BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Walter R. Mears, author of "Deadlines Past," you have pictures in your book, and I want to start with the last first. What was the circumstance behind that picture?
WALTER MEARS, AUTHOR, "DEADLINES PAST:" We were in Wisconsin, where Governor Bush and Dick Cheney appeared together at a minor league ballpark in Wisconsin. And they gave us all -- the double-A club gave us all baseball hats. Move on to the next rally, and it was in -- it was in Missouri, and it was very sunny and warm there. So I threw the hat on so I could see to take notes. And Bush saw me getting out of the plane, and he said, I love that W! Look at that W! You know, he did that number. And I said, Governor, I was W before you were born. But he paid no attention, went on making a big fuss about it. So I`m getting back on the plane, he just grabbed me and pulled me over. Get a picture of Walter. He`s got a W hat on. I love it!
LAMB: So how does he differ from all the presidential candidates you`ve covered?
MEARS: Oh, I don`t know that he does. He was, I think, particularly outgoing and -- and -- you know, the nicknames and all that stuff was part of his make-up in a way that it wasn`t with a lot of more formal candidates. But the formality came -- you know, the higher he climbed, the more formal it got. I remember being at an interview -- doing an interview with him when he was still governor, and his office in Austin was lined with baseballs, souvenir baseballs.
So we were finishing the interview. It was running over, and Karen Hughes came in and said, Governor, there`s a Christian conservative group that`s waiting for you on the capitol steps. We`ve got to break this off now and you`ve got to go out. So I said, Thank you, and we started out. I mentioned the baseballs and asked him a question about baseball. We stayed for another 10 minutes while he talked about baseball and, you know, let them cool their heels.
LAMB: But you did discover in one of those interviews you had with him one of his pet peeves.
MEARS: His pet peeve is cell phones. Oh, he hates ringing cell phones! I don`t know what he`s like in the White House, but I can imagine, having seen the way he was as governor -- my colleague, Ron Fournier (ph), had a cell phone that went off during the interview and, you know, the ice descended. It was a new ice age. Finally, Ron just ripped the battery out of his cell phone so it would stop making that noise.
LAMB: The first picture in your book was a few years earlier. When was this taken?
MEARS: Quite a few years earlier. That was...
LAMB: And you`re in the back there, with the crewcut.
MEARS: It was 1960. That was at Hyannisport. I was still in the Boston bureau of the AP and had been sent down to cover Kennedy on one of his weekend visits and -- and I had my crewcut and I had my youth, both of which I sometimes miss.
LAMB: What do you remember about John F. Kennedy?
MEARS: I remember the same charisma and charm that we all remember about -- about the man. I remember him as a very polished politician. I remember the stark contrast between the experience of covering him in that `60 campaign, when I was a rookie -- I was still in Boston, had limited exposure that first time out -- the stark contrast between reporting on Kennedy and reporting on Richard Nixon.
Richard Nixon in 1960 sort of traveled with a portable isolation booth. He didn`t admit that reporters existed. We didn`t see him. We`d file past him to get into his plane, those of us on the traveling press pool which traveled on the candidate`s plane. He`d stare straight ahead. He wouldn`t say hello. He wouldn`t say anything. Kennedy, on the other hand, was breezy, informal and accessible, in some ways.
I mean, none of these people are going to be as accessible as you want them to me because they`re not about the same task you`re about. You`re trying to get information. They don`t want all the information that you want to be part of the record. They`re trying to win an election.
LAMB: Go back to that experience with Richard Nixon. Now, explain again that you would get on the plane -- you had a number, a figure, of how many times you passed him on the plane or -- but this was in 1960.
MEARS: In 1960, yes.
LAMB: What kind of a plane did you travel on?
MEARS: It was an old -- it was a Constellation most of the time, one of those old triple-wing -- triple-tail planes that used to be the Washington-to-New York shuttle plane. And the Nixons, he and his wife, had -- their first-class seats were about opposite the door where you came up the stairway and onto the plane. So we`d file past them, the five or six people in the traveling press pool, which represented the rest of the press traveling on the press plane. And it would -- it would just sort of be a rigid, formal experience. They would be sitting there, looking at each other, never cracking a smile, never saying hello, never saying anything. We`d go to the back of the plane. Press pool duty on that campaign was not particularly important because we never had anything to report.
LAMB: But he would never look up and say hello.
MEARS: No. He was...
LAMB: Never make eye contact.
MEARS: No. It was -- it was amazing. You know, I did that for -- off and on for about two-and-a-half weeks I was on the road with Nixon in the Northeast. And I never met the man until five years later. I met him in 1965, after the Goldwater -- Barry Goldwater disastrous loss. And I interviewed him in his law office in New York about what might happen in 1968. He -- he told me some things that I thought made just a great story about how he was already planning -- plotting, some might say -- his role in the -- in the 1966 campaign to build his possibilities of running in 1968.
I remember writing the story that Richard Nixon`s running again, and he`s looking at 1968 and he`s already putting together an organization, which got very little attention, which tells you something about the way the media worked, or at least worked at that point, because at the time, I was very junior. I was out of nowhere. My byline didn`t mean anything. And this story came and went with minimal -- minimal play. If I`d written that 10 years later, after I`d established myself, everybody else would have been trying to catch up with it and put it in their paper.
LAMB: Contrast, though, the way he wouldn`t look at you and deal with you in those times with -- say, for instance, you tell us in the book that Ed Muskie was a personal friend of yours or a social friend of yours.
