Mark Leibovich On This Town
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HH: Very special day today. You’re just going to want to pull up a chair or stay in your driveway listening, because for the entire show, I’m talking with Mark Leibovich, who is the chief national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine. He’s written a brand new book, This Town: Two Parties And A Funeral, Plus Plenty Of Valet Parking In America’s Gilded Capital, about Washington, D.C, which is of course a bestseller. It’s the hottest book of the summer. And there’s a long line of books. If people will remember going back to sort of Julia Philips for Hollywood, you’ll never eat lunch in this town again in ’91, or Barbarians At The Gate by Brian Burroughs and John Hilyer about Wall Street in the 80s, one of my favorites, Another City Not My Own by Dominic Dunne in 1997 about L.A. during O.J., and most recently, Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, which are really works of anthropology as well as sort of political science and reporting. And this is one of them. This Town is a terrific book. It is linked at Hughhewitt.com, it’s in bookstores everywhere, available at Amazon.com. And Mark Leibovich, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s great to have you.
ML: Hugh, it’s good to be here, and I’m actually just going to sit here and let you talk. I mean, you’re doing a great, great job here.
HH: Well, I very much enjoyed you. But remind me, I do think I met you at Tampa, didn’t I?
ML: We did. We met, I think, for the first time in Tampa at a, I think we met at a Chris Christie speech to the California delegation…
ML: …somewhere in Tampa. It was next to an IHOP. I remember that, because that’s where I actually had my breakfast.
HH: Yeah, it was at St. Pete’s Beach, yeah.
ML: Exactly. And then I think we were walking to the convention center the next day, and then we actually had our first real conversation about Darrell Issa and Kurt Bardella.
HH: Yup, yup.
ML: Yeah, so that was where…
HH: I thought, so this is our first interview on air, though.
HH: And I’m very glad that you’re helping me make this into a full what I call evergreen, meaning I think it will play a few times.
ML: Oh, I’m happy to.
HH: And plus, now people know you’ve committed to three hours. You can’t get mad and stalk off and do a Rather on me if I…
ML: That’s true, and I’m actually more worried about the bathroom.
HH: Okay, well, we’ll find a five minute break in here somewhere. Hey, I want to begin by giving you an odd compliment. You know who I think would love your book? Andrew Breitbart. Andrew was a pretty good friend of mine. He wasn’t very close.
HH: But I’ll leave it up to Larry O’Connor over at WMAL. Do you know Larry?
ML: I certainly know of him. I don’t think we’ve ever met.
HH: Well, I will leave it for Larry to decide, but I think Andrew would love the rawness, and I also think he would introduce This Town as an exhibit in his argument about how the media creates narratives which are wholly removed from the news. What do you think about that?
ML: You know, I think it’s extremely true. I mean, look, first of all, I think one of the amazing things sort of early in the feedback to this book has been first of all, the right really does seem to get it. And also, I mean, it’s very nonpartisan, because I think there is a level of revulsion the farther you get from Washington to how the media and sort of the wise guys in the pundit culture, and just the inside culture of both parties, does really kind of spin out a narrative, that you know, if you start listening to the same people, which everyone in Washington does, becomes self-perpetuating. And I mean, one of the things I did in the book is just give examples of things that become perpetuating, and ultimately go nowhere. I mean, I think one of the words you hear now is cycle. I mean, you won the cycle, or this cycle. And I don’t think that was a word, I don’t think, twenty years ago. And I think it’s like a perfect word in that just everything spins and spins and spins, and ultimately goes nowhere. But no, I mean, look, I mean this is a book about what Tom Coburn, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma, one of my favorite characters in the book, calls the permanent feudal class of Washington, D.C.
ML: And you know, there’s no term limits there. I mean, these are people who are there forever, and they’re doing very, very well for themselves.
HH: Now we’ll come back to the specifics. I’m going to say one of my observations, it’s really about three-fifths of This Town, because it’s very much about blue Washington, with a few head nods towards red Washington, and I’ll explain that maybe next segment. But I want to start with you, who Mark Leibovich is.
