06/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Frank Rich Defends Former Colleague Todd Purdum: "Not Every Reporter For The Times Is Great, But This Guy Is A Great Reporter"

NYT columnist (and newly-minted HBO creative consultant) Frank Rich was on MSNBC this morning talking with Mika Brzezinski and Mike Barnacle (in for Joe Scarborough) about the latest developments in the Democratic campaign, including the question of whether Hillary Clinton will bow out of the race (or, at this point, when and how).

Talk turned to the now-infamous Vanity Fair article on Bill Clinton — and Clinton's now-equally-infamous opinion of the article, and its author, Todd Purdum, wherein he called Purdum "sleazy," "dishonest," "slimy" and a "scumbag." Rich joined the chorus of journalists defending Purdum, including the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg and WaPo's Joel Achenbach , and made a point of attesting to Purdum's excellence (if not the NYT's): "The author of that piece, Todd Purdum, is a former reporter for the Times, and not every reporter for the Times is great but this guy is a great reporter, of complete integrity," said Rich. Rich also said that it was "outrageous" for Clinton to "assassinate" Purdum's character, saying that Purdum's journalistic record "would bear out that's that's ridiculous."

There hasn't been much debate about the merits of the article, though NPR's David Folkenflik backs up Clinton's claim that an article relying heavily on anonymous sources to make damaging allegations should be taken with a grain of skepticism (he cites Jack Shafer's itemization of the 39 anonymous sources in the piece). Folkenflik notes the similarity with the February New York Times piece on John McCain's lobbyist connection (sorry, that's "connection," as in, literal connection with the female lobbyist in question was heavily implied), and notes a similar emphasis on speculation over proof in that story as well.

But Rich made a very good point about the article that had nothing to do with its tawdrier aspects, saying that it "gets to the heart of the fact that Hillary Clinton's campaign was not fully vetted." Said Rich: "Her whole schtick has been, 'I'm fully vetted,' but the post-presidency of Bill Clinton — starting with those donors to the foundation library — has never been fully vetted...if she's conceivably a real candidate to be on the Obama ticket, it's gotta be vetted, the Democratic party has to have it vetted now, they've got to release all those donors. They can't hold that back at this point."

It should be noted that Rich's previous experience as the NYT theater critic was invoked by Barnicle, who had hoped for some insight into how flops were made; alas, Barnicle got confused, referencing Ishtar and Heaven's Gate, which were famous movie flops. Besides the fact that it is, perhaps, a tad unfair to call a campaign that has won almost half the pledged delegates and popular vote a flop (or, more than half the popular vote, depending on your metric), Barnicle missed the opportunity to shout-out some of Broadway's best flops, including Chess (though how clunky could it be with an actual Top 40 hit in "One Night in Bangkok," hmmm?), Merrily We Roll Along (which featured a cable-news meltdown worthy of Bill O'Reilly), Sideshow (aka "Conjoined Twins in the Circus: A Love Story") and Carrie! The Musical) (it didn't have an exclamation point, but really, if you're going to add show-stopping numbers to scenes of carnage at a high school prom, why not go all the way?). Of course, no one can say for sure what will happen tonight when Clinton delivers her speech in New York, but one can't help hoping it'll go something like the bravura performance to the right — if anyone deserves her balcony moment by now, it's Hillary Clinton. And maybe an awesome gown. (A theme to explore if you ever resurrect that aborted Vogue shoot, Anna Wintour?) In the meantime, the rest of the clip is here, wherein Rich goes on record calling Hillary Clinton "funny, charming [and] intelligent," thus narrowly beating his colleague Maureen Dowd to the punch, because she was totally going to say that.

(NB: Readers should infer nothing from my comparison of Hillary Clinton to Eva Peron above, just as they should infer nothing from my inclusion of "I Know Him So Well" from Chess, notable not only for its resplendent 80's hairdos but also for its themes of enabling the adulteries and deceptions of the man you love. And finally, none of this should be inferred as an endorsement of Carrie! The Musical by Frank Rich.)

Bill Clinton's Vanity Fair Moment [NPR]
Bill Clinton, Press Critic [Slate]
The Comeback Id [Vanity Fair]
Frank Rich on MSNBC