MEARS: Yes, I used to play golf with Muskie. I knew him during the campaign. I knew him for years after the campaign, when he was back in the Senate and when he was secretary of state. And you know, he was -- he was difficult during the campaign. He had a temper. He -- and that`s what undid him, really. I don`t know if he cried that day in New Hampshire or if it was, as his people said, snow melting on his face, but it doesn`t really make any difference. He was having -- you know, he was having a fit of temper, and that wasn`t the image of the Ed Muskie that the country had seen when he ran for vice president in 1968. Then he was the man you could trust and rely on and, you know, the calm, Lincolnesque figure from Maine. He just blew it all away. The crying episode sort of became a symbol of what undid him, but it isn`t what undid him. He was unraveling, I think, because he didn`t have the temperament to run for president. I always thought that one of the smartest things Mario Cuomo did when he was governor of New York was not fly over to New Hampshire and get into the campaign. I think that he knew himself well enough to know that as brilliant and talented as he was, he did not suffer fools lightly and he didn`t like questions he didn`t like. And he would have been off the handle in a rage over the process of running for president, I think, within a week.
LAMB: But talk about, again, as a reporter, the human impact of Richard Nixon never made eye contact with you. Ed Muskie played golf with you. Does that affect your reporting?
MEARS: I don`t think so. I mean, I got to be very, very friendly with Barry Goldwater. I covered him for more than a year. We had some fascinating escapades together. I`ve written in the book about the night we all flew down to his favorite Mexican restaurant just across the border and flew back and finished a bottle of tequila on the runway at the airport in Phoenix. You know, Goldwater was supposed to be the enemy of the press, or we were supposed to be the enemy of Goldwater. It wasn`t like that.
If you`re a professional at this work, there`s a line that you draw. I mean, I never called any of these people by their first names. I knew them well enough to, but I called them -- I called them Senator or Governor or whatever the appropriate title was. I always thought that there was a -- there needed to be a professional distance and it needed to be understood that, yes, we were friendly, but that didn`t affect the job I had to do and it certainly didn`t affect the job that they had to do.
LAMB: You tell the story about Barry Goldwater at the -- was it the `64 convention, where he literally went up in his own plane and flew around to see if...
MEARS: Oh, he got bored -- very bored -- he got bored very easily. He -- he was staying at the Mark Hopkins (ph) and kind of closeted in the hotel suite, as presidential nominees-in-waiting tend to be until they go to do their acceptance speech. And he didn`t -- he didn`t like just sitting there, so he played with his ham radio until he got bored with that, and then he got them to slip him out through some tunnels underneath the top of Nob Hill, which allegedly had been used at one point for -- for the rich bankers of San Francisco to slip over to the club across the street to consort with their lady friends. In any event, the -- they slipped him out this tunnel under the side of Nob Hill, took him out to a local airport, and he rented a plane and buzzed the Cow Palace while they were debating whether to nominate him.
LAMB: How`d you find that out?
MEARS: I did a story immediately after the convention, basically, when everybody had sort of lost interest because everything was moving on now. I just went back and did Barry`s five days in San Francisco and talked to everybody I could talk to and -- and one of Goldwater`s people told me about this -- about this tunnel episode, which the hotel always tried to -- not quite deny, but they didn`t want it published that there was such an exit. And I just reconstructed the five days and wrote a story about Goldwater walking through this tunnel, brushing cobwebs from his face as they went through this catacomb-like thing and one of his -- one of his people saying to him, Senator, you realize that you`re walking into history? And Goldwater stopped, and he looked at the guy like he was crazy. He said, What?
LAMB: But you also then tell a story about "The New York Times," which made him so mad that he didn`t talk to them for, what...
MEARS: Oh, sure.
LAMB: ... how many terms in the Senate?
MEARS: For the rest of his time in the Senate. What`d he do, serve two more terms before he retired?
LAMB: What were the circumstances?
MEARS: There was a -- there was a man named Charlie Moore (ph), who -- great reporter in Vietnam, worked for "Time" magazine, finally couldn`t tolerate the -- what he said was the -- the spiking of his best stuff from Vietnam, and he quit and he went to work for "The Times." And he wound up covering Goldwater. And we traveled together through much of the campaign. I remember one day, Goldwater made a speech at a veterans` convention in Dallas and said that "The New York Times" was no better than "Izvestia." And he came out to the car or bus afterwards. We were in a little van. And Charlie said, Senator, what was that all about? And Goldwater said, I didn`t mean you, Charlie.
MEARS: But after the campaign, after Goldwater`s defeat, Charlie wrote a piece for "Esquire" magazine, the title of which was "Requiem for a Lightweight," and it was about, basically, all of -- all of Goldwater`s shortcomings as a candidate and as a potential president. And Goldwater never forgave Charlie and he never forgave "The New York Times." And from that day forward, if you were coving the Capitol, said, I`m with "The New York Times" and I need to talk to you, he`d just turn and walk away.
LAMB: Have you written your last word for the Associated Press?
MEARS: I wait for the telephone to ring and say, Come on, we need you back on the bus. But yes, I think so. I retired after the -- after the inauguration in 2001 and turned what I did over to hands at least as capable as mine, and probably more so now. Ron Fournier is our political reporter now, and he is world-class. And it was time. I`d been there 46 years when I retired. I`m 68 now. I had great fun, basically, researching my own career to write this book. And I have some other book thoughts that I might move into next year. I did go back and write on the 2002 election, on election night. So I might -- I might do some things like that. But basically, the answer is yes. I`ve wrapped up my career and put it in very good hands to cover the 2004 campaigns and those beyond.
