Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Infamous Byline
Of Kitty Kelley A Tad
Jarring on TNR Cover

I did a double-take when I saw her byline this week on a
cover story in The New Republic. The infamous Kitty Kelley, who's been scorned in some quarters as the author of "bioporn" and celebrated in others as a fearless investigative reporter whose work generally stands up to close scrutiny, wrote a long piece about the Duke Cunningham defense contractor scandal.

The piece is not uninteresting, and adds at least some new elements to the still unraveling story of what by some measures is the biggest case of personal corruption by a sitting Congressman in American history. It relies on her usual M.O.: a key interview with a close (usually female) family member (in this case Cunningham's wife) who until now has remained silent, and who emerges to talk only to her. She couples this new interview with a mountainous surrounding "clip job"--reporting culled from other sources. But her new information contains a seemingly dubious fact that I simply can't get past: how does a 54-year-old woman, Cunningham's wife, have an 87-year-old grandmother? It's of course quite possible, but it nevertheless nagged at me as I read it. At the very least, it seems to cry out for at least a brief clarification.

Anyway, Kelley has used this recipe before, perhaps most famously on Nancy Reagan (whom she suggested in an unauthorized biography had had sexual dalliances with Frank Sinatra in the White House, based on the vaguest possible substantiation), and most recently on the Bush clan. An errant Bush daughter-in-law told her that George once did cocaine at Camp David (during his father's presidency) and that mild-mannered First Lady Laura Bush, of all people, used to deal drugs. Though the relative later tried to recant it, presumably under extreme family pressure,
the initial damning charges seemed to hold up fairly well to subsequent scrutiny. Naturally, the book was rolled out in September '04, just as Bush's re-election campaign hit its stride.

Indeed, Kelley makes much of her own assertion (which I assume to be fact, since to my knowledge no one has yet come forward to claim otherwise) that she has never lost a lawsuit nor been forced to retract material. She repeats that like a mantra, in the face of withering challenge, even ridicule, from the major mainstream media (most famously from Matt Lauer on the Today Show), some of which is clearly orchestrated by her powerful subjects as they try to lash back at her. Kelley's other suit of armor is of the photographic variety: I've noticed that over the years, she's frequently chosen to pose in her file-strewn office (like the photo nearby), no doubt hoping to drive home the idea that she gets her facts straight. She says she also hires her own independent fact-checkers.

She no doubt shopped this piece to TNR only because she lost a longtime outlet, probably as a result of that aforementioned political pressure. In the wake of the Bush family book, she was booted from her slot as a contributor to Washingtonian Magazine, where she'd been on the masthead for 30 years. For its part, TNR has its own long record of giving a national spotlight to controversial writers. Over the years, the sometimes-bizarre-but-always-interesting Camille Paglia has used TNR's pages to explore her ideas about art, culture and gender in her uniquely high-octane style. More memorable still, a dozen years ago, then-editor Andrew Sullivan decided to turn over nearly an entire issue to an exploration on race by the writers of an explosively controversial book, The Bell Curve, which argued that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites.

Anyway, I encourage you to read this latest Kelley piece, and let us all know what you think.


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