BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Roger Simon, author of "Show Time: The American Political Circus and the Race for the White House," what role does the goat joke play in your book?
MR. ROGER SIMON, AUTHOR, "SHOW TIME: THE AMERICAN POLITICAL CIRCUS AND THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE" Larry King's goat joke, the unrepeatable, untellable goat joke.
LAMB: Why is it untellable?
MR. SIMON: It's--given the state of American media in the last two weeks, probably nothing is untellable on television anymore. It was Larry King's favorite joke, oft-repeated, and to tell you the
truth--you really want to hear this goat joke?
LAMB: Well, can you tell it on television?
MR. SIMON: I don't think you can tell it on television. But Larry King is a very funny, friendly guy. He's probably the guy I'd like the most in palling around with people to do the book--`palling
around's' the wrong word, but covering to do the book. But in private, he also tells a profane joke or two, and this was Larry King's way of breaking the ice with people was the goat joke.
LAMB: But why is it so hard to tell on television?
MR. SIMON: Because it probably contains images and words not usually seen on C-SPAN.
LAMB: Why do you think he tells the joke in private?
MR. SIMON: 'Cause that's the way he is. He's a very--he is not much different in private--unlike most people in the book--than he is on television. He doesn't tell dirty jokes on television. But he's a Brooklyn kid who never wanted to stop being a Brooklyn kid, and that's the way Larry King is. And I wanted the book to accurately reflect the personalities of all the people involved, not the public images, but what they were really like.
LAMB: And why did you devote a chapter to him?
MR. SIMON: Because he was, in the last campaign cycle, a very important player. Ross Perot announced his candidacy on "The Larry King Show." Candidates would do anything to get on "The Larry King Show."
LAMB: In '92.
MR. SIMON: In '92. But in just a four short--in four short years, that had changed a great deal, and this time, Larry King was no longer a kingmaker, if you will. Candidates were afraid to go on a show, even as sympathetic as Larry King can sometimes be to his guests. It's not known as a--as a tough show.
And even guys who are very good, like Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, stayed away largely from "The Larry King Show" this year 'cause the stakes are so high now. You'd go on TV and you make one mistake, as Bob Dole would do with Katie Couric on the "Today" show, getting angry when she asked him about cigarettes, and you see your poll numbers drop. So in every election cycle, the candidates are moving farther and farther away from the press because they're more and more afraid of the press.
LAMB: Here's a paragraph on--in the King chapter. `And why shouldn't King run for president or vice president? He has the skills; he is amiable, good on TV, popular, able to take direction. And he knows the tricks, like the one about shoe soles. So why shouldn't he go after the White House?' What's the trick about shoe soles?
MR. SIMON: Well, shoe soles is that before Larry King goes on the air, he goes on television, he changes into shoes that he never normally wears because that way the soles look--are new and nice so that if he crosses his legs and the camera takes a picture of the bottom of his soles, they won't look ratty on TV. Of such small things TV images are made, and--and Larry's very good at that.
And the point I'm making is not that Larry King will ever run for president, but that the skills needed, to be good on television and to get elected president, are very close together. And it's probably inevitable that somewhere down the road, we will see a maje--major TV figure run for president.
LAMB: Here's how close you got to Larry King and others, but I'll just do--stay with the Larry King thing. `King walks into the makeup room where a woman takes a sponge and applies heavy makeup to his face, erasing a road map of wrinkles. She leans over to touch up a spot on his forehead, and King belches loudly in her face. `You know, the good thing about burping,' he says, `it makes you feel better.'
MR. SIMON: Larry is Larry. Larry will burp in your face. Larry's a very touchy-feely guy in a literal sense. When you're talking to him, he will grab your arms; he'll poke you in the chest; he'll pat you on
the back. And he doesn't change his behavior for anyone, including the president of the United States and the world leaders who come on his show. He's a--he's a very genuine guy.
LAMB: How applicable is this book, "Show Time," to what we're experiencing right now this week?
MR. SIMON: Very applicable--applicable, although, of course, it was written before--the first words of the--of the liner notes of the flap copy are `This is a book about seduction, the seduction of an--of a
nation, the seduction of a people.' And that's what political campaigns are, and that's what Bill Clinton's political campaign was. He is a master at beguiling people, at seducing people. And there is
a book, coincidentally enough, on the president's past flirtations and accusations of sexual improprieties called In Character, which at the time I didn't think would be of any great particular importance. And
now it's obviously the focus of what we're all looking at in regards to the presidency.
LAMB: There was a book called "In Character"?
MR. SIMON: No, it's a chapter--it's the chapter in this one.
LAMB: Chapter, yeah, in the book. I--I've got the--the book open to The Beasts on the Bus. And let me just read back to you what you wrote on Page 185. `Perhaps it is because they are the ones usually
lied to that reporters are unforgiving when it comes to prevarication. Over the years, the line between a candidate's personal life and public life has become blurred to the point where it is now largely
invisible, and this is especially true if any incident reflects on a candidate's veracity. A candidate can be adulterous and survive, but he cannot be adulterous and lie about it.'
MR. SIMON: Yeah, and I wasn't even talking about in a legal sense. Gary Hart is a--is an example. Gary Hart was accused of having an adulterous affair and dropped out of the race, and then de--re--re-entered it. But what was so unforgiving is that he seemed to have denied it.
Bill Clinton in 1992 denied having an affair with Gennifer Flowers. It is today reported--Who knows?--that in a sealed deposition, meaning we don't really know what he said, he now admits to it. If that is
so, then I think a lot of people, especially people in the press, are going to feel betrayed by that. A high value is placed on candidates telling the truth.
Now on the other hand, Bill Clinton is never going to be impeached for lying to the American people. It's not a crime. And if you believe the poll numbers, I think perhaps a high degree of public cynicism
feeds into--to showing that a lot of people just really aren't too upset by this.