LAMB: What have you found out, as you`ve traveled around over the years, that the public at large knows about the Associated Press?
MEARS: Very little. That`s one of the reasons that I think my next project may be what I hope will be a popular history of the Associated Press, so that people will understand the impact of this organization. My great friend and co-author, at one point, John Chancellor, once called the AP the great engine of journalism. And it is. I mean, it is -- it is the essential ingredient in not only American but world journalism. And it`s a great unknown.
I was at Harvard in a course at the business school, and we had a professor lecturing on trademark and name recognition. And he went around the room. There were about 40 people there from major businesses, and you know, sort of one -- one reporter, journalist had shown up. He went around and he asked these people about their use of trademarks and the impact of name recognition on their product.
He came to me, and I said, Well, Professor, you`ve read the trademark of my company 40 times today, and you don`t know what it is. And he got all flustered and said, This is my business. I know trademarks, and so forth. And I said -- and I said, Well, then tell me where I work because I can tell you, you`ve read it over and over again this morning. And of course, he couldn`t, and I said, Well, give me the "Boston Globe" that you`ve got on your desk there. And I said, Here, AP, AP, AP, AP. And he had to confess I had him.
It`s a cooperative association owned by the newspapers. And the reach of the AP is just unknown to most -- to most American readers.
LAMB: Well, you tell us in the book that there are 100 reporters in the Washington bureau, and I know that "LA Times" and "The New York Times" have maybe 50, at most, in their bureaus. What size is the reporting staff worldwide of the Associated Press?
MEARS: There are -- it`s a hard number to give you. There are about 2,500 working for the Associated Press, but many, many more reporting to the Associated Press. So it`s a difficult number.
LAMB: Any other organization in the news business in this country have 2,500 reporters?
MEARS: No. No. Because we cover -- we cover the statehouses. We -- you know, we give you the weather report. We give you the baseball box scores. You know, all of the ingredients of a daily newspaper show up somewhere on the Associated Press wire.
LAMB: Who owns it?
MEARS: It`s owned by the newspapers it serves. It`s a membership cooperative.
LAMB: Where`s it based?
MEARS: The headquarters is in New York City. It`s been in Rockefeller Center since 1937. We`re about to move the headquarters downtown to -- to a building near Penn Station simply for space and the ability to remodel and accommodate the demands of -- of technology, now that computers and, you know, high-speed lines, and so forth, have become so crucial.
LAMB: What`s the T-shirt that had your name on it?
MEARS: The T-shirt that had my name on it?
LAMB: "What`s the lead, Walter?"
MEARS: Oh, oh, oh. That was actually -- that was a shopping bag thing.
LAMB: Oh, I`m sorry. I thought it was a T-shirt.
MEARS: No, I didn`t get -- I didn`t -- never got that famous. I never got to the point of T-shirts. The "What`s the leader, Walter" line comes from the 1972 campaign and from the book that Timothy Crouse wrote about it, "The Boys on the Bus," in which he describes an episode in which I`m writing the running story on -- on a debate in California, and as it ends, people are running up and saying, What`s our lead, Walter? There was some truth to that in...
LAMB: But why -- why did they ask you what the lead was? What was the reason?
MEARS: Well, see, I had to write it before anybody else. I had to write it instantly. If you`ve got a deadline -- say your deadline`s 10:00 o`clock and the debate is over at 8:00, you got a little time to sit down, read the text, you know, take some time and write at a more leisurely pace, still under considerable pressure. I mean, for most people, writing a story in an hour-and-a-half is intense pressure. But in my case and that of my colleagues in the AP, the deadline`s right now. Whenever you`ve got the story, you`ve got to write it because somewhere there`s a newspaper or a broadcaster who is on deadline and needs it.
So I would write first. I would write running during the event, and then I`d wrap it up after it was over. And so in that way, what I did, what the AP does, kind of set a pattern. Which is not to say that -- that people who ask me, "What`s the lead, Walter," were then going to write the same lead. But it`s sort of an insurance policy. They want to know -- their desk is already going to have read what comes across the wire, and they want to know that somewhere fairly high up in their story they`ve covered that material so that -- so they don`t get a quick call back saying, Well, Walter Mears says X, and it`s not even in your story.
LAMB: But again, the power of AP -- there isn`t a news organization in the country, a newspaper, a magazine, a radio station or a television station that reports news that doesn`t subscribe to AP?
MEARS: Almost. I mean, it`s not 100 percent, but it`s pretty close.
LAMB: It`s like 92 -- 98 percent.
MEARS: Yes, 98 would probably be about accurate. Our -- our, you know, long archrival, UP and then UPI, has fallen on more than hard times and is not a player anymore, really.
LAMB: Is it too powerful?
MEARS: I don`t think so because I think that -- that the ownership, the structure of the AP insures that it`s not too powerful. There`s a board of directors made up of the publishers or editors of the newspapers that the AP serves, and they`re elected by all of the newspapers. So there`s a self-policing mechanism there. There is -- there are various organizations of the users of our copy. The Associated Press Managing Editors Association is one of them. And they ride herd on what we do.
