Andrew Ferguson
Andrew Ferguson
Fools' Names, Fools' Faces
ISBN: 0871136511
Fools' Names, Fools' Faces
Mr. Ferguson talked about his recent book, Fools' Names, Fools' Faces, published by Atlantic Monthly Press. It is a collection of essays from 1986 to the present. He talked about his years of covering Washington politics and some of the scathing remarks he made about both Republicans and Democrats in the book. He also talked about various trends in U.S. culture and politics over the past ten or fifteen years.
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TRANSCRIPT
Fools' Names, Fools' Faces
Program Air Date: November 3, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Andrew Ferguson, why the title "Fools' Names and Fools' Faces"?
Mr. ANDREW FERGUSON (Author, "Fools' Names, Fools' Faces"): It comes from it's a quote from that famous author, Anonymous. If you look in Bartlett's, that's where you'll find it. It it's an old saying from the earlier days of America, I think, that it goes, `Fools' names, like fools' faces, are often seen in public places,' which means sort of the public space the public square draws people who tend to make clowns out of themselves.
LAMB: Who are these faces?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, there we've got going counter clockwise, we've got...
LAMB: Over here on this yeah. Top over here on this side.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. We've got Madonna. It looks like she's almost holding her baby, but I since it hadn't been born yet, by that time; then Barbara Streisand below her; Louis Farrakhan; and then Louis Farrakhan's feet are leading up to Newt Gingrich's head; and then up above Newt is Bill Clinton.
LAMB: Did you have anything to do with this cover?
Mr. FERGUSON: No. Uh uh.
LAMB: And what is it, when people buy this book with let me see, I haven't checked it about 200 and oh What? 15 pages? Yeah, 213 pages.
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, it's a book of essays, all of which have been published over the years. I think the earliest one goes back to 1986, but most of them are much more re recent vintage. And they're looks at various, you know, prominent people like the the people on the cover there Farrakhan and Barbara Streisand; a lot about Washington and Washington politics; and then about some of the larger trends over the last few years. It's sort of a book of cultural criticism, I guess is how you'd you'd put it, which sounds slightly pompous, but it's it's about large trends in the culture in over the last 10 years.
LAMB: One of the essays June, 1995, is Bob McNamara's band.
Mr. FERGUSON: Mm hmm.
LAMB: And you say in this do you remember who you wrote that for, by the way?
Mr. FERGUSON: National Review. I used to have a column there.
LAMB: You say in Washington people fail up.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah.
LAMB: What do you mean?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, McNamara I I use as sort of the as an example of that. He's a he's a guy who's gone from failure to failure to failure. He started out or first came to public prominence as the head of Ford Motor Company, and the great the great innovation of the Ford Motor Company when he was president was the Edsel. And so he did so well at that, that President Kennedy made him secretary of defense where he was one of the architects of Vietnam, which is sort of the Edsel of American foreign policy.

After messing up our foreign policy, he went on to the World Bank where he presided over one of the great calamities of foreign aid, which was this freeflow of money to what are called kleptocracies, these these terrible dictatorships that just swallowed up money and and and McNamara just kept the spigot open.

But, astonishingly, he really hasn't paid a price until his book came out, which is was the occasion for that piece. He wrote a memoir that I thought was just shameless in which he sort of semi apologized but didn't really for Vietnam and so on. And then he finally got the criticism that I think he deserved, but not in Washington.

In Washington, he was still the toast of the town. You know, I mean, when when the book came out, there out in the country, the Vietnam veterans were suing him. He was getting lambasted and all this sort of thing. And here in Washington, Kay Graham threw him a book party and everybody who's anybody in Washington was there.
LAMB: Why do you think that happens?
Mr. FERGUSON: I'm not sure. You know, it's partly Washington is such an inbred culture once you reach a certain level I'm talking about official Washington, federal Washington that people tend to protect each other. You know, Kay Graham is a great friend of Bob Mac McNamara's going back to the '50s, I think.
LAMB: Who's Kay Graham, by the way?
Mr. FERGUSON: Oh, she's the the doyen of Washington society and the the, I guess, president of The Washington Post publishing company now. She's now longer she's sort of emeritus. I don't think she's actually has that many responsibilities, but she's one of the most prominent people in town.
LAMB: You you later on in that page, you say that McNamara's a spiritual father to them all. He is the architect of a career, breathtaking in the scope of its screw ups. Here's you I have to read this because I'm sure you can't remember exactly or maybe you can remember exactly what you write.
Mr. FERGUSON: No.
LAMB: Do you remember what you write?
Mr. FERGUSON: No. No.
LAMB: You say, "Imagine a friend who comes to visit. The first night he cooks you dinner and sets fire to the kitchen. The next morning he accidentally electrocutes the cat. The the he bows" no, I'm sorry, "He blows his nose in the curtains and never flushes the toilet. He borrows your car and drives through the garage door, then spreads a rare infection to your kids. By the third day, you make the decision. You ask him to move in with you."
Mr. FERGUSON: Right. I mean, that that that's the that's the as as I say, that's the sort of the way McNamara's career has gone. But it's you know, it's at look at Washington celebrities. I I in that piece, I talk about `go to the palm,' on a typical day. You look over there and there's Ollie North, who almost destroyed the Reagan administration, and he's got a popular radio show, ran for Senate, did very well.

