Robert Christopher
Robert Christopher
Crashing the Gates: The De-WASPing of America's Power Elite
ISBN: 0671473344
Crashing the Gates
The influence of WASPs (white anglo-saxon protestants) on American society is explored by Robert Christopher in his new book, Crashing the Gates: The De-WASPing of the Power Elite. Christopher examines the reasons for the changing ethnic makeup of the power elite and why it is no longer dominated by WASPs. Christopher cites three major events that brought about this change: the G.I. Bill which granted ethnics access to a college education, the civil rights movement which brought down racial barriers, and the Vietnam War which brought public mistrust and doubt upon the WASP leadership.
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TRANSCRIPT
Crashing the Gates
Program Air Date: June 11, 1989

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert Christopher author of "Crashing the Gates" subtitled "The DeWASPing of the Power Elite." Why write about WASPs?
ROBERT CHRISTOPHER: Well actually the book is more about non WASPs, but I think the reason to write about them is fairly simple. It's the national mythology is that they run the country. Or it's a myth that's held by a large part of the country.
LAMB: What is a WASP?
CHRISTOPHER: A WASP is actually any person who is generally perceived by the rest of the populous to be a WASP. There are certain limitations. You have to be white and you have to have a reasonable degree of education or professional success or money or some combination there of. But ethnicity really in terms of what your ancestry is not central.
LAMB: Anglo Saxon. What does that mean?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, technically it refers to people of Great -- well not even Great Britain of England really. And many WASPs probably the majority of WASPs in this country are not of purely or even totally or even in any degree of English ancestry.
LAMB: Where did the term come from?
CHRISTOPHER: Because I think -- oh, you mean where did it originate.
LAMB: Yes.
CHRISTOPHER: Oh, it originated in an article written by a sociologist back in the '30s as I recall late '30s or early '40's in which he very carefully said I will refer to this group henceforth as WASPs which stands for white anglo saxon protestant. A lot of people think that it was originated by a guy named E. Digby Valtsell who is regarded as the paramount historian of WASPs but he himself concedes that that's not the case.
LAMB: Anything in your background make you a WASP?
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah. I am first of all perceived as a WASP which dafacto makes me one. And I am I suppose in part I'm in part of English ancestry. But I think that's not really the central point as I've said.
LAMB: How did you write the book?
CHRISTOPHER: With difficulty. The research was really quite challenging because one of the things I discovered was that you cannot any longer make any assumption about the ethnic background of an American simply by going by his or her name. That in every case if you want to make an assertion about somebody's ethnicity regardless of their surname you have to check it out.
LAMB: Do people pay attention to that kind of thing what somebody's surname is?
CHRISTOPHER: Oh sure. One fascinating case that I mentioned in the book there is a gentleman named Nathan Hale Shapiro who in fact is a direct descendent collateral descendant of one of Nathan Hale's brothers. But with the surname Shapiro he obviously is unlikely to be perceived as a WASP. There are people with names like Bingham and Lodge who are half jewish but who because of their surnames are generally tend to be perceived as WASPs.
LAMB: Robert C. Christopher lives where?
CHRISTOPHER: I live in Old Lawn, Connecticut.
LAMB: Heavy WASP country?
CHRISTOPHER: Heavy WASP country in the sense that the prevailing behavior patterns are WASP. In strictly ethnic terms, many of the WASPist people in town in fact have no English blood.
LAMB: All right. Paint the picture now. What's the best picture you can paint that would show us what a WASP is?
CHRISTOPHER: Oh, I would say a WASP might well be -- let's say a president of a local bank who went to Princeton or Dartmouth whatever is obviously prosperous, belongs to the country club, does all the proper charities and so forth and may well be of -- I don't know, say, primarily Irish ancestry. Primarily may well be half Italian and half Scottish could be a lot of things but he'll be a WASP because he is perceived as a WASP.
LAMB: Will it always be a he?
CHRISTOPHER: No. Not at all. No. They come in male and female.
LAMB: And who cares?
CHRISTOPHER: A certain number of the old line WASPs care very much. There are some of them who feel that there really is a a kind of superiority and they founded the country which is not totally true and that it matters very much being a WASP. Then I think there are a lot of people who care because WASPs serve as a very convenient lightening rod. If you don't like the way things are going the way the country's being run you can blame it on the WASPs.