And you know, if we are not objective, if we fail to meet our own standard, which is to deliver the news instantly, or as close to it as we can, accurately and with total objectivity -- as close as a human can come to that because it`s a goal, you can never really say that -- that -- it`s got to pass through somebody`s mind, and so absolute objectivity is not possible, but as close as you can come to it -- if that isn`t done, then we`re going to hear from the newspapers because we serve newspapers with views all the way from the most liberal publishers and editorial pages in the country to some very, very conservative ones. So you know, we`re under -- we`re under constant scrutiny from the people that we serve.
LAMB: The -- page 268 -- I just wondered if you could have written this when you worked at the Associated Press. "I thought he was as paranoid as the White House said he was and as phony as any politician I`d seen." Ross Perot.
MEARS: No, I would not have said that when I was -- I would have thought it, but I wouldn`t have said it when I was working actively with the Associated Press.
LAMB: Why phony?
MEARS: Oh, I mean, you remember the -- the cover story he gave on why he got out of the campaign and that -- during that Democratic convention, when he said that the Democrats had their act together and he didn`t want to throw the election to the House of Representatives, so he`d drop out? And then he said it was because the Republicans were planning to sabotage his daughter`s wedding party in Dallas -- reception, I should say. And so after she was safely married, he came back in.
And what he did was get out of the way long enough to -- to conserve what he had going for him and then get back in, in time to get into the -- into the debates, which was his -- you know, that`s what made him, really, was the fact that he was the third man in the debates and both President Bush and Bill Clinton were so worried about offending him and turning off his supporters that they said, Oh, he ought to be in the debates, when they thought it was safe because he was out of the campaign. All of a sudden, guess who`s back?
I always wondered what would have happened if his daughter had just eloped.
LAMB: You also say that Perot was the strangest -- had the strangest performance that you had seen in national politics.
MEARS: Yes, I referring in that reference to the business about why he got out, why he got back into the -- to the -- you know, the whole -- the whole thing -- I don`t want to run for president. That makes me weird, doesn`t it? But I have to -- to the -- actually, the performance that he put on in the next campaign, when he said he wasn`t going to do it because he really didn`t want to get back into it. And then when somebody was going to inherit the mantle and the money of his -- of his previous performance, all of a sudden, he was back and available again, and he was being summoned by his people. So he just sort of set it up. I mean, he was good at it. He got 19 percent of the vote, which is a remarkable showing for a third-party candidate.
LAMB: You`ve got a lot of little stories in the book, and I want to get you to tell some of them. The McCarthy candidacy and your role on March 30...
MEARS: The 30th, yes.
LAMB: ... in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson pulled out.
MEARS: It was -- it was a campus in suburban Milwaukee. McCarthy was giving his standard anti-LBJ, anti-Vietnam war speech. And I had heard it so many times that I could say it from memory. So I slipped out and found an office just off the floor of the auditorium where he was speaking, and I watched Lyndon Johnson`s speech on -- on Vietnam. And at the end of it, of course, he said that he would not seek, nor would he accept renomination -- or the nomination of his party for -- for election as president in 1968.
And while you find people now say, Well, we pretty much suspected that, that was a bombshell. I mean, this was a man who -- who sort of put his arms around the presidency and politics and -- you know, he was -- it was -- it was hard to believe that this guy was going to voluntarily walk away from it. We know now that he was agonizing a lot more than it seemed on the surface at that time.
But in any event, I went back into the hall where McCarthy`s still giving this speech, and I went down to the front, right by the stage, and I sort of gave hand signals to McCarthy, who looked at me like I was crazy. And I tried to get him to come over to me, and he wouldn`t. So I went up on the stage, and the other half dozen reporters who were covering the event followed me up. And I went over to him and I said, Senator, the president has just announced that he`s not going to run again. And McCarthy stopped for a second, and then he sort of flinched. And I always thought it was like the dog who chased the car and caught it. You know, the target was -- was Lyndon Johnson and the policy in Vietnam, and essentially, he`d made his point.
And so I got my notebook out to -- to record the historic words that the insurgent would utter on that occasion, and he said, Things have changed. I don`t think I`ll make any more speeches tonight, if that`s all right. So I put my notebook away and...
LAMB: So he had actually been responsible for forcing Lyndon Johnson out of the presidency.
MEARS: I don`t know. I can`t really say that that`s so. We had -- there were polls that showed that Lyndon Johnson was about to lose badly in the Wisconsin primary. He had, of course, won in New Hampshire. It was all on write-in votes because he didn`t -- he hadn`t announced his candidacy. Whether Johnson would have exited absent McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, I don`t know. Kennedy was in by then, but he wasn`t in the Wisconsin primary. And the timing always led me to believe that the political pressure was what at least led him to do it then because this was on Sunday evening, and on Tuesday, he was going to get beaten badly in a Democratic primary.
LAMB: John Kennedy was killed in `63, Martin Luther King early `68, then Robert Kennedy middle `68. You say that the death of Robert Kennedy changed everything with Secret Service.
MEARS: There had been legislation to put Secret Service agents out with presidential candidates, but it wasn`t getting anywhere. And after the assassination of Robert Kennedy, at the end of that month, June of `68, Lyndon Johnson ordered Secret Service protection by executive order. And so the Secret Service deployed around the presidential candidates, which it had never done before. I mean, in 1960, the -- sort of the official word that Kennedy was president came when the Secret Service deployed at Hyannisport. There was another contingent of Secret Service waiting in California, in case it was Nixon.
But the Secret Service protection did more than change the security around candidates, it changed the sort of effectiveness of -- of the logistics operation around candidates, the Secret Service, begin into planning routes, you know, having -- having coverage along a specific route, moving the candidate and doing things like that. And Goldwater -- I remember Goldwater used to get lost.