HH: First of all, your dad is named Miguel. Now I just haven’t heard of any Miguel Leibovich’s before. What’s that come from?
ML: You know, it’s a whole hodgepodge. I actually don’t, I should know better where it came from. There was a Europe, I mean, somewhere in Eastern Europe, there was a Russia stop. He went to Argentina, or he was born in Argentina, and he went up to first Tennessee, I guess, in the early 60s, and wound up in Western Massachusetts, and then wound up in Boston, and still alive today. So yeah, he’s a great man.
HH: Shout out to Miguel, then. And tell us where you were born and raised.
ML: I was born in the suburbs of Boston, right outside, where, right on the border of Waltham and Newton, which for anyone around there is basically 20 minutes outside of town, went to the University of Michigan.
ML: You’re not an Ohio State person?
HH: I am from Ohio. I went to the law school at the University of Michigan, but I am an Ohio man from Warren, Ohio, so I loathe Michigan.
ML: That’s fine.
HH: So you’re like Jonathan Chait. You and Chait are the Michigan men, then.
ML: He is a Michigan guy, although I do think that given the last few presidential elections, I think I’ve probably spent more time in Ohio total in the last few years than I did in my time at Michigan, but, or at least that I can remember, because that was a long time ago.
HH: What year did you get out of Michigan?
ML: ’87. I got out in ’87.
HH: Okay, so give us the professional path that leads you to the New York Times.
ML: Sure. Yeah, no, so I got out of college, I was postponing adulthood for a couple of years. I answered phones at a weekly newspaper in Boston. It was sort of a lefty newspaper called the Boston Phoenix.
HH: I know the Phoenix well, yeah.
ML: I moved to California when my then-fiancee got into medical school and went to the San Jose Mercury News for a number of years, and then got a little soft in California, decided I had to come back east, and the Washington Post business section gave me a ticket to the Post. And I always wanted to work at one of the major papers, and loved the Mercury News, I loved California, and miss it and wish I could go back there every day. But then went to the Post for nine years, and landed at the Times in 2006, and I started covering politics with the Post in 2002. So I’ve been at this a while, politics, and I’ve been through a few cycles, as we say now. And yeah, that’s where I am now. I moved over full-time to the Times Magazine about a year ago.
HH: One of the charming parts of This Town are your conversations with Ben Bradley when you were leaving to go to the New York Times, and I will let people enjoy them on their own, because they’re not really central to the book, but they are charming. They’re wonderful.
ML: Nor are they suitable for your radio station.
HH: No, the FCC would be all over Salem in about five seconds. All right, now you write a lot in the book about the neediness in D.C…
HH: …which I think is very, very astute. So what was your high school experience like? Did you arrive needing what a lot of people in D.C. need, which is affirmation that they’re really one of the cool kids?
ML: I think probably. I mean, I remember in high school I was just so focused on, actually, I was sort of a jock in high school. I played soccer, I played lacrosse, I played some football. And so I was sort of a cut up. I mean, my high school was one of these suburban high schools where people were, I mean, status was really, really important, and I think status is important in every high school. But I was not one of the elites. Let’s put it that way. I mean, I was never that serious a student.
HH: Which high school did you go to?
ML: Newton South High School.
HH: So Class of ’83?
ML: Class of ’83, exactly.
HH: All right. And so we’re going to go find the yearbook now and look at that.
ML: You could. I had a lot more hair then than I do now. That’s for sure. Actually, there are hints of a feather in that hair now. No, so I think, look, I mean, one of the, I think, almost clichés about Washington is that it mimics high school, and I think that that’s true to a point. But I also think that that’s a little bit outdated, because people eventually leave high school, and that used to be true of Washington. But people now stay in Washington.
HH: They never leave. You also mention in the Afterwards that your brother, Phil, died. When did that happen? What were the circumstances and the impact on you?
