Roger Gittines
Roger Gittines
Consequences: John G. Tower, A Personal and Political Memoir
ISBN: 0316851132
Consequences: John G. Tower, A Personal and Political Memoir
Mr. Gittines, the ghostwriter of the late Senator John Tower, provided an inside account of the political process and offered insights into Washington politics. He also spoke of the bond between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Senator Tower, especially during the time of the Vietnam War. He told how the senator made seven trips to Southeast Asia, more than any other member of Congress, to report on the war. Much of the book focused on the confirmation hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee and the decisions made by Senator John Warner (R-VA) and Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) to disagree with Tower's confirmation. Their allegations of the senator's misconduct throughout the years was discussed in the book as well as the ruthlessness of the politicians who sought to destroy his political career.
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Consequences: John G. Tower, A Personal and Political Memoir
Program Air Date: June 30, 1991

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Roger Gittines, writer, helper, collaborator with the late John Tower for his book Consequences, what was the experience like for you?
ROGER GITTINES: Well, it was lots of fun, first and foremost. It was very revealing and in some ways shocking. I spent nearly 20 years as a Washington reporter, and I came to this project with lots of preconceived ideas about John Tower and about the material we were going to cover and most of it turned out to be false. I was dead wrong about John Tower, and I suspect as a result of that experience a lot of Washington reporters were also dead wrong about John Tower. There's a myth about him and there's the reality. As we worked on this project over the course of six or seven months, I found that John Tower was a totally different person. He was quite shy, which couldn't be more off the mythology of John Tower. John Tower, we're told, was very arrogant, a little pompous, a little stuffy. But he was a very human man, who, because of his shyness, some people misinterpreted his lack of conversational finesse as being arrogance. It was a lot of fun getting down in the trenches with him and going through almost 30 years of public life stretching all the way back to the 1950s.
LAMB: When did you first hear that he might have been on that airplane that went down?
GITTINES: Well, Brian, unfortunately, I was due to go down to Georgia to meet with the senator on Saturday morning. There was a book party to celebrate the publication of Consequences, his memoir. I was at the airport Friday night on another business trip and was told that the plane had gone down. I immediately called his office and received instant confirmation that he and his daughter that he and his daughter Marian were on board, and it was a terrible shock.
LAMB: What was the impact on you?
GITTINES: It could have been one of these situations where I could have been on board the plane with him because my business trip could very easily have left me at Atlanta rendezvousing with him and his daughter on the way in to Brunswick, Ga., for the party.
LAMB: How did you first get into this, and what role did you play in the book?
GITTINES: John Tower use to introduce me as "Roger Gittines, my writer." I would say, "Well, no, Senator, you're the writer. I'm just the typist. I'll just take it down under Boswell." That's essentially what we did. We spent literally hundreds of hours in conversations, which I taped, going across all of the principal events of his career. Basically, when that was done, I sat down to really put a jigsaw puzzle together, just taking the bits and pieces and fitting them together. He would look the drafts over. He'd make extensive corrections and throw them back at me, and we'd do it again. As you may recall, John Tower wasn't a lawyer, unlike many members of the United States Senate. He was a political scientist. He was a professor at a small college in Texas. He was very proud of his background as a historian and a political scientist, so he went through that manuscript line by line making sure that it was as accurate as he could make it.
LAMB: Where did he find you?
GITTINES: In a way, it's a long story. We share literary agents, and John Tower had another literary collaborator at the early stages of this project. She dropped out rather unexpectedly, and I had just finished a book and had mentioned to my agent, "If you ever get another John Tower project, it's ready-made for somebody like me, having spent 20 years in Washington, so keep me in mind." No sooner had I said it that, two days later she was on the phone saying that the ghostwriter, the collaborator, had dropped out and would I be interested.
LAMB: How did it work from there? Did you have to go and meet the senator?
GITTINES: I did, I went down to Texas. He had an office both in Washington and Dallas. I spent nearly three hours with him in his Dallas office having a one-on-one conversation, and it was one of the strangest job interviews I've ever had. We talked about Washington inside out, and it was like talking to an old friend and going over mutual acquaintances. We, in fact, even talked about you, Brian, while we were at it. Basically, he wanted to see where I was coming from, whether I had the depth and breadth of knowledge to be able to handle a 25-year Washington career. At the end I offered to leave him with a big stack of clips and some previous work that I had done. He more or less said, "Well, leave it, but I think I know what I'm going to do." A day later he was saying, "Well, I've looked at a couple of the clips, and you're my man." From then on we were working virtually seven days a week for the next seven or eight months.
LAMB: You said that you had your own book?
GITTINES: Well, I've collaborated on several different projects. I had just finished one with Bob Berkowitz, a former "Today" show correspondent published by Morrow. It came out last year, called What Men Won't Tell You But Women Need to Know. Very different from a political book, but as I said, I was the White House correspondent for UPI Radio for six years and in and out of various beats around town -- in fact covered Sen. Tower on the Hill for a number of years, so I could bring a lot of instant, accessible knowledge to get this project off the ground. One of the problems we had is that time was running out. That intense publicity during the three-month period that the confirmation hearings ran, gave the senator a lot of visibility. But we have very short attention spans in this country, and when you're out of the news, you get forgotten very rapidly, so the publisher of Consequences, Little Brown was concerned that the longer we waited the more John Tower would become old news and the commercial value of the book would fade somewhat.
