Hillary book deal merits scrutiny it's receiving

Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2000

The following editorial appeared in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

These are busy, busy days for the outgoing first lady and incoming junior senator from New York. There is a house to pack up - the white one in Washington - and one to buy in Georgetown, to which a dinner invitation will soon become a fervently sought inside-the-Beltway trophy.

Then there's the Empire State pied-a-terre in Chappaqua, which one has to visit from time to time to keep up appearances.

Meanwhile, there are policy briefings to read and the small matter of an $8 million book to write. Yep, $8 million is the price that Simon & Schuster bid to publish Mrs. Clinton's memoirs of the tempestuous White House years.

Wow, $8 million - that's 78 percent more than the controversial advance Newt Gingrich was offered by HarperCollins for a book of his philosophical musings back in the olden days when people actually cared what he thought.

So the familiar ethical cloud has reappeared over Mrs. Clinton's head. Two groups, one a nonpartisan watchdog and one a conservative attack dog, have asked the Senate Ethics Committee to look at the deal.

Mrs. Clinton may regard this as more "right-wing conspiracy." But you have to admit: When U.S. senators rack up huge paydays from media conglomerates (in this case, Viacom Inc.) that are regularly affected by congressional actions, serious ethical questions do arise.

Mr. Gingrich was hammered for his book deal, and ended up cutting the advance to $1. The House then changed its ethics rule to bar members from accepting book advances; they can get only royalties. The Senate rule only says the advance has to be "usual and customary."

Now, $8 million advances aren't customary - but most authors aren't Mrs. Clinton, with a best-seller ("It Takes a Village") published by the same company to her credit and a memoir to sell that may address one of the chief mysteries of a nosy age: How do they stay together?

Mrs. Clinton's legal advisers say they've dotted the ethical "i's" on this deal. But given the ethical tin ear she's displayed before and the beating the erstwhile speaker took over a somewhat similar deal, Mrs. Clinton should not expect even the fair-minded to simply take her word for it.

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