June 28, 2004
Making the List
Anybody who's anybody is scanning the index of Bill Clinton's 'My Life' to see if a certain name has been dropped.
By Ellen Gamerman, Sun Staff
WASHINGTON — The list in the back of Bill Clinton's memoir is an embodiment of the political pecking order, a tiny–print world of foreign dignitaries, campaign advisers, fund–raisers, celebrities and assorted high–achievers. For the former president, there was only one place where his glittering network belonged.
For names, dropping of, see the index.
A random index scan of "My Life" yields famous names stacked between policy references, a place where only the most important get a page number. A single perusal can span the globe: What begins with Arafat, Yasser, goes to Bandar, Prince; Gore, Albert, Jr.; Imus, Don; Mandela, Nelson; Mitterrand, Francois; Starr, Kenneth; Streisand, Barbra.
Even Teresa, Mother.
References to the Clintons outnumber all others (i.e. "Clinton relationship, mutual love in"), but an array of other characters appears, too. A reference is a nod to a person's importance in the Washington universe (NBC's Tim Russert is listed), while an omission can be seen as a slight. (What? No Chris Matthews from Hardball?)
In the capital's bookstores, people are searching for themselves — and not in the existential sense.
"People at cocktail parties may not talk about looking for their names, but you can bet that's what they talk about when they go home," says former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta (pages 459–62, 488, 535, etc.).
The index of Clinton's "My Life" is 38 pages of status anxiety. Panetta considers the index–scan a must.
"To be honest," says Panetta, "when I get the book, I'll do the same thing."
Some names that appear in the book — Clinton's pre–Hillary girlfriends, for example — are not referenced in the index. But in general, the list is relentless. Of all the sections of the book, it could be the most heavily read.
That's at least what Barbara Meade suspects. As the co–owner of Politics and Prose, the Washington bookstore that has shared in a season of top–selling political memoirs, she has watched people pick up the Clinton book and flip to the back, again and again. She expects "My Life" to be one of her best–sold and least–read books.
"I would be very surprised if there are many people who do more than a good skim," says Meade, whose 20–year–old independent bookstore will host Clinton for a reading next month. The memoir's debut last week was the biggest ever for a nonfiction book, selling more than 400,000 copies nationally on its first day. Meade credits a slew of new political books, specifically Clinton's, with making this the most lucrative June in the bookstore's history.
Meade, whose first job was as an indexer for National Geographic, says she used to do the painstaking referencing by hand entirely on — what else — index cards. "It was," she says, "a very, very tedious job."
His friend Sacagawea
Now indexing is executed more easily through computer searches. That means, to quote a new Clinton catchphrase, that the former president can make his index as big as he wants for the worst possible reason: because he can. (Perhaps this explains why a single offhand reference to the Indian guide on the Lewis and Clark expedition results in the inscrutable index line, "Sacagawea, 948," amid references to Friends of Bill.)
Plenty of lines involve subjects, not people, but it's the personal references that can be the most juicy. Though some mentioned in the back pages won't be able to look themselves up (Plato, 77), those who can, do.
"I wanted to read exactly what he had said in the book so I read just the couple of pages," says journalist Steve Kroft, referring to pages 385 and 386, where Clinton takes aim at him. It was Kroft's 60 Minutes interview with then–candidate Clinton about allegations of the affair with Gennifer Flowers that is credited with salvaging Clinton's campaign, but Clinton describes being so offended by Kroft's questioning that "I wanted to slug him."
"I've had an awful lot of people come up and ask me about it," Kroft says of his mention in the book, noting that Clinton knew the only reason for the interview was his alleged infidelity. "A lot of reporters have come up to me and said, 'You should really wear it as a badge of honor,' and I kind of do. That was a very difficult interview to do — he was going to give one interview on the subject, and I had to make sure that he answered the questions."
Despite the acid comment about Kroft, most personal references in the book are neutral at worst, glowing at best. Reviewers have said Clinton is not using this book to settle scores with anyone other than his impeachment nemesis, former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, and he treats others — how else — diplomatically.