LAMB: How did you first get into the collaboration business?
GITTINES: Well, basically -- I probably shouldn't say this because every Washington reporter in town will climb the wall. I've always thought that in some ways Washington reporters are ghostwriters anyway. We spend our lives and our careers covering government officials, members of the House and the Senate, taking down what they say. While we engage in some commentary here and there and analysis, basically we're passing on the words of someone else. So I thought it would be a natural kind of segue in my career. I'd been a radio broadcaster and a newspaper writer and a wire service journalist. As I gravitated toward print, this was an avenue that was open, and it's one way to pay the bills. Like most journalists, I had a few novels sitting unpublished in my desk drawer, so it gave me a good option to get published and break into the commercial world of publishing.
LAMB: What's the first book you collaborated on?
GITTINES: The first book was the Bob Berkowitz book.
LAMB: This was the second one?
GITTINES: This was the second. I'm now working on one. It's provisionally titled All the Right Moves, by a California therapist by the name of Peter Guske. He's a sports medicine person, a physical fitness expert, and that will be coming out next year about this time.
LAMB: What do you think of this -- not this book, but the idea of collaborating? Do you like it?
GITTINES: I do. I like it a lot. You know, writing, as it has been said ad nauseam, is an intensely lonely occupation. When you collaborate with someone else, it breaks the loneliness and gives you an opportunity to be exposed to the rest of the world rather than sitting in some garret staring at your word processor. So from that standpoint, it's enjoyable. It is an unnatural act, though. Writing is a solo occupation, and when you involve another person, it becomes cumbersome. Then you factor in editors and agents and all the other people that come with the game, it can get pretty unwieldy.
LAMB: Before we get into the John Tower experience, go back to the beginning. You referred to me earlier. We worked together at UPI back in '69.
GITTINES: Back in the Ice Age.
LAMB: Yes. When did you first get into this business of reporting?
GITTINES: I started right when I was at American University. I came to Washington to study political science and immediately picked up a job at WAVA, which was then the first all-news radio station in the country and from there went to various other news media outlets. I was at American Broadcasting Company for a while, Metromedia Radio and Television, UPI. Then in the early 1980s, after I had spent about six years in the White House and was beginning to suffer some burnout like a lot of White House correspondents, I went to London and spent four years in London as a financial and business correspondent. When I came back, I decided I wouldn't return to Washington, but I'd go to New York just for a change and to try something else. It was up there that I saw the opportunities to do some of this ghostwriting and collaboration. At the time I was working for a British magazine, which gave me some flexibility for other projects like this one and the Berkowitz book.
LAMB: The book is called Consequences. Where did it get its title?
GITTINES: It was suggested at a kind of a typical literary luncheon between John Tower, his agent and Fredi Friedman, who was the senator's editor at Little Brown. They were kicking around various possibilities, and one of the senator's favorite words was consequences because he would refer to chains of events and chains of action leading to some natural consequences for good or for ill. The agent, Margaret McBride, said "That's the title. Why don't we call it Consequences?"
LAMB: Is there enough money in a book like this to pay for literary agents and collaborators and the named author?
GITTINES: I believe so. Believe it or not, I never asked the senator what he was paid for an advance on this book. I just figured it was none of my business, that he and I had a financial arrangement and that was adequate for me.
LAMB: So he hired you?
GITTINES: Essentially, yes. I mean, when he gets an advance, that's designed to cover any kind of research or writer that would be necessary to complete the project.
LAMB: Did he give you a time frame?
GITTINES: We had a deadline. When I started on the project in October of 1989, we were to deliver in April of 1990, deliver the manuscript, which was an impossible deadline to be faced with. We pushed it off until June, got some extra time, but it was a real crash job because I went without a day off for all those months, worked seven days a week, often 12, 13 hours a day just to do the necessary research. We all think that senators have vast archives to pull from and lots of correspondence and speeches and letters. Well, a lot of the senator's archives were down at his alma mater at Southwestern University in Texas. They had not been collated or organized in any way, so they were literally inaccessible. He never did much personal letter writing. He didn't keep a diary. His memory was spotty, as anybody's would 25 or 30 years back. So I had to write in the morning. I would start at 6:30 in the morning and I'd write until noon or one o'clock and then I'd spent the rest of the day researching. I'd be on the phone interviewing former staffers, government officials, colleagues in the Senate. I'd go out, I'd fly places and try to fill in the gaps as we tried to get this thing done. It was quite a job.
LAMB: Did he give you a budget that you could use for travel and things like that?
GITTINES: Essentially, it was whatever you need, spend it. Tell me what you're going to do and go do it. It worked very well. I could go to California, go to Texas basically on the drop of a hat and do what needed to be done. He was an excellent person to be working for in this context because he wanted his side of the story out. He had never really had an opportunity to tell his side of the confirmation hearings. He wanted it done, and he wanted it done accurately and truthfully.
