One Beltway Insider Gets All Misty-eyed...
By Timothy Noah

(FORTUNE Magazine) – ALL TOO HUMAN By George Stephanopoulos Little Brown, 400 pages

Forget all the media hubbub about whether George Stephanopoulos is a ratfink for writing All Too Human. The real trouble is that Stephanopoulos has exchanged one kind of orthodoxy for another. A former altar boy in the Greek Orthodox Church, Stephanopoulos wafted perfumed smoke in Bill Clinton's wake for several years before donning the robes of Washington's pundit priesthood. In his new book, Stephanopoulos is admirably blunt in describing the moral failings of his erstwhile boss. But he lacks skepticism about the class of permanent, pompous Washingtonians he has now joined in all but address.

That wouldn't be as much of a problem if Stephanopoulos had served up a book focused more on Bill Clinton and less on himself; one could accept the limits of Stephanopoulos' perspective as a condition for learning more about the machinations of Clinton's White House. But either Stephanopoulos doesn't want to tell too much or, more likely, he knows that the path to bestsellerdom is to write a Bildungsroman that cashes in on the public's fascination with--well, George Stephanopoulos.

The book is sprinkled with intriguing mea culpas and personal revelations. There is a genuinely horrifying moment when Stephanopoulos hears himself telling the 8-year-old daughter of a Clinton driver who falsely alleged campaign payoffs to Gennifer Flowers: "Your father is a really bad man." We learn that Stephanopoulos was in psychotherapy and taking antidepressants to ward off the stress of White House life. But we don't hear Stephanopoulos questioning the feigned remorse he was forced to affect after he got caught in a classically phony Washington ethics trap. Stephanopoulos had groused to the Treasury Secretary's chief of staff that the Resolution Trust Corp. shouldn't have hired outspoken Clinton critic Jay Stephens to investigate Whitewater. Word of this got back to the Whitewater grand jury, and Stephanopoulos landed on the cover of Time. It was much ado about nothing; Stephanopoulos hadn't ordered Stephens fired and couldn't have. Still, after recounting the deliciously absurd details, Stephanopoulos piously intones, "I had to admit that I'd been wrong." It would be much more refreshing to hear Stephanopoulos say he wasn't a bit sorry and that the real problem was the press' ongoing inability to distinguish a real scandal from a phony one. But that, of course, might risk upsetting new colleagues at ABC News.

The first half of All Too Human will likely seem tedious to admirers of Primary Colors, both book and movie, which captured more vividly what it was like to be Bill Clinton's bright young man during the 1992 campaign (and, by implication, the heady early years of the Clinton Administration). The narrative becomes much more gripping after Clinton, enraged by the assistance Stephanopoulos provided Bob Woodward in writing The Agenda, withdraws his affection. Their relationship never fully recovered. The latter half of All Too Human is really a meditation on what life is like when your boss falls out of love with you. Stephanopoulos evokes that feeling, and relates his partial success at winning back some intimacy with real self-awareness and no small amount of suspense.

The narrative's real godsend, though, is the appearance of Dick Morris after the Democrats lose Congress in 1994. In case there was any doubt left: Stephanopoulos hates Morris, even when he's forced to concede that Morris helped save the Clinton Administration by tugging it rightward. In All Too Human, Morris comes across as a genuine grotesque--sincerely clueless about moral principle and surprisingly clumsy when it comes to throwing his own weight around. Reading Stephanopoulos' deliciously savage Morris portrait, one wishes that more of All Too Human were written with similar abandon.

--Timothy Noah

TIMOTHY NOAH writes about politics for Slate.