NPR Discussion: Clinton's Memoirs

Roundup: Talking About History

National Public Radio (June 18 2004):




Here in the United States, former President Bill Clinton releases his memoirs next week after years of anticipation and a carefully controlled publicity campaign. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf has kept the book away from reviewers and controlled the release of advance information--all part of an effort to build up anticipation for the book itself. Here's NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

The book is titled"My Life," but anyone who remembers the years 1992 to 2000 knows that President Clinton's life set the beat for much of the nation's political and cultural arguments. The former president has written his version of those years and his political upbringing in a 957-page tome that will be released as the clock strikes 12:01 AM Tuesday.

Unidentified Man: Please join me in welcoming President William Jefferson Clinton.

WILLIAMS: Clinton, who was paid a $10 million advance, began doing publicity for the book at the National Booksellers Convention in Chicago.

Former President BILL CLINTON (United States): Wow! You have to be careful treating me that way. You'll have me thinking I'm president again.

WILLIAMS: At the convention, Clinton said the book is not meant to be a history text, but a personal intimate recounting.

Mr. CLINTON: I want people to understand what it is like to be president, and I've tried to describe that in ways so that you'll at least see how it looked to me. You know, a lot of presidential memoirs, they say, are dull and self-serving. I hope mine is interesting and self-serving.

WILLIAMS: The orchestrated media blitz begins today with the first of five audio excerpts carefully selected by the publisher that will air on radio stations owned by Infinity Broadcasting. President Clinton has already taped an interview for Sunday night on CBS'"60 Minutes." Clinton said he regards his impeachment as a, quote,"badge of honor" because it was, quote,"illegitimate," end quote. And the former president lambasts congressional Republicans and independent prosecutor Ken Star for a, quote,"abuse of power." Clinton said his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was, quote,"morally indefensible" and led to a year of intense family counseling before his wife agreed to stay in the marriage. Clinton has also done an interview with Time magazine that will be on newsstands Monday. That night stores will stay open to sell the book at midnight in a strategy reminiscent of the drama leading up to the release of the"Harry Potter" books. And he'll also appear on"The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Mr. PAUL BOGARDS (Executive Director of Publicity, Alfred A. Knopf): There isn't really a model. We've clearly entered a new paradigm here.

WILLIAMS: Paul Bogards is executive director of publicity for Alfred A. Knopf, the company publishing the president's book. Bogards says the first printing of the book is a record for Knopf of 1.5 million books, and plans are already under way for a second printing. Bogards says he doesn't think the book's price will deter buyers.

Mr. BOGARDS: David McCullough's book on John Adams was a 35-dollar price point book. There have been a lot of big best-sellers that carried that price point. What people are concerned with is content and the strength of a work. That's what we're selling. We're selling a very good book, a memoir of a life and a presidency.

WILLIAMS: Stephen Hess, a presidential historian at The Brookings Institution, says there's some question about the historical value of the memoir.

Mr. STEPHEN HESS (The Brookings Institution): People are going to learn some things. Will they be disappointed? I'd bet my mortgage on that. Or in--the Nixon book sure didn't help us understand Watergate, and I'm betting that we're going to have the same experience again....

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