LAMB: On the cover, as we showed earlier, your name is not there. On some of these books when there is a collaborator you see like John Tower with Roger Gittines, but here you're referred to inside in the introduction or the acknowledgements. Was that a part of your discussions -- where your name ended up?
GITTINES: We did discuss it. Almost at the outset of the discussion, this three-hour meeting that I related to you in Dallas, I said to him, "Well, Senator, this is your book. It's your life and your name deserves to be on the cover and only your name." And we left it at that. Writing is a very exhausting, a very grueling process mentally and physically, and I think nine times out of 10 a collaborator, a ghostwriter or call it what you will, probably deserves to have his or her name on the cover of the book just in recognition for all the work. But sometimes when you're dealing with these great historical figures, it's a good idea to just step back and say, "It's you're book, I'm not going to appear with you on Mt. Rushmore. It's not the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln with Roger Gittines. It's yours." So I thought that it would be better to have the senator's name on his own book.
LAMB: In the acknowledgements that opens the book up, you say, "Once amassed, these recollections must be distilled and knit into a cohesive narrative. That significant effort was undertaken by Roger Gittines in this fall of '89 before which time he and I had never met. While the story is mine, the form of this book is the product of his considerable talent as a writer involving working from hundreds of hours of interviews and volumes of research materials as well as frequent and lengthy conversations between the two of us." I assume you had to write that.
GITTINES: No, I didn't, as a matter of fact. The acknowledgements were written by Sen. Tower and almost the entire afterward of the book was written word for word by him, as was the dedication. In fact, the dedication, which you might also read for your viewers -- they'd probably enjoy it -- dedicated to his first wife, Lou Tower.
LAMB: "She forgave my transgressions and was always constant. She raised our children and made my career possible and in the hour of my travail, she held my hand and said, 'You know, I've always believed in you.' This book is dedicated to Lou Tower."
GITTINES: Very nice.
LAMB: Controversial that he would do that? I mean, what led to that? Did you talk about it?
GITTINES: We did, but he called me one Saturday afternoon toward the end of the writing process and read that to me. I was really moved by it. He was still quite close to Lou Tower. They spent a lot of family time together even though they'd been divorced for, gee, I'd say almost 20 years at this point. He really was moved when she stuck by him. She appeared the first and I believe the second day at his confirmation hearings, sat in the front row with his daughters. It was a real show of support for him, and he never forgot that.
LAMB: Let's see. If I can go back to where we were. I wanted to read you the opening line of this. "This is not the book I originally intended to write." What did he originally intend to write?
GITTINES: He had material for three or four books, and he had attempted right after leaving the Senate to do a serious study of the relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branches. It really never got off the ground. I think he was too busy. As you probably recall, soon after leaving the Senate, he was drafted by President Reagan to go over to Geneva and participate in the START negotiations as an ambassador. So a lot of the things that he needed to do never got done. He had a collaborator. He had done lots of research, and it sat in a big box. When I first started on this project, the box was given to me, and he asked me to see if I could meld some of this previous material into this memoir.
LAMB: Go back to what you said earlier. You went to see the senator in Texas? What city?
GITTINES: In Dallas, he had an office off of Turtle Creek Boulevard there where he practiced his consulting business.
LAMB: And you said that you were apprehensive when you went to see him because you didn't think you'd believe him?
GITTINES: Well, no. I had lived through the confirmation hearings, as we all did, and I had formed some conclusions about what happened and what didn't. I thought I knew John Tower from covering him as a reporter and thought that he would be a handful, and so I was fully prepared to go in that office and have to deal with a handful. What I found was a very charming, eloquent man who was quite interested in finding out who I was and where I was coming from. One of the interesting things -- and I knew he was going to do this -- he toward the end of the interview asked me what my political views were. Being as conservative as John Tower was, it was going to be next to impossible to prove rock-solid conservative credentials that would perhaps satisfy him. But what I said to him and it was in all truth, was that being from Massachusetts, having grown up right outside of Boston in the Boston suburbs that I started life as a [Leverett] Saltonstall Republican. He reacted immediately by saying, "Oh, well, Salty was the ranking Republican member on the Senate Armed Services Committee when I joined the committee. Salty was very liberal, but Salty was strong on national defense." It was almost as if I had accidentally pushed exactly the right button by saying that I had started life as a Saltonstall Republican. I passed the litmus test with flying colors.
LAMB: The three-hour meeting, at the end of it what happened?
GITTINES: At the end of it I basically gave him a stack of magazines, World Opinion magazine. I had been their U.S. political correspondent. He was leaving for London the next day, and I suggested that he read them on the airplane. Fortuitously, again -- I didn't stack the deck -- the very first magazine on the top of the pile had a big profile of Bob Dole in it that I had written during the 1988 campaigns, and that, I think, really pushed him over the edge because he saw the way I treated Dole, the way I got into Dole's personality and the way Dole had run in the primary campaign. He was quite pleased because he liked Bob Dole. Bob Dole was a very good friend of his. It was okay, you're it. Let's get started on this.
LAMB: When did he call you?
