, often reducing their cost by 50%.
The Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) is working with 40 of the world's largest cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a variety of programs, including building retrofits and improvements in transportation and waste management. Additionally, CCI's purchasing consortium for energy efficiency products is accessible by more than 1,300 cities.
The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) provides an innovative, meaningful, and tangible platform to help the public and private sectors work together to devise and implement solutions to some of the world¹s most pressing challenges. CGI has inspired nearly 1,000 Commitments to Action to improve over 200 million lives in 100 countries.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation - a partnership between the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association - is working with over 2,000 schools nationwide to create healthier school environments. The Alliance has brokered agreements with 30 companies and trade associations in the beverage, food & dairy industries, resulting in a 41% decrease in calories in the products shipped to schools.
Why did Vanity Fair fail to include any of this information in its post-presidency piece? Much lies in the sources they elected to pursue.
Who did VF call for this piece?
* Dozens of Clinton "watchers," "former aides," and "senior aides" who refused to be identified.
Who didn't VF call?
* The more than 800 staffers and volunteers in 44 nations who work for the Clinton Foundation.
* The 200,000,000 people in 100 countries whose lives will be impacted by commitments made by Clinton Global Initiative members.
* The 700 students from around the world who have made a commitment to act when they gathered for the first annual Clinton Global Initiative University.
* The more than 1,300 members of the Clinton Global Initiative who are leaders in government, including 36 Heads of State and 15 Former Heads of State, business and non-governmental organizations who have made commitments to action.
* The 1.4 million people with HIV/AIDS around the world who are benefiting from the Clinton Foundation's successive price reduction.
* The more than 20 national governments that the Clinton Foundation's HIV/AIDS Initiative works with around the world.
* The 7 pharmaceutical companies that have completed agreements with the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative allowing 67 countries to buy AIDS medicine at drastically reduced prices.
* The more than 750,000 kids from more than 1,000 schools in 44 states who are part of the Healthy Schools Program, which the Clinton Foundation launched with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to combat childhood obesity.
* The 30 companies and trade associations that the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association's Alliance for a Healthier Generation has brokered agreements with in the beverage, food and dairy industries, resulting in a 41% decrease in calories in the products shipped to schools.
* The 425,000 people in eastern Rwanda and the 584,000 people in Malawi who the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative are helping reach economic self-sustenance through improved agricultural productivity, access to clean water, and stronger health-care systems.
* The hundreds of thousands of people in the Gulf Region who have been the beneficiary of over $130 million in grants given by the Bush Clinton Katrina Fund.
* The hundreds of thousands of people in Asia who have benefited from the $12 million in grants from the Bush-Clinton Houston Tsunami Fund.
* The New York City small businesses who received more than 65,000 hours of pro-bono technical assistance to help them stay competitive in an increasingly competitive environment.
* And at least two Nobel Peace Prize winners who have praised the President's foundation:
* "The (Clinton) Foundation has already proven to be a unique vehicle for Bill Clinton to continue working on the issues he cared about most as president. I congratulate the former president on establishing the Clinton Foundation and on the excellent work he has already done through it." -Nelson Mandela
* And Wangari M. Maathai, MP
II. VANITY FAIR: A LONG HISTORY OF LIBEL AND A LOOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FACTS
This piece was written by Todd Purdum, who is married to Dee Dee Myers, former White House Press Secretary. Purdum's disclosure of this in the piece does not, as Vanity Fair apparently concluded, remove the obvious conflict of interest. It's a conflict that would likely not be contemplated at more reputable publications, especially considering that, as a result of this relationship, at least one source's anonymity was revealed to others.
It is, however, but an example of Vanity Fair's ethical challenges. Since 1992, media outlets have reported on the magazine's penchant for libel, which has led to numerous lawsuits. The suits came from a wide range of people including: a former chess prodigy, Julia Sarwer; Mohamed Fayed; and American bio-weapons specialist and outed-anonymous source, Steven Jay Hatfill. In 2004, one of the magazine's "premier" writers, Dominick Dunne, was accused of paying a woman to lie for his stories. And in late 2006, the conservative author David Frum took to the pages of Huffington Post to explain how, "[i]n short, Vanity Fair transformed a Washington debate over "how to correct course and win the war" to advance obsessions all their own." [Huffington Post, 11/4/06]
Furthermore, several new outlets including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported in 2004 on Editor in Chief Graydon Carter's capitalization on his position at Vanity Fair to explore consulting and investment deals. Specifically, they examined connections between Carter's personal consulting deals with movie companies and Vanity Fair's coverage. It was revealed that Carter had received a $100,000 consultant fee for suggesting to Hollywood producer Brian Grazer that Sylvia Nasar's book, A Beautiful Mind (which had been excerpted in Vanity Fair), be adapted into a movie. [Columbia Journalism Review, Jan/Feb 2007]
Carter's actions were condemned by Ed Kosner, a former editor of Newsweek, New York and Esquire: "When you're running an important magazine, there's an ethical line you just can't cross.You don't do any business on the side with people you're covering. You don't pitch projects to people your magazine is covering. You don't accept gifts," said Kosner. "This is not a personal decision one makes as an editor. It's a journalistic code, something that's very well known." The New York Observer concluded, "What Mr. Carter did was unconscionable." [LA Times, 5/14/04; New York Observer, 5/24/04]
III. VANITY FAIR VS. THE FACTS
VF Claims: Based on the opinion of a single doctor, VF claims President Clinton had heart surgery that has led to him behaving erratically.