You look over here, here's the campaign managers of the 1992 Bush campaign being solicited by other candidates hoping that they'll work their magic again. And then there in the corner is the guy who was in charge of Iranian policy during the hostage crisis under Jimmy Carter, and he's the secretary of state. You know, I mean, it's just these guys just keep going up and up and up. It's amazing. I don't know if it happens anywhere else.
LAMB: Your introduction is written by P.J. O'Rourke.
Mr. FERGUSON: Right.
LAMB: A humorist.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yes.
LAMB: And how...
Mr. FERGUSON: Very funny humorist.
LAMB: How much does humor play a role in your writing?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, it's I I I hate to be too somber when I write about something. I mean, in in there part, I guess that's just my disposition, but it's also a way of keeping people reading. And it's also an effective way of sort of rather than arguing people out of a position, if you just kind of poke fun at a position or a person, you can sort of bring them around to your way of thinking without too much boring argumentation and logic and things like that. So I sort of use it as a way of avoiding argument I guess.
LAMB: You have any idea where you got it? Your sense of humor?
Mr. FERGUSON: No. I always I always loved when I was a kid, I was always drawn to writing by people who were funny: Mark Twain, of course, and Robert Benchley and some of these other great humorists. I would hate to be called a humorist. I mean, I I it's sort of an ill fitting word for anybody, but it also sort of sets the bar too high. I don't write because I want to make people laugh; I want to write because I want to say something, and I hope that people enjoy it as they go along.
LAMB: You have, I think, if I counted right, 39 pieces.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah.
LAMB: Or 31 pieces. Thirty one pieces in here. And they're in publications like National Review, Forbes Media Critic, Washingtonian, Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal, New Republic, American Spectator any others that I did I miss any?
Mr. FERGUSON: Mm mm. I think that's all the ones I got.
LAMB: When did you first get into writing?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, as I say, I always liked writing when I was kid. In fact, I've I like it less and less as I get older, but now it's too late; I can't do anything else. I can't...
LAMB: You like writing less and less?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. I mean, it when you're a kid, you know, you love just or I I just loved using words and writing about my feelings about this or that and, you know, great diarist and all that sort of thing. But anyway, now it's now that I have to do it to put food on the table, it's not nearly as much fun. But I always did it when I was kid and I but I never really wanted to do it until seriously, as a way of making a living, until after I was in after out of college. And I had a number of failed attempts at other endeavors. I used...
LAMB: Like what?
Mr. FERGUSON: I I except I didn't fail up, I kept failing down. Well, my first when I first got out of college, I was in a rock band. And for I don't know, a year 18 months or so...
LAMB: Playing what?
Mr. FERGUSON: Piano and guitar. And we were called Buddy and the Returnables. And...
LAMB: Who was Buddy?
Mr. FERGUSON: There was no Buddy. Buddy was a mythical figure. But it came after it came around because we had a some of the guys in the band had been in a band called Bork Riff, which was named after a tobacco. And so we had this huge banner with a big BR on it that one of the guy's girlfriends had made. And we had to do something with the banner. I mean, we we couldn't play worth a damn, so we but we did have this banner so we were going to have a band. And so we had to come up with something to use the BR in our name. And as as it happened while we were sitting around wondering what to do, we were drinking returnable bottles of Budweiser. And so it just seemed Buddy and the Returnables. So that's how we ended up with our name. Unfortunately, we didn't go on to much fame and fortune that time.
LAMB: What town in American did did you do this in?
Mr. FERGUSON: Los Angeles was the unlucky place that we inflicted our music on.
LAMB: What did you do after that?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, after that, I became sort of a nomad well, no, I guess right after that I went to graduate school at Berkeley in philosophy and theology. And I was concurrently enrolled in a seminary. So I went from groupies to seminary. And actually, there wasn't that much difference. It wasn't as shocking a transition as you might expect.
LAMB: What kind of a seminary?
Mr. FERGUSON: It was an Episcopal seminary. But I had to enroll in that if I wanted to study religion, because Berkeley didn't have have a lot of the things that I needed in in my graduate work.
LAMB: It it at one point in here, you you write about your at the time, three year old, I guess, a boy?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yes, son.
LAMB: How how old is he now?
Mr. FERGUSON: He's five. Yeah.
LAMB: And you're sitting around watching "Seinfeld" with him?
Mr. FERGUSON: Right.
LAMB: With j...
Mr. FERGUSON: Right.
LAMB: You have a little panic attack?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. Well, we were he I guess we had just gotten his sister to bed and I had messed up and he was up a little too late, as all parents know how that happens, and I was like all good yuppies, I was sitting in front of the television on a Thursday night watching "Seinfeld," which is sort of what we have to do, I guess, if you're a good yuppie. And my son's sitting on the couch examining his toes or doing what three year old boys do. And all of a sudden, I realized that the show, "Seinfeld," was about George and George's inability to have erections.

And I thought, `Wait a minute.' I looked over at my son and he was staring wide eyed right at the thing, and I was looking around for the channel changer to zap it away; and all of a sudden they cut to Elaine who was, I think, faking an orgasm or something. And so I snapped the television off. And he said, `No, Dad! I want to see what happens to George and Elaine.' He had really gotten into this and he was he was so intimately involved in their problems, I thought, `Well, I don't think we we want to watch that,' and hustled him off to bed.

But I used that as the occasion of talking about Bill Bennett's "Book of Virtues" because I thought Bennett had done a very good thing with this "Book of Virtues," and this is just an example of what it's like. You're surrounded by this kind of crass and vulgar culture, and your kids are growing up in it and they're so beautiful and innocent and how do you deal with it?
LAMB: Well, how do you explain then the success I think Bill Bennett told us in one show he sold 2.3 million copies...
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: ...of "The Book of Virtues."
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah.
LAMB: There's only 900,000 what you wrote.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. I know. I know. Boy, I'll tell you, for any author, that's the kind of figure you hate to hear unless it's about your own book, I guess. Well, I think that that, you know, that little vignette that I use in there explains a lot of it. You've got a a large bulk of the country now starting to have kids and the baby boomers. And they see that the that the culture there's a crassness and a vulgarity to it that that they want to protect their kids from.

