Non-Olympics, non-China: check out Josh Green's memo haul

In case you have not seen any of the (deserved) zillion other references to this at various Atlantic sites, it is very much worth reading my colleague Joshua Green's new story about what went wrong with Hillary Clinton's campaign, and the trove of memos he collected while reporting the story.

Josh has done an outstanding job on this beat for a long time, starting with his definitive article nearly two years ago about how Hillary Clinton's success in the Senate had prepared her, and perhaps mis-positioned her, for a run for the presidency. Also, as everyone in media-land knows, a year ago GQ commissioned him for a big piece on the Clinton campaign -- which the magazine then killed, by all accounts as part of a deal to get better access to Bill Clinton for a different story. Josh then published this excellent account instead in the Atlantic.

The magnum opus among the memos, based on what I've seen, is this one from Mark Penn, which is sure to be parsed and reflected-upon for months and years.

Related thought that comes to my mind while reading through these documents: I make my living writing things down, but even I have reached the point where I am not willing to put any sentiment whatsoever into reproducible form -- in an email that could be forwarded, in a document that could be cut-and-pasted -- without thinking about how it would look if it got into unintended hands.

That is, the perfection of the technology for spreading and sharing written material has made writing weirdly less useful for conveying private thought. It's risky as a way to share thoughts about running a political campaign; it's reckless as a way to say anything about any other person you might not want him or her to hear. The evolution of technology may return us to the era when the no-tech face-to-face meeting, or the hard-to-copy handwritten note, is the most secure means of communication. And when written statements, even in the "privacy" of email, are necessarily blanded-down by pre-knowledge that they could turn up somewhere unexpected months or years or decades later.
 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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