ML: God, what a great question. You read totally deep into this, and I’m very, very appreciative. Phil was my brother and best friend. He was three years younger. I was in college, and he was a passenger in his best friend’s car, and they were hit by a tow truck on the way up Saturday morning, an otherwise peaceful Saturday morning, and there was a speeding tow truck that was on the way to an accident, and hit Phil, or hit the car. And Phil was in a coma for a number of years…
HH: Oh, wow.
ML: …and really passed away five years later. And yeah, that was a rough few years. I mean, that was one of the reasons I moved back to Boston after college so I could see him and spend time with him, even though he wasn’t able to respond. It was important to be there for him. So that had a major impact. I mean, I think when you lose your only brother, and I mean, one of two siblings, and someone I was very close to, I think you’re very conscious of maybe succeeding for both. I mean, that’s a little bit pop psychoanalytic, but I think that…
HH: It would also make you very sensitive to fake grief.
ML: You know, Washington, there’s a lot of that. And that’s a really interesting point, because people, yes. I mean, the public mourning rituals of Washington, not to be totally cynical here, but you do realize that people do use people’s, other people’s misfortune as kind of a wedge into almost into their debt. I mean, politicians, and again, this is going to sound more cynical than I probably mean it to be, but politicians love to be the first one to call when so and so’s cousin dies, or so and so’s grandmother dies. And it’s a very, very easy way for politicians to get goodwill. Now in many cases, it’s extremely genuine, I think it comes from a good place. And I think compassion and goodwill is something that should be fostered whether it’s genuine or not. But I do think that you do become a little bit burned out on just the relentless gestures.
HH: Yeah, I’ll be back with Mark Leibovich to talk about that, the memorial services in his book, This Town, Tim Russert, Richard Holbrooke, Dan Inouye, Mike Wallace. We’ll talk about them all on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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Clip: Happy New Year to Mike Allen of Politico.com. Mike, welcome back, I hope your 2013 is off to a great start – MA: Well, it is, thank you, congratulations for your amazing success, Hugh, on all your different platforms.
HH: Mark, I’m going to be coming in and out of the breaks by dropping in little bits of the soundtrack of This Town from the far coast. And I chose to begin with Mike Allen for a very specific reason. But before that, I’ve got to pay you a very high compliment.
HH: My son just moved to D.C. after graduating from college. He is looking for a job on the Hill, and I said before you decide to stay, I want you to read This Town, and then just go in wide open. Get your eyes open as to what that town means, and what that career means. He loves politics, loves the game, has been helping me in the studio for years. So he knows this business. I wanted to ask you about your three girls, who if I’m right, are 6, 9 and 12 now.
HH: Do you want them to grow up and live in D.C. after they’re adults?
ML: You know, I want them, first of all, none of them seem to want to. I mean, I think they like it here. I mean, we’ve built a very nice home, and a very nice community. But they all seem to be intent on moving either to California or New York. Now this is from a very, very young age. I mean, my 6 year old probably hasn’t thought this through very much, and actually, I think her main objective is to stay as close to mom and dad as possible. I think that’ll change maybe 180 degrees in about, maybe four or five years, if my 12 year old is any indication. But no, look, I mean, D.C. is actually quite a nice place to raise kids, although I think that like places like in New York or maybe Beverly Hills or something, you do increasingly have to be aware of the level of sort of ostentatious wealth and status consciousness. It really, I think, does bleed into, to the values system a lot more than it used to.
HH: I’ve got to tell you, when my wife and I left in ’89…
HH: One of the great reliefs is we didn’t have to do that school thing, we didn’t have to worry about all of that stuff.
ML: I know.
HH: It’s a weird thing for kids to grow up with.
ML: It really, really is. We’ve been able to avoid it, just because our public schools have been pretty good in our neighborhood. But we might have to make one of these big decisions in the next few years. And hopefully, I’ll be able to afford it. But it’s not, no, it’s not fun, and I don’t want them going through that. But I think there’s really no choice.