GITTINES: It was about a week later. He had talked to the agent and told our agent that she had sent him the right guy. I think coming from Washington, having the Washington experience really made all the difference because he didn't have to reinvent the wheel with me. He could explain some things about the goings-on on the Hill, and he wouldn't have to go into a lot of depth. I knew immediately what he was talking about. One thing about John Tower is that he was a trifle inpatient. He didn't want to be bogged down with a lot of detail in educating me. It was up to me to figure out what was going on.
LAMB: What next?
GITTINES: Well, as I say, I'm finishing this book.
LAMB: Oh, I'm sorry. I meant what next in that process? He hired you on and then when you got started, how did you two relate?
GITTINES: What we did is whenever he would come into Washington, which was basically every three weeks, maybe every two weeks, we would spend the afternoon together in his office with a tape recorder, starting at day one -- starting back when he was a chairman for Eisenhower in some Northern Texas counties in 1956. I would just waltz him through a chronology of his career, and he would often get a little impatient with me because he couldn't understand why we would be talking about his father, who is in one of these pictures here and who was a Methodist minister of great standing in East Texas. He just didn't understand why we had to go into all the details about the family and the dogs and the farm. Finally several months later when he saw the finished product, it dawned on him why I was going into all this minutiae or whatever he considered to be minutiae.
LAMB: How many times did you sit down with him with a tape recorder?
GITTINES: I would say 30 times, 25 to 30 times, in restaurants, in hotel rooms, in his office in Dallas and in Washington, several times over the phone. He often liked to work late on Friday and Saturday nights, and I'd get these calls at midnight and he'd say, "You know, I just read what you wrote and you've got me saying this and I think it was a little different." We would work out the differences that way.
LAMB: As a reporter at heart and you were going through 30 sessions with a United State senator who had been involved in this whole episode, how often did you get your juices flying because you said, "This is new information. I never saw this before. I didn't understand this."?
GITTINES: The juice was really flowing most of the time because getting such an insider's perspective on this man's career and on the political process was something that had never happened to me before as a reporter. At various times I said to myself, what you think you know as a reporter and what you really know are very far apart. Just in the Tower relationship with Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, it was very intriguing to hear the stories from Tower's side and from Tower's viewpoint. Of course, he was very close to Johnson because of all the United States senators, John Tower made seven trips to Vietnam, which was more than any other member of Congress. Then after each one of those visits, he went to the White House and reported his findings and recommendations to the president, so they developed quite a bond not only as Texans but because they shared support for the Vietnam War.
LAMB: Did you believe everything he told you?
GITTINES: I did, and I would often use that as the senator's Achilles heel in writing this book because he was such a historian and political scientist and proud of his academic credentials. Whenever we got into a gray area, or whenever he would say, "Let's cut that out. Let's just drop it," I would say, "Well, is it true?" He'd pause and he'd think about it and he'd say, "Yes." I'd say, "Well, then we have to leave it in, don't we?" He'd nod and it would stay in. I think that is really very much to John Tower's credit that when push came to shove his natural caution as a politician -- and he was extremely cautious -- he hated to burn bridges. Even though the bridges were in smoldering ruins already, he didn't want to put the match to that wreckage. But when you said, "Well, it's the truth isn't it?" there it is between the hard covers.
LAMB: Is there anything that was left out that you wanted in?
GITTINES: No, on the whole, it was John Tower's call. The things that got cut many times were just a matter of redundancies and space. He felt at one point that we had already said enough about John Warner, for instance, the senator from Virginia, and a few passages, a few paragraphs following up on some of his more his critical comments were dropped basically because Sen. Tower thought that he had made his point and why indulge in overkill.
LAMB: I've got a lot of that underlined that you wrote in this book. Page 80, "John" _meaning John Warner "suffers from a debilitating political weakness. He wants to be well liked by everyone. John Warner was known in Washington circles as a 'wholly-owned subsidiary of Sam Nunn.' Warner's eagerness to cooperate with Sam Nunn stems from his need to court Virginia's predominantly conservative and Democratic electorate. John Warner, I'm afraid, does not even know when he is being set up and used." Why all that?
GITTINES: I think John Tower saw it as one of the keys to understanding the confirmation process and why things went wrong at the end. He felt that Sen. Warner because of his personality and his situation didn't really pull his weight as the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He instinctively, innately did not want to say that, but he knew that he had to say it. Otherwise the book just would lack credibility and the whole episode wouldn't make any sense.
LAMB: Did Sen. Tower's death affect you other than -- obviously you knew him well. But did it affect your whole plan of living? All of a sudden when you read that he had gone down in that plane, did that change your direction in any way?
GITTINES: I think it came as a real personal shock because he and I had become very close friends. As a friend of his at his funeral said to me and I heard what he said: "John really betrayed us all here in the end because there's, I'd say, a couple hundred people in this room who were counting on John to say their eulogy at their funeral." I sympathize with that because I was almost thinking the same thing myself, that he'd be around for a good long time and he'd be available for counsel. He was a very wise man, very steady, had great judgment. I miss him and I'm sure I'll miss him for years to come.