"I'd be surprised to find a lot of criticisms of individual people in this book," says Harold Ickes, a former adviser to both Bill and Hillary Clinton in their respective political careers. "That's pretty much who Bill Clinton is. He's quite generous. In my dealings with him, he tends very much to give people the benefit of the doubt."
Ickes gets 13 mostly glowing mentions plus a photograph with Clinton in one of the picture sections. But Ickes, of all people, knows that not all memoirs are so charitable. Ickes, whose father, Harold L. Ickes, served as interior secretary under Franklin D. Roosevelt, recalls his mother vigorously editing out nasty personal references from her husband's manuscript. The senior Ickes' three–volume Secret Diary was published posthumously and with the harshest parts edited out, blunting some of the pain for those who would look for themselves in the text.
Just the facts
To some, the index has disappointed: Those who thumb to a particular page seeking praise or censure instead may just find a clinical report, no emotions attached, a simple recounting of a name and a job.
Washington lawyer Plato Cacheris was not surprised he wasn't mentioned in the book — as one of Monica Lewinsky's attorneys, he didn't expect to be — but he took umbrage on behalf of Bob Bennett, one of Clinton's lawyers in the impeachment scandal. In Clinton's book, two references to Bennett mention him without editorial comment; a third reference in the index actually leads to a different Bob Bennett, a Republican senator from Utah.
Lawyer Bob Bennett did not want to be quoted for this story, but Cacheris was outspoken.
"I think his references to Bob Bennett were very skimpy — he had no words of praise, nothing to say about him," says Cacheris, who picked up the tome in a bookstore the other day and turned to the index to find his friend and fellow power–lawyer. "I would have thought he'd have said something complimentary or nice."
Over the years, indexes in political books have provided much grist for gossip.
Former New York City mayor Ed Koch openly admits to his index addiction — and others are on to him. At a book party for William F. Buckley Jr., Koch immediately flipped to the index of his signed copy. There, next to Koch's name, Buckley had scribbled "Hello!" Koch had to laugh. "He knew exactly what I'd do," he says.
The index doesn't just have to flatter; it can snub. Former Clinton adviser Lanny Davis, who, after he left the White House, was ubiquitous on television in his defense of Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, never appears in Clinton's index. But Davis says that while he scanned the index for his name, he doesn't mind being left out.
"I've had plenty of buzz," he says. "I'm happy to not be in the buzz."
The Democratic spinmeister came to the White House to help the president fight allegations of campaign–finance abuse. He argues that the proof of his success in fixing that mess is that it — and he — were not mentioned in the book's 957 pages. If he had failed, he says, Clinton would have had to dwell on the episode.
"Actually," he says of the omission, "it's the highest compliment."
Exposing the secret
For power–readers, the "Washington read" — a perusal of the index and some corresponding text — has offered a shortcut some won't admit to. But in 1985, Michael Kinsley, then–editor of The New Republic, wrote an article unmasking the charade. Kinsley had instructed a colleague to place notes three–quarters of the way into roughly 70 books — the kind of books Washingtonians would profess to read — and gave his phone number and offered a $5 reward if the reader claimed it within five months. No one did, presumably because no one ever got that far.
"Washington is a place where people like to be thought to have read books more than they like to read them," says Kinsley, now head of the editorial page at the Los Angeles Times. There is a way around the bookstore index–scan, he adds: "There are people who purposely don't put indexes in their books so people do have to buy them."
Still, for some, there's a little thrill from finding yourself in an index, buying the book and keeping the memento.
After years of fund–raising for Bill and Hillary Clinton, New York financier Alan Patricof was pleased when he heard he was mentioned in Clinton's historic autobiography. He took a copy of the book and flipped to his page — page 401. There, the former president does, in fact, praise him by name. But there's a problem.
In Alan Patricof's brush with literary history, he is Alan Patricot.
"They spelled it with a 'T,' " he says, "instead of an 'F'!"
He laughs it off — after all, it's spelled right in the index — but he's still keeping an eye on the bookstores.
"I was told," he says, "it'll be corrected in the second edition."
© 1994 Andrew Vachss. All Rights Reserved.
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