And along lumbers in Bill Bennett with this book that's sort of reminded people of the eternal varieties and so on. I I suspect that the book is much bought and less read because well, I think that that's true of all books. But some of it can be difficult going. But still, I think he did a wonderful thing with that book.
LAMB: You do a list in in the piece you did and by the way, do you remember who wrote wha what magazine you wrote that piece for?
Mr. FERGUSON: The Washingtonian.
LAMB: You list how much money Bill Bennett is making off of this profession, and I've got it here on Page 64. Bennett makes $500,000 a year just for getting out of bed in the morning, $150,000 from National Review magazine, whose masthead he is listed as a senior editor, $150,000 from Heritage Foundation, where he carries the title `Distinguished Fellow and Cultural Policy Studies,' and $200,000 from Empower America.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. A lot of that has changed now. I don't think he's with Heritage or I know he's not with National Review anymore. But, of course, he doesn't need the money anymore either. Well, he he's he's another example of a kind of Washington type which is the piece is not wholly in favor of of Bennett, by any means. He certainly didn't like it from my understanding, but...
LAMB: Why not?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I point a few things in there ev as as I was saying, I I call him the the sort of the perfect example of the anti Washington Washingtonian, which you find a lot on the right in Washington, which is people who make a career out of trashing Washington and saying what a sewer it is and, you know, `It's wasted money,' and all this sort of stuff. But these people wouldn't live anywhere else.

And, in fact, somebody like Bennett I don't think could have achieved the success he achieved except for Washington and the peculiarities of Washington culture. You know, he's he's got all the gifts that Washington culture prizes. He's he's extremely good on TV, very glib, has a wonderful presence; he's in within easy access to television cameras at any given moment, which is also important to him, as it is to most Washingtonians. But at the same time, he, like many other people, like myself at times, has made a career out of trashing the very city that they secretly love.
LAMB: Do you think people see through that?
Mr. FERGUSON: I don't know. I I, you know, it took me awhile to figure it out, but I'm denser than most people. I I think out in the country, people look at Washingtonians all as one type you know, whether they're on the left or the right. They're people who are basically parasitic and feeding off all the money that they send to Washington. So I expect people do see through that. Yeah.
LAMB: Where do you reside full time?
Mr. FERGUSON: In Arlington, right across the river.
LAMB: And what do you do full time?
Mr. FERGUSON: I'm a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, which is a weekly magazine of politics and culture, an opinion magazine.
LAMB: Why do you do that?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, there's this little thing I get in my mailbox every it's called a paycheck and they have nice numbers on there that I like and but, I mean, to to be serious, it's just you know, I think The Standard is one of the best things going now in journalism. And there's an incredible roster of good writers and friendly people to work with every day. I mean, it's a pleasure to go into the office, which is not something that is true in many other places. And it's it's just a great way great place to publish for a writer. It's a writer's magazine.
LAMB: Who owns it?
Mr. FERGUSON: Rupert Murdoch owns it. It's edited by people who I'm sure are familiar to C SPAN viewers, Fred Barnes, John Podhoretz and Bill Kristol.
LAMB: Are you a man of the right?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, I suppose you know, Midge Decter once had a great line Midge, who is John's mother, in fact...
LAMB: John Podhoretz.
Mr. FERGUSON: John Podhoretz's mother and a great figure in her own right, a superb writer, once sai said, `Sooner or later, you have to join the side you're on.' And for a long time, even given my affiliations with various conservative magazines, I always kind of hemmed and hawed when `So you're a right winger, huh? You're a conservative.' Because I thought it was sort of an easy label to kind of dismiss somebody, especially in a culture where so many of the institutions are taken over by people on the left. So I kind of resisted it. I thought it was bad for professional reasons and others. But, no, the fact is that's a very long way of saying, `Yes, I think I am a man of the right.'
LAMB: What other magazines have you spent full time with? I know some of these you just wrote some freelance.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. I started the the first real magazine job I had I ha I worked for a trade magazine at one point, but the first real magazine I worked for was The American Spectator which, of course, is a conservative magazine, although much more ideological various than they than they get credit for. And then from The Spectator, I went to Scripps Howard newspapers as an editorial writer. And they're self consciously conservative editorials there. And and then Washingtonian magazine, I was full time.
LAMB: How about politics? Where have you worked in politics?
Mr. FERGUSON: I've only had aside from when I was a in college and so on, where I was active politically, the only paying job I had was working for George Bush as a speech writer in 1992 from January '92 until I was forcibly removed in January of '93.
LAMB: And what was that experience like?
Mr. FERGUSON: How much time do we have? It I'll tell you, it was something that I would never do again, but I would never want it taken away from me. When when the job was offered to me in late '91, I took it because I figured somebody who writes about Washington and politics as much as I do and who has the chance to see what the world looks like from inside that White House compound really ought to take the opportunity. And it was invaluable, but it was also you know, the workload was incredible. The pressure was incredible. The people were not with several notable exceptions, were not my cup of tea and and you know, we all know what what 1992 was like for George Bush, and it was only slightly better for me, for the people who worked for him.
LAMB: What do you mean `not my cup of tea'?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, for obvious reasons, people who are drawn to work in the White House are partisans and think in partisan purely in partisan terms and in terms usually of just winning, of scoring political points. That's not really the sensibility that most writers, even journalists I know, share. And so you I was kind of at odds with a lot of the people in that way, because I just didn't think in those terms. But there were you know, it was it was as I say, it it's invaluable now that I'm out of it. I'm it's and looking back and the things I learned there were really invaluable.
LAMB: In August of 1991, you did a piece Bill Moyers and "The Power of Myth." But you refer in the introduction to the fact that you give or acknowledgements, you thank The New Republic, where you wrote the piece, for sticking by you or having the guts to do this.
Mr. FERGUSON: Mm hmm.
LAMB: Why did it take guts for them to print an article on Bill Moyers that you wrote?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, Andrew Sullivan, who was then editor of The New Republic in fact, I think that was the first issue that Andrew was actually editor of the top editor asked me to do the piece. We had been talking about doing a piece about public television in general. And then it evolved into writing about Bill Moyers, and it was very critical of Moyers. And The New Republic is a liberal magazine, and Moyers, of course, is kind of an icon of the left. And it took a lot of guts for Andrew and for Marty Peretz, the top editor, editor in chief, to to run the piece. It was a cover story and it had an unflattering cover picture of Moyers. And it was a very harsh, tough piece.

