A mischievous twinkle enters the blue eyes of R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. when he is asked how he managed to “crash” a 60th birthday celebration for former PresidentBill Clinton.
“You wouldn’t ask a CIA agent how he infiltrated the embassy at Timbuktu, would you?” he asks, his feet casually propped atop the desk in his memorabilia-crammed office.
The editor in chief of the American Spectator divulges some secrets in his latest book, “The Clinton Crack-Up: The Boy President’s Life AftertheWhite House.” However, he was unable to get permission to include in the book photographic proof of his encounter in the fall in Toronto with Mr. Clinton — a photo that shows the ex-president smiling cheerfully alongside an equally cheerful Mr. Tyrrell.
“Two smiling guys,” he says, displaying the photo of himself at a VIP reception with Mr. Clinton, who apparently failed to recognize Mr. Tyrrell as the conservative journalist responsible for publishing some of the most damaging investigative reporting about the 42nd president.
Among the Spectator’s exclusive scoops was an account of Mr. Clinton’s sexual escapades as Arkansas governor, relying heavily on reports from state troopers who had served on the Democrat’s security detail. The so-called “Troopergate” story prompted a young woman named Paula Jones to file a sexual harassment suit against the president, resulting in the January 1998 deposition in which Mr. Clinton made his perjurious denial of an affair with Monica Lewinsky, thus leading to Mr. Clinton’s impeachment.
Being a notorious nemesis of the president led to rough sailing for Mr. Tyrrell and his American Spectator, which was investigated (and exonerated) by a federal grand jury during the Clinton presidency, then changed ownership and nearly went out of business before Alfred S. Regnery became publisher in 2004.
Still, Mr. Tyrrell smiles as he relates his Clinton memories. “Seems like I’ve spent half my life with the guy,” he says.
“The Clinton Crack-Up” continues the Clintonian chronicle, relating the post-presidential doings of both Mr. Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, such as:
How Mr. Clinton’s 2004 autobiography, “My Life” — which fetched a reported record $12 million deal from the Alfred A. Knopf publishing firm — became “the most slovenly and unreliable presidential memoir ever written.” The ex-president “missed deadline after deadline,” writes Mr. Tyrrell, detailing how Mr. Clinton insisted on “last-minute editing.” That resulted, Mr. Tyrrell says, in “filling the book with historical errors and bizarre assertions,” including the former president’s false claim that his wife, born in 1947, had been named for Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander who did not become famous until he climbed Mount Everest in 1953.
The story behind the “Pardongate” scandal, including Mr. Clinton’s pardon of federal fugitive Marc Rich. Even though that pardon brought the Clintons their worst-ever press coverage, Mr. Tyrrell says, the ex-president met secretly with Mr. Rich in Geneva in 2002.
Reports of Mr. Clinton’s purported post-White House womanizing, a worldwide retirement itinerary that Mr. Tyrrell says has included “girl-hops … in Ireland, France, Australia, Taiwan, Rio and London,” as well as a rumored affair with Canadian heiress Belinda Stronach.
The “Clinton curse,” which Mr. Tyrrell says has doomed politicians and others whom Mr. Clinton has supported, including retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the 2004 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
It is a tale told in Mr. Tyrrell’s customary style, which most often has been compared to H.L. Mencken’s, although Mr. Tyrrell says his prose habits also were influenced by early admiration for the writings of Malcolm Muggeridge and William F. Buckley Jr.
The offices of Mr. Tyrrell’s American Spectator — on the ninth floor of an Arlington office tower with a spectacular view of Washington — are decorated with souvenirs of the magazine’s 40-year history. The walls are lined with photos of leading conservative thinkers such as Friedrich von Hayek reading the magazine, as well as photos of Mr. Tyrrell with Republican eminences, including one picture of President Reagan dining at the Tyrrell home.
What may puzzle some, however, is a 1972 photo on a bookshelf in Mr. Tyrrell’s office that shows a hippie with bushy, shoulder-length hair. The shaggy fellow turns out to be a much-younger Ben Stein, the Spectator columnist who gained fame playing a straight-laced (and short-haired) high school teacher in the 1986 comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
The difference between Mr. Stein the ‘70s hippie and Mr. Stein the ‘80s authority figure is in some ways symbolic of the baby boomer saga that Mr. Tyrrell sees embodied in the Clinton saga.
“There’s been this intergenerational battle between left and right for 40 years,” he says, tracing the divide back to the 1960s and the Vietnam War.
“The Clintons should have never made it to the White House. But they were part of … the most momentous generation of the ‘60s,” says Mr. Tyrrell, who is himself part of the same generation — though of decidedly different politics.
“The only Marx I’ve ever believed in was Groucho,” he says.
He is the great-great-grandson of a famous Secret Service agent, P.D. “Pat” Tyrrell, and he was a graduate student at Indiana University in 1967 when he founded a campus magazine called the Alternative, which eventually metamorphosed into the Spectator. Mr. Tyrrell’s fellow Indiana alumnus Wladyslaw Pleszczynski joined the project early on and is now the magazine’s editorial director.
Along the way, Mr. Tyrrell became closely acquainted with Republican officials, serving as a consultant to Richard M. Nixon’s first vice president, Spiro Agnew, the man who famously condemned the Washington press corps as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
Mr. Tyrrell has expanded on that criticism, dubbing the establishment’s collective output “the Kultursmog,” a product “belching from America’s newsrooms, editorial offices and faculty lounges,” which serves to obscure the failings of liberalism and its advocates.
“The pot-and-protest wing of [the baby boom] generation filled our newsrooms in the 1980s and ‘90s,” says Mr. Tyrrell, discussing those whom he dubs in his book “episodic apologists” for the Clintons, constantly helping to reinvent their image. “There’s never been a historical phenomenon like that in American politics — never.”
Mrs. Clinton is waging her own presidential campaign, which Mr. Tyrrell calls “one last battle” in the intergenerational struggle. Last week, the former first lady again invoked the specter of “the vast right-wing conspiracy” among Clinton critics. Mr. Tyrrell’s American Spectator was featured prominently in an early outline of that purported plot, a 1997 White House report called “Communications Stream of Conspiracy Commerce.” Mr. Tyrrell laughs at his notoriety.
“I’m the available man whenever they need somebody to hate,” he says, attributing Mrs. Clinton’s renewed accusations of conspiracy to the former first lady’s fears that “she’s lost the moron vote.”
Brandishing the photo of himself smiling beside Mr. Clinton, Mr. Tyrrell disavows his reputation as a “Clinton hater” and muses on what might transpire “as our friendship begins to blossom.”
“My wife’s got lots of pretty girlfriends,” he says, again smiling mischievously. “We’ll get Bill back on track.”