LAMB: Why did you write the book, and why this far after the '96 campaign?
MR. SIMON: I wrote the book because I thought that campaigns are wonderful, fun events. They are road shows. They're traveling theater companies. They are just s--sometimes even burlesque. And that covering them is great theater. And it would lead to a fun and interesting book. Along the way, you pick up some serious insights into the American political process and into the men running. And that's why I wrote the book.
LAMB: How did you do it, to be different?
MR. SIMON: I'm not sure the idea was so different. I'd like to think the execution was. That you just go out and you look--you try to look at the events with a fresh eye. And that means you're not doing daily journalism. Daily journalism on a campaign is--is very difficult, and in--in--in some ways, it's a--it's a very draining experience to do a fresh story every day, sometimes seven days a week.
Fortunately, as an author, I could lay back, spend more time with the candidates, more time with their staffs. I could drop off the campaign, go ahead of the campaign, and simply try to look at the process with a new and interesting eye--with a new eye--hopefully, looking for those things that civilians, ordinary people, not part of the campaign process, would find fascinating.
LAMB: You wrote this: `He laser-locks me with eyes so deep and so blue that looking into them is like falling into a swimming pool.' Who were you talking about?
MR. SIMON: Bill Clinton. If you go out into the crowds after Bill Clinton speaks, and many reporters have, you--and interview people, you find the same comment over and over again, whether you're in Petaluma or Poughkeepsie. And it's, `He made me feel like I was the only person in the crowd.'
LAMB: When'd you meet him?
MR. SIMON: I first met him when he ran for president the first time in 1992. I interviewed him on Air Force One for this book in 1996. And also, he came down to the White House briefing room for an informal chat with reporters right after Election Day in 1996. Since then, I've had an Oval Office interview with him, but that's not part of the book.
But it's fascinating to see him--we're on Air Force One in--if it were oval, it would be called the flying Oval Office, but it--since it's a rectangle, it's not. And it's after a regular speech in Ohio, and
what is fascinating to the president is all the neat stuff that people gave him at the University of Ohio. They gave him sweat shirts and sweat pants. One woman on one stop gave him an entire suit of clothes. He gets, you know, beer mugs and stuff. And perhaps it's because he grew up in--in reasonably--well, middle-class circumstances, he really likes to get neat stuff, and this is what he was showing me.
And he was--he knows how to use his physical presence. He's a tall, big man; he tends to loom over you. And he knows how to use his body to sometimes intimidate or silence. But he also is very, very good at
disarming you and making you feel relaxed and making you feel like he's an ordinary guy who cares about you.
LAMB: You have, for a long time, written a column.
MR. SIMON: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Did you ever take a stand for or against him in your column?
MR. SIMON: I'm sure I've taken stands--I know I've taken stands both for and against him in--in the column and for and against Bob Dole and for and against Ross Perot and probably for and against Larry King,
too. The beauty of a column is not that you have--I don't feel you have to hammer it into some consistent ideological stance, but you just call 'em as you see 'em from day to day.
LAMB: There are surprises in your book, and this one was a surprise for me. I'm gonna read it out loud. `While I was interviewing a shopper'--this is in New Hampshire--`I got slammed in the head and shoved to the side by a cameraman. As I struggled to stay on my feet, I looked at the side of his camera and saw a C-SPAN decal. I couldn't believe it. Getting whacked in the head by C-SPAN was like getting kneed in the groin by Mother Teresa. It was not so much the pain as the surprise.'
MR. SIMON: You just expect more of C-SPAN, Brian.
LAMB: I--I must say, that was a surprise. I mean, you remember where that happened?
MR. SIMON: Sure. It was in a little grocery store in, I believe, Sunapee, New Hampshire, upcountry New Hampshire. And I was describing the media frenzy--the media horde which anyone who has been watching television in the last two weeks doesn't really need described again to them because we've seen it. It's the feeding frenzy that takes place when there are too many journalists, especially those carrying
40 pounds of cold steel on their shoulder, and--and--around a single person.
And there is--well, if you're a pencil-press guy like me, you can lay back and sort of describe the scene, and as long as you can still hear the candidate, you can be several feet or several yards from him or
her. For TV camera people and sound people, they live to get the picture. That's what they're being paid to do, and they have to get the picture, and the sound guy has to--or the sound person, rather, has to get the sound. And sometimes, unfortunately, it means literally trampling on people, as--as happened during the campaign and as we're seeing is--is happening now on a daily basis. It doesn't make the media look very good, I must say.
LAMB: Our own political editor here, Steve Scully, says that normally there might be 10 or 12 cameras at the White House and today, in the middle of this crisis or whatever you--however you characterize it, there are 50.
MR. SIMON: Right.
LAMB: How does that change things?
MR. SIMON: It--it changes things just in terms of--that there's a certain intimidation factor that goes on when anyone comes out of the White House and faces 50 camera people, 50 sound people, 50 reporters holding microphones and shouting questions. That doesn't usually lead to orderly and calm discourse. It usually leads to the person taking a look, heading the other way, and getting into his car and driving away or go--heading back in--inside the White House.
It--and it picks up in a much more subtle way a sense of frenzy, a sense that things have slipped out of control. And I think with this--the--the story that's going on now--I just anecdotally, based on anecdotal evidence, feel that the press is way out of--head of how much the public really wants to know about all this.
LAMB: As you know, we don't normally do this--record this this close to the actual night it goes on, and--and we actually don't usually do it as far ahead as--we actually just got a book a day ago...
MR. SIMON: Right.
LAMB: ...and we--I read the galley. What--for those who have never seen something like this, what is a galley?
