Clinton campaign kills negative story By: Ben Smith Sep 24, 2007 03:43 PM EST Updated: September 24, 2007 09:39 PM EST Early this summer, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clintonâs campaign for president learned that the menâs magazine GQ was working on a story the campaign was sure to hate: an account of infighting in Hillaryland. So Clintonâs aides pulled a page from the book of Hollywood publicists and offered GQ a stark choice: Kill the piece, or lose access to planned celebrity coverboy Bill Clinton. Despite internal protests, GQ editor Jim Nelson met the Clinton campaignâs demands, which had been delivered by Bill Clintonâs spokesman, Jay Carson, several sources familiar with the conversations said. GQ writer George Saunders traveled with Clinton to Africa in July, and Clinton is slated to appear on the cover of GQâs December issue, in which it traditionally names a âMan of the Year,â according magazine industry sources. And the offending article by Atlantic Monthly staff writer Josh Green got the spike. âI donât really get into the inner workings of the magazine, but I can tell you that yes, we did kill a Hillary piece. We kill pieces all the time for a variety of reasons,â Nelson said in an e-mail to Politico. He did not respond to follow-up questions. A Clinton campaign spokesman declined to comment. The campaignâs transaction with GQ opens a curtain on the Clinton campaignâs hard-nosed media strategy, which is far closer in its unromantic view of the press to the campaigns of George W. Bush than to that of Bill Clintonâs free-wheeling 1992 campaign. Thereâs little left to chance. Hillary Clinton may have an unparalleled campaign âwar roomâ â but there arenât any documentary film-makers wandering around this one, and lovers of the D.A. Pennebaker film âThe War Roomâ can rest assured they arenât getting a sequel. The spiked GQ story also shows how the Clinton campaign has been able to use its access to the most important commodity in media â celebrity, and in fact two bona fide celebrities â to shape not just what gets written about the candidate, but also what doesnât. Thereâs nothing unusual about providing extra access to candidates to reporters seen as sympathetic, and cutting off those seen as hostile to a campaign. The 2004 Bush campaign banned a New York Times reporter from Vice President Dick Cheneyâs jet, and Sen. Barack Obama threatened to bar Fox News reporters from campaign travel. But a retreat of the sort GQ is alleged to have made is unusual, particularly as part of what sources described as a barely veiled transaction of editorial leverage for access. The Clinton campaign is unique in its ability to provide cash value to the media, and particularly the celebrity-driven precincts of television and magazines. Bill Clinton is a favorite cover figure, because his face is viewed within the magazine industry as one that can move product. (Indeed, Greenâs own magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, ran as its October cover story âBill Clintonâs campaign to save the world.â) Itâs a fact that gives the Clintonsâ press aides a leverage more familiar to Hollywood publicists than even to her political rivals â less Mitt Romney and more Tom Cruise, whose publicists once required interviewers to sign a statement pledging not to write anything âderogatoryâ about the star. The Clinton campaign has more sway with television networks than any rival. At the time Clinton launched her campaign, the networksâ hunger for interviews had her all over the morning and evening news broadcasts of every network â after her aides negotiated agreements limiting producersâ abilities to edit the interviews. This past weekend, she pulled off another rare feat â sitting for interviews with all the major Sunday talk shows. In most cases, the Sunday shows will reject guests who have appeared on competing shows. Clintonâs team is also unusually aggressive in moving to smother potentially damaging storylines, as last spring when Wolfson and other aides took aim at an unflattering book by writers Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. GQ describes itself as âthe definitive guide to fashion and grooming,â but also has a history of carrying groundbreaking reporting and long-form writing. This presidential cycle, it has commissioned pieces from well-regarded Washington magazine writers on the presidential candidates, including a piece by Ryan Lizza, now of the New Yorker, on Barack Obama. Green was not a particular favorite of the Clinton campaign, however. He took the assignment from GQ not long after finishing an unflattering 13,000-word profile in the November 2006 Atlantic Monthly, which concluded that the junior Senator from New York is, more or less, a timid, calculating pol. âToday Clinton offers no big ideas, no crusading causes â by her own tacit admission, no evidence of bravery in the service of a larger ideal. Instead, her Senate record is an assemblage of many, many small gains. Her real accomplishment in the Senate has been to rehabilitate the image and political career of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Impressive though that has been in its particulars, it makes for a rather thin claim on the presidency. Senator Clinton has plenty to talk about, but she doesnât have much to say,â he wrote. The next spring, according to people with the story and sources Green spoke to, he spent digging into the tensions within Hillary Clintonâs campaign â widely speculated about among reporters, but at the same time notoriously difficult to report from a political circle known for keeping internal disputes inside the family. In particular, a source familiar with Greenâs story said, he had focused on internal criticism of the campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle. Green had also asked questions about the pay package of the campaignâs communications director, Howard Wolfson, who is technically a consultant and left a lucrative communications practice in New York City to take the job, and whose compensation is the subject of speculation within the campaign. (Speculation about Wolfsonâs compensation, sources said, was not in Greenâs final GQ draft.) Green approached the Clinton campaign to discuss the details of the story, which he described to Wolfson over dinner at a downtown Washington, D.C. restaurant, a source familiar with the conversations said. Soon after that, Carson, who is now Hillary Clintonâs traveling press secretary, told GQ that the former president would not cooperate with Saundersâ planned profile if Greenâs piece ran. Green declined to comment on the fate of his story, referring questions to GQ and to Carson. Carson declined to comment on his discussions with GQ. Green and GQâs features editor, Joel Lovell, argued for rebuffing the Clinton campaigns demands, sources said, but Nelson made the final call to kill the story. Saunders, the Syracuse novelist who is writing the Clinton story for GQ, declined to discuss his story, citing GQ policy. He told the Syracuse Post-Standard in July that he was planning to travel with the former president to tour Clinton Foundation projects in Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa and said heâd voted for Bill Clinton twice. âIt seems like [Clintonâs] gift, one of his gifts, is everybody likes him and knows him, so he can get people in a room and make things happen,â Saunders told the Syracuse paper. âI just like the idea that at this elderly stage of life, you can go and get your doors blown off.â Asked by Politico if he was interested in hearing how his access to Clinton was procured, he demurred. âI donât think I want to know,â he said.