LAMB: Back to the substance of the book, the other person that he spends a lot of time talking about is right here and we'll see him up closer in just a moment, Sen. Sam Nunn. What did he think of him?
GITTINES: Basically Sen. Tower and I went over the Sam Nunn fingerprints on the confirmation process very closely, and we tried to figure out what Sam Nunn's role in it was. I would say to the senator, "Well, there must have been something to really antagonize Nunn. What was it? Can you think of an incident? Where did this break come from?" He could not point to any one incident. We really went back and forth over the material, and the bottom line came down to the senator's feeling that Sam Nunn was positioning himself to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, and that by literally being a giant-killer so early in George Bush's administration, by bringing down the president's choice for secretary of defense, that Nunn would become the most powerful political figure on defense issues in Washington. That really was John Tower's conclusion about the whole episode. It's just personal ambition on Sam Nunn's part.
LAMB: A lot of other things were said, but "Nunn's early interest in defense seemed to stem more from family ties and Georgia politics than it did from intellectual predisposition or as it had in my case from being saturated in the war and peace sagas of Texas history." He also says, "Unlike the isolated and comfortable rural society in which Sam Nunn had grown up as a son of a prosperous and powerful local landowner, Beaumont -- meaning Beaumont, Texas -- a bustling and somewhat gritty port city, provided me with a vantage point from which I could observe the signs if not the substance of the impending conflict of World War II." In this, did he feel so strongly that he wanted to paint Sam Nunn in the worst possible light?
GITTINES: At that point he wasn't really fond of Sam Nunn. That bridge had been burned, and he didn't mind lighting a few matches there. One of the things that perplexed the senator and disturbed him a bit was that Sam Nunn had and has practically no military background. John Tower was quite proud of his. He fought in the Battle of Okinawa. He was a deck gunner out there during the battle, and if you look at the history of that battle, many U.S. sailors -- I believe 28,000 U.S. sailors -- were killed or wounded in that battle. He brought to the job, or thought he would have brought to the job as defense secretary, a lot of inside knowledge of the defense establishment, which he thought Nunn didn't. At another point in that chapter, he points out that Nunn was in the Coast Guard for basically six months of active duty. He thought that a defense secretary should have a stronger background than that.
LAMB: One of the first things that we saw published in the newspapers about this book was about Sen. Jim Exon of Nebraska. You say here, or you write Sen. Tower's words, "Jim Exon of Nebraska, Sam Nunn's stalking horse on the drinking allegations that were hurled at me. And what an irony -- an astonishingly and blatantly hypocritical choice for the job," meaning Sen. Exon. "He has a reputation as one of the most excessive regular boozers in the Senate." Did you calculatingly put that in there for the effect of being picked up by the press?
GITTINES: No, not to make headlines at all. I think Sen. Tower was extremely angry with Sen. Exon for what he considered to be this unfair attack on him. If you remember during the confirmation hearing, Sen. Exon was the first to raise the alcohol issue and the alcoholism issue. The irony really got to him. It just infuriated him coming from that source, and he wanted to say that. In the final process of putting this book to bed, the Little Brown lawyers were concerned about libel. They came back and they questioned him about various things. He was quite insistent that that stay in. He knew there would be a reaction to it, and he welcomed the reaction because he felt it was quite true.
LAMB: What was the reaction from Sen. Exon?
GITTINES: Never had, as far as I know, a direct reaction from Exon. Sen. Tower went out and campaigned during the last senatorial election in Nebraska and said essentially the same thing on radio out there, and it caused quite a commotion.
LAMB: Next page: "The group in my office laugh when I mimicked Shelby's Alabama drawl" -- meaning Sen. [Richard C.] Shelby -- "and repeated the comment he made when he indicated privately to me that he would vote for my nomination. 'I'd never trust a man who didn't drink a little and chase a little.'" Did he know what he was doing when he put that in the book? Did he expect to hurt Sen. Shelby with that?
GITTINES: I think what he wanted to do -- he was very fond of Meg Greenfield's editorial that she wrote soon after the senator's nomination was defeated. She referred to awesome levels of hypocrisy in the United State's Senate and in Washington. He wanted to illustrate just how awesome the levels of hypocrisy get to be. Sen. Shelby was a disappointment to him because Shelby had, as I understand, virtually promised to vote for Sen. Tower's nomination and then changed his tune. He just wanted the readers to know where Shelby was coming from.
LAMB: There's a lot in here about the press and it might take a little while to go through some of it, but I want to read some of it and get your reaction. Would you consider yourself still a member of the press?
GITTINES: Yes, I do. In fact, I think writing a book like that is just another branch of being a reporter. You're reporting the news about John Tower or you're reporting the news about women or about men with Bob Berkowitz in his book.
LAMB: In order to write this did you have to agree with everything that he said?
GITTINES: Oh, no, not at all.
LAMB: Here he says on Page 48, "It would have been an exercise in self-delusion to expect the press to have forgotten all about marital misconduct, alcohol abuse and questionable use of, and to have focused dutifully on substance. Washington reporters are in competition with each other not only for news stories, but to prove just how tough they could be." Do you agree with that?