And the response was unbelievable. And I think they got dozens, if not more, cou cancellations and hun literally hundreds of letters of outraged readers. And they never backed off, you know. I mean, they they were they were what editors should be in a situation like that.
LAMB: Why did they want to do it in the first place?
Mr. FERGUSON: I don't know, you know? I well, The The New Republic has always been kind of iconoclastic or or has been since Peretz took it over. And it was you know, they thought it was a way to make noise, and I think Andrew thought it was a way to get some attention so...
LAMB: You lead the piece off by saying, `Barry Goldwater says of Bill Moyers, "Every time I see him, I get sick to my stomach and want to throw up."'
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah.
LAMB: Where did you find that quote?
Mr. FERGUSON: Oh, man. I don't know. I I didn't get it myself. I must have gotten it out of a it's been so long, I'm sure I got it out of an interview with Goldwater somewhere. But it's it's one of those grab them leads, isn't it? I mean, and then it gets worse from there, I mean...
LAMB: Yeah, ho what do you think of Bill Moyers?
Mr. FERGUSON: I think Moyers is a has the capacity to be a very gifted documentarian. I I in that piece, I praise a number of his documentaries which I think are really first rate. But I think he is also as a public person, he's just which is all I care about, his his him as a public person, is just insufferably pious and self regarding and censorious about people that that he feels are his moral inferiors, like conservatives or Republicans.
LAMB: What evidence do you have of this?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, there's 20 years of television work, and I go through a lot of it. You know, one one of the the points of the piece is to show how when, for example, the Iran Contra stuff came out, he wrote some or did some blistering documentaries about it, about malfeasance in government and misfeasance and so on misbehavior and using the legitimate parts of law enforcement parts of government and so on for political ends. And then I simply went back to parts that most of which were in the public record, but were seldom talked about.

See, Moyers is so loved by so many people in the mainstream press that nobody had really examined his career. And you go back and you see when he worked for Lyndon Johnson in the White House in 1964, he was intimately involved with some of the uglier aspects of of Johnson's politics having to do with the the monitoring of Martin Luther King's activities under J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, some of the hanky panky that the n that the FBI undertook in the 1964 convention to unseat a delgate delegation from Mississippi, and various things like that.