MR. SIMON: The galley is the book without the hard cover, obviously, and without the fancy, colorful cover that goes around it. This is done up in advance and sent to reviewers and television shows in the hopes that someone, instead of throwing it out immediately, will take a read through it and say, `Hey, we should review this book,' or `Hey, we should have this guy on TV to talk about it.' And thank you.
LAMB: And--and just--but--but just before the show, I checked the bookstores, and they don't have any books yet.
MR. SIMON: They're just being shipped now. They are available online for those people who know how to use the Internet through amazon.com and Barnes & Noble's Web page. And they are getting into the bookstores even as we speak.
LAMB: Let me read another quote that you have in this book. Actually, I've put it on a piece of paper. And this comes from Michael McCurry. "To him, the press is a gaggle beyond the klieg lights that asks obnoxious questions to him," meaning the president. "They never see him struggle and try to shape policy to set aside bad arguments to see him struggle with--with hard calls. They have no measure of the man himself." When did he say that?
MR. SIMON: He said that in the last days or perhaps just after the '96 campaign ended; I think after the '96 campaign ended. And I also think there's a lot of truth to that on both sides. First of all, the
Clintons, even before the events of these last two weeks, didn't like the--didn't like the press and don't like the press. They see themselves as having won--the president sees himself as having won his
first election in spite of the press. The press has always been an enemy to him. On the other hand, I think McCurry is correct as far as he goes in saying that we don't get to see the president make the hard call; we don't see him in his contemplative moods; we don't see him wrestling with world problems. But part of the reason is that we're kept away.
The quote--there's a quote that begins each chapter of the book, and the quote that begins the chapter on Mike McCurry--I'm paraphrasing it a little--is that "the method of modern presidency is to control the
news flow 24 hours a day." Obviously now they can't control the news flow, but during the campaign, they could, and they dribble out to the press and to the public little bits of the president that they want
the people to see.
The downside is if people don't feel they really know the president when a crisis comes, they can abandon him quickly.
LAMB: Another quote. "Hillary"--this is from a White House staffer. "Hillary no longer trusted people within the White House." You're talking about these Oval Office...
MR. SIMON: Yes.
LAMB: ...yellow Oval Office on the second floor, meaning...
MR. SIMON: Yellow oval room in--in the residence of the White House, the non-public area of the White House. It's on the second floor. The Truman Balcony comes off of it.
LAMB: And when did they have those meetings in--before this campaign?
MR. SIMON: During the campaign, they had them frequently; now they're down to once a week. The top staff, both political staff and policy staff and camp--and White House staff of the president would gather in this room with very ornate French furniture, and a portable screen would be set up, and the president would be shown his latest poll numbers. No president in history has polled as much as Bill Clinton. He really wants to see those polls, and he believes in those polls. And they would also screen the latest commercials for him and he--would make comments about him.
What happened after the publication of Bob Woodward's book that came out during the campaign--called "The Choice," I believe--was that Hillary was quoted about having "seances"--I think he didn't quite use that word--with the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt and all that. And it--the stuff--that information clearly came from people close to the first lady. And when she read that book, she felt that she couldn't trust anyone anymore in the White House.
What it did was two things: It--it isolated her even further from people who were around who probably liked her a lot--I mean, she picked her own staff, and--and not all of them are leakers. So it tends to isolate her even further. But it probably also tended to bring the president and the first lady closer together, since I--I think by the time the campaign ended, they felt they were the only two people that could be trusted.
LAMB: The--the quote again from the White House staffer: "Hillary no longer trusted people within the White House. She stopped coming to meetings. And Gore operated the same way. There was a--a cone of silence around them. They only talked to people in a very small"--I can't even read my own...
MR. SIMON: Circle?
LAMB: Circ--yeah. Thank you. Those...
MR. SIMON: I wrote it.
LAMB: ...yeah--"circle of those they felt they could really trust."
MR. SIMON: I--it's true. The vice president is a very careful person. He was probably only not careful once when he made fund-raising calls from the White House, and he paid for that lack of carefulness. But he, too, saw what was going on and withdrew. And as some White House staffers will say, when they enter the staff meetings in the morning, they wonder among themselves, `Who here is writing a book? Who's gonna sell his memoirs? Who's leaking to Wolf Blitzer? Who's leaking to The Washington Post or The New York Times or hopefully the Chicago Tribune?' And it--it tends to cut people off from a free and open discussion.
LAMB: After you found out what Josh King does for a living, did that change the way you look at every Bill Clinton appearance?
MR. SIMON: It does. Josh King is this wonderful young guy--he was 31 when I did the book--who, as he puts it, works on the optics and theatrics of the presidency. He has since left and gone to work for a major corporation. He only left a few weeks ago from the White House. But he is--he never studied TV; he's just obviously, at age 31, a child of television. He never grew up in an America that didn't have television. And so he would concentrate on things that I never thought about in my entire life. There is a coherence to television news that I never thought about. And just as news stories usually start with the most important fact first and the second most important and whatever, TV stories almost always start with a wide shot, meaning Bill Clinton is in Chicago today--they might show you a picture of Chicago; a medium shot of Bill Clinton, who he--who is he on stage with? He's on stage with Mayor Daley. A cutaway, going to the audience members; the audience is awake, asleep, happy, sad, booing, cheering. And then the close-up; Bill Clinton speaks. And at that point, you hear the audio of Bill Clinton speaking.
The White House did a study; Josh King did a study. And they found that the close-up took the most amount of time; it got the longest part of any TV news show for obvious reasons. The listeners have to hear what the president is saying, and so they--it has to slow down and you have to watch it.
But they said to themselves, `We can pack more information into this close-up. Usually, it's just the head of the president. It's a very McLuhanesque concept from the days of Marshall McL--McLuhan. And so Josh King invented banners that would be in back of the president so it wouldn't look funny on the stage, but he knew exactly how many feet behind the president to put them so that they would be in focus. And the banners would say, `Building a Better America,' `Building a Better Future,' or whatever, whatever the message of the day or the week or the month was. And that was to pack just a little extra information into the shot of the president.