GITTINES: Oh, I certainly do, and you probably do too, Brian, being an old reporter.
LAMB: "It is a macho thing, although the women are also deadly serious. And broadcasters, possessed of a residue of insecurity from the days when the print journalists were the undisputed masters of the beat, make an extra effort to be hard-nosed." You were a broadcaster. Is that true?
GITTINES: I was indeed, and it certainly is true. There still to this day is a lingering sense of inferiority. Broadcasters try to prove themselves and the print reporters try to put them down whenever possible. There's that state of tension all over town that the senator was witness to for a good 25 years as a member of the U.S. Senate.
LAMB: You wrote for Sen. Tower, "The network correspondents show up early to claim the best seats near the front where they can't help but be called on for questions or they order the technicians to pile equipment on a chair to hold it for their late arrival. At times, the entire front row of a news conference site will be reserved this way, with the newspaper people pushed toward the back and deeply resenting the treatment." I guess I want to ask you whether or not those are your words or did Sen. Tower really observe all that?
GITTINES: No, Sen. Tower observed it, and if you go and read the rest of that chapter, you'll see that it leads right into the news conference in which his nomination was announced by President-elect Bush. At that news conference, because the front positions were staked out by their camera crews -- Andrea Mitchell was right there ready to ask the first red-hot question of the secretary of defense designate. That's one of the reasons that he's gone to the trouble of laying out all the background there.
LAMB: Page 50: "Salacious gossip about Andrea Mitchell's private life had swirled through Washington during one of those low points in the Reagan administration. For a time, it appeared that her assignment to the White House was in jeopardy. Frankly, I never gave the rumors much credence." He never gave the rumors much credence, but you just wrote about them. Doesn't that spread the whole idea that there were rumors in the first place and it doesn't really answer that.
GITTINES: No, I think what it does is it brings Andrea Mitchell into the spotlight in a significant way -- that Andrea Mitchell herself had been the victim of gossip and innuendo. Yet living in a glass house, she was willing to throw stones, and the senator wanted to bring that out -- again, the awesome levels of hypocrisy which are at work in the U.S. Senate and Washington and within the Washington press corps.
LAMB: He goes on and talks about Sarah McClendon, and this is the line I wanted to ask you about. Sarah McClendon, a reporter from Texas, asked him some tough questions, but he writes this: "I had known Sarah for years and at one point helped her stay in business by recommending her to Texas publishers after she lost one of her biggest clients. Let no good deed go unpunished. In another month, Sarah's conduct would remind me of the old adage and joke." What was he getting at here?
GITTINES: I think he had known Sarah for a very long time because she does represent a huge string of little Texas newspapers, so she was in and out of his office. He was surprised at the ferocity of her attacks, particularly in the White House press briefing room where she would repeatedly ask about the senator's alcoholism and the senator's womanizing. There were charges, they weren't questions. They were indictments. They were allegations. She had gone beyond being a reporter and was advocating a position, and the senator, again, wanted to alert his readers to that.
LAMB: What were you doing as you were tape recording all of these interviews and you kept hearing this stuff about the press? Were you nodding, I agree, or did you ever feel uncomfortable with what he was saying?
GITTINES: As a reporter, I could really engage him in a dialog. I could play the devil's advocate and bring him out a little bit by just literally arguing with him and telling him what journalists are really doing or supposed to be doing or think they're doing. I could spark him and really get him to expand and elaborate on some of his views about the press and about what they aren't doing and what they aren't supposed to be doing.
LAMB: Did he hate the press?
GITTINES: No, I think because he was a consummate politician, very skillful, he saw the press as a tool -- a tool to be used, not in a cynical way, to manipulate. I found in one of his files down at Southwestern University a memo to his press secretary and his campaign staff telling them that if they cannot tell the press the truth, they should avoid the press. That they shouldn't attempt to manipulate the press, lie to the press, mislead the press. That when you talk to the press, you tell them what you know; otherwise you keep your distance.
LAMB: Page 30, you write for him: "There had been infidelities on my part, but extramarital affairs are rarely the cause of a failed marriage. They are the surface manifestations of deeper currents." Is that the first time he'd ever admitted that?
GITTINES: You say that "I wrote" -- that's word for word what he said to me in conversation in his office.
LAMB: That's what I meant.
GITTINES: He had acknowledged, I think, prior to that in interviews that there had been infidelities during his first marriage, but he said there had no infidelities at all during his second marriage, which is a crucial point in a way because it was his second, Lilla, who was, as far as the senator was concerned, involved in spreading some of these tales about infidelity and cheating during his second marriage, which he insisted were just not true.
LAMB: What impact did this book have when it came out from your perspective, the reviews that it got, the sales and all that? Did it get what you expected it to get?
GITTINES: It was reviewed in all the major national publications, New York Times, Washington Post. It got fairly good reviews, seeing how controversial John Tower was and still is. The sales were good. We did well, of course, in Texas. It was, I believe, on the Dallas bestseller list for a number of weeks and may still be on the bestseller list. We had just a splendid review in The Economist, the British news magazine. I think he's more popular in Britain than he is in the United States.
LAMB: What happened to this book after his death?