He once ordered the FBI to do political checks on Goldwater's staffers, which is the source of Goldwater's contempt for him. And then, you know, he can then whatever 15, 20 years later more than 20 years later, come out with this these pious condemnations of Republicans. And I thought somebody ought to point this slight discrepancy out.
LAMB: Like you did with Bill Bennett, you did the same thing with him on the money thing and you say, `A as the Los Angeles based watchdog Com ment, has documented, the Campbell series has sold a whopping 200,000 cassettes through PBS video which pays a royalty of at least 30 percent. Moyers splits royalties with two corporation two co produ co producers. A Gathering Man has sold at least 48,000 units at a price of $39.95. The cheaper "Amazing Grace," another Moyer's show, has sold 48,000. The books also do well. Seven Locks Press sold more than 40,000 copies of a spin off from the "Secret Government," one of Moyer's Iran Contra shows. More than 750,000 copies of "The Power of the Myth" are in print; the "World of Ideas" and Spartan book spin off.' What's wrong with that?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I I certainly have nothing against people making money. I'm all for it. I try and do it all the time. What what bothered me about it was that this was a public a government run network, although people in public television tell you over and over again it's not run by the government. It is essentially a government sponsored entity funded, whether they like it or not, by tax dollars. And Moyers was essentially using this podium, this publicly financed podium, to make a killing. You know, I mean, some of those figures are really quite extraordinary. You you sell 48,000 copies of a videotape, that is that's big business. You know, I think the highest selling videotape now is is another PBS thing, the Ken Burns baseball show, and that's sold 100,000. So you sell half of that, you're in the big leagues.
LAMB: You also compare him somewhat with Pat Robertson.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. That that has to do with his "spirituality," so called, in quotes. He he, in the towards the mid '80s, turned to a lot of pop psychology and New Age kind of spirituality, the men's movement and that sort of thing. And, in fact, that was the source of of some of his greatest popularity or has been. And at the time in fact, I should have mentioned this earlier the the instance case of the story was that there was talk about him running for president in 1992. And he had flirted with the idea, and he'd floated the idea to some people in the press. And so the piece was sort of wrapped around the possibility of his candidacy. And I compared him to Robertson in the sense that they both, to my estimation, sort of feed off the gullibility of certain kinds of people: Robertson, a certain demographic; Moyers feeds off people who are a different demographic. I mean, they're generally well educated, white, upper class, you know, the fall of midtown Manhattan and that sort of thing. But he is essentially pulling the same con, I think.
LAMB: What's wrong with a Joseph Campbell and a Robert Bly and a Sam Keane?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, there's a lot in there about sort of New Agey type things and spirituality. I I I guess what I would to sum up my objection to it is that it's basically a philosophy and this, in fact, sweeps through the whole book. It's a philosophy kind based on personal vanity. Through the old time religion and the orthodox religion that's practiced, I think, by most Americans, it is demanding and it it demands that people meet certain kinds of behavior and behave towards one another in certain sorts of way and ways, and believes and believe certain things and not believe other things. New Age spirituality, like the kind purveyed by Bly, Joseph Campbell and those sorts of people, really demands nothing of you except that you sort of feel good about yourself. You get you feel real pleased, like, `Gosh darn it, I'm a pretty special guy.' And, of course, this is a problem with all religion, but all faiths, but it is at the center of New Age faith, if you can even call it faith. It's it's essentially an exercise in vanity.
LAMB: Why did by the way, why did you leave the seminary? And why didn't you become an Episcopal priest?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I had never I I was in the seminary for academic reasons. As I say, I was studying philosophy, religion, so at at Cal at Berkeley. You could it's a superb philosophy department. But to get the religion component, especially having to do with Judaism or Christianity, you pretty much had to get into a seminary. So they had an arrangement where you could enroll concurrently in both. So I left after a year basically because it was it was very depressing in terms of job prospects. I wanted to be a professor. And, you know, I had I had friends who were getting their theses published by reputable publishing houses, and which is a rare enough event, but then they'd go off and they'd get the only job they could get would be a one year appointment at, you know, South Montana State Teachers' College or something. And they became these academic gypsies wandering ar loading up their VW bus every spring and moving to another little campus somewhere. And I just didn't want that sort of life.
LAMB: Whose idea was it is this is this your first book?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yes.
LAMB: Whose idea was it to put these different articles together?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I well, I don't know. P.J. P.J. O'Rourke and Morgan Entrichen, who runs the Atlantic Monthly Press, had we'd talked about it over the years, and then finally it all came together and seemed like a good time to do it.
LAMB: Who owns the Atlantic Monthly Press?
Mr. FERGUSON: Morgan. Actu Morgan Entrichen and it's now merged with Grove Press, which is owned by, I believe, Joan Bingham, who lives here in Washington.
LAMB: What are your expectations for the book?
Mr. FERGUSON: Oh, I try not to have too many. I mean, it you know, of course, I want people to buy it and enjoy it. And, you know, I books are so few books I think there are What? 50,000 books a year published now, and so few end up on best seller lists, and especially collections of essays like this even more rarely show up on best seller lists. So I just hope that it that people read it and enjoy it.
LAMB: P.J. O'Rourke writes in the introduction that Al Franken is very busy walking the line between telling jokes and being one.
Mr. FERGUSON: I don't think P.J. likes Al too much.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. FERGUSON: I like Al OK. He's well, I I'm not sure why, but they don't seem to get along. P.J.'s larger point there is is about how funny writing and humor, especially in politics, has over the last few years become much more widespread on the right than on the left. And Al Franken is the notable exception of a a liberal who writes funny books. There are there are it's interesting to notice that there really aren't that many. A lot of the humorists today that that I should say, a lot of the funniest political writing is coming from the right rather than the left.
LAMB: You have a couple of chapters on stars being used in Washington...
Mr. FERGUSON: Mm hmm.
LAMB: ...for political purposes.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah.
LAMB: And one's called `A Sea of Stars.' This is way back in November of 1989. You remember who you wrote that for?
Mr. FERGUSON: The National Review. Mm hmm.
LAMB: And you you introduced us to Gregory Hines in the beginning. What what's what's that all about? Housing now is what the cocktail party...
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, it was a hou yeah, it was a hou it was a really fancy cocktail party in a hotel down here in on Capitol Hill to raise money for an organization that was raising money f that was putting on a march for homeless. I don't think the homeless ever got any of this money. But it was it was supposed to the big drawing card for people to spend whatever it was, 100 bucks or something, to come to this cocktail party, was that they were bringing out a jet load of movie stars from Hollywood.

And so, of course, where there are stars, I like to I like to be there. I've been doing this as sort of a hobby, writing about movie stars and things like that when they come to Washington, because it's one of the more comical aspects of life here. So I went and noticed that this there was this poor woman stomping around and because she'd paid her 100 bucks, and by God, there was there weren't any stars there. And she went up to Gregory Hines, and she said, `Are you Dick Gregory?' And he said, `No, I'm Gregory Hines.' And she said, `Well, what have you been in?' And he explained a couple of things. `Haven't heard of any of them,' and stomped away. So I felt so sorry for the woman. And sure enough, they never did get very many stars, which was a great turning point, I think.

One of the reasons I included the piece in there was, in the early '80s, especially with the with Nicaragua and and cutbacks in social services and so on, you could get great movie stars here. You could get a Paul Newman or a Meryl Streep or, you know, really top flight people. But by the time that the Reagan administrations was over the late '80s, early '90s you know, they were really scraping the bottom of the darrel barrel. Gregory Hines was was a h supernova of a star compared to some of the guys they they had at this thing. And you you it ended up, there would guys from, like, you know, the third episode of "Wiseguy," you know, or you had a you know, you had a walk on on a on a "Cheers" sitcom or something, and these were the best stars they could come up with.
LAMB: Who who's this "Beastmaster"?
Mr. FERGUSON: I don't know. There was this guy there was one guy who was there you know, a lot of these stars will come here and, in fact, I think most of them, if not all of them, come here as a means of getting attention. It used to be the "Entertainment Tonight" bureau here in Washington was very active, and you could always get on "Entertainment Tonight" if you showed up at a Washington rally of some sort for an approved cause.