HH: Now you pay attention to a lot of kids in this book, which I think is fascinating, one of whom is Luke Russert. Now I’ve never spoken to Luke. I only interviewed his dad twice…
HH: And enormous respect, but I disagreed with everything he said…
HH: And he got a little touchy with me a couple of times.
HH: But nevertheless, Luke Russert seems to me to actually have the chops to have the job.
HH: And has he talked to you yet about the portrait of his dad, which is very compelling in your book, and at the same time, it’s raw.
ML: Yeah, it is raw. I mean, I really did want to be, first of all, the one things I did not want to be accused of is just okay, picking on the dead guy. I mean, I think Tim Russert was a giant in Washington. I mean, whether you agreed with him or not, I mean, he was really, I mean, I call him the mayor of official Washington back in the day. And Democrats and Republicans really did believe that you sort of needed to get through his show in order to be taken seriously. And his death really did leave a void that I don’t think has been filled, yet. And I don’t know if it would have been. And his power might have been eroded anyway, because it was really the advent of new media and Twitter and so forth. But no, Luke Russert, I heard from him. I mean, he didn’t talk to me on the record for the book. I did not want to be overly intrusive. But he was helpful. And I think it was helpful talking to him, just privately, and also obviously fact-checking with him, because I didn’t want to get anything wrong. But I wanted to be respectful, but I also wanted to do justice to the carnival, frankly, that I think Tim Russert would have got as well as anyone.
HH: Well, you also picked up that D.C. celebrates the dad thing, and, but it was genuine with Tim and Luke.
HH: And so it’s a great angle to come at it from. Sometimes, it isn’t so genuine back there, I’m sure you know.
HH: And by the way, on Russert, I don’t think it’s been filled. It’s not David Gregory.
HH: And for reasons we’ll talk about. I think it’s going to be Jake Tapper. I think Jake will do CNN for a few years, and then he’ll end up at NBC as the Meet The Press guy. You go very lightly on Tapper. Do you agree with me that he’s the guy who is rising from this general Russertless top of the pyramid?
ML: You know, I actually hadn’t thought about it like that, but I do think Jake is very talented. I mean, I think he is an agitator to both sides. I think he’s respected by both sides.
ML: And I think he can think on his feet. What I like about him is first of all, he comes out as a reporter. He was a reporter for many years, print reporter for many years. And while I always thought he was way too good looking to be a print reporter…but no, but he does have reporting chops. He’s very kind of cranky in his own way. And I think he has some real potential. I mean, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I mean, I don’t…
HH: Have you read The Outpost, yet?
ML: You know, I’ve heard terrific things about it. But I have not, though.
HH: Wow. The only other book this year I’ve done a three hour interview before This Town is The Outpost.
ML: Is that right?
HH: Yeah, because it’s…
ML: No, no, I’ve heard great things about The Outpost.
HH: It’s an amazing book.
ML: I intend to read it, and I actually, unlike other people, I have not actually, I have too much respect for Jake to have lied and tell him that I did read it, because I actually do plan to read it.
HH: Good. Now let me go back to Mike Allen, whom I love.
HH: Now I’ve only met Mike a couple of times.
HH: Once he came over to the Heritage Foundation when I was broadcasting from there right after Politico launched, spent a couple of hours with me. He’s often on the show…
HH: And I love him.
HH: And I read your profile of him in 2010, and I wrote about it over at Hughhewitt.com, and I said at the time I don’t know how Leibovich, who I did not know at that time, could not have covered Mike’s faith, especially his commitment to Cornerstone Academy in Washington, D.C. It’s so a part of him. And then I found throughout your book, you’re pretty uneasy dealing with people’s religion.
ML: You know, that’s an interesting question. I hadn’t thought about it. I think, first of all, I mean on Mike, I mean, Mike is rather uneasy talking about his religion. I mean, I was very, very, I tried to be very deferential about Mike and his religion, because it’s obviously, I mean, his faith is an extremely central part of him.