GITTINES: It surged in sales for a week to 10 days and then leveled back off again.
LAMB: Back to the journalism. He says, "Journalists are proud of their high standards. They talk about the four Ws -- who, what when and where -- and even when a fifth W is tossed in -- why -- there does not seem to be room for a sixth and a seventh; that is, wild and wooly unfounded." What was he getting at?
GITTINES: I think he was getting to the press coverage during his confirmation hearing which just dwelt on the rumors, the innuendos, the baseless charges that were never proven and, in fact, many of them proven to be untrue. Of course, that was never reported in the end. I mean, the truth never catches up to the lie. Mark Twain said that a lie will go around the world two times before you could even put on your boots to catch it.
LAMB: Had you been with UPI Audio on the other side of this fence reporting on the United States Senate, would you have covered it the same way everybody else in the media covered it?
GITTINES: That's a good question. I think the competitive pressures were such that a lot of reporters probably did what they later came to regret. We report in the book that a senate colleague of Sen. Tower's reported that he had been told by two leading journalists that they were to come up with a Tower story every day no matter what. It's a ridiculous requirement, and any journalist would tell you that -- that you cannot be operating under those kind of rules and regulations from your desk. But they were told, "I don't care what it is, I want a Tower story," so they were under enormous pressure to publish or they perished. They had to explain to their bosses why they didn't have that Tower story. So a lot of things got into print and on the air that wouldn't have got on the air under other circumstances.
LAMB: Who did the leaking of the stories on the Hill, according to his perspective?
GITTINES: He thinks a lot of it came out of the Democratic staff on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He points the finger specifically at Arnold Punaro, who is currently the staff director of the Armed Services Committee. Punaro has denied leaking, but the senator just thought that it was too coincidental, that too many of the signs pointed toward Punaro and the other Democratic staff members.
LAMB: How does it work? Go back to the beginning of all this when the story started. When did they first start circulating about his alleged alcoholism or his womanizing?
GITTINES: The senator started in 1961 in the United States Senate. He came to the Senate as the youngest member of the Senate. He replaced Lyndon Johnson, a figure larger than life. I think he courted publicity and he courted some of that Johnsonian glamour. He actually had to get re-elected after all. He had to fill some big shoes, so he became rather flamboyant and very visible. He was star, he was a superstar. He was the first Republican to be elected to a state from the Old South since Reconstruction. He literally jump-started the Republican Party in the South, and because of that, he was constantly on the speaking tour. He was lionized in the media. He was a pet of the media. He got a lot of publicity. He was writing in Reader's Digest, and he was being touted as the next Barry Goldwater before there even was a Barry Goldwater. So he attracted a lot of lightning very early in his career, and those stories followed him throughout.
LAMB: But once the nomination came, and we go back to the process on Capitol Hill that you've now been on both sides of this issue -- inside his world and helped write this book and you were also on the other side up on Capitol Hill_ once the process of leaking starts and he accuses this staff member of leaking, who did that person leak to?
GITTINES: They just leak everywhere. I mean, it becomes a contest of who do you leak to and how much.
LAMB: How does it work?
GITTINES: Your favorite leakees tend to be the New York Times, the Washington Post and the networks. They're the most highly visible national media outlets, so they tend to get the big stories first. In the case of the early leaks they, in fact, went to the Washington Post quite early in November.
LAMB: How does that work? In other words, do they pick up the telephone and say, "Come by. I've got information for you, but you've got to keep it quiet."? You've been on the other side of that. People have leaked to you, I assume.
GITTINES: Yes. Well, sometimes it's a simple telephone call. Sometimes it's a note advising you to take a look at this document or that document. Sometimes it's a set of papers that's dropped off in the office. It depends on the individual circumstance. I think in Sen. Tower's case in November just before the nomination was announced, right after the election, right after George Bush had been elected, the word had been put out that Tower was being considered, but that there was opposition to him, that people had their doubts about him given his background. That's the way the leaks first started to dribble out.
LAMB: I'm going back to this, and I'd like to ask you whether he was madder at or blamed more the senators or the press for his eventual decline when they voted him down? If he had to pass the blame out, who would he blame the most?
GITTINES: I think he would blame Sam Nunn. I think he saw Sam Nunn as playing the pivotal role in shooting him down. He couldn't understand why Nunn had done it, other than simple ambition and ego. What really bothered him was that Nunn didn't play by the rules, that there's an institutional ethic involved that Tower honored because he had spent 25 years in the Senate. He saw Nunn's actions damaging the Senate, and the institutional process that is vital to building trust and loyalty among its members being shattered, because Sam Nunn, perhaps, wanted to be president of the United States and he was willing to do whatever he had to do to accomplish that end.
LAMB: He also says, "Today, senators are in such a hurry that there is no time to understand. They are creatures of the media, and the institutional memory of the Senate, which was passed in places like the Twilight Lodge, has been lost." The Twilight Lodge being where?
