Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A Democratic leader is facing the scrutiny of biographers. One of the new books about Senator Hillary Clinton comes from Carl Bernstein. The journalist who once covered Watergate wrote a book called "A Woman in Charge." He says he conducted hundreds of interviews but not with Senator Clinton and not with her husband.

Mr. CARL BERNSTEIN (Journalist): I wasn't surprised in the end, despite the fact that both she and Bill Clinton had said they would talk to me. They really don't like books that they have not had a hand in inventing, and it's always been their history and it's their history with this one too.

INSKEEP: What if this was one of those cases where if you're trying to find out about a person, it's not that the person is necessarily dishonest but they're maybe not the best source for their own life anyway.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, certainly that's the case if you read Hillary Clinton's supposed autobiography, "Living History." It's contrary to what my reporting concluded. It's contrary to what other journalists have found, by and large. It's self-invention. It's self-mythology. Occasionally, even often, there's a kind of baseline truthfulness, but you're going to have to go somewhere else to get a straight story about her life than her.

INSKEEP: Can you give me an example of a story that comes out several different ways and Hillary Clinton's telling and you're telling, perhaps and other tellings?

Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, let's just start with her childhood, which she describes in "Living History" as - and in "It Takes a Village" - as she had a "Father Knows Best" suburban idyllic kind of childhood. In fact, her father was a deeply unsatisfied man, sour, unfulfilled, a martinet, used the rod on his children a little unsparingly, abused her mother.

Visitors to the home wondered why in fact Dorothy Rodham, Hillary's mother, hadn't walk and left the marriage. One of the other people that I spoke with at great length is Hillary's former sister-in-law, Nicole Boxer, who was married to Hillary's brother, Tony, and talked to me about how Dorothy Rodham, Hillary's mother, stressed there is no divorce in this family.

INSKEEP: Which might explain in your view why Hillary Clinton's family did not have a divorce in it.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: I avoid psychobiography but I think that you need to lay out the facts and let people conclude what they might be. And I think that there was opaqueness about this person who may become the president of the United States, and we sure is hell better know who she is.

INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting because Hillary Clinton herself has said on this program and many other places that she's the most famous person that nobody knows.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: Yes.

INSKEEP: It sounds like you agree.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: I certainly do. What she didn't add is that she's tried to make it that way, and so have the people around her.

INSKEEP: Although I have to say, this is such an extraordinarily famous person that many of the incidents you come to, I mean, they're well-known incidents. Which makes me wonder, as you go through that record, what's an incident that shows Hillary Clinton's character?

Mr. BERNSTEIN: Certainly, you ask for one new one. Well, the most obvious one is Bill Clinton fell in love with another woman in 1989, wanted to leave the marriage, and Hillary would not give Bill a pass, a divorce, a way out of the marriage.

INSKEEP: Maybe another way to phrase that would be that in that situation, rather than exploding her marriage, she chose to defend her husband and her husband's political career.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: Well, that - now you're really onto something, because I think a good deal of the book is about Hillary trying to protect his political viability. You know - she had married and recognized like many other people that Bill Clinton was the great political talent of our era.

And yet she recognized - as others didn't from the beginning - that he had a flaw, if you will, which she had tried to keep from being known in the first place.

INSKEEP: One of the things that you explored was Hillary Clinton's religion.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: At great length. Religion is the fundament of much of her life. Her father claimed to be from a family that was the first converts to Methodism by John Wesley, back in the North of England. And she came under the influence in her freshman year in high school of a youth minister, Reverend Don Jones, who brought a progressive message, took her to see Martin Luther King speak, played Bob Dylan records - there's a whole chapter on her religious development.

INSKEEP: How do you think those religious beliefs have shaped her politics?

Mr. BERNSTEIN: I think she believes, and she said it many times, do all the good you can, at all times you can, in all the places you can. Many of her aides, however, came to think that that represented a kind of self-righteousness, as if she were leaning, you know, the less enlightened to the Promised Land.

And other people, there's one very high official of the Clinton administration that I quote anonymously - most of them are quoted by name, but this is anonymously - as saying that she used it to justify her own actions in regard to her marriage, as well as her own actions if the greater good was to get health care. If the greater good was to avoid indictment, then you don't have to be too straightforward about it.

INSKEEP: I'm curious, because a couple of yearly reviews of this book have suggested that it's a largely sympathetic portray of Hillary Clinton. In our conversation, the way it's happened to go, you focused on some things that seem not quite so flattering. Did you end up liking the subject of this biography?

Mr. BERNSTEIN: There are aspects of Hillary Clinton that I like and admire. There are aspects of the subject of this biography that I abhor. What's so interesting about Hillary Clinton is that she has always wanted to rise above the conventional. She does not want to be a conventional politician, and this is a great thing. But she often acts exactly like conventional politicians, and more and more so since she has decided she wants to be in the Senate and she wants to be president.

INSKEEP: Carl Bernstein is the author of "A Woman in Charge," a biography of Hillary Clinton. Thanks very much.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: It's good to be here.

INSKEEP: And in an excerpt at npr.org, you can read Bernstein's account of how Hillary and Bill Clinton's political journey began in 1974.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.