I mean, I was in a motorcade one time that just got lost. I was on a -- I was on a light plane in a small group of light planes -- I think there were three -- in the California primary when the pilot of our plane couldn`t find the airport until he found the freeway. And then he followed the freeway up to the airport. Things like that didn`t happen once you had the efficiency of the Secret Service to make candidates, you know, know the route and get where they were supposed to go. And that took a big burden off -- off the -- off the candidates` campaigns themselves.
Always before, the campaigns would have had one or two security people who traveled with the candidate, but they`d work with the local police, the state police, and the level of cooperation and the level of efficiency varied tremendously.
When Johnson sent the agents out in the first place, there weren`t enough Secret Service agents to do the job, so they had agents from the immigration service, from the fish and wildlife service, you name it, anybody who had -- who had sort of enforcement agents was drafted to go into that first year`s protection of candidates. And it was still that way a bit in 1976, even, because I remember Mo Udall saying that he loved it when the fish and wildlife service people came out with him because they were his kind of people.
LAMB: You did a little, tiny personal story about Clint Hill (ph) and your drinking habits.
MEARS: Clint Hill was a -- the relationship and the -- between the reporters and Secret Service agents sometimes strained because, you know, their job is to protect the candidate and our job is to get close to the candidate -- was changed forever by the assassination of John Kennedy. But there was an agent named Clint Hill, when I used to go down to Hyannisport in 1961, early part of the year, who -- who instructed me in the -- in the correct use of libations late at night. We were having a drink together with some other people, and I ordered my college drink, which I think was probably Seagram`s 7 and 7-Up, or something like that. And Clint said, You can`t drink that stuff. He said, That`ll give you a hangover. He said, Get Jack Daniel`s on the rocks, and you`ll never have another hangover. So I ordered Jack Daniel`s on the rocks and I really liked the taste, and I found out that he was absolutely wrong about hangovers, but I`ve been drinking it ever since.
LAMB: Clint Hill is the fellow that jumped up...
MEARS: He was the guy that was -- was trying to get Jacqueline Kennedy back into the limousine in Dallas. He was in that famous picture, she`s -- she`s for some reason stretched on the back of the limousine and he`s the agent trying to cover her and get her back sort of undercover. I mean, they didn`t know what else was going to happen on the way to -- on the way to the hospital.
LAMB: You tell us you didn`t save any of your copy books.
MEARS: Really dumb.
LAMB: None of them?
MEARS: No. Probably, couldn`t have read them now anyhow. But I -- but I realized when I started work on this project that anybody doing this kind of work who doesn`t find some way to set aside a few minutes every night after the day`s work is done and jot down the things that struck you about that, and the things that didn`t go into the story, and put them in a form that you`re going to be able to read long afterwards is ill advised, because, if I`d done that, for one thing, I would have saved countless hours of wading through paper files reading what I`d done and what others had done years and years before, just to get my memory cranked up to -- to get my head back into what I did in 1964, say.
LAMB: Is everything you`ve written in a file somewhere?
MEARS: Yeah, yeah. The paper files until 1978 and then, and then an archive that`s available through my PC -- through a PC from 1978 on.
LAMB: Is that available to the public?
MEARS: Not directly. It`s available through Lexis-Nexis. But the AP archive itself is -- which we use for story research is not.
LAMB: So, in other words...
MEARS: Not for any particular reason, except the logistics of it would be so difficult. There is so much material there. I mean, this is an organization that cranks out millions of words every day.
LAMB: Forty-six years at the AP. Where were you born?
MEARS: I was born in Lynn, Massachusetts.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
MEARS: I went to Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.
MEARS: I have two daughters to whom the book is dedicated with a -- with a note saying that now they will know where I was all those years.
LAMB: What do they do? Where are they?
MEARS: They`re both living in North Carolina now, just outside of Raleigh. I have three grandchildren there, my wife Fran has daughter who lives in Gainesville, Florida. And she has a son, so we have another grandchild there.
LAMB: What was your goal in writing this book? What did you want people to take away from this?
MEARS: I thought that -- that perhaps the 46 years had some use in sort of providing what went before, so that people might look at that and think a bit about what`s going on now and think about whether, you know -- there`s an instinct when you`re writing to think that everything is happening for the first time. You discover after you`ve been at this for a while, nothing`s happening for the first time. There is a precedent. You look for it, and you -- and you try to put it in the background, because it does have some -- some instructive value as you look at what`s going on in 2004. In addition to which, I just had a -- I just had a wonderful career. I mean, I couldn`t have asked to do anything but what I did. And I -- and I wanted to share that, I mean, it was -- not too many people get to -- get to live what they dreamed about doing when they were 11 or 10 years old. I did.
LAMB: Are these stories, these are at random. You were on the Richard Nixon good personal friends list. Most people brag about being on the enemy list. What`s that all about?
MEARS: I never knew, but long after Watergate, when they were releasing some of the archives from that era, one of my colleagues was poring over the papers out of the -- that repository in Maryland, and he came across a memo from Haldeman to Herb Klein. Robert Haldeman, the chief of staff, to Herb Klein, who was the communications director, had been Nixon`s press secretary, actually in 1960, and I worked for him again in 1968 in the White House.
