Pub date moves up on McDougal book

Planned Sept. release reskedded for May

NEW YORK — Bill Clinton’s ex-pal and Whitewater partner Jim McDougal died on March 8, but his ghost will continue to haunt the president, in the form of a soon-to-be-published book from Gotham-based publishers Henry Holt & Co.

The book, “Arkansas Mischief: The Birth of a National Scandal,” is co-authored by Boston Globe national reporter Curtis Wilkie, who told Daily Variety the project was effectively completed in February.

Henry Holt execs said that in the wake of McDougal’s unexpected death the skedded September pub date will now be moved up to May. Holt and Wilkie declined to comment on the terms of the deal, but Wilkie denied an Internet report that McDougal and he had met and become friends in 1995 while Wilkie was “covering Whitewater.” Wilkie, who is based in New Orleans, said he never reported on the failed Arkansas land deal for his newspaper.

The deal was initiated by Henry Holt after Boston-based novelist George V. Higgins suggested Mississippi-born Wilkie as a possible writer to work on the project to McDougal agent Deborah Grosvenor.

Holt was interested, Wilkie said, in finding a writer McDougal felt comfortable with — “and I think the southern thing worked for Jim.”

“This is a book about a particular era in southern politics, in which McDougal played a major role,” Grosvenor told Daily Variety. “Curtis (Wilkie) brings a lot of experience in covering southern politics to this book.”

The two men had been working on the book since last June, right before McDougal began serving a three-year sentence for charges related to independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigation. Wilkie collected hundreds of hours of taped interviews with McDougal, and said the book contains new info about the president’s and first lady’s handling of the deal-gone-bad.

“The first lady isn’t going to be happy, but Jim was a lot tougher on other people in this book,” said Wilkie, who added that he last spoke with McDougal 10 days ago.

“It was a terrible shock to hear that Jim had died,” Grosvenor said. “This book meant everything to him — he was really living for the chance to clear his name.”

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