In a summer packed with books critical of Hillary Clinton, the latest (until a new one on Benghazi comes out next month), is told from the perspective of Secret Service agents who have worked for the former first lady and – according to the book – did not enjoy the experience.
“The First Family Detail,” written by conservative journalist and author Ronald Kessler, contains juicy tidbits about Bill Clinton’s alleged assignations and Vice President Joe Biden’s reported skinny dipping that have been excerpted for maximum impact ahead of its release date – but Clinton defenders are not amused, and they’re hitting back hard and early to undermine the book and its author.
Media Matters, the media watchdog group founded by Clinton foe-cum-defender David Brock, accused Kessler of self-plagiarism Monday, pointing to 13 stories he recycles from his other books and repeats using identical or nearly identical language.
For instance, on page 164 of his new book, Kessler writes, “In contrast to Hillary, since leaving the White House, Bill Clinton is ‘very friendly to the agents,’ says one agent. ‘I think he realized once he’s out of office, we’re pretty much all he’s got, and he does treat the guys really well.’”
In 2010, Kessler wrote another book on the agency called, “In the President’s Secret Service.” On page 170 of that book, Kessler wrote, “In contrast to Hillary, since leaving the White House, Bill Clinton is ‘very friendly to the agents,’ says one agent. ‘I think he realizes once he’s out of office, we’re pretty much all he’s got, and he does treat the guys really well.’”
The new book also repeats stories about Clinton’s curt interactions with an electrician, a White House household staffer, police officers, and a Secret Service agent accompanying the family on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, among others. A visit to a 4-H club during Clinton’s Senate campaign also gets reprised, as does a story about Bill Clinton making Air Force One wait on the tarmac while he got a haircut.
From a 2011 book on the FBI, Kessler borrows a story about how Clinton had “a standing rule that no one spoke to her” during transit, and another about the first lady’s relationship with Vince Foster, who committed suicide while working as a lawyer in the Clinton White House.
The message from Clinton’s defenders: There’s nothing new under the sun about the former first family.
“Kessler’s cut-and-paste job is another example of the desperate tactics the cottage industry of anti-Clinton books are willing to take. He recycled old news, added more anonymous sources, and repackaged it as a new,” Media Matters President Bradley Beychok told msnbc.
Kessler defended his reporting. Instead of being the hit jobs Clinton’s defenders claim his book is, he told msnbc his work is “non-partisan,” noting that it speaks positively of Barack and Michelle Obama’s treatment of agents assigned to defend them and that it criticizes the Reagan White House for overruling the Secret Service ahead of John Hinckley’s assassination attempt.
“Of course I used material from my previous books when I needed to tell a particular tale that is important or explain how the Secret Service works in order to present a complete book about the Secret Service. Otherwise, I would have to make up an account that was not in line with the facts!” he said in an email to msnbc. “To suggest that using material from your own books to present relevant background information is plagiarism is a joke. The fact that Media Matters … shows how desperate the left is to create a phony issue to divert attention from ‘The First Family Detail.’”
Early tensions between the Clintons and the Secret Service have been documented elsewhere. In his biography of Clinton, for instance, journalist Carl Bernstein wrote that Clinton distrusted many of the agents and household staff who were holdovers from the Bush administration (one reportedly never removed his “Reelect Bush” bumper sticker) and wanted to replace them. But Bernstein also reports that some of her fears later proved justified when agents apparently leaked private conversations to the press.
Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign turned killing negative books into an art. The strategy, laid out by Ben Smith in 2007, is being dusted off for this summer’s round of books. First, express boredom (Then: Clinton spokesperson Philippe Reines: “Is it possible to be quoted yawning?” Now: Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill: “Another book?”). Second, attack – ideally before the book even comes out.
“The First Family Detail” hits shelves Tuesday.