“I wrote a 400-page book and I made one mistake.”
That was Jeffrey Toobin’s spin to Brill’s Content when he agreed to delete from his book, A Vast Conspiracy, the charge that Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff was “protecting the independent counsel’s investigation” in January 1998. (In fact, Isikoff’s reporting disrupted the investigation.) “It’s one sentence,” Toobin told the Washington Post’s Lloyd Grove.
Make that two sentences. Or three. Or six. As reported by both Grove and Inside.com’s David Carr, Toobin’s publisher–after initially saying it “stands firmly behind Jeffrey Toobin”–has now caved and will revise Toobin’s book, in its paperback and any future hardcover printings. Toobin will no longer say that Isikoff and Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson had been planning a book that was titled All the President’s Women. And there will be at least five other changes, according to Carr, who says “the number and tenor of revisions are a significant embarrassment for Toobin and his publisher.”
Why does it matter that Toobin got the title of Isikoff and Simpson’s book project wrong? Because it is the fragile factual linchpin of Toobin’s argument that in reporting on Flytrap, Isikoff was motivated by “greed” in the form of a “desire to write books about the president’s sex life.” Isikoff says he was just doing his job, reporting for Newsweek–that he had in fact been thinking of writing a book with Simpson, called Secrets and Lies, but had firmly dropped the idea a month earlier when Matt Drudge accused him of holding back material from the magazine. (Simpson confirms this.)
So what is Toobin’s evidence that Isikoff was still working on the book when he talked to Tripp? Why, the title. Tripp knew the title. Toobin recounts a conversation Tripp had with Lucianne Goldberg about Isikoff:
“Oh, no,” Tripp replied. “He’s working on a book deal. He’s doing an all-the-president’s-women kind of deal.”
On this evidence, Toobin immediately asserts that Isikoff was still working on the book he’d discussed with Simpson:
Isikoff was using Tripp as a source for the project he had started with Glenn Simpson of the Wall Street Journal, who had by this point dropped out of the project. Isikoff had apparently even shared the working title of his volume with Tripp, as he had with others.
A few paragraphs later (in an exceptionally sleazy passage preceded by the qualifier “If events unfolded as Tripp said they did …”) Toobin writes that “if” Isikoff was indeed “stoking the story” so he could “profit from it in the form of [a] book [deal],” he was wrong in “not disclosing that fact to Isikoff’s readers.” Toobin does note that Isikoff disputes this–that Isikoff says Tripp gave an erroneous account of their conversation. Then, the clincher:
If she did, it is curious that Tripp knew the precise title of Isikoff’s planned book; …
What Toobin is admitting this week is that Tripp didn’t know the precise title of Isikoff’s once-planned book, because the precise title wasn’t anything like what Toobin reported it was (All the President’s Women). It’s as if, in the O.J. Simpson murder case, the prosecution suddenly conceded that Simpson never wore brown gloves, only green ones.
Given the centrality of Toobin’s latest admissions, Carr notes, “It will be interesting to see how the changes will look in print.”