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Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton Paperback – Bargain Price, January 31, 2001

3.7 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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It began with a phone call. On January 12, 1998, Deputy Independent Counsel Jackie Bennett talked to a woman named Linda Tripp, who claimed to have potentially incriminating evidence against President Clinton. Bennett passed this information along to his boss, Kenneth Starr, who then decided it was worth pursuing. Though they knew they would catch some heat for it, it was a chance they were willing to take. In a prophetic, and ultimately understated, comment, Bennett declared: "We're really going to be criticized on this someday." He had no idea. Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf's Truth at Any Cost is an utterly absorbing and honest assessment of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent investigation, one of the most contentious political issues in memory. Even those who followed the story closely will find many secrets exposed in these pages, many myths deconstructed. Political junkies will likely devour it in a single sitting.

Because relatively little is known about the man who nearly toppled a presidency, a warts-and-all look at Ken Starr is one of the highlights of the book. Like Clinton, Starr's own pattern of self-destruction plagued him throughout the investigation. Surprisingly, considering his 30 years of experience in Washington, most of his problems arose from a lack of political acumen; he may be a topnotch prosecutor, but he's a public relations disaster. Schmidt and Weisskopf brilliantly re-create one particularly naive display, in which Starr agreed to an interview with Brill's Content, a journalism review, and was skewered when his comments were used to suggest that he had leaked grand jury testimony to the press. Snared by the interview and shocked at the treachery of the reporter, he severely undermined the investigation and nearly suffered a contempt-of-court charge in the process. Readers will be surprised to discover just how close Starr came to having the investigation terminated as a result of this event. He never grasped how vital public opinion is to the work of a prosecutor, and he paid a dear personal price for his tunnel vision. Not only was he relentlessly bashed in the press but he was the focus of what one anonymous White House official referred to as a "continuing campaign to destroy Ken Starr" that even included members of the Department of Justice.

Truth at Any Cost deserves to be read both for its impressive depth of detail and its admirable balance. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews with primary sources (30 hours with Starr alone) and reams of official records (including grand jury transcripts), it's a solid piece of journalism by veteran investigative reporters Schmidt and Weisskopf. The authors sum up the complexities of the investigation, with all of its political wrangling, spin control, and legal hair-splitting, and at the same time offer countless juicy anecdotes that reveal much about the character of the participants. And though no book could possibly settle such a polarizing debate, its strict adherence to the facts is as refreshing as it is valuable. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Washington Post reporter Schmidt broke the Monica Lewinsky story; Weisskopf worked with her until joining Time. Their account of Clinton's impeachment will not be available for review prior to publication.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0060932821
  • ASIN: B000H2NDM8
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,244,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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By Mr Pat Hynes on February 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If like many other readers you would like to learn more about the facts of this case then this is the book to start with. The reader gets a good overall picture of the case as it started to unfold in January 1998, including the legal strategy pursued by both sides in the scandal. As the reader continues through the early months of 1998 it becomes apparent that Starr is amassing a wealth of evidence against President Clinton while at the same time loosing the publicity battle. By the time the President publicly admitted his affair with lewensky the public appetite for a resignation on the basis of Starr's investigation was zero. The book is useful in sketching out why Clinton's long war strategy with Starr paid of.
You also get a good personal insight into the kind of man Starr is and what drove him during the months of unrelenting criticism from the White House media machine. I found the lewensky legal strategy interesting in terms of Starr's efforts at securing a deal for her co-operation. I have to say that I agree with a comment in the book that if Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf were pursuing the case against Clinton he would have been under far more pressure than was the case in reality. However as a factual analyses of the period and the players involved the book stands up.
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Format: Hardcover
As an avid reader of history, but only a now-and-then reader of journalistic commentary/history, I found many details of what happened and why, but few important new details. It was very easy to read, and considering the number of names of key people in the investigation, the authors did and excellent job of keeping us informed of who was who.
My first complaint is that the Clinton/White House side was given only a small percentage of the coverage in the book with the remainder going to the Starr Investigation. Of course the book was about the Starr investigation first and foremost, but the White House motivations and actions were not well explained, only, I presume, because the authors did not have access to them. The details in the thinking and conclusions of the Starr side were good and complete--not so the other side.
My second and final complaint is that the basic thesis of the book that Starr was naive and single-minded in his approach does not pass muster. Starr showed his adroit skills throughout the process, as well as some of his blunders. Making him out to be naive is to say that he was innocent to a fault--a virute taken to an extreme became his vice. Clinton's side was never given such a look--they were always portrayed as mean-spirited and near-unethical--in other words, bad from the get-go. Such overarching characterizations take away from the larger message of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Truth At Any Cost does not pretend to be evenhanded. Instead, co-authors Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf examine the Lewinsky affair from the standpoint of those inside the Office of Independent Counsel. The result is a new perspective on an exhaustively covered scandal.
This book dwells little on Whitewater and the other investigations that led to the appointment of Independent Counsel Ken Starr. The authors instead concentrate on the sexual scandal that led to Clinton's impeachment and how Starr and his subordinates responded. It would have been nice to know more about the men and women who investigated the president, but the focus is on personality rather than biography. The authors depict Starr in a much different light than the oft-demonized caricature that was spoon-fed the public. Again, it would have been nice to know more about Starr's background, but the concentration is on his character. Starr is presented here as a conscientious but politically naive lawyer better suited to the bench than to the OIC.
Although relatively brief, the book drags a bit but picks up steam in the latter chapters as the independent counsel gathers and compiles evidence against the president. A few new revelations emerge along the way. Among them is Hillary Clinton's central role in the defense of her husband and in the counteroffensive against his opponents.
This book is worth reading just to see why, as well as how, the prosecutors pursued this case so vigorously. Their motivations often run counter to the stereotypes floated at the time, and this makes for a new spin on an old story.
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Format: Hardcover
Having read the first couple of chapters of this book I can see that Schmidt and Weiskopf are following in the "proud" tradition of Bob Woodward in telling a "story" instead of practicing journalism. There is very little information given to the reader to explain just what the foundation is for the author's description of the events surrounding those first few days when Linda Tripp came to the OIC. We are just supposed to accept on faith that they are relating the issues as they actually happened.
The problem with this is that it obscures some very fundamental questions. For example, the authors continually say that Ken Starr and his staff did not know that Linda Tripp was dealing with the Paula Jones team of legal "elves" during the days leading up to President Clinton's deposition. Yet no attribution is supplied by which we can judge this assertion. In fact, it isn't even made as an assertion so much as it is inserted off-handily in a way as to suggest that the very idea is just to absurd to consider.
Now, a real journalist would have at least included comments like "Ken Starr insists that the OIC did not know of Tripp's prior relationship with the Jones legal team". But the authors don't even give us that courtesy.
On top of this, the authors, in their attempts to decry the alleged smears by the Clinton partisans practice their own form of smear. On Pg. 14 they relate an incident in which Arkansas journalist Gene Lyons sent an e-mail to James Carville regarding a rumor about Ken Starr having a paramour of his own. The description provided in this book makes it sound like Mr. Lyons was doing this in order to instigate a smear against Mr. Starr.
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