Helping or Hurting Hillary?

Like any couple in a co-dependent relationship, politicians and the press are constantly fussing and fighting, but at the end of the day, they make sure to kiss and make up.

The tangled relationship between Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and The New York Times is a little more complicated than that.

Since the paper first broke the story of the Whitewater land deal in 1993 through its relentless coverage of the impeachment drama in 2001, the Clintons have felt targeted by the Times. Although relations thawed during Clinton's Senate campaigns and former President Bill Clinton's philanthropic efforts, they've hit a rough patch lately. The paper was criticized for underplaying its story about the senator's launch of her presidential campaign and, at a March fundraiser, the former president reportedly attacked the Times for its coverage of his wife's vote on the war in Iraq.

Both politicos and journalists were buzzing Wednesday about the paper's less-than-glowing review of "Her Way," a new Clinton biography by two of the Times' star reporters, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.

"The book is almost uniformly negative and overly focused on what they consider the Clintons' scandalous past and the darker aspects of Mrs. Clinton's personality," wrote presidential historian Robert Dallek. In the second paragraph of his review, he quotes a Clinton spokesman complaining that the biography is "nothing more than cash for rehash."

The harshness of the review was accentuated by its placement alongside a positive review of "A Woman in Charge," a competing Clinton biography by Carl Bernstein, the legendary Washington Post reporter.

And the authors weren't pleased, claiming that Dallek didn't understand their book. "I didn't have a problem with the headline," noted Gerth, who worked at the paper for 30 years before leaving last year. "I think there's a disconnect between the judgment of the editors and Professor Dallek. The editors chose to excerpt it and put 8,000 words in the Sunday magazine. … It's an investigative biography. It's not meant to be the definitive historical look back at her life and career."

Gerth emphasized that Dallek is entitled to his own opinion, and that it's standard practice for the Times to look outside its ranks for reviewers to critique books by their reporters. But he did criticize the mainstream media for their coverage of Clinton.

"There are things about her record that have gone unreported on," Gerth told ABC News. "People who are running for president, the country needs a close examination of all the candidates and that's the job of the press."

A spokeswoman for The Times, Diane McNulty, said that the paper never tries to influence the tone of the reviews. "Our policy has been to go outside for reviews of books written by staffers, and we take it however it's handed in, whether it's thumbs up or thumbs down."

The Times has long been attacked by partisans on both the left and right for the perceived slant of its coverage. And the imbroglio over the review of the Clinton biography has only served to sharpen its swords.

Clay Waters, the director of Times Watch, a project of the conservative Media Research Center, believes that the paper tends to support the Clintons and that it's not surprising for the Times to run a negative review of a book critical of Hillary.

"Ideological loyalty might be trumping corporate loyalty in this case," said Waters. "It's a pretty honest book, but Jeff Gerth is hated by the left. In 1992, he broke the Whitewater story, and he'll never be forgiven by some liberals for that."

Jamison Foser of liberal media watchdog Media Matters wasn't happy with the review because it failed to mention what he believes to be the paper's flawed coverage of the Whitewater scandal. But he agreed with the overall thrust of the criticism.

"I thought the review pointed out some of the flaws in it, that it painted an overly accusatory picture of the Clintons," he said.

Although he didn't want to make broad characterizations about the paper's coverage of Clinton, Foser did point out a few examples of stories that he believed were unfair to the candidate. There was a 2,000-word front-page article that "purported to count the number of nights they [the Clintons] spent together. That's not the type of coverage you see of other candidates."

Foser also pointed out a piece that "suggested that Hillary may have been faking a phone call in order to avoid questions" from reporters.

Whether the paper is perceived to be too soft or too harsh in its coverage of Clinton and her husband, you can always expect high drama in this relationship.

Gerth acknowledged that the Times has often clashed with the Clintons over the last decade and a half.

"The Clintons have had a complicated relationship with The New York Times over the years, and I've been part of that," he said, citing his reporting of the Whitewater scandal.

"Powerful people don't like stories about them that are unflattering. … If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."