And so you started getting these guys like this this poor guy who was just at this cocktail party kind of walking around. And he came up to me he saw my note pad and he said something, `Well, I really think this is a good cause.' And I realized, `Oh, he wants to be interviewed. He must be a star.' And this poor woman came walking in again, this same woman, and said, `What have you been in?' And he said, `"Beastmaster."' And she said, `No.' And he said, `Well, I I was in "V."' And sh and the poor woman marched off again. And the thing is I did I didn't know him from Adam. I mean, he he didn't even look vaguely familiar. And I felt sort of sorry for him again, so I wrote a sympathetic treatment of him in there.
LAMB: Then the next piece is is also about a similar kind of a situation, a Hollywood women's political committee.
Mr. FERGUSON: Mm hmm.
LAMB: And you say that well, first of all, Morgan Fairchild's involved in this. What was this all about?
Mr. FERGUSON: That was that was an abortion rights march, as I recall. And that one was a couple of years after, and that one did get some good good stars, high high grade. I think Candice Bergen was there...
LAMB: But you say yeah, but you say here, `In the Beltway, a matter as a matter of political etiquette, it is generally agreed that every third publicly spoken sentence must contain one of the following words: issue, bottom line, agenda, player, strategy, focus...'
Mr. FERGUSON: Right.
LAMB: `...or articulate, verb form only.'
Mr. FERGUSON: Mm hmm. Yeah, I note it's it's sort of the way, you know, if you've ever noticed I'm sure you have that the way politicians will use `Quite frankly,' which basically means that `I'm not being frank at all.' But, you know, they'll sometimes they'll have it two or three times in a single sentence.
LAMB: But you also said that a corollary to this rule incidentally and this is after you listed all those words that applies only to men and women of the left, requires that the phrase `in this country' be plopped into as many sentences as possible as often as possible.
Mr. FERGUSON: Right. And then I think I have a quote from someone who who will I think she uses it twice in once sentence.
LAMB: Marge Tabankin?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah.
LAMB: `The choice movement in this country is concerned above all with quality of life in this country.'
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. I just notice there's a kind of a verbal hiccup. In fact, later on in the piece I didn't include the piece in there ab about this very phenomenon of people using the phrase `in this country,' you know, `The the the problems in this country must be solved by the by the people in this country,' you know. It's just a strange sort of...
LAMB: Only on the left that they do this.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. Well, yeah. It seems to be.
LAMB: In 1995 you wrote a piece about Mr. Gorbachev. For what magazine?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. That was for The Standard.
LAMB: The Weekly Standard?
Mr. FERGUSON: That's right. Yeah.
LAMB: `The Global Brain Trust.' What was the point of this?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, this i also is one of the pieces that touches on New Agey kind of stuff. Gorbachev let's see, this would have been December of '95. Gorbachev had been in retirement for forced retirement for four four or five years. And h to make a living now, he goes around he puts on conferences and so on. And this is this is one of his main ones, the first annual conference, which meant to establish, as he called it, a global brain trust in which they would get leaders from business and religion and so on in a single place, and they would kind of map out the future. And what was the future going to look like? And what was the 21st century going to going to hold for us? And how could we shape it to our desired ends? And it was the biggest bunch of huffery and just clouds of nonsense, I think, that I'd ever been to. There were some others that might rival it, but...
LAMB: Who's Steven Rhinesman?
Mr. FERGUSON: I don't know. I he he was active at the conference, but I haven't heard from him before or since. He was...
LAMB: You say he offered four action steps.
Mr. FERGUSON: Right.
LAMB: Who who's he offering these action steps to?
Mr. FERGUSON: Oh, this was at the end of the session. It was a three or four day session, and they would have little seminars, breakaway groups, and then they would all get together for plannery sessions. And this was the last plannery session. And Rhinesman, for some reason, was chosen to give the final kind of valedictory speech to explain to them all you know, to sort of, `We're all going to march out of here together, and here's what we're going to do.'
LAMB: There are four things that he said. `One, think of what it all means to you. Two, think about what we can do as a community. Three, think about what we can do as representatives of people we represent. And four, think of what we can do as re participants in the global community.'
Mr. FERGUSON: Right.
LAMB: What does all that mean?
Mr. FERGUSON: I haven't the foggiest idea. I mean, as I go on to say...
LAMB: Who pays for all of this?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, Gorbachev has access to limitless amounts of money. There are so many do gooder foundations all around the world that are happy to have him because he's such an icon for for the left, or what's left for the left. I mean, part of my point in that piece was this this is this is kind of one of the last gasps of the left as we've known it for the last 30 years. They've really kind of devolved into this New Age, speak very vague, cloudy generalizations, just like that, you know.

As I point out in there, he said, `These are the four things we're going to do.' But none of them is really a thing to do. You know, 25 years ago a gathering of the left they would have marched out of there, and they were going to nationalize the banks and they were going to make mandatory bedtime, and, you know, they were going to have a program for everything. And now it seems to have reached a point of a kind of a decadence or a degradation where they they're out of ideas. And when you're out of ideas, you tend to get vaguer and vaguer and vaguer. And that's what this conference was like.
LAMB: Said that Ted Turner came in and sat next to you?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. It was a funny th thing. Serendipity, boy it Thabo Mbeki, w who is Nelson Mandela's number two and a very great man, was giving a speech in which he was kind of gently tea tweaking the crowd for ignoring Africa and the problems of Africa and all their grand designs that they had and about being insufficiently dedicated to redistributing the world's wealth. And Ted Turner had just done his big deal with Time Warner, I think, that had been consummated the weekend before, I think. And he sat down next to me. I was sitting in the press section, but for some reason he just came in, looked like he'd just gotten out of the shower, and he ripped open The New York Times business section, and the lead tha headline was something like, `Turner Compensation Deal to Top $100 Million.'