LAMB: Right away both in your introduction and as I remember in the first paragraph of the first chapter talking about politicians. You talk about George Bush and Michael Dukakis. George Bush a WASP?
CHRISTOPHER: Oh, yeah. No question. And he's a WASP in every sense. I don't know about his ancestry in detail but I presume it's predominately English. So that he's a WASP even in the most literal sense. But he's certainly a WASP in behavior patterns, upbringing and so forth.
LAMB: Didn't I read somewhere where he's a descendent of the Queen -- or no, the ... I mean, they're the same family.
CHRISTOPHER: Related to but that's one of those things that if you go back far enough everybody's related to everybody. I mean I think the relationship is -- probably, for all I know, I may be as closely related to the Queen as he is.
LAMB: Michael Dukakis you start right off by saying on January 21, 1988, a dark compact man of vaguely mediterranean appearance stepped up to the podium at Atlanta's Omni Colosseum and you can take it from there. Why did you start off with that?
CHRISTOPHER: Because I really did think that in a way the Dukakis nomination and the speech he delivered in Atlanta symbolized what I was talking about which was the fact that the highest echelons of American society aren't now inhabited by a multi ethnic elite. They're no longer dominated or monopolized by the WASPs.
LAMB: How about the viewer out there that says this is I don't know how to put this -- even talking about this at this time in our country's history is kind of verboten.
CHRISTOPHER: I can understand that some people may find it uncomfortable to talk about. I think it's worth talking about and important to talk about though because what has happened particularly in the last 20 years in terms of the ethnic makeup of the American elite is enormously encouraging. That it's grounds for great optimism about the future of the country and for that reason I think it's false squeamishness to not to talk about.
LAMB: How long did you work on the book before you published it?
CHRISTOPHER: Awfully hard to say. In a concentrated way probably about a bit under two years but since I didn't work on it full time I wasn't able to it actually took me about three years from the time I started till the time it went to the publisher.
LAMB: Can you remember the first time you got interested in the subject?
CHRISTOPHER: Yes I can. Actually I was working on another book entirely. I had contracted with my publisher to do a book about great WASP families. The kind of book that Stephen Birmingham later did -- "Invisible Aristocracy" or whatever he called it. And as I began to work on that book I discovered that first of all, I wasn't all that fascinated by the "Invisible Aristocracy." and secondly that more and more it became clear to me that the power really didn't lie any longer in those hands. And at a certain point I went to my editor and said you know I don't want to do that book. I want to do a book about the change in the ethnic makeup of the American elite.
LAMB: How did you approach looking at the number of chapters in here I see about 13. How did you break the book up?
CHRISTOPHER: Broke it up in terms of areas of activity -- politics, business, the arts, sports, entertainment, the military. I tried to take the major areas of activity in american life and devote a large chunk to each of them.
LAMB: Any area more interesting to you than others?
CHRISTOPHER: Well that's hard to say. I found all of them honestly fascinating. I guess possibly one of the one's that I found most interesting was sports simply because I came away with a very different feeling about sports than I had had started out with. That it really is a vehicle of mobility, but more than that, social mobility. That it's a way that people can move into the elite. But more than that, it's changed in nature quite a lot since television. And that sports has really became entertainment and with the result of sporting figures have a lot more impact on peoples thinking and on social attitudes now than they used to. And as a result of that, and as a result of the fact that as entertainers they are paid much more than sports figures used to be, there is an interesting change going on. Traditionally people who could do anything else didn't make their living playing games. That was left to the lower orders who couldn't get better jobs. Now with the high salaries in sports you find people from middle class backgrounds and considerable education going into professional sports.
LAMB: Is there such a thing as a WASP sport?
CHRISTOPHER: No. Not that I can think of off hand. There are some that used to be until fairly recently, but I don't think ... Tennis for example was a WASP sport at one time. It sure isn't any more. Polo maybe. Although no there you go Argentineans and people like that are big. I can't think of one off hand that I would qualify as a WASP sport no.
LAMB: Is there any group in the sports world that dominates in this country?
CHRISTOPHER: Varies from area to area. Yeah sure. I mean, for example in basketball, clearly blacks make up the majority of the players now, the majority of these big time players. In hockey it's still very heavily Canadian. Boxing ... there's been a curious ethnic history in boxing. That's the last sport I think where in perhaps you don't get very much middle class participation, which is left pretty much to people in underprivileged backgrounds. You see a lot of Hispanics coming into that now particularly in the lighter weight classes.