The Facts: Purdum, who is not an MD, quotes one doctor who has never examined President Clinton and who provides a hypothetical analysis (from at least several hundred miles away) to support this claim. This theory is false and is flatly rejected by President Clinton's doctors who say he is in excellent shape and point to his vigorous schedule as evidence of his exceptional recovery.
VF Claims: President Clinton had a negative impact on his wife's campaign.
The Facts: Independent observers continue to praise President Clinton's abilities on the stump: "I have always said that Bill Clinton is still par excellence among all of them [speakers on the stump]." [Michael Smerconish on MSNBC, 5/12/08]
In his role as spouse/surrogate, Bill Clinton is still the gold standard: "And a spouse who I think gives the best stump speech of any spouse I`ve seen, with the exception of Bill Clinton." [Mark Halperin on Charlie Rose, 5/6/08]
The New York Times has praised President Clinton's "command of language," "appreciation of the urgency" of the campaign, ability to boil down a subject to its essence resulting nodding heads, and "political skills and fighting style." [New York Times, 5/5/08]
Finally, the data shows that Sen. Clinton won by huge margins in several rural counties that her husband visited: 44 percentage points in Armstrong County, 44 points in Cambria County, 48 points in Carbon County and 50 points in Greene County. This compares with an edge of 26 points for Hillary among rural voters statewide. In Bucks County, a Philadelphia suburb that Mr. Clinton visited, Sen. Clinton won by 26 points, compared with only three points in suburban Philadelphia as a whole. [WSJ, 4/26/08]
VF Claims: "As disclosures about his dubious associations piled up.his wife's reluctance to release their income-tax returns created crippling and completely avoidable distractions for Hillary Clinton's own long-suffering ambition."
The Facts: The Clintons have made public thirty years of tax returns, a record matched by few people in public service. None of Hillary Clinton's presidential opponents have revealed anything close to this amount of personal financial information.
VF Says: There is ample evidence that his eight-year absence from a political workplace that has changed.
The Facts: To suggest that President Clinton has sat idly watching campaigns play out for the last eight years is irresponsible. In June 2006, under the headline: Clinton is the Life of the Democratic Party, the New York Times wrote: "In what promises to be his most intensive campaign since he left office, former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to appear at more than two dozen fund-raisers for Democrats around the country, hoping to collect at least $20 million for his party's drive to recapture Congress." [New York Times, 6/6/06]
VF Says: For one thing, she lent her campaign $11.4 million this year, and because the Clintons' finances are commingled.
The Facts: Bill and Hillary Clinton have been married for over thirty years, yet the article makes it seems as though there is something suspicious about a husband and wife who have a joint financial account. This is ridiculous, and only serves to promote the opaque financial arrangements that the McCain campaign has relied on to deny the public information about his wife's finances.
VF Says: Since 2001, Clinton has received more in almost every category-pension, staff salaries, supplies-than any of his colleagues in that smallest of clubs. Before Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford died, Clinton's telephone and rent expenses came close to exceeding the comparable expenses for all four then living former presidents combined.
1. President Clinton receives the same pension amount as the other former presidents.
2. The difference in cost for President Clinton's office is attributable to location. Real estate in New York City is more expensive than in other cities. The rent for President Clinton's office is comparable to that of Social Security Administration, a federal agency with an office in the same building.
3. The numbers referenced by VF are GSA allocations, not actual amounts spent. Funds are allocated in accordance with the Former's Presidents Act. Under the Act, GSA allocates funds based on previous years allocations and GSA's projections. For Fiscal years 2005, 2006 and 2007 the President's office did not spend the full amount allocated by GSA.
VF claims: Band showed poor judgment
The Facts: In fact he is the originator of CGI, which has raised over $30 billion and impacted over 200 million people globally; helped raise $100 million with President Bush to help tsunami victims in Asia in addition to $20 million for the families of 9-11 victims to go to college; helped lead president Clinton's effort to put more than half of the developing world's HIV patients on life saving treatment, and his efforts to develop programs that fight climate change with the world's 40 most prominent mayors, childhood obesity and promoting citizen service.
VF Claims: President Clinton's Counselor Doug Band was involved in a deal involving Ron Burkle and Raffaello Follieri.
The Facts: Band was not involved in and did not receive remuneration for this deal.