GITTINES: Sen. Everett Dirksen would hold forth in the evening after 5 o'clock with many of the old Senate barons in attendance -- the Richard Russells and the Allen Ellenders, the senior Democrats. They'd gather around for a drink after 5 o'clock and talk about politics. I think the point that he was making there is that the Senate had changed rather drastically, particularly in the last five or six years that John Tower was there, and he didn't like the place much anymore. It wasn't functioning the way it was supposed to. A lot of the institutional dynamics had changed rather radically.
LAMB: You told us about the interviews and you met with him here in his office here in his office when he would come to town, 30 different interviews on tape. At what point of the process did you feel comfortable enough to actually go write?
GITTINES: I think it was about three months in, two-and-a-half to three months in. I had been roughing out outlines, trying my hand at some sample chapters just to see where it was breaking, where the information was flowing to and from. It was about two-and-a-half months in.
LAMB: So you're early '90?
GITTINES: Yes, it was early '90, right after the first of the year, where I could really get into it, as I said, about 12 hours a day.
LAMB: Did you decide how the chapters would be lined up?
GITTINES: What we did is I developed an outline and submitted it to him and submitted it to Fredi Friedman, the editor at Little Brown, and we went from there. The first outline was rejected. The way I had structured it was to be less on the confirmation and more on his career. We would open with a chapter on his career, finish with two or three chapters on the confirmation. Most of it would deal with START, would deal with Vietnam, would deal with all of these great Senate moments that he was involved in. But that was vetoed in favor of a book that alternates back and forth between the confirmation hearings and episodes in the senator's career. It's almost a cinema verite technique.
LAMB: Did you ever have a discussion where you sat around and talked about how to make this book a bestseller. In other words, we're going to have to put some sex and violence in this thing to make it work.
GITTINES: We used to laugh about that. We used to laugh that Little Brown_ they wanted a best-seller, obviously. They were publishing it. They wanted it on top of the bestseller list and get their money back. Sen. Tower would say, "Well, maybe I don't want a bestseller, particularly if it's going to take putting things in this book that shouldn't be in there." After all, this business of the confirmation was a three-month episode in his career which spanned 30 or more years. In a way, it's sad that his memoirs spend so much time dealing with three months out of 30 years.
LAMB: But you never decided you'd put something in there because you thought it would sell a book?
GITTINES: I probably personally in writing it would steer him into areas that I thought as a former journalist would provoke some headlines and tried to make sure that those were highlighted in place to place. We have a whole chapter on Iran-Contra, and I would say that if the senator were working solo without a writer, he might not have done a whole chapter on Iran-Contra, though he was quite proud of his role as the chairman of Tower Commission.
LAMB: You almost can't turn a page without seeing again something about the media, and near the very end of this book, he makes some suggestions on change. He says this: "The news media are afflicted with serious shortcomings. It was the intent of the framers of the Bill of Rights to guarantee freedom of the press in order to protect the free flow of information to the citizenry so necessary to the vitality of a democratic society, not simply to protect those who gather and disseminate information." Are you having any trouble with any of this?
GITTINES: No, not at all. In fact, I think the senator was right on the mark there. You cannot have a democracy if you don't have dialogue, if you don't have information flowing freely. What he was concerned with is that the information, or what purports to be information, is sensationalism, is gossip, is innuendo and unverified attack -- not information at all. It just short-circuits the entire process. It can't possibly work under those circumstances.
LAMB: Did he ever say to you, if I had it to do over again knowing what I know now about the confirmation process, I would have done this differently.
GITTINES: I would say to him, "What would you do differently, Senator, if you had it to do all over again?" He would think about it and he would say, "Basically I can't think of anything that I would do differently." There was no point in the confirmation process where they knew they were getting into trouble before they got into trouble. They were ensnared and in deep trouble before they even knew it. Every move they made, they got deeper and deeper into it, so he felt that it was almost a preordained Greek tragedy, that if he had done anything differently, it would have led to the exact same results, because Sam Nunn, a powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was out to defeat that nomination. As a former chairman of the armed services committee, Tower knew how much power Nunn had. There was nothing he could do about it.
LAMB: If you had to do this whole process over again, what would you do differently?
GITTINES: I'd take two more years to do it.
LAMB: Why?
GITTINES: I think that John Tower deserved two or three years of research and labor on his memoirs and we unfortunately didn't have enough time to do that. Two more years would have given me a chance to really get into his archives to flesh out some of those trips to Vietnam, to develop some things that are only treated, sadly, in a superficial way.
LAMB: Someone watching this and seeing this book, realizing that Sen. Tower is dead, what would you say to them would be the value of the book at this point? What can they learn from this book?
GITTINES: It's a historical document, I hope, of considerable value and importance and so did he. That's why he worked as hard as he did on it. It gives an inside account into the political process -- not just the confirmation hearings in the way they turned out, but into 25, 30 years of Washington life. That insight and that perspective is very valuable to historians and to the average citizen. They can see through John Tower's eyes just how Washington works, just what it's like to be a START negotiator, to be the chairman of a presidential commission investigating Iran-Contra. I think you've really got a bird's eye view on history through John Tower.
LAMB: Roger Gittines, collaborator and writer of Consequences, John G. Tower: A Personal and Political Memoir. Thank you very much for joining us.
GITTINES: Thank you, Brian.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.