LAMB: Why the last 20 years? What's happened in 20 years to change all this?
CHRISTOPHER: I think this is simplifying a very complicated subject but I think that what basically happened was that the fruits of the G.I. Bill of Rights after World War II really kind of matured them. Because of the G.I. Bill, all sorts of people who prior to World War II did not traditionally get college educations got it. And those people and or their children began to move into positions of real authority. I think of the late '60s and the early '70s.
LAMB: Is that a case where government money, taxpayer money in the G.I. Bill made this big difference?
CHRISTOPHER: I think it did. I think it made an enormous difference. I don't think it was a result that anybody intended. I mean I don't think it was designed as a way of promoting ethnic equality, but that's the effect it had.
LAMB: For those who may not even know what the G.I. Bill is, when did it happen and what did it do for people?
CHRISTOPHER: Well it was started at the end of World War II and basically what it did was to enable veterans to go to college largely at government expense. Your tuition and a certain amount of living expense was paid by the government. And that continued with Korean War veterans. I don't think Vietnam veterans got the same kind of lavish treatment that the World War II vet and Korean vets did. What it accomplished was to make it possible for people who otherwise would not have gone to college to go to college. And this had particular importance for some groups of the population. And these were mostly groups of fairly recent immigrant origin. I grew up in a very heavily Italian American community. And when I was a kid the great majority of Italian American youngsters in my hometown did not go to college. By the time the war was over and the G.I. Bill came along they began to. Their children all go to college and the result is that prior to World War II an Italian-American was only a quarter as likely to go through a four college as a WASP. Today the college in the two groups are absolutely identical.
LAMB: What else impacted this society over the last 20 years?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, certainly the Civil Rights Movement -- not only in the obvious way of making some improvement in the opportunities for blacks, but also in an indirect way it created a certain ... I think it inspired Hispanics to be perhaps a bit more aggressive. It also created a certain amount of backlash amongst white ethnics, so called. And that was an unfortunate impact. Another thing that I am persuaded that had impact was the Vietnam war, which I think consciously or unconsciously brought the WASP establishment into greater disesteem [and] made people more suspicious of it than they had been before.
LAMB: What's been your reaction ... I've seen some of the reviews. I don't have them with me but some of its been critical of your book.
CHRISTOPHER: Most of what I've seen -- and I haven't seen all of them yet because it hasn't been out that long -- a couple of them are very good. One accused me of being too loose in my definition of WASPs. So far the reaction with the exception of that one review seems to be broadly favorable.
LAMB: What do you hope happens because you put the book out?
CHRISTOPHER: What I hope is that people will think about ... I genuinely do think that there is less ethnic prejudice and a greater degree of acceptance amongst privileged people in this country now successful people than there is amongst underprivileged people. I think if we look at these what I call the elites and try to figure why that's so. Why is there less? What's happened? What's created a situation in which people successful people are more open minded ethnically? That we might get some clues about how we should behave in the future.
LAMB: You have a full time job?
CHRISTOPHER: I do.
LAMB: Running the Pulitzer Program.
CHRISTOPHER: That's correct.
LAMB: What is that?
CHRISTOPHER: Well it's an old program. As a matter of fact, it will be 75 years old in 1991. And every year the Pulitzer Prize Board, of which I am a Secretary, hands out 14 Journalism awards prizes and six so-called Letters prizes for books and plays. They are very highly esteemed, in journalism, particularly, as I am sure you know.
LAMB: Who was Pulitzer?
CHRISTOPHER: The original Joseph Pulitzer was an immigrant. A Hungarian, half Jewish. He came here about the time of the Civil War and managed, starting from nowhere, to become one of the most powerful publishers in the country. He owned a paper called the New York World which was very, very famous in its day. And then subsequently started the St. Louis Post Dispatch which still survives of course and which his family still owns or his decedents still own.
LAMB: You started your career at Time magazine and went on to Newsweek. What was it in this mix that interested you in spending all that time Pulitzer?