And it said, the boss wants a list of the names of his close personal friends in journalism. And it also says, I don`t know what he wants this for. And of course, the enemy`s list had been a big deal at that time that Nixon wrote that memo. So Herb dutifully puts together a list of names, and I was the youngest name on the list by at least 30 years. And I never had any idea what the point of it was. And as far as I know, nothing ever came of it, but it was kind of the ultimate putdown when my friends were boasting about being on the enemy`s list, here I am on the friend`s list. I guess I was fair enough to count as a friend.
LAMB: You tell a story about Jimmy Carter and hemorrhoids.
MEARS: He told it himself. I mean, one of Jimmy Carter`s problems was that -- that he tried to sort of play down the ceremonial aspects of the White House. As you`ll recall, he was not going to have "Hail to the Chief" played, you know, he was going to do his own garment bag and tote that around, as he did in the campaign. He was going to take politics out of the White House. So he really had no political director, although Hamilton Jordan was certainly a very skilled politician and was working there.
But, you know, I think he failed to see that -- that Americans don`t really want the guy next door to be president. They want there to be a certain standing in the office, and taking that away takes away something from the person who`s serving in the office.
And Carter had a physical -- I can`t even remember the year, but -- and then they reported that he was suffering from hemorrhoids. And this became sort of a national joke, which is the last thing anyone, particularly someone suffering from hemorrhoids, needs. I was at a dinner at the White House, and after the dinner we were having a drink up in the family quarters and someone asked Carter how his hemorrhoids condition was doing. And he said, well, some people had recommended surgery, but he wasn`t going to have that, and it was seen to be calming down.
And I said, Mr. President, you know, presidents are forever signing on to have campaigns for diseases that nobody ever heard of and that most Americans are never going to get. What you need to do is set up a national foundation on hemorrhoids, because this is a widely suffered condition and imagine a number of people that you could enlist in this thing. I said, I can see -- I had had a couple of drinks, I said -- a couple of Jack Daniels, so that I can see -- just like the March of Dimes -- women knocking on doors and saying, I`m here for hemorrhoids, the president sent me. And at this point I look up, and Carter is not cracking at smile, he`s taking it all very seriously, and finally I said, I`m kidding. It`s joke. We went on to other subjects.
LAMB: The story of Jesse Jackson and the overheard phone call?
MEARS: I don`t think we can say that one on the air.
LAMB: You can get close. What happened?
MEARS: It was when I was editor of the AP, and there`d been a story in a newspaper in Champaign or Urbana, Illinois about Jackson`s leaving the University of Illinois and going to school in North Carolina instead. And the allegation was that he left because of plagiarism. And the AP had picked up the story, and so it had gone national. Jackson was running in the New Hampshire primary at the time, it would have been 1988.
And he didn`t like the story at all, of course, and so his media guy in Chicago called me at work and -- in New York and said, the Reverend Jackson would like to talk with you. And I said that`s great, here I am. He said, well, he`s not here right now; he`s not available. I said, well, you know, it`s about 6:00, and I`m probably going to work here for another hour but then I`m going to go back to my apartment in Brooklyn, so have him call me at home.
So I went home and after a bit the phone rang and it was the media guy, and he said the Reverend Jackson will speak to you now, and put Jackson on the phone. And we agreed to disagree. He wanted me to retract the story. And I said I couldn`t do that if I wanted to. It`s out there. So, but we certainly will carry anything you want to say about it, and Jackson, savvy enough to know that that`s the last thing he needed to do, was keep it alive by commenting. So, as I say, we agreed to disagree and I hung up.
And I then five minutes or so later picked up the phone to call one of my daughters in North Carolina, and they were still on my phone. And that dawned on me that there was a guy in Chicago, Jackson was in New Hampshire, it`d been a three-way conference call in three locations, and I couldn`t get them off my phone. So I kind of rattled the receiver, and cleared my throat, and it became obvious that I`ve been cut off from being heard but not from hearing.
So I hung up and waited a respectable period, another five minutes maybe, I go back and they`re still on my phone. So I figure, well, it`s my phone, I`ll listen. So -- so -- so they`re talking about how bad this story is, and so forth. And then the guy in Chicago says, well, how is it going up there in New Hampshire? And Jackson says, you wouldn`t believe what a great campaign we`re having. We`re getting big, big, big crowds everywhere we go, he says. But I`ll tell you one thing, it is M.F. cold in New Hampshire.
LAMB: You wrote that down?
MEARS: I just kept it in my head. I wasn`t going anything to do it, and I just thought it was a very funny commentary from the Reverend Jackson on the climate he was finding.
LAMB: You say that when "The New York Times" and I -- if I remember it was Andy Rosenthal (ph) who wrote that story on the grocery scanner, about George W. Bush, or Herbert Walker Bush. You called it a cheap shot.
MEARS: I thought it was.
LAMB: Explain the whole pool thing, that he wasn`t even there and saw it.
MEARS: It came from a pool report, there were, you know, the AP, the UPI, generally a pool like that, there would be maybe eight, 10 people going into a circumstance in which the whole 200 traveling White House contingent, you know, just can`t be accommodated. And so -- so it was a pooled event, and the pool reporters for the newspapers and magazines and broadcasters will then write a report to the rest of the press. The AP and the UPI didn`t participate in that part of it, because we cover everybody, our stories go to everybody.
So, at this pooled event, at a supermarket convention, Bush saw a mock-up, or I guess actual operating checkout line with a new kind of scanner, in which they not only could run groceries through the scanner and get it into -- get it into the cash register that way, but if a label had been ripped off or somehow destroyed and torn into bits, it could somehow reassemble the information and enter even that into the price that`s rung up on your supermarket goods.
