One of the funnier episodes I had during the early days of the Hillary Clinton Quarterly was a story I did about the National Enquirer. They had just published a tawdry front page story about “Hillary’s Intimate Secrets.” I decided to turn the tables and interview the interviewers. — FM
“Mommy, why does the National Enquirer make up such awful stories about you?”
Hillary Clinton’s little daughter, Chelsea, sobbed those words just days before Christmas, 1992 — and stunned the First Lady into facing a shattering truth: the National Enquirer will say just about anything to make a buck.
Not that the titillating contents of its December 8, 1992, story purportedly revealing “the First Lady’s intimate secrets” surprised me. But my inquiring mind was just a little bit curious about how they put their story together.
And here’s what I found out:
That’s right, Virginia. I found out nothing. Or just about nothing.
One reporter at the National Enquirer who worked on the story did speak to me, probably because he didn’t know why I was calling. I asked David Wright why their story, which ran about 2,000 words, had nearly 1,500 words of direct and indirect quotes from people identified anonymously as “a family friend,” “a close source,” “a family insider,” “a source in the Governor’s Mansion,” etc. Who were these people? Why wouldn’t they speak on the record? Did the National Enquirer really talk to anyone, or did they just make up the entire story?
David told me, “I can’t speak about that.”
Was the story meant to be provocative? I wondered. Stupid question, stupid answer. Said David: “It was just a matter of letting the chips fall where they may.”
I then asked specifically about the quote in which Bill Clinton is yelling at Hillary and calls her “a bitch.” Where did that one come from?
“I don’t know,” said David. “I didn’t work on that part of the story.”
“I think that was Dan McDonald,” David informed me. “He’s not here right now, but I’ll let him know you want to talk to him.”
If that wasn’t the kiss of death, what was? Stoically, I called Dan’s office four times, left messages, harangued his secretary. Of course, Dan never called back.
In the meantime, I spoke to Patty Criner, the only source actually named in the story. I can tell you this: Mrs. Criner was polite, helpful, and is truly a long-time friend of Hillary’s. She did not care to comment on the story. And I don’t blame her. Once burned, twice shy.
My investigative efforts were not a total loss, however. I discovered the National Enquirer formula for escaping accountability for its stories. First, send out a pack of reporters. Four is the absolute minimum. Interview anyone who will talk to you. Gas station attendants. Waitresses. The local hardware store clerk. In the story, call them all “insiders.” What your sources don’t tell you, make up. When someone asks how a particular part of the story came into being, just say “I didn’t work on that part of the story — it was one of the other reporters.”
And there was one other important discovery.
One of Dan McDonald’s friends told me in a confidential interview that when Dan was a little boy his puppy, Fluffy, died quite suddenly. “Dan’s parents blamed poor Dan,” said the friend. “It was devastating to him. Ever since then he’s felt a compelling need to ruin other people’s lives. Basically, Dan trusts no one. Especially other reporters. And he never returns phone calls.”