CHRISTOPHER: I felt that I had pretty much gotten out of weekly journalism everything I was going to get out of it. And I also found that while I was editing -- which is for the last 15 years or so -- that I simply didn't have any time or any energy to write, which I wanted to do. And I thought correctly as it turned out that even though the Pulitzer thing and the teaching I do at Columbia is full time it does leave me with enough psychic energy and enough time that I can steal away by working weekends and stuff to do my own writing.
LAMB: Let me spend a little time asking you about the Pulitzer Prizes. Are they as important today as they always been?
CHRISTOPHER: I think so. I think they ... yeah, I would say so. The journalism prizes may in a sense be even more important because the whole kind of newspaper world, if you will, has been pulled into it and feels now a kind of proprietary sense about the Prizes.
LAMB: How do you choose?
CHRISTOPHER: It's complicated. We get in journalism alone about 1,500 entries a year. It's impossible for any one person to read all of that. It's broken down into 14 different classifications, if you will: foreign news, national news, local news, investigative reporting, etc. For each one of those classifications we name each year a jury of five people -- journalists from all around the country. They read everything in their category. Then they choose three of those entries which they recommend to the special attention of the Pulitzer Prize Board which consists of 16 people, mostly although not quite all are very prominent editors and publishers. And the Board reads certainly all three of the entries proposed by each jury and then normally chooses a prize winner from amongst those three.
LAMB: It doesn't have to?
CHRISTOPHER: It doesn't have to and on occasion it does not.
LAMB: What's the fallout after a number of years now from the Janet Cook experience?
CHRISTOPHER: Mainly that people still remember it.
LAMB: When was that by the way?
CHRISTOPHER: Oh that was ... that was in fact just before I actually became Secretary. It was in 1981.
LAMB: Front page stories in the Washington Post.
CHRISTOPHER: Yes ...
LAMB: About an 8-year-old kid.
CHRISTOPHER: Who was taking crack or non crack in those days ...?
LAMB: Heroin.
CHRISTOPHER: But heroin, yeah. It was very detailed and very heart rending story. And it turned out to be totally made up.
LAMB: What did that do to your Prize?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, actually the editors of the Post discovered this almost within a matter of 48 hours or less after the Prize was announced. And they then withdrew the entry and the Prize was awarded to someone else. The sort of runner up. What it did I think was to ... it obviously did damage. A lot of people said, "How do we know that some of your other entries aren't made up?" I think that damage has been ... since there's been no repetition of it and since it was detected so rapidly. I think the damage has been largely corrected. But there's not question that there's still some fall out.
LAMB: And you spend a lot of time around newspaper publishers and editors and people because of your job. How much of an influence has the WASP had in that area and has it changed any?
CHRISTOPHER: I've got a whole chapter about that in the book. The press and the word press, I include television news and weeklies, dailies, the whole thing. The press was very heavily dominated, not only in ownership and the top editorial and business management prior to World War II. That is no longer the case. If you take a roster of top journalists around the country, around 500 to 600 top journalists -- it's a real ethnic mishmash. I do sort of an approximation of that in the book. It's a complete mixup. Two things have happened: It's become to some extent more ethnic and ethnically diverse. More important, I think it's tended to become devoid of ethnic character. In other words you take a company like Gannett which is the biggest American newspaper chain and it's ownership is so diffused that it has no ethnic character.
LAMB: What do you say we've ... and over the years you don't hear as much of it lately as we used to on our call in shows, but a lot of people in the country think that the powerful media is owned by the Jews.
CHRISTOPHER: That's one of the oldest lines in the book. Henry Ford was convinced of that and so was Henry Adams. It simply isn't true. There are some of the powerful media that are owned by Jewish families. The New York Times and the Newhouse chain. But there are a number of others that are owned by WASPs. The whole Los Angeles Times company -- the controlling family there is WASP. Dow Jones which owns the Wall Street Journal is owned by a WASP family. First of all, you can't honestly state that any particular ethnic group and longer controls the bulk of the nations most important publications. But more importantly you can't demonstrate that there's any real connection between the ethnicity of publishers and the way their papers handle the news. In many cases it's interesting -- Dow Jones is a good case, and Wall Street Journal is an interesting case in point. The owners are WASP. As it happens right now the Chairman of the Board and the Editor of the Journal are both Jewish.
LAMB: Does it matter from your research or looking back over the years whether a certain ethnic background controls either the media or ... I mean, do different people from different backgrounds do different things?
