Accusation: Secret tapes say more about Taylor Branch than Clinton

Historians in the News

I stopped cold on page 263 of Taylor Branch’s “The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President.” Try as I might, I haven’t been able to get past the revealing story the author tells about himself on that page.

By now, everyone in political circles has heard about Branch’s book and the historical taping project this Pulitzer Prize-winning author and President Bill Clinton embarked upon in 1993. History will honor Clinton for caring enough about historiography that he allowed a professional to question him about events and policies during his presidency. Other presidential libraries are filled with oral histories undertaken years after an administration leaves office. And as valuable as they are, they lack the contemporaneous quality that only interviews given in the heat of governing and political battle can provide.

The 42nd president’s actions in this regard will be of great benefit to all those who study the Clinton era. If ever there were Pulitzer Prizes awarded to those who—like presidents—actually make history, instead of those who only record it, Clinton would surely receive one for the many hours he devoted to future students this way.

Unfortunately, Branch won’t receive the same acclaim. After all, what do you say about a man who is granted privileged access to a maker of history who then secretly records his own personal tapes for his own use?...

... “In an awkward silence, I backed up both machines to erase the first lady’s epithet,” Branch writes, I can only guess with pride.

Well, well, isn’t Branch the honorable historian-journalist. He’s erased the tape but tells the story anyway! What a grand ethicist we have here. If I were Bill and Hillary Clinton, I’d not lose a minute of sleep over this one.

What would bother me, however, is the fact that Branch even quotes Hillary and others at all. Whatever deal Branch and Clinton made, it was between them. I’m not sure from this account whether this agreement covered others whom Branch’s privileged access allowed him to interact with from 1993 until 2001. Were they ever consulted? ..

comments powered by Disqus