Josh would pick the color of the pompons that would be handed out to people to wave in the crowds, 'cause it made a pleasing blur for the TV cameras for the cutaway. He would pick the colors to go with the
state: orange for Arizona and green for Florida. He would determine how high the stage would be so that people could hold up signs and not block the TV cameras.
None of this makes a man win the presidency, but all of it goes as small parts into building a whole image. And Josh was typical of a campaign staff that was almost, as I think I say in the book, maniacal in its attention to detail, if--if there's a good sense to maniacal. I'm trying to use it in a good sense. They cared about that.
The president's chief opponent, Bob Dole--much too often, not even the microphone worked, or it was fuzzy or you couldn't hear it or people would hold up signs and it would block his face, simply because that was a campaign who didn't care about the theatrics and optics of campaigning. And they paid a price for it.
LAMB: And you went with the president this week. Where?
MR. SIMON: I went with the president this week to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and then to La Crosse, Wisconsin.
LAMB: And what's your job--full-time job now?
MR. SIMON: My full-time job is as a--the White House correspondent of the Chicago Tribune.
LAMB: How long have you done that?
MR. SIMON: Two whole weeks. Three whole weeks now. I lost track of time there. They've been a busy three whole weeks.
LAMB: What were you doing before this?
MR. SIMON: Before that, I was writing a column for America Online, which I still continue, a syndicated newspaper column for Creators Syndicate, which I continue, doing this book. Before that, I was a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, and before that, I was a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.
LAMB: And if people want to find you on America Online now, how do they get there?
MR. SIMON: If they want to find my column, they should go to the keyword and type in `news,' and they'll eventually find it. If they want to write me, e-mail me, they shall--they should e-mail me at
LAMB: And that is on the screen as we speak.
MR. SIMON: Wonderful.
LAMB: I--I've got another name I want you to talk about. And--and--well, let me first ask you about this week. Did you see any evidence that the Josh King activity was being used now?
MR. SIMON: Not so much now. The president is--is not in full campaign mode. He's in more of a presidential dignity mode, and dignity is an important thing for him to regain at the White House. There was a very nice outline of a waving flag behind the president's head on the stage, but they're not trying to pack as much information into the speeches as they were during the campaign.
But on the other hand, as in all White House events, it was almost flawlessly designed for both TV cameras and the audience in the hall. It's very easy to go too far the other way and say, `These--this event
is for TV; that's how most people are going to see it.' And then you get the TVs setting up in front of the people who have waited eight or nine hours to see the candidate, and the people start screaming at the
TV people, and the TV people and print people say, `Hey, it's not my fault.'
At the event in Champaign-Urbana, for instance, there was a--a huge riser for television, as there always is with the president. And--but the seats behind it were blocked out so nobody could sit there, so nobody was going to get a seat that had a blocked view of the president. Again, there's a real attention to detail at the White House on that kind of thing.
LAMB: During this recent period at the White House, we see names coming back like Harry Thomason, also Harold Ickes. And they're in your book. And here's a quote from Harry Thomason. Who--what was he doing when you wrote the book at--or during the campaign?
MR. SIMON: Producing--well, during the campaign, he was helping out as an adviser both for the debates and for certain staged events. After the campaign, when I interviewed him, he was back in Hollywood
producing movies and TV shows.
LAMB: And here's his quote: "TV shows and movies and political events are all the same. They are all designed to move people. People in Washington try to make politics some sort of a deep secret, like a messianic handshake. It's not." And...
MR. SIMON: Like a Masonic handshake.
LAMB: I'm sorry.
MR. SIMON: That's OK.
LAMB: At--you know, these--my handwriting's terrible. A Masonic handshake. What does he mean by that?
MR. SIMON: He means--and I think it's--it's very true; and it was also written way before "Wag the Dog"--that politics is about moving people. TV shows are about moving people, selling a message, making them laugh, making them cry or, one might say, selling a product. You're selling the products that are sold during the commercial.
A political campaign is selling a product: the person running for president, running for governor, running for senator. And the skills that people have in selling entertainment, products and presidents are all the same. And the key players that Bill Clinton has always surrounded himself with are people who not just understand politics, but people who understand salesmanship, image and theatrics.
And it was no surprise when I--I read and then saw--I was coming out of the White House the other day, and Michael Sheehan, the president's drama and speech coach, was running in. Now he's quoted extensively
throughout the book, prepping President Clinton for the--his debates with Bob Dole.
Harry Thomason, when this crisis really got bad, the first two people called back were Harry Thomason, who has always helped Bill Ti--Bill Clinton out in times of crises through staged, managed events, and
Harold Ickes, who is not only a--an experienced political operative, but understands showmanship; he understands how to put on a performance. And this is what we've seen the president go to in these tr--in this trip, even though it was preplanned at Champaign and La Crosse, Wisconsin, is to exercise his strong card, which is connecting with the American people.
LAMB: Who is Michael Sheehan?
MR. SIMON: Michael Sheehan is a Yale drama graduate, used to be with the Folgers Shakespeare Theater & Library in Washington, DC. and now runs a very successful consulting firm where he handles both politicians and people in private industry in training them to give speeches, press conferences and TV performances. He prepped Lloyd Bentsen for his famous debate with Dan Quayle. And although he doesn't admit to it, he doesn't deny, either, that he actually wrote and prepared Bentsen for the famous `I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. And, Senator Quayle, you're no Jack Kennedy' line.
But Michael Sheehan actually was even more important in these debates because he realized something that the Dole campaign never realized, which was going negative with slicing little comments like what Lloyd Bentsen used on Dan Quayle no longer worked in 1996, and that's because the media had changed.