CHRISTOPHER: Obviously, I was very interested in that and made a very, very careful study and as far as I can determine the answer is no. You can't put your finger on any difference that has occurred or any change in the media. There have been changes in the media but you can't put your finger on any change that you can attribute to ethnicity really. Lou Bocardi of Associated Press, an Italian American -- I discussed this at length with him and he finally said, "Well, maybe it's had the effect ... you have more different sensibilities at work." But even that he was doubtful about. You really can't find a clear cut cause and effect relationship.
LAMB: Is there any one of your groups that you study where the WASPs still control?
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah. It's not a group that I regard as very important, but in what sometimes is called the old society, not society generally, but the old society, is still I guess predominantly WASP.
LAMB: What's old society?
CHRISTOPHER: It's people who have been rich for a very long time.
LAMB: Is it called old money too?
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, but they prefer to think of themselves as society.
LAMB: Are there national names that we know that would be considered old society?
CHRISTOPHER: Oh yeah. Vanderbilt, Rockefeller maybe, although that's more their just getting there, Roosevelt. I'm trying to think there's some in Philadelphia but they may not be nationally known. But a lot of the nationally known names that are now considered old society were not originally WASP. They are now seen as such. The Mellons for example were originally from Ulster, Northern Ireland which is not big Anglo Saxon country.
LAMB: Going back so if somebody just joined us we are talking about "Crashing the Gates" is the name of the book. The De WASPing of America." I can't see it now because I can't see the monitor. "The De-WASPing of America's Power Elite" by Robert C. Christopher is the name of this book and it's brand new in the bookstores. By the way, it's published by Simon & Schuster. Why did you pick Simon and Schuster?
CHRISTOPHER: Because I had done my first book for them and they gave me the contract.
LAMB: How did you physically write this book? Typewriter?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, I'm not the only one but I'm one of the last surviving people who writes with a pencil and a yellow pad. I write the first draft in pencil and yellow pad and then I transcribe it on a word processor -- it's a computer alright, but it's a computer made for idiots like me which won't do anything but process copy.
LAMB: What time of day would you write best?
CHRISTOPHER: Hard to say. I guess generally sort of the middle of the day. I'd say from around 10:00 to around 4:00 something like that.
LAMB: And when you're writing do you write everyday?
CHRISTOPHER: When I can, yeah. I don't write at home. At various times I've had a little office or a chair in a library or something but I make a point of going somewhere else to write and it's like going to the office. I just find that it works better that way.
LAMB: Do you write one time and let her stand or do you go back and reedit?
CHRISTOPHER: What I normally do is to write a kind of rough draft long hand then I go back and rework that in long hand and then I'll put it through the word processor doing less revising on the word processor. But I try, I'm not the sort of person who does a whole manuscript then goes back and edits it. I really feel more comfortable if I think I've got things right as I go along.
LAMB: You've written a couple of other books "The Japanese Mind" and "Second to None: American Companies in Japan." Why the interest in Japan?
CHRISTOPHER: Basically because I became a Japanese language officer in World War II courtesy of the U.S. Army and I went to Japan a couple of days after the surrender. I was shipped in an became fascinated with the place. And so when I went back to college after the war on the G.I. Bill I majored in Japanese history and I've been interested ever since.
LAMB: When did you write those two books?
CHRISTOPHER: "Japanese Mind" I wrote -- well it was published in 1983 so I wrote it in 1981-82 and the "Second to None." I wrote in '83-84.
LAMB: As you've gone about talking about your new book "Crashing the Gates: De-WASPing of America's Power Elite" what are some of the first questions people always ask you about this book?
CHRISTOPHER: Is it really true? Have the power elites really been De-WASPed? A lot of people don't think so. And that's partly because in certain areas it's a reasonably recent development. Things like banking and law it's ... law really didn't begin to happen very widely until a decade ago or a little more. Banking -- it's really this decade. So one reason that they wonder if whether it's true or not is that, as I say, it's quite recent. Another is that most people don't look across the whole spectrum of society. They look at their own field and they say but it's probably different elsewhere. So that's the first question. Then the other question is one that we've already talked about which is what is a WASP really. And most people tend to think they know. Then when you ask them to define it they really can't. At least they can't define it in any way that they won't admit is ... doesn't really work when you begin to press them.
