It wasn't the biggest scoop -- or even the biggest HuffPost scoop -- of the 2008 campaign, but it produced some rather barbed and unusual commentary. Which news outlets, in this day and age, would quote an ex-president, even on the Web, using the word "scumbag"?
In its account of the Huffington Post scoop on Bill Clinton's tirade against Todd Purdum for his Vanity Fair profile last June 2, The New York Times quoted some of the ex-president's epithets, including "sleazy" and "slimy" but drew the line at "scumbag." Other leading news outlets were not so coy.
Clinton, of course, was responding to the quite negative profile about him written by Purdum. He quickly apologized for some of his "inappropriate" language, captured by HuffPost's Mayhill Fowler.
I would argue that he would not have done that if he had not used the word "scumbag." But he realized that using that word made him look like a, well, "scumbag."
Notice, I have not made any "Scumbag Millionaire" jokes.
The Times' Michael Luo wrote:
According to the Huffington Post Web site, Mr. Clinton, as he worked the rope line at an event here, called Mr. Purdum 'sleazy,' 'slimy' and 'dishonest.' Speaking to a reporter for the Web site, Mr. Clinton said the article was part of a pattern of media bias against Mrs. Clinton and in favor of her rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama.
But Shailagh Murray and Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post went the full monty, explaining that Clinton "called Purdum 'sleazy' and a 'scumbag' in comments to a reporter for the Huffington Post, a liberal Web site, leading a spokesman for the candidate to issue an apology." Newsday also cited "scumbag."
National Journal's "Hotline" site noted:
Dem strategist James Carville, on B. Clinton calling Purdum a 'scumbag': 'I think he subsequently said he shouldn't have used that language.'
The Chicago Tribune's popular The Swamp blog:
Reminded that Purdum is married to Clinton's former press secretary Dee Dee Myers, Clinton responded in part: 'That's all right -- he's still a scumbag.'
The CNN web site:
Calling Purdum a 'scumbag,' Clinton said 'he's one of the guys that propagated all those lies about Whitewater for Kenneth Starr. He's just a dishonest guy -- can't help it.'
But USA Today followed the Times' policy, explaining online:
Three of the words Clinton used that we can repeat here are 'sleazy,' 'dishonest' and 'slimy.'
The Times' Caucus blog item also failed to mention the most loaded word.
Greg Mitchell covered this and more in his latest book "Why Obama Won." He is editor of Editor & Publisher.