Now the media assembles focus groups--usually in mid-America, but it can be anywhere in America--to watch the debates and then the print media, for instance, The Washington Post, a lot of papers report on what the focus groups said. Focus groups hate negative campaigning. Ordinary people watching it together do not like slicing little lines. And so Clinton was prepared that no matter how negative Bob Dole got, not to respond in kind.
LAMB: When did you first meet Michael Sheehan?
MR. SIMON: I first met Michael Sheehan in 1996 while the campaign was going on, and then I interviewed him at some length after it was all over. The phenomenon--why these books come out late is that--the phenomenon is people involved in the campaign are extremely reluctant to talk to you candidly because they're afraid of what they might--whatever they might say might affect the outcome of the campaign, and obviously both sides want to win. After the campaign is over, they are much more likely to both give you time and I--and I think a lot more candor.
LAMB: Here's a quote from Michael Sheehan in the debate hall, and we're talking about the debates of '96. Michael Sheehan had already picked out what Clinton would wear. Quote, "He usually has two suits he's comfortable with," Sheehan said.
MR. SIMON: Right.
LAMB: "On the night of the debates, I go out on the set and hold each up against the background. The suits are both navy, but a lot of navy has gray. Some has black. It's different. You have to know the difference. He would leave two or three ties out for us to pick, a little color is good. One I picked was blue with white checks. I wanted a little liveliness."
MR. SIMON: Right. No one should hear that or read that and think Michael Sheehan is a goofy guy who--who goes around doing silly things like picking out suits and--and--and ties. In fact, he is a guy who pays attention to little details like that. He, in his offices--and he's showed me through them--has a mini TV studio--in fact, it's not a mini TV studio, it's a TV studio--with a lectern, with a camera, with lights in your eyes like I now have in my eyes. And he trains people who are unused to television, first-time candidates, corporate presidents who have to go on television and announce something, and just how unreal the situation is. And what he tells people is the worst advice you can get is to go on television and be yourself. The camera doesn't really want--it--it's not a real circumstance. If we were sitting here without the cameras and the lights, we would be--probably be talking in a different way. Our posture would be different. The tones of our voices would be different. Our body language would be different. He trains people to use the medium of television.
LAMB: What did you learn about the famous George Bush looking at his watch debate in '92?
MR. SIMON: That's really the cleverness both of--of the--of all the people in the Clinton campaign and Harry Thomason and I think Sheehan. I'm not sure Sheehan was part of that decision. It was decided in 1992 at the presidential debates that there could be no reaction shots.
LAMB: They agreed among the candidates?
MR. SIMON: Agreed among the candidates. The candidates have taken over the debates. The networks carry the debates, but they no longer write the rules of the debates. The candidates write the rules of the debates. And it was decided that there would be no reaction shots. When Bill Clinton was talking, the cameras were not allowed to show a picture of George Bush's face or Ross Perot's face. However, the Clinton campaign wanted to get around that. They thought--they believed they had a master performer and that the other two guys on the stage were not nearly as good, and probably the other two guys had not been prepped as Bill Clinton was prepped on how to react when the other person is talking.
So when--while Bill Clinton was talking, he moved from his little stool to where George Bush had to be in the picture behind him. And it was at that moment that George Bush was caught looking at his watch, looking bored and impatient. And it hurt George Bush. A lot of people reacted to--to that picture. And that was a product of Harry Thomason and the White House campaign team--at that time it was just the campaign team--making a grid of the TV studio, numbering them off, and rehearsing with Bill Clinton for hours that when you say this word, and they did this in '96, too, you will step to grid B-12. And when you say this grid--this word you'll be on this square of the grid. They moved him around.
In the '99--in the 1996 debates, it was expected that Dole would go negative. They felt--Clinton people felt that if Bill Clinton was standing close to Dole, looming over him, and, as I said, he's a big guy, that that would intimidate Dole, and that it's really difficult, especially in a man as polite as Bob Dole is, and he is a polite guy, that he could not insult a man standing that near him. So they had Clinton moving out as near as--as he possibly could to Bob Dole.
LAMB: And does this stuff work, in your opinion, from what you've seen?
MR. SIMON: It's hard to take any small piece and say Bill Clinton won because he stood close to Bob Dole, Bill Clinton won because he had orange Mylar. Obviously, Bill Clinton won for a lot of reasons. Maybe people liked his positions better. You know, positions and policies are important. But it is impossible just to say--and we have a perfect example--to say only policy counts, only positions count. And the press is really wrong to concentrate on the process. Bob Dole was that kind of candidate. He had all sorts of policies and positions and he could not sell them to the American people. Heck, he couldn't even explain them coherently to the American people.
If there's one of the points of the book, I think it's that no one gets to run for president on his terms. The terms you run on are the terms set by the American people, and that means what the American people are receptive to. And if you can't get them to listen and you can't sell yourself, then you're probably not gonna win.
LAMB: I wrote this down, I wanted to ask you what it was, bacterial foam?
MR. SIMON: Oh. Bill Clinton's favorite activity, genuinely favorite activity, he did it yesterday in both La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Champaign, Illinois, is to work the ri--rope line after the speech. He likes the speech, but he loves the rope line. The rope line is sometimes literally a rope. Sometimes it's a--a barrier, what the White House calls bicycle stands of metal barriers, simply to keep people back so they can't get too close to the president of the United States.
After almost every speech, and I think probably every speech, Bill Clinton climbs down from the stage, walks along the rope line, and shakes the hands of people. Not just the people in the first row, but in the second and third row. He reaches his hands out into them. The Secret Service hates that because it opens up his--his body. It's a very vulnerable and unnatural thing to do, really, in a crowd, to--to open yourself up like that. He lives for that. He loves touching the people. He loves talking to the people even for a few seconds.