And so while Mbeki is going on about how wealth was so maldistributed in the world, here was Ted Turner reading down this thing, tracing his finger down the story about he was getting $60 million for this and he was getting $10 million for drinking a cup of tea and he was going to get $15 million for walking across the street. And this compensation package he had was just limitless. And I so I I sort of interspersed Mbeki's speech with little pieces from the news story.
LAMB: Earlier in an article you refer to Bob Hope, and you say, `He is a dear friend of mine.'
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, that that's a that's a parody piece in which I assume the the voice of of Donald Trump. Trump had had written yet another one of these business books called "Surviving at the Top." Unfortunately, it came out right when the news was revealed that he was, you know, whatever it was, $200 million in debt. And it has turned out that he's survived. But it but this book had this sort of this terrible kind of oily tone to it, so I wrote the review in the in Donald Trump's voice. And a lot of people have always commented on it over the years, so I put it in the book.
LAMB: Do you get much reaction when you write a piece for The Weekly Standard?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. I it's a it's it's in an an amazingly short amount of time, it's become a kind of must read in Washington among political types and journalistic types. It's a funny thing, you know, when you write, y you're never quite sure who the audience is. And when you're in Washington, which has this incredible concentration of journalists, you kind of measure your feedback by what other journalists tell you about what you've written. And it's it's it's it's very incestuous, but it's really one of the few gauges you have of how a piece is going over.
LAMB: By the way, back on you talked about you had so much reaction for that New Republic piece Bill Moyers. Did he react to it personally to you?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yes. He he absolutely was apoplectic. I mean, I he wrote a response to my piece that, I think, was originally 8,000 words or something. And The New Republic said, `We can't publish it. It's longer than the original piece was.' And they had a policy of, you know, running sort of short letters to the editor, but they said they would give him the entire correspondence page, which was one page. And he said that was insufficient. So he actually took out an ad, two page ad, to run his response that, I think, was even then, he had to cut it down because his original response was so so so long. And that may be one of the reasons that Marty Peretz and Andrew Sullivan were so steadfast, because they got this free ad out of it. I mean, it must have been a $10,000 ad that they got from Bill Moyers.
LAMB: Have you ever had any reaction like that from anything else you've written?
Mr. FERGUSON: A few things, but that was that was the most explosive, partly because Moyers is so prominent and and he's so beloved by, you know, people in, you know, the establishment. And...
LAMB: Do you wish you hadn't done it?
Mr. FERGUSON: No. I never never for a moment did I regret not doing that piece.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. FERGUSON: And I still think I you know what I mean. I republished it here, partly because it fits in with the overall theme of the book because, you know, it's part of the job of a journalist and there's not enough of this no matter how much journalists beat their breasts and talk about how cynical and skeptical they are, there isn't enough debunking going on, and particular with particularly within the culture of journalism itself because it is so monochromatic. It's all you know, it's filled with people who think alike and talk alike and see the same movies and read the same books and go to the same parties. And the culture, as I said, is so incestuous that there are some targets that are simply no matter how skeptical journalists are, that that are simply left untouched. And Moyers is a pre eminent example of that.
LAMB: You were on a television show with Gennifer Flowers.
Mr. FERGUSON: Yes, I was. I was.
LAMB: When?
Mr. FERGUSON: One of the high points in my life. When was this? This would have been in '94, I believe.
LAMB: Well, you've got one here you wrote, `My Night with Gennifer,' May 1994. Then the next one is `Saying it with Flowers,' June of 1995.
Mr. FERGUSON: Right. There's two sort of pieces companion pieces that go together there. One is about my my deathless television appearance with her on the "Rolonda" show, which I gather is still on the air, somebody told me yesterday, amazingly. And and then the other one is about her book, which came out and mentioned our appearance. And she she cited me as her only defender in the mainstream press, which I thought, `Oh, this is not the immortality I seek. If people are going to remember me, I'd rather they not associate me with being Gennifer Flowers' defender.'
LAMB: Why were you invited to be on a television show?
Mr. FERGUSON: I don't know. They they called up and they said, `We're having Gennifer Flowers on,' and I said, `I'll be there.' `And and we need somebody to be very anti Clinton,' she said, this booker for the show. And I said, `Well, that's not too hard. I can do that.' And so I I guess it was hard to find, A, a journalist who was anti Clinton and, B, a journalist who was anti Clinton and who would still descend to the point where he would appear on the "Rolonda" show. But that was me. I was happy to do it.
LAMB: What was it like?
Mr. FERGUSON: Oh, it was it was awful. It was there there's a funny story in there that I don't think I can repeat on the tel on a family show like this.
LAMB: They were, quote, "using language with four letter words."
Mr. FERGUSON: Yes. Yes. That comes out of they came out of Gennifer's mouth, if fact.
LAMB: Yeah, I'm looking at it here. I can't repeat it either.
Mr. FERGUSON: But it is but it is it is hilarious. And she was she was at the time I think the occasion for her being on "Rolonda" was she this is about a two years after her initial fame, when she had been in the National Enquirer and had done this Penthouse nude layout in Penthouse and trashing Bill Clinton. And s at the time she was marketing this $20 set of audiotapes of conversations with her and then Governor Clinton. And they asked her why she was doing this, and she said she was worried that people had the impression she was a gold digger and she wanted to dispel that. So she dispelled it by selling tapes for 20 bucks a shot, you know. And I told her she was getting bad advice.
LAMB: What'd you what'd you think of her?
Mr. FERGUSON: I was astonished that she was extremely well spoken and and, you know, I mean, she she she got a rough treatment in the press, being called `trailer trash' and all that sort of thing. But she you know, she looked like a tax attorney, from what I could tell. It was the interesting thing was that she spoke without a trace of an accent, and then the minute we mentioned this comment when she got very mad at Jane Furse from The New York Daily News, who was also on the show the minute she got mad, man, she lapsed right into Ozark dialect, and she did sound like somebody from a trailer park.
LAMB: Before I forget, I've got to ask you about just one little phrase on Page 149: `Like the fruitcake Thoreau.'
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. That's what we call a cheap shot.
LAMB: Henry David Thoreau is a fruitcake?
Mr. FERGUSON: That's a thrown elbow. It's just one of these things that you're going this way, but you pass this guy, so you throw him an elbow.
LAMB: Explain that, please.
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I used to love Thoreau as a as a kid, but as I think every teen ager who reads him does fall in love with him. And but I don't I think in hindsight and having gone back, in fact, and read him again, he's a little bit of an eccentric. And, you know, he's he was he was a hard guy to figure in a lot of ways. So I hit on the word `fruitcake,' which I thought was probably the best summation of him. I I I should say I think he was a great figure in a lot of ways and a wonderful writer, but a fruitcake.
LAMB: Is writing hard or easy for you?
Mr. FERGUSON: Very well, I sh I should preface this by saying I hate to hear writers complain about how hard it is to write because it is anybody who can make a living at it is so lucky. I don't care how good they are, but anybody who can actually make a decent living at writing has no right to complain. That said, I hate to write. I mean, I it is I I would I would rather go to the dentist sometimes than than than write a piece. There are a lot of people, I I should also say, who who really enjoy writing and who find it, you know, liberating and expressive. And, I mean, George Will once said that he wakes up every morning and says, `Do I have to write a column today?' And if he does, you know, it's going to be a good day. To me, it's the exact opposite. If I wake up and I've got a deadline looming, it's just...
LAMB: So how do you go about it?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, you just you just make coffee. You make a lot of coffee, and you sit down in front of the screen and you just sort of type out a word. And then you go and talk on the telephone. And then you go get some more coffee, then you come back and you make yourself type out another sentence. Then you go if you're at home, you rearrange your ties or, you know, you clean off your dresser. And then you go back and do it again. Then you make another phone call. And essentially pretty soon your editor's on the phone saying, `Where is my copy? I need your column.' So then you sit down and you just do it. It's very unpleasant.
LAMB: You pick a time of day that you like to write?
Mr. FERGUSON: I try and do it as early as possible in the day, mainly because I postpone things. As I say, you know, it takes a lot of time to get all those cups of coffee and talk on the phone. So if I don't start early in the day, I won't actually get to writing till about 6:00 at night. But also I'm much fresher in the morning. I'm much my mind is much livelier.
LAMB: Do you write at home or at the office?
Mr. FERGUSON: When I was at Washingtonian, I I wrote at home all the time, almost all the time. I was also a big smoker in those days, and you couldn't smoke in Washingtonian offices, so I I smoked at home and wrote at home. I I write where I smoke, I guess is the way it would be, my motto in those days. Now I work at the office usually. Unle unless it's a really big piece that's going to require a lot of concentrated effort, I'll I'll work at the office nowadays.
LAMB: You call David Gergen a `goggle eyed melon head.'
Mr. FERGUSON: Yes. One of my well, I as I explain in there, th that was another one of these thrown elbows, kind of a cheap shot that was I I was at the time writing a piece about Mort Zuckerman and heaping thousands of words of abuse on Mort Zuckerman, who is the a real estate mogul who at this was quite a what time back, 1985, who had just purchased US News & World Report and The Atlantic and had fancied himself a journalist and was writing a column, which he still is writing. Somebody had asked me to review his columns. And so I did so, and I just kind of in this fury of abuse that I was heaping on Zuckerman, the phrase just came out about David Gergen, who was then working editing US News, I think, for Zuckerman. So I put it in and it was probably the cheapest of cheap shots.