LAMB: White Anglo Saxon Protestant. It can't be anything else in that mix? If you get a little bit of Irish you or a little bit of Catholicism ...
CHRISTOPHER: But you see that's where the term WASP is really a misnomer because WASPs -- they are white that much is true so far that may change, but they are not necessarily Anglo Saxon by ancestry at all, nor are they even necessarily Protestant. There are very definite WASPs who are Roman Catholic.
LAMB: Did they used to run everything?
CHRISTOPHER: Oh, yeah. I mean sure. I would say that when I was a child in fact, really up till about World War II they ran the country with certain very minor exceptions.
LAMB: You've got it -- your fourth chapter and this network spends a lot of time talking about politics so we better get into that a little bit.
CHRISTOPHER: That was the first place.
LAMB: "Where the Pols Are" is the name of your chapter. When did you see ethnics getting elected to political jobs.
CHRISTOPHER: That's the first place it began to happen where the change began. And it still to this day is the place where new ethnic groups generally begin to break through. Well, for example in Boston they began electing Irish Mayors about a century ago. In a lot of other New England communities it came along not too long after that. My own hometown New Haven, Connecticut had been was run by an Irish Political Machine when I was a child and had been for some time. And of course in New York, by the latter part of the last century, Tammany Hall was essentially an Irish American operation.
LAMB: Let me ask it a different way. Was there a time that if you were not a WASP in this country in politics that you might as well not even run for office?
CHRISTOPHER: I would say so. There were a lot of places -- in the south for example you certainly wouldn't have stood much chance if you weren't a WASP. Many parts of New England that was true.
LAMB: Has the south changed today?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, sure, you get black elected officials in the south now. I would say that generally in the eastern half of the country there was a time when if you weren't a WASP your political prospects were very dim indeed.
LAMB: There's a whole paragraph of names: Adams, Boshwich, Cohen, DeMoto, Deconseni, Durenburger -- in no way Casbaugm, Carey, Loutenberg, Lehi, Levin, Matsanaga, McCulskey, Murcowski, Sarbanes, and Zorenski. What was that all about.
CHRISTOPHER: Well, it was fun. I was talking there about a mythical army platoon which during sort of World War II times ... Hollywood used to love to create these fake army -- mythical army platoons in which people were of vastly different ethnic origin all working and fighting together to save democracy. The point of that list is that I said that could be the list of one of these multi-ethnic World War II platoons. But in fact what it is a list of members of the United States Senate as of 1987 with that enormous ethnic diversity.
LAMB: In politics have you seen again are we doing things different as a country or as the Senate or the House of Representatives because the ethnicity is changing?
CHRISTOPHER: Maybe a little bit, but not radically. I think there are probably policy areas where, out of deference to one or another ethnic group, let me start again. The political structure tends to differ to the ethnic group whose interests are most directly involved in certain foreign policy issues. Greece on the Cyprus issue, Israel on the Israeli-Arab issue and there are others. But I don't think it really overall determines, and I'm not sure that we wind up doing things as a nation that we wouldn't do anyway.
LAMB: Other politicians there ... as you look through the pages you see a lot of names. Any of the last 20-year victories -- or even longer than that -- that are your favorites in politics? People that had to break through barriers -- and how did they do it?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, I suppose it's a generational thing. I was a great fan of John Kennedy's and I thought it was an enormously healthy thing when he was elected President to finally break the tradition that the President had to be a Protestant. He did that simply, I think, by taking advantage of a change in the national mood. And he was obviously -- you know he was every bit as much as of an aristocrat and a preppie as George Bush. The only difference was that he was an Irish American aristocrat. And that I think that probably helped in certain places in the country to make it easier for people to swallow the fact that he was Catholic --the fact that he was so visibly WASPy in manner if you will. So that was an important one.

But one of the ones I take very seriously, I think is enormously important is the rise of Senator Daniel Inoway in the Senate. Because when he first came into the United States, he was first elected to Congress, the notion that a Japanese American could possibly exercise a leadership role in the Congress was out of the question. Inouye is now one of the real Senate insiders so much so that he was considered at one time for Majority Leader very seriously. And that seems to me to symbolize a very important change in American life.
LAMB: You talk about the Carter and Reagan administrations and actually you go back to the Nixon administration where you talk about Henry Kessinger.