And Bush said that he found that remarkable. The reporters who were filing for themselves about this episode, that is the people in the pool, either didn`t mention it or certainly didn`t make a big deal of it, because it was new technology, it was not your average, you know, supermarket clerk ringing up stuff on the cash register. "The Times" story made it into an issue of lasting impact in the campaign, because it was supposed to show how out of touch Bush was with the real America. He was even mystified and amazed at the technology of checking out of a supermarket. Well, that just isn`t, you know, the way it was. And I thought it was a cheap shot. But Bush never lived that down, I mean, it was always used against him for the rest of the campaign.
LAMB: Former Congressman Guy Vander Jagt did something you thought was a slanderous lie.
MEARS: In the final -- absolute final phase of the 1992 campaign when Bush was going down the tubes, he with -- with, I think some push from some of the people around the Bush operation, he was at the time -- he`d been defeated in his primary but he was still the chairman of the House Campaign Committee in him name, and using a statement that he put out at a press conference that he had. They accused Clinton of having an affair with a woman wire service reporter covering his campaign, which was not so. There was only one woman wire service reporter covering his campaign, a very hard working and very attractive and talented reporter. And I thought it was just slanderous.
LAMB: And working for AP?
MEARS: An AP reporter, and so I would have thought it was slanderous if she worked for UPI, but because I knew a good bit about this woman and her work, I thought demeaning her journalism that way just was totally unfair. And I seldom got angry at politicians, but I remember being very angry that time.
LAMB: You quote a rival reporter, back in the Nixon campaign in 1968 as saying "Richard Nixon said today he has a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam."
MEARS: That`s a funny story.
LAMB: Was that a rival reporter for another wire service? Who was it?
MEARS: It was a reporter who worked for UPI, and who would come up from Boston to cover the campaign. I was traveling with the Nixon entourage. I didn`t know the guy, but came to know him later. He always defended his lead.
But in any event, Nixon was making a speech at a textile mill over by the New Hampshire seacoast. And during it, he said that if he was elected president, he would end the war and win the peace in the far Pacific, Vietnam. And immediately after the speech was over, we all raced to the stage and said how you`re going to do that? And he went to this, we only have one president at the time, I`m not going to second-guess President Johnson and so forth.
And so I wrote what he had said. That he promised that as president, he would end the Vietnam War but he wouldn`t say how. And the UPI reporter wrote: "Richard Nixon said today he has a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam." And that became, you know, one of the big arguing points of the campaign. Ever after, when Nixon was having a campaign press conference of whatever, they said, what`s your secret plan to end the war in Vietnam? And of course he`d never said that. That was a rather, I thought reaching extrapolation. But it sure got the play.
And years later, I told about that episode in a book that I did with John Chancellor, and I got a call from -- from a guy who had just done a long documentary on the Vietnam War. And he said, I certainly wish I had seen that before. At the instructions of my producer, I spent uncounted hours and miles and money searching the archives for the tape of Richard Nixon saying, "I have a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam."
LAMB: Your career, you started 46, a little bit more than 46 years ago. Where? What was your first job?
MEARS: Started in Boston. Actually, while I was still in college in 1945, so when I graduated from Middlebury in 1956, I had a job waiting. I graduated on a Sunday, and I went to work on Monday morning.
LAMB: Rough sketch of where you went through your career?
MEARS: That -- that order, I went to Montpelier, Vermont and became the first AP correspondent in the state capital of Vermont to cover the legislature, and insofar as one person could do it, covered the state stories for about four years after that. Great job, great city, I loved it at Montpelier.
At that point, I was transferred back to Boston, where I covered the State House for one session, and then I was transferred to Washington in 1961. I -- I was here until I was appointed executive editor, which is a chief news position in the AP in 1983, and I spent five years in New York and -- and then came back to Washington and completed my career with a three times a week column being my major duty, but also still doing a lot of the spot reporting and running stuff that I learned to do over the years.
LAMB: You covered the Senate for how long?
MEARS: The Senate I covered from 1966 until 1972.
LAMB: Cave of winds.
MEARS: Well ...
LAMB: Where did you get the expression "cave of winds?"
MEARS: Oh, that`s what we used to call it. You spend some time around the Senate yourself, you saw some of that wind being expanded on the Senate floor, but it was a different place. It was a different world up there. I think that -- a better world in a lot of ways. I think that there was a sense of restraint in a sense, even though the Democrats had run the place for so long there was -- there was a willingness to compromise, there was an ability to get things done, that I think has been lost because the lines have been drawn so hard because the interest groups have been so effective in pushing their agendas. In a way, the stature of the place, I think, is not what it was in those days.
I mean -- when I was covering the Senate, if a major story occurred elsewhere in the world, the first people who were turned to for reaction to it were Senator Fulbright (ph) of Arkansas, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Mike Mansfield (ph), the majority leader, Senator Edward Dirksen (ph), the Republican leader. They were the experts, they were the sounding board on which you get your first political reaction.
Now that`s all been given over to television talk shows, I think. And there aren`t that many people in the Senate who are recognized very far from the Senate.
LAMB: The day this was taken and why?
MEARS: That was -- that was the day I received the Pulitzer Prize in 1977. And the reason that I had them put that picture in the book was because it was a lesson in humility. I had -- I had -- being cheap and not rich, I had bought a double-knit suite with two pairs of pants. One pair of which were garish double-knit check pants, I`m sure with bell-bottoms. But you have to remember, it was 1977. But I always regretted that I chose those particular pants on those particular -- on that particular day, and wound up being photographed in the trousers that I don`t think -- I don`t think I would have chosen to pose in. That wound up in the Newseum, as the exhibit on my Pulitzer, so.
