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Van Natta, Don, Jr. 1964-

Van Natta, Don, Jr. 1964-

PERSONAL:

Born July 22, 1964; married Lizette Alvarez (a journalist); children: Isabel, Sofia. Education: College of Communication, Boston University, B.A., 1986.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Alexandria, VA.

CAREER:

Miami Herald, Miami, FL, reporter, 1987-95; New York Times, metropolitan reporter, 1995-97, reporter in Washington bureau, 1997—.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Pulitzer Prize cowinner, 1993, for coverage of Hurricane Andrew, 1999, for stories exposing the sale of U.S. military technology to China, and 2004, for reports on terrorism; distinguished Alumnus Award, Boston University College of Communication, 2000.

WRITINGS:

First off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters, from Taft to Bush, PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2003.

(With Jeff Gerth) Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Don Van Natta, Jr., is acclaimed for his investigative journalism into such issues as the government's sale of military technology to the Chinese and the fight against international terrorism. But Van Natta, who writes about affairs in Washington, DC, for the New York Times, offers an unexpected view of the White House with his first book, First off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters, from Taft to Bush. Drawing on historical research and his own personal experiences—he has competed on the links with President Bill Clinton—Van Natta proposes that one can learn a lot about an American president's character by watching his behavior on a golf course. With the exception of Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, and Jimmy Carter, the reporter notes, all the presidents since Howard Taft have been avid golfers, even those, such as Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge, who have been abominable players. "Almost everything is revealed on a golf course," according to Van Natta—"a player's shortcomings and strengths, most of all, but other subtleties of personality and foibles of character that you may never see across a desk."

Among the revelations and insights Van Natta offers are how President Taft's preference for golf was characteristic of his lax attitude toward his presidential responsibilities; how Lyndon Johnson used his time on the links to persuade congressmen to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and how the cheating tendencies of presidents Nixon and Clinton were very revealing of their personal character in office. One of Van Natta's favorite anecdotes, in fact, involves the time he played golf with Clinton. The president was liberal with his use of "mulligans"—or "practice shots"—and with the end of the game declared he shot a low score. When Van Natta later wrote a story about it in the newspaper, Clinton, according to the reporter, was furious. As he recalled in an American Intelligence Wire interview by Brit Hume and Tony Snow, "I said wait a minute … I've written stories about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and about the Lincoln bedroom. He said those things bothered him too but this is different. The president takes his golf game very seriously." First off the Tee concludes with Van Natta comparing the golf games of presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush. For the Bushes, the game is all about speed, and the score is never as important as keeping the ball in the air. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Van Natta also relates, George W. Bush's words on the golf course were rather revealing: "I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive."

Van Natta summarized his conclusions about presidents and their golf games, and why golf appeals to our leaders, in an interview for National Public Radio's Morning Edition: "I think it's a mind game, camaraderie. They love being out away from the pressures of the Oval Office. And it's a prism into their characters. It's really a way for us to see how they really will behave under pressure, whether they have a short fuse or a long fuse." Some critics of First off the Tee did not completely buy into the author's thesis, but many nonetheless found it a fun read. "While the book's central thesis may be a little overstated," according to Jamie Malanowski in the Washington Monthly, "it's still entertaining for all the cool presidential golf trivia it includes." Lynda Cardwell, writing in the New York Times, felt that First off the Tee "is an easy, engaging book, and not such a bad history lesson." On the other hand, Library Journal reviewer John Maxymuk concluded that Van Natta's book is more a biography than a book about golf or politics: "This is a niche item but is very well done."

In Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Van Natta and coauthor Jeff Gerth look at the life and career of the New York senator and erstwhile contender for the title of Democratic presidential candidate in 2008. The volume questions the portrait of Clinton prepared and presented by her presidential nomination campaign and suggests that Clinton is much more driven and ambitious than her supporters admit. The authors reveal "that during her husband's 1992 campaign, a team she oversaw hired a private investigator to undermine Gennifer Flowers ‘until she is destroyed,’" declared Peter Baker and John Solomon in the Washington Post Book World. "Flowers had said publicly that she had an affair with Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas…. The book also suggests," Baker and Solomon continued, "that Hillary Clinton did not read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in 2002 before voting to authorize war. And it includes a thirdhand report that the Clintons had a secret plan after the 1992 election in which he would have eight years as president and then she would have eight years." "Gerth and Van Natta also show Clinton employing secret staffers, in the process sneaking around Senate rules that don't suit her fancy," Byron York declared in the National Review. "They show her threatening a staffer with ‘You'll never work in Democratic politics again’ if the staffer failed to cover up tax returns showing Clinton's commodities-trading profits. And they show her directing the operation to stonewall the independent-counsel investigations of her husband."

