It's a fundamental rule of journalism: let the facts speak for themselves.
An Atlantic Monthly article published online Monday presents the facts of Sen. Hillary Clinton's failed presidential bid in the form of dozens of e-mails, memos, and other pieces of correspondence collected from inside the campaign. The magazine also makes a complete index of the documents available.
While the memos largely reinforce earlier reports of internal disputes in the campaign, it is sometimes surprising what one learns (Bill Gates apparently at one point asked Clinton strategist Mark Penn to make him "more human"), and what one doesn't learn from the documents (correspondence from Bill Clinton is conspicuously absent).
"As a journalistic exercise, the 'campaign obit' is inherently flawed, reflecting the viewpoints of those closest to the press rather than empirical truth," the article, called "The Front-Runner's Fall," says.
The documents show Clinton's key strategists' insights on the Democratic primary, for better or worse. "(Barack Obama) may be the JFK in the race, but you are the Bobby," Penn wrote in a March 2007 memo.
The communications take some unexpected turns, such as when Penn wrote, "A word about being human," in a December 2006 memo. "Bill Gates once asked me, 'Could you make me more human?' I said, 'Being human is overrated.'"
Joshua Green, who wrote the article, said he collected "stacks" of material from unnamed sources. He notes in the article that "paranoid dysfunction breeds the impulse to hoard. Everything from major strategic plans to bitchy staff e-mail feuds was handed over."
Green said none of his sources expressed any concern over breaking any sort of disclosure agreements they may or may not have had with the campaign over their correspondences.
"I know it's something campaigns are thinking more and more about," he said. "The general sentiment (after this article was published) was, 'Wow I'm going to be real careful about what I put into writing in the future.' One person in particular said, 'You're going to do for e-mailing what the 'Macaca' video did for George Allen.'"
Some politicians have already made moves in recent years to cut back on sending easily retrievable communications. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine in July 2007 announced he would no longer be using e-mail, after state Republicans filed a lawsuit forcing him to release his e-mail correspondence with a union president.
One figure from the Clinton team noticeably absent in the communications published is Bill Clinton. "There isn't a lot of published correspondence that he was a part of that was leaked to me," Green said. "Apparently he doesn't send e-mails, whereas Hillary has three BlackBerrys and is a prolific electronic corresponder."
The 150-year-old Atlantic has been modernizing its content by offering videos, podcasts, and other supplements on its Web site. "Now that even magazines like ours have a platform to give this stuff to our readers and let them take a look, why not?" Green asks.
"It's just amazing what getting and publishing these documents can reveal," he said. "Stuff like finding out about Bill Gates' quest to be a human being was not something we expected to discover."