Anyway, to get to your point, so many people clutch at his hands, so many people grab at him, so many people tear at--his--his wedding ring he sometimes has to take off because it tears his flesh, people try to
take his cuff links and his watch, either on purpose or by accident, that his hands are badly nicked and scarred and cut at the end of all of these. And back in the limousine, an agent or an aide hands him a
can of antibacterial foam so that he can put it on his hands so he doesn't catch any, you know, diseases just by being cut up like that.
LAMB: The other thing you noticed--you talk about in the book is the armor that most people don't see.
MR. SIMON: Yeah. This was a--a--a Josh King improvement. Most people don't see it, but next time you watch a presidential speech, right at the base of the lectern there is--and on both sides of it, I believe it's--it's either two feet high or a little higher than that, steel plates. The purpose of this is that in case a terrible event should occur and sh--someone should stand up in the audience and--and start shooting that the Secret Service would be able to throw the president down behind the steel plates. And they call it `the armor.'
Well, the armor is very ugly. It's just a steel plate. And many presidents have covered it up with--with blue cloth to make it look less ugly. But Josh King and others--and usually it's covered up by--sometimes it's covered up by ferns to make it invisible. Josh King decided this was another chance to get your message out. So he started putting out post--posters on the armor--you know, `Building a bridge to the 21st century,' whatever the message of the day was, just to cram one more little message into that campaign moment.
LAMB: You quote a couple times somebody named Gil Troy.
MR. SIMON: Gil Troy is a historian--a Canadian historian at--in--at McGill University, which I believe is in Toronto. And he's written a terrific book called "See How They Ran," which is just a history--anecdotal history of presidential campaigning, not any policy; just campaign mode from George Washington, who didn't campaign, to--I believe he gets all the way up to Bill Clinton's first campaign. And it's just crammed full of--of interesting anecdotes. It's some--some interesting insights.
I think the most interesting, especially considering what's going on now, is that at a certain time period in American history the press no longer wrote about the personal life of the presidents. When we first
started out as a republic, the--the press was--was vile. It would--it would write anything. Some people may think we've come full circle. But then there was a period of greater responsibility and the press
decided that, generally speaking, a president's personal life did not count.
Troy writes, and I think convincingly, what helps change that--one of the things that helped changed that was the rise in popularity of Freudian psychology of post-World War II--World War II era, a fact where we come to believe that everything in a person's background and character now affects what they do. Combined with that was Watergate. The press, I think, learned a lesson from that and the lesson is that character counts. It's not only what these people say as president and do as president, but it's who they are and who they are before they got in the office.
LAMB: I wrote this quote down, "Since the"--this is Gil Troy.
MR. SIMON: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: "Since the turn of the century, politicians and journalists have shied away from publicly discussing candidates' private lives. But that changed when presidential candidates became personalities..."
MR. SIMON: Right.
LAMB: "...and people wanted to know more about them."
MR. SIMON: And--and this is the double-edged sword of what Bill Clinton has done. He has sold himself relentlessly to the American people as a friend, as an acquaintance. It's called `the Oprah effect' in the White House. He's someone Americans feel they know because all candidates now, in the current era--all campaigns want to sell candidates as people just like you and me, not on a high pedestal, but ordinary folks. The difficulty is and the reason it's a double-edged sword is that if you do anything to betray the trust of the American people, they feel that it's not just a politician who's done something wrong, but a family acquaintance who--who's really betrayed their trust.
LAMB: You talk a lot in the center of this book about Jesse Jackson, and the reason I want to bring this up is because, if I read correctly, he has been calling Chelsea Clinton in this time period offering his condolences and trying to help and all that. Here's a paragraph. It says, `Clinton had used and humiliated Jackson. But in politics what goes around comes around and now in the 1996 campaign season, Jackson had a perfect chance for revenge.'
MR. SIMON: Right.
LAMB: Later, though, you say at the end of this chapter, `At only one point during the long negotiation with the White House did Jackson overreach. He asked to participate in the prep sessions for Clinton's
two presidential debates. His request was refused.' But you--you talk about where they were--you know, they--I don't know whether y--they didn't like each other or whatever. How is it that now after all they
went through that Jesse Jackson is reaching out to the family?
MR. SIMON: Because they're both very canny politicians and--and, also, I--I think there is a--a human side to--to Jesse Jackson who wants to help people wh--when they're in trouble. They've had their political ups and downs and this chapter talks about what is going on now which is that the care and feeding of Jesse Jackson is a full-time job at the White House. They had a falling out in '92 because of the Sister Souljah incident--I won't go through the whole thing, it's gone through in the book--but where Clinton attacks a--an African-American rap singer for what Clinton terms using racist lyrics. Jesse Jackson is offended by that.
In '96--it seems strange now considering Clinton won handily, but in '96, the major concern of the White House was that no Democrat, especially Jesse Jackson, challenge Bill Clinton in the primaries. And they used both carrots and sticks to make sure Jesse Jackson didn't do that. Jesse Jackson didn't run in the primaries. He's since been made a special envoy to Africa and he's since said some very favorable things about the president. But he also will not say whether he'll run in 2000 or not against Al Gore. He's a man who keeps his options open.
LAMB: There's another moment where you introduce us to William Daley. Why was he a subject in the book and who is he?
MR. SIMON: William Daley--Bill Daley is the secretary of Commerce who at the time of the--who still is, of course, the brother of the mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley and was a--was and is a close, personal friend of the president; not just a golf partner of the president, but a solo golf partner of the president. Bill Daley also ran, helped stage manage and sort of raised the money for and put together the Democratic Convention of 1996, a convention like no other. It may have looked the same on the screen, but the White House made the very canny judgment that by 1996 national political conventions were unspeakably dull and nobody really wanted to watch them anymore.