Van Natta and Gerth have a long history with Hillary Rodham Clinton, explained On the Issues contributor Jesse Gordon; Gerth in particular was the reporter who broke the story about the Clintons' involvement in the Whitewater affair. "Whitewater" referred to an Arkansas real estate plan launched in the late 1970s to build vacation homes in the Ozark mountains in which Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton were partners, along with Arkansas businessman Jim McDougal and his wife, Susan. The assets of the plan were misused by McDougal and his business associates, and the plan became national news about a decade later because of the massive failure of savings & loan institutions across the country—and because of the Clintons' involvement, since Bill Clinton was running for president in 1992. "Gerth and Van Natta have been after Hillary for a long time—since Whitewater—and, one assumes, know all the dirt that there is," Gordon stated. "But [Her Way is] also a good read for Hillary supporters, because it demonstrates how Hillary has survived the worst that the press can produce." "Concerning Whitewater, the authors conclude that ‘[Hillary Clinton's] likely indiscretions were altogether modest’ but the cover-up nearly derailed her husband's presidency," reported a contributor to the Economist. "Her conflict of interest in representing a dodgy financial firm whose regulators were appointed by her husband was more apparent than real, they argue. But this was partly for the ignoble reason that she padded her bills and charged the client for work she had not in fact done."

Critics differed in their perceptions of the volume, but many agreed that Her Way reveals little that is new or different about Hillary Rodham Clinton's character. "The book's greatest flaw is its flogging of all the Clinton scandals, not simply because they are so familiar and ultimately came to so little, but also because they give us insufficient clues to what sort of president Mrs. Clinton might be," wrote New York Times Book Review contributor Robert Dallek. "It would have been more instructive to learn something new about why her health reform initiative failed or to explain in some detail why she was overwhelmingly re-elected by New York voters and has been, as even some Republican senators acknowledge, an effective senator." "It was a good point in Her Way to turn the camera on Hillary in the Senate," concluded Harold Reynolds, writing for the New York Law Journal. "They point to her adoption of Bush's false claim of an al-Qaida-Iraq relationship and its tie to 9/11." "However much Her Way fails as a biographical work of literature," Reynolds stated, "it hits its target here—for a weakness to dodge truth instead of admitting major error is fatal to any candidate for the presidency. It leads people to live daily in the light of false dawns, a curse no nation deserves."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Lawyer, August 1, 2007, Scott Horton, review of Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, p. 138.

American Spectator, June-July, 2003, "Hail to the Cheat!"

America's Intelligence Wire, July 4, 2003, Brit Hume and Tony Snow, "Interview with Don Van Natta."

Booklist, April 15, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of First off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters, from Taft to Bush, p. 1442.

B.U. Bridge (Boston University), May 14, 1999, Hope Green, "Pulitzer Hat Trick from COM Alumni."

California Bookwatch, August 1, 2007, "Her Way."

Daily Free Press (Boston University), March 5, 2004, Scott Brooks, "Training for the Times."

Economist, June 9, 2007, "The Potential to Change the World, at Least a Little; Hillary Clinton," p. 95.

Independent (London, England), July 20, 2007, Leonard Doyle, review of Her Way.

Library Journal, May 1, 2003, John Maxymuk, review of First off the Tee, p. 126.

National Review, June 25, 2007, "Getting to Know Her: New Books Shed Further Light on the Woman Who Would Be President," p. 20.

New Yorker, June 11, 2007, Elizabeth Kolbert, "The Lady Vanishes: Two Biographies Search for the Real Hillary Clinton."

New York Law Journal, July 27, 2007, Harold Reynolds, review of Her Way.

New York Times, May 9, 2003, Lynda Cardwell, "Books of the Times; Sure You Shot a 79, Mr. President. Of Course You Did," p. E44.

New York Times Book Review, April 20, 2003, Bradley S. Klein, "Bunker Mentality," p. 14; June 5, 2007, Robert Dallek, "Shining a Halogen Light on a Senator's Dark Corners."

Presidential Studies Quarterly, December, 2003, David Gray Adler, review of First off the Tee, p. 947.

Times Literary Supplement, September 26, 2003, Daniel Crewe, review of First off the Tee.

Washington Monthly, June, 2003, Jamie Malanowski, "Ball Boys: Why Golf Is the Driving Obsession of Middle-age Alpha Males."

Washington Post Book World, May 25, 2007, Peter Baker and John Solomon, "Books Paint Critical Portraits of Clinton: 2 Biographies Detail Marital Strife and Driving Ambition," p. A1.

ONLINE

Monsters & Critics,http://www.monstersandcritics.com/ (June 17, 2008), Michael P.F. Van Der Galien, review of Her Way.

On the Issues,http://www.ontheissues.org/ (June 17, 2008), Jesse Gordon, review of Her Way.

OTHER

Morning Edition (National Public Radio program transcript), May 1, 2003, "Interview: Don Van Natta Jr. on His New Book, First off the Tee."

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