CHRISTOPHER: Yes.
LAMB: You talk about Zbigniew Brzezinski and Edward Muske. And even the Reagan Administration record never matched that of his predecessors you say here yet not even Mr. Reagan's harshest critics could I think seriously charge him with making ethnicity a decisive factor in his choice of associates.
CHRISTOPHER: I think that's true. When you look at both his personal friends and the people he appointed to office you can't really argue that he was. Frank Carluci -- he's an Italian American clearly. Justice Scalia an Italian American. I could go on and on. His chief of protocol at one time was a lady named Lucky Roosevelt which sounds very WASPy but in fact she's a Roosevelt by marriage and she's a Lebanese druse by birth. I don't know I don't think that ethnicity was ...
LAMB: How did you find out all this information. Where did you go back and research these names?
CHRISTOPHER: That's an interesting point. In may cases I didn't have to because whereas lets say 30, 40 years ago successful people who weren't WASP tended to if not try to conceal it they certainly didn't emphasize it. Now a days people do. I mean nobody any longer worries in the upper ranks of American society American establishment worries about being non WASP and people are very open about what they are.
LAMB: Who's some of the people who have changed their names over the years?
CHRISTOPHER: All over. It's you know I don't know where to start because often the name changes go way back. I mean people began changing their names in this country in the 18th century. Awful lot of Germans who came here wound up -- their people you know who were named Taylor who were originally Schneider and Blacks who originally Schwartz's. If you take famous people, well the Hoovers were originally Whaler. General Pershing's family was originally named Thershing. General Custer's family was originally names Clisder.
LAMB: Do people still change their name to camouflage what their real background is?
CHRISTOPHER: You know I can't flatly say no.
LAMB: Let me ask about Hollywood for instance. We always hear you know..
CHRISTOPHER: Hollywood they don't. That's been an enormous change because up until I would say probably the '60s it was absolutely de rigeur unless you had a WASP name or an ethnically neutral name -- the people who ran the studios made you change it. That's no longer true at all. Nobody bothers to ... People do sometimes their name now for reasons of convenience. By that I mean if you've got a name that's very difficult for people to pronounce or spell people will change for that reason. Or they will change ... actors will change just because they think another name is somehow more appealing or will grab the public, impress the public more favorably. People don't change them for ethnic reasons anymore.
LAMB: I want to get off the book just a little bit here and talk about your job observing the media. What's happening from your perspective in the media today?
CHRISTOPHER: Well ...
LAMB: What changes are coming about?
CHRISTOPHER: I think we're beginning to get a little bit of dialing back, maybe from the consequences of Watergate. By that I mean that following Watergate, the press -- and I'm not saying this in a hostile way or critical way -- but the press essentially took up an adversarial role toward the government. They regarded the government with enormous suspicion and distrust and were persuaded that you couldn't put much faith in any public official [or] what any public official said. Investigative journalism got carried to -- I think in some cases -- to rather inordinate extremes and I think in a way that all culminated in the Gary Hart episode. When all of a sudden it turned out that even peoples personal lives were granted any immunity from public scrutiny. I have a sense that there's beginning to be a little bit of hesitation about that. Not that the press is going to be less assiduous in trying to find corruption and evil doing. But that maybe there's a little bit greater that you've got to check out your information a little more carefully.
LAMB: What do you find that people that are on your board of directors at the Pulitzer organization -- what do you find that they're most interested in when it comes to journalism? When they come to looking at these prizes you give out what turns them on? Investigative stuff?
CHRISTOPHER: No. I mean not particularly, and certainly they aren't turned on by investigative stuff that they feel has been acquired by dubious means. The notion of undercover reporting, of pretending you're not a journalist in order to get a story is not popular with them. I think basically what they are most turned by now a-days is a sort of depth in a story -- a sense that the story has been not only fully reported but that it's been presented to the public in a way that the public can understand, so that it has some context and some meaning. They are very interested in what ... There's actually a category now called explanatory journalism. By which they mean simply taking a subject which is basically pretty complex, sometimes pretty esoteric, and dealing with it in such a way as to make it accessible to the ordinary reader.
LAMB: Who are some of the people who sit on the board?
CHRISTOPHER: Well let's see ...
LAMB: I know you can't name all 16 of them but I mean what's the range?