And I've quickly came to regret it because I'd called him a goggle eyed melon head. And then word came from friends of mine that worked at US News, where he was not widely liked, that somebody had snuck in his office in the middle of the night and put a melon on his desk. And I thought, `Oh, this is I sh I shouldn't have done this.' And then I was introduce to him at a party a few months or weeks later. And he, of course, had no idea who I was, but you could see that the light went on and he just sort of turned away and said, `Oh, God,' you know. And I felt terrible.

And I felt terrible for years, until 1993 when I happened to turn on the TV, and there was David Gergen standing next to Bill Clinton, who had just appointed him to be his closest counselor and adviser. And I thought it was it was it was an act of amazing cynicism: that the guy who had helped sell Reaganism was now enlisting in the cause of undoing Reaganism 10 years later as as, it seemed to me, a matter of career advancement. And so all of a sudden, the next day when some people in the office were talking about David Gergen, I said, `Hey, I called him a goggle eyed melon head once.' And all of a sudden I was proud of it. But I I still think I still think I don't think it's fair, and I have some rules in there for what what is what is acceptable and unacceptable when you go after people. And I don't think it's fair to talk about their personal looks or anything like that anymore.
LAMB: You talk about Bernard Shaw and Thorston Veblin and William Allen White and Joyce Kilmer. And then you say Walter Cronkite is today well, I'm I've only got a moment here, but let me just get to the point. Like Cronkite `And most, like Cronkite, were utterly vacant men.'
Mr. FERGUSON: See, this is also goes back to my point where, in this world this journalism world, you know, you have icons, and nobody will ever push him over. And Cronkite, like Moyers, is a perfect example of this. I I to this day cannot understand why he was so venerated, aside from the fact that he spent 20 years sitting in front of a television reading words that other people had written. Is that all it takes to be an icon? I mean, you know, an old wise man? So...
LAMB: The last question: What's what's your goal?
Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I want to do another book. I want to write a a big book on on one single subject. And so if anybody's got any ideas, let me know. I'd love to do it.
LAMB: Do you have any in mind?
Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, I've got a few that I'm playing around with, some some more things on the New Age, or education is another possibility.
LAMB: I didn't ask you earlier. Where were you born?
Mr. FERGUSON: Hinsdale, Illinois.
LAMB: How long did you live there?
Mr. FERGUSON: I moved away when I went to college, so I was there for 18 years.
LAMB: And what do your parents do?
Mr. FERGUSON: My father was a lawyer and is now retired. My mother's dead,
LAMB: Where'd you meet your wife?
Mr. FERGUSON: I met her at The American Spectator. She was the art director there for years.
LAMB: Two kids?
Mr. FERGUSON: Two kids, yes. Yes.
LAMB: Ages?
Mr. FERGUSON: Five and three.
LAMB: And on that note...
Mr. FERGUSON: And they're real cute, by the way.
LAMB: Here's the book, "Fools' Names, Fools' Faces." Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard, thank you very much.
Mr. FERGUSON: Thank you.


Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. 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.