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Journalist defends article slamming Bill Clinton

  • Story Highlights
  • Todd Purdum, the national editor of Vanity Fair, wrote article
  • Aides believe 2004 heart surgery altered Bill Clinton's state of mind, article says
  • Article: Rumors Clinton had been "seeing a lot of women on the road" worried aides
  • Hillary Clinton campaign: Piece is "journalism of personal destruction at its worst"
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By Alex Mooney
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(CNN) -- The Vanity Fair journalist who infuriated the Clinton campaign over the weekend with an explosive article that questions former President Bill Clinton's business dealings and behavior since leaving the White House strongly defended his reporting Monday.

Todd Purdum, the national editor of Vanity Fair, stood by his article's most controversial assertions in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, including charges that aides to the former president believe his 2004 heart surgery fundamentally altered the 61-year-old's state of mind.

Purdum, a former White House reporter for the New York Times and the husband of former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Meyers, also defended his claim that some aides grew concerned with rumors Bill Clinton had been "seeing a lot of women on the road."

The lengthy article hits newsstands later this week, though Vanity Fair has posted a copy on its Web site. The Web posting prompted a blistering response from Clinton campaign spokesman Jay Carson Sunday night, who called the piece "journalism of personal destruction at its worst." Video Watch CNN's Wolf Blitzer interview Purdum »

"A tawdry, anonymous quote-filled attack piece, published in this month's Vanity Fair magazine regarding former President Bill Clinton repeats many past attacks on him, ignores much prior positive coverage, includes numerous errors, and ultimately breaks no new ground," he added.

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The article, titled 'The Comeback Id,' is nearly 10,000 words long and examines Clinton's years since leaving the White House. Purdum paints Clinton as a man who has made millions in the last eight years while constantly globe-trotting on luxury jets with wealthy and controversial business associates, including California supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle and Hollywood producer Steven Bing. Purdum reports aides to the former president called his associations with these men "radioactive," and questioned the damage it is doing to his legacy.

"Among the not-so-small cadre of Clinton friends and former aides, concern about the company the boss keeps is persistent, palpable and pained," Purdum writes. "No former president of the United States has ever traveled with such a fast crowd, and most 61-year-old American men of Clinton's generation don't, either."

In its most hard-hitting passages, the article also quotes aides who believe Clinton's heart surgery in 2004 left the former president in an altered state of mind -- one marked by constant anger and rage.

"There's an anger in him that I find surprising," one anonymous senior aide to the former president told Purdum. "There seems to be an abiding anger in him, and not just the summer thunderstorms of old. He has been called into question repeatedly by top staff. The fact is, you can only weigh in so often on this stuff. It's just a huge force of nature."

The Clinton campaign hit back at those charges, saying that theory is "false and is flatly rejected by President Clinton's doctors who say he is in excellent shape and point to his vigorous schedule as evidence of his exceptional recovery."

Purdum said he is not insinuating that Clinton's state of mind has indeed been altered, but noted that some aides raised the issue with him.

"These are people who worked for him for a long time, who knew him before the surgery and have dealt with him since. It's somewhat speculative obviously," Purdum said. "This is one of things they raised with me. I didn't go raising them."

Purdum added he himself believes there's evidence the former president is acting in a different manner.

"I think there's a good deal of evidence that he is quite a bit angrier than he used to be," he said. "He's clearly very angry at the media, and he's very angry at the way he sees Sen. Clinton's campaign has been treated."

In another of the article's more explosive passages, Purdum asserts several aides grew concerned over a year ago amid reports of inappropriate behavior by the former president while he was traveling. One aide unsuccessfully attempted to confront Clinton on that matter, believing he was "apparently seeing a lot of women on the road."

Purdum again insisted he was not insinuating that Clinton had been involved in inappropriate relationships, but rather reporting what aides had become concerned with.

"I'm very careful to say that there is no clear-cut evidence that President Clinton has done anything improper," he said. "What I am careful to say, and what is the truth, is that this former senior aide was concerned enough that prominent Democrats around the country were complaining about hearing reports of this in their own backyard that he felt President Clinton should be made aware of it, and should know that it was out there in the slipstream ... and that it could have an effect in the campaign season."

In his sharp critique of the article, Clinton's spokesman also criticized Purdum for not giving enough attention to the former president's charitable works through his foundation since leaving the White House. Carson noted the foundation has more than 800 staff members across the world who focus on expanding access to HIV/AIDS treatment, global poverty and environmental issues.

"Most revealing is one simple fact: President Clinton has helped save the lives of more than 1,300,000 people in his post-presidency, and Vanity Fair couldn't find the time to talk to even one of them for comment."


Purdum said he acknowledged those deeds, but that they were not relevant to the article.

"Asking why I don't focus on that is a little bit like asking why the musical 'South Pacific' doesn't have a song about the Normandy invasion," he said. "It's just a different topic."

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