CHRISTOPHER: Well there's Russell Baker. He's a columnist for the New York Times. There's Meg Greenfield, editorial page editor of the Washington Post. There's David Laventhall, who's president of the Los Angeles Times Company. Claude Sitton who's head of the Raleigh News and Observer. There is Bob Maynard who is the editor of the Oakland Paper, editor and owner, and I think he's the only black owner of a paper outside the black press in the country at this point. There's Charlotte Cychowski who is the Washington bureau, or was, until recently, Washington bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor.
LAMB: What about standards? You've been there since 1981 -- how much interest is there in standards and how have they changed?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, they've always been, at least in my time there, the Board's always been very, very keen on standards -- standards of excellence and standards of property if you will. I think they've probably grown a bit more demanding in terms of the quality of the of the writing and that's true in all of journalism these days. I think that newspaper writing is getting more attention that it used to. It used to be just slam it out as long as it was intelligible, don't worry about style. I think there's more attention to style in newspaper writing now.
LAMB: What influence has USA Today had on the business?
CHRISTOPHER: Oh no question it's had ... I mean, mostly I think on graphics on illustration.
LAMB: Do you give a Pulitzer out on graphics?
CHRISTOPHER: We've had a proposal that one be established. Whether it will be or not, I can't say. I think the other influence that USA Today has had though is that it's tended to make a lot of other papers reconsider the length of the stories they publish. And that is not, in my judgment, a bad thing at all because there was a tendency in a lot of papers to let the stories run on and on and on and it was a growing tendency.
LAMB: The Gary Hart story broken by the Miami Herald -- was that an entry?
CHRISTOPHER: Yes.
LAMB: Didn't win?
CHRISTOPHER: No.
LAMB: Why not?
CHRISTOPHER: I really can't tell you.
LAMB: Do you get to stand back and let everybody else do the choices and they don't come after you on this?
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah. One of the things that makes my life bearable is that I don't have a vote. So that I'm the spokesman and sort of the administrative chief but I don't have a vote so that nobody can beat on me because they didn't win.
LAMB: How much politics is involved in the decision?
CHRISTOPHER: The reason that I'm hesitating is that nobody ever believes this and I didn't believe it. Before I went there I'd heard wild stories about how much politics there was and log rolling and so forth. And indeed there may well have been in the old days, but by the time I got there was none and I don't, I haven't you know ... and I've watched manfully and there is no log rolling that I'm aware of.
LAMB: You've been there for eight years. What's the toughest part of your job?
CHRISTOPHER: I think the toughest part of the job is really mediating, if you will, between the juries -- which are the journalists who have brought in for a brief period to do the initial -- and the board, because the board has the final say. It makes the choices and it is under no obligation to honor the juries choices or the juries recommendations. On the other hand the juries work very hard and perform a essential function without which the process really wouldn't work very well. And the juries feel that when they -- understandably when their recommendations are total disregarded, they get upset.
LAMB: What's the cycle. When do they ...
CHRISTOPHER: Juries normally meet at the end of February beginning of March. The board meets at the end of March and prizes are announced then.
LAMB: So you're now in your next year's cycle.
CHRISTOPHER: Yeah. There will be ...
LAMB: When do applicants put their suggestions in?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, in journalism they mostly come flooding in at the very end of the year. Everybody waits till the last possible moment. In books -- we're trying to get them to get the books in earlier because it takes so much time to read them.
LAMB: We've been talking for the past hour or so with Robert C. Christopher. Here's what the book looks like, "Crashing the Gates: The De-WASPing of America's Power Elite." Plans for a next book?
CHRISTOPHER: Yes.
LAMB: And that will be what -- ?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, I'm returning to Japan. I think my publisher would probably slit my throat if I said specifically how, but it will be a book that deals with Japanese- American relations.
LAMB: What's the timing on that?
CHRISTOPHER: About three and one-half years from now because it's going to involve a lot of research, a lot of travel to Japan.
LAMB: Robert C. Christopher who runs Pulitzer Prize program and is the author of "Crashing the Gates" which is published by Simon & Schuster and is a native or lives currently in Old Lyme, Connecticut; formally with Time Magazine and Newsweek. Thank you very much for your time.
CHRISTOPHER: It was a lot of fun. Thank you.


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