LAMB: 1977, Pulitzer for campaign coverage of the Carter campaign?
MEARS: Carter-Ford campaign, yes.
LAMB: Carter-Ford campaign. The Pulitzer, what does it mean today?
MEARS: Well, I mean -- that`s the -- that`s the highest honor that you can receive, I think, as a working journalist.
LAMB: Where were you when you found out you got it?
MEARS: I was getting my hair cut. No, I had just come back from getting my hair -- I didn`t know I was going to get it. I mean, they all say --it`s always said that everybody knows. I didn`t. I didn`t even know it was being awarded that day or I probably would have worn some more respectable pants.
Anyhow, I knew that the jury had recommended me as one of the finalists. But I didn`t realize that I was going to receive the prize. And I was going on a trip to San Francisco the next day, so I`d gone out to get my hair cut and I came back to the bureau and I had a supply of champagne laid in for -- I remember going in and just sort of being stunned and saying, what`s all the champagne for? Well, it`s for you. And they told me what had happened. And I said, let me see the bulletin, I want to see it in writing and on paper before I sipped any champagne.
LAMB: You tell a little story about Ronald Reagan and religion.
MEARS: Oh, about -- about Tip O`Neill saying that he never saw Reagan in church, and here Reagan was making a big deal out of -- out of religion. And Reagan said that he`d love to go to church, but it would put too many people at risk. There would have to be metal detectors and something might happen, and therefore, it was his duty not to go to church.
And then the other story that they told about Reagan was -- was about taking communion with Nancy in a church where the practice was to go forward and dip your piece of bread into the -- into the cup and then move on. And he was behind Nancy and she -- her finger slipped and she dropped the bread into the cup. And, you know, I`ve seen that happen. I mean, what do you do? Do you fish it out? You know? So she kind of was flustered and then she just moved on. And Reagan looked very puzzled. I wasn`t there. I was told this is like a pool of report. Reagan -- Reagan was said to have looked very puzzled at, you know, what came next, and finally took his bread, dropped it into the cup and moved on.
LAMB: 1972, "The Boys on the Bus," Tim Crouse (ph). Whatever happened to Tim Crouse (ph)? One book.
MEARS: Last time -- well, actually, I read that he had produced one of his father`s plays. Russell Crouse. And I can`t remember which of the plays it was. But it was in the past couple of years that he produced one of them on or off Broadway, and he was working as a reporter for "The Village Voice" at one point. And I don`t know what he`s doing now. I tried to get in touch with him to see if he would be interested in coming to one of the book functions and seeing some of his "Boys on the Bus" friends and -- and I couldn`t find an address, and -- so, I don`t know what`s become of him.
LAMB: What was the impact of that book and what was it about?
MEARS: The book was -- was -- the book is actually a funny story in its own right. Tim was working for "Rolling Stone" at the time as kind of the gopher for Hunter Thompson, the gonzo journalist. And Thompson had an assignment to write a long feature for "Rolling Stone" about the traveling press. And Hunter, who did not worry a lot about deadlines or anything else, just never wrote it. And finally, Tim moved up and took over and wrote the piece, which was a long feature in "Rolling Stone" magazine.
And it was about the reporters who covered the campaign, about the mood, about what it was like to be on the campaign, and it was a very colorful, readable reflection of the world of the press person in 1972. And, you know, some of that was hyperbole sometimes. Our wisecracks wound up -- wound up as sort of being taken a bit more serious than they were meant. But it`s a very -- it`s a period piece. It`s just come out again, I think. It`s just been reissued in paperback. It`s a period piece in a way, but it -- but it gives you a flavor of what it was like in probably the last campaign where the boys on the bus really were boys on the bus. There were a few women, but not very many.
LAMB: You know, out of the 750 books we`ve done on this program in the last 14 years, I`ve never seen this many people endorse a book. Bob Schieffer, George McGovern, Bill Richardson, Sam Donaldson, Susan Page, David Broder, John King, Roger Mudd, Jules Witcover, Ron Fournier and Mark Shields. Did you have to ask for all those?
MEARS: It was very flattering. I was -- I had to be pushed really in the first place to ask anybody to do it, because I figured, I`m just uncomfortable asking for somebody to plug my book. And finally, I was persuaded that -- I mean, I`ve done that -- I`ve done that for other people who have done books. And I finally was persuaded that they would be flattered to do it, and I said, fine. And I asked somebody, and then the publisher said you need more. So I think those endorsements represent everybody that I asked except one person, Bob Dole, who I don`t even know if he saw my request. And the publisher said, you`ve got to ask at least a dozen people because you only get three or four back. Well, everybody came back, so it was very flattering and very much appreciated.
LAMB: Last question, of all the campaigns you covered, if you wanted to go back to cover that again under the same circumstances, which one would be it be?
MEARS: Well, the most fascinating campaign that I covered was 1968. I wouldn`t wish upon the country a repeat of 1968, but I wouldn`t mind going back and doing what I did then again, because I think I could do it better now with the experience I`ve had since.
LAMB: The book is called "Deadlines Past: 40 years of Presidential Campaigning, a Reporter`s Story." Walter Mears of the Associated Press. Thank you very much.
MEARS: Thank you very much. It`s been a great pleasure.
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