And so they decided that they would make the big show a train trip from West Virginia to Illinois--actually, to Indiana and then the president flew--helicoptered to Chicago for the convention, showing up just on the last day. And that was a--another sense of how the White House moved the president around and determined his schedule always with an eye to just how engaged the American public would be at any moment by what he was gonna do.
LAMB: This insight: `Daley'--this is from your book, `Daley does not like being surrounded by people he doesn't know.' Quote, "`He asks me a private question at the Bears game,' Daley says."
MR. SIMON: It's Richard Daley now talking, not William. Just wanted to point that out.
LAMB: "`He asks me a private question at the Bears game,' Daley says.
And I say, `Mr. President, I can't answer you.'
`These two guys sitting here, the Secret Service agents, I don't know them. A week from now, if what I say shows up in a gossip column, I--I have got to blame them. So I'm not talking.'
And you know what? After, one of them comes up to me and says, `Thank you.'"
What's that all about and, because we've heard about the Secret Service this week, what kind of constrictions do they have?
MR. SIMON: It's--it's advice Bill Clinton probably wished--wishes he had taken. Daley, Richard Daley, being a mayor, has a less huge security contingent than the president anyway. But Daley likes his privacy. Bill Clinton almost never has privacy. But it's easy to forget when you have security around you that these are living, thinking human beings with feelings of their own and, you know, if subpoenaed, they're gonna have to testify what they saw and heard. And Daley has basically given Clinton advice.
They're at a Bears game together, watching the game, and the president is asking Daley sensitive--questions about sensitive matters. And Daley is saying, `Hey, shut up. You know, if you want to talk about
sensitive matters, wait till we're completely alone with nobody around so it's--number one, it's not gonna get out; or, number two, we can both deny it later if it does get out.'
LAMB: Who calls Harold Ickes a maniac and who was he during the 1996 campaign?
MR. SIMON: Harold Ickes was the deputy chief of staff at the White House, but, in fact, was the camp--the White House campaign manager without portfolio. He didn't have that title. He ran the campaign.
He determined where the money went. He determined the overall movements of--of the president and what he would do, obviously, in concert wi--with others. He didn't determine policy. That's not his thing.
He's a--people called him a maniac because he--he has a--a long and colorful history including a--biting a man on the leg because a sound system went bad. It seems like a maniacal and silly thing, but even
into 1996, if the sound ever went bad during a presidential speech, Harold Ickes would go absolutely insane. He's a--a master user of profanity and he would swear a--a blue streak. And, therefore, the presidential sound system rarely went bad. On Bob Dole's campaign, where there was no maniac, the sound system worked or didn't work.
LAMB: What's the--the bite story?
MR. SIMON: It--it goes back to, I think, a campaign in New York. Herman Badillo, a borough president, was running, I think, for mayor.
MR. SIMON: '73. There's something about the sound system going bad. It's a little confused. Harold Ickes jumps on a guy and I think begins throttling him. And then a Good Samaritan tries to get in between 'em and Ickes ends up biting the Good Samaritan. Someone calls the cops and Harold's girlfriend pulls him out of the fray and they leave through the back door. It's--it's a story he's--he's--that appears in every profile of him. He's a little tired of talking about it, but he doesn't deny it.
LAMB: `"I don't know," Ickes said 21 years later'--did he talk to you, by the way...
MR. SIMON: Yeah. Sure.
LAMB: ...this quote for the book?
MR. SIMON: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: `"I don't know," Ickes said 21 years later, "but there's an enormous anger within me. I don't know why or where it comes from, but it's still there."'
Wha--how often do we see the anger when he's around the president or in the White House or in politics?
MR. SIMON: He doesn't express his anger around the president. The president is pretty good at expressing his--his own anger and it tends to intimidate others from showing theirs. But with the staff, Harold
was a screamer and--and--and a shouter. And he used that to get his way. He was also very close, physically, to the president during the campaign. It was at--when Air Force One would land and the doorway
would open and they would roll up the wheels, Bill Clinton, before every event, would suck in his gut and button his jacket and turn to Harold Ickes and say, `It's show time.' And that's how he approached
LAMB: When was the last word written for this book?
MR. SIMON: The last word--the book was submitted in March of '96.
LAMB: '96--no, '97.
MR. SIMON: I'm sorry. You're absolutely right. March of '97.
LAMB: So a little bit less than a year ago.
MR. SIMON: Little bit less than a year ago. Book production can sometimes let--take a little longer than having a child.
LAMB: When did you start talking to the Chicago Tribune about going to work for them on a full-time basis?
MR. SIMON: A few months ago, after the book was already written. But, actually, no one asked to see the book and I didn't show it to 'em. So they're not responsible for anything in it.
LAMB: So I assume you didn't know when you wrote this book about the contrast between 1964 in the Chicago Tribune and 1996 in the Chicago Tribune talking about the Dole...
MR. SIMON: What a good anecdote to bri...
LAMB: ...the Dole...
MR. SIMON: ...to bring up. Yes. Yeah.
LAMB: ...hand. What's that all about? And you--you're telling tales on your own...
MR. SIMON: Yeah. I get to embarrass my new employers, don't I? Bob--the Bob Dole campaign thought that his terrible war wound, in which much of his right shoulder was blown away, would be a humanizing factor. And so they sold it as--as an interview speaking point. Dole would talk about it a lot. But Dole had always talked about it a lot. But it seemed that every few years the press would run a story saying, `For the first time Bob Dole is speaking about that terrible wound which so shaped his life.' Well, you can go back decades and Dole is still speaking for the first time about it.
LAMB: Let me--let me just read what the Chicago Tribune headline was in 1964, and I'm sure you're loving me doing this. Representative Dole Triumphs Over His War Wound. And then in 1996, 32 years later, the Chicago Tribune headline was: Sharing His Pain Never Before, as Bob Dole discussed his war injuries in public.
MR. SIMON: Right. I mean, it's--it's--wasn't the Tribune. It was everybody who--sometimes we just don't have time or just don't do the basic things of going back and reading the clips. But using that wound first as--in Bob Dole's first election, after the war, obviously, there was a lot more sympathy to returning veterans, especially wounded veterans, that there is now. But throughout his political career, he has used the fact of his wound to--as a campaign point.
LAMB: You also say that he was misleading and things like going back to the Italian town where he supposedly was wounded during the war, and he really wasn't?
MR. SIMON: Yeah. He wasn't as misleading as his campaign was. The campaign would run commercials and accounts were printed that the campaign never corrected and that Bob Dole never corrected about the circumstances of the wound and--and--and this--this little town in Italy that adopted Bob Dole and had plaques to Bob Dole which, in fact, as--the place where he was wounded, which in the--fact is many miles from where he was wounded. But the best source of the Bob Dole wound story is Bob Dole's autobiography. I mean, he's absolutely 100 percent honest in his own autobiography and it just sort of should be a--a cautionary note to reporters such as myself, who's gotten it wrong in the past, to--to always go back and read the words of the candidate as a starting point.
LAMB: `In addition, you had a staff that didn't trust the candidate to speak for himself and, having been publicly humiliated, felt less and less loyalty and more and more hostility to the person they were trying to put in the White House.' Throughout your book, you keep saying that the staff of Bob Dole was enormously or famously or infamously disloyal.
MR. SIMON: They were. The--the leaks that came out of the Dole staff, I think it's safe to say, were unprecedented--negative leaks about the candidate himself--were unprecedented both in their volume and--and the critical nature of them. You would pick up The New York Times or The Washington Post or any other paper, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and you would see really negative stuff about the candidate's inability to deliver a speech as written. And the source would always be an unnamed Dole staff member.
What they were trying to do was communicate to the candidate through the press 'cause they felt they could not communicate to the candidate directly 'cause Dole just didn't want to hear it. It enraged Dole, I
think rightfully so. And it--it was--in some cases, was borne out of irritation. Some staff members just ended up not liking him at the end. But in the case of other staff members, they thought it was one last desperate attempt to try to tell him, `Look, you're not communicating. You really have to start giving these speeches.'
LAMB: `Jill Zuckman kept an actual file marked: indignities.' Who is Jill Zuckman?
MR. SIMON: Jill Zuckman is a reporter for the Boston Globe who covered Bob Dole.
LAMB: And you write, `So that she would never forget how she and her newspaper had been treated. Reporters so bitterly resented their treatment that they developed deep grudges against Warfield'--who's Warfield?
MR. SIMON: Nelson Warfield was the press secretary for the Bob Dole campaign.
LAMB: `...and other members of the Dole press staff. Some reporters wanted to tell Warfield off to his face, but they had trouble finding the guy.'
MR. SIMON: It was a big difference between the Dole campaign and the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign felt the way to manage the news was to flood the press with information. They were aided by the fact that he was an incumbent president and they had a huge staff paid with tax dollars, not just a--a campaign staff. But there was always someone around who could answer a question, give you a handout, return a phone call.
The Dole staff, which was not small by any means, it was spending several million dollars, the Dole press staff, felt that the way to manage the news was to cut off the news flow, starve the press for i--for in--of information so that the press would only have to--could only print or broadcast the tiny dribs and drabs that the Dole staff fed it. And it was very hard at some points in the campaign to get a call returned, to get the Dole message to the people.
LAMB: Where is Roger Simon from?
MR. SIMON: Roger Simon is from Chicago, Illinois.
LAMB: Where'd you go to college?
MR. SIMON: The University of Illinois where the president just spoke in Champaign, Urbana.
LAMB: What did you study?
MR. SIMON: I studied English.
LAMB: What year did you graduate?
MR. SIMON: I graduated in 1970.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
MR. SIMON: I have a wife and relatives. My wife is a news editor at The Washington Post.
LAMB: What--what's her job?
MR. SIMON: She designs the paper--helps design the paper, helps--lays it out, determining what the stories look like and what the pictures look like.
LAMB: And her name is?
MR. SIMON: Marcia Kramer.
LAMB: And you ded--dedicated this book: `To Marcia's parents, Ann and Martin Kramer and to my parents Pauline and Sheldon Simon.' Where do they all live?
MR. SIMON: They're all deceased. But they all were from the Chicago area.
LAMB: Why did you get in this business?
MR. SIMON: Oh, boy, there's a good question. I got in this business out of a love for writing, and, also, don't forget, I'm a child of the '60s, I went to the school of--I went to college from '66 through '70; the feeling that I could do good, serve society by writing about important things.
LAMB: We're about finished, but I wanted to read this because there is humor in your book and that we--I don't know that we were very humorous here. `But except for campaign appearances, Dole almost never goes to Russell anymore,' and here's the line I wanted to read, `and Elizabeth would not live there if you named the town after her and put in a Starbucks and a Talbots.'
MR. SIMON: Yeah. I...
LAMB: Is that the way you use your humor?
MR. SIMON: Yeah. I--there's an edge to some of it. There's no point in--in too many shades of gray in a book. You've gotta make a point and I--I try to make points with humor sometimes.
LAMB: Where'd you get the name "Show Time"?
MR. SIMON: The "Show Time" was about the 86th title. Naming a book is a group process. I think we started out with `Pageant,' and then we went to `Seduction,' and then, because it describes the circuslike
atmosphere and the theatrical atmosphere of the campaign, we ended up with "Show Time."
LAMB: This is what the cover looks like, in your bookstores next week. It's called "Show Time" by Roger Simon. Thank you very much.
MR. SIMON: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1992. 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.