ML: And he’s a deeply, deeply private person. And look, I mean, he’s a public person, but I realize the delicateness of really sort of going into someone’s life who wants no business doing it. And in fairness, he’s not running for office, and he’s sort of an eccentric guy, and he’s an extremely influential journalist. I mean, I found Mike, you know, we had some really, I wouldn’t call them difficult conversations, but very pointed conversations, mostly on his end about what he wanted me, or how he wanted me to refer to things related to his faith. And I am very respectful of that, because I mean, I know he takes it seriously, and I think he should. But I also know that I think he’s right. I think there are unfair stigmas around people of faith that the media, I think maybe sometimes unintentionally perpetrates, and I didn’t want to be a part of that.
ML: And I certainly didn’t want this book to be given over to a controversy of that nature.
HH: Yeah, I’ll often make the comment there’s a difference between rotten and wrong. I think Bill Maher is rotten, and I think Jonathan Alter is just simply wrong. But there’s also a good, there’s a big difference between good people and smart people.
ML: Yeah, right.
HH: Mike Allen’s a genuinely good man. I think he is just…
HH: …as thoroughly sincere in his faith. And the work with Cornerstone would illuminate. And I’m just, do you stay away from that as a rule when you do your profiles, because Tom Coburn, by the way, gave you The Inner Ring. Did you read that?
ML: Yeah, I did. I mean, the C.S. Lewis book?
HH: Yeah, the essay.
ML: It was a terrific essay. I absolutely loved that essay. No, Coburn actually, he gave me that, and I mean, he actually quotes from that a lot in his book.
HH: Because he’s so thoroughly Evangelical. That’s his story, too.
ML: It absolutely is his story. No, I don’t shy away from it by accident at all. I mean, I think, it’s funny, I did a profile, and when was it, I guess like 2005, 2006 when I was at the Post, on Rick Santorum, that actually was pretty memorable at the time. I mean, he talked a lot about his faith, and he talked a lot about his son, Gabriel, who died after a few hours, I think, or a few days.
ML: And it was actually a letter, well, it went heavily about his wife’s book called Letters To Gabriel. And it really was an examination of faith.
HH: I’ve got to back and read that.
ML: …in a way that I respected. But anyway…
HH: Hold on, we’ll got the break and be right back.
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(Clip) Terry McAuliffe: I’m Terry McAuliffe, and you should listen to the Hugh Hewitt show every single day, the greatest radio show in the United States of America.
HH: Mark Leibovich is my guest here on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
ML: This is like This Is Your Life.
HH: Isn’t that the greatest thing that he would do that?
ML: It’s the greatest thing ever.
HH: And so I love the portrait of Terry McAuliffe in This Town, Mark Leibovich.
ML: Yeah, he didn’t.
HH: And I think he probably loves it as well, doesn’t he?
ML: I think he did. We had a little back and forth about he, I don’t think he appreciated me discussing his discussing his dislike for his own, getting his prostate checked.
ML: Well, I’ll leave that to readers’ imagination.
HH: I didn’t like that, either, but I will say this. We’re going to take the bark off of him when he runs for governor down there. He’s not going to win. But you can’t help but like the guy. I asked him to make a promo. This is the promo, America. (Clip again). And who else would do that? It’s just so D.C.
HH: And he owns it, and I guess Haley Barbour is his doppelganger.
HH: Yeah, that’s his analog.
HH: And they are friends, right?
ML: They are friends, and they’re both national party chairs. I mean, I do, one of the biases I do have, and if people are going to play the game, and if they’re going to basically kind of almost wink at you while they’re going to play the game, they might as well have fun doing it. And I like both of their loves of the game, and I appreciate their willingness to smile and wink. And look, I mean, I know what they’re doing, they know what I’m doing. And look, they’re both very, very polarized figures. I mean, people love and dislike them on both side. But I do, I enjoy both of them. I like that they have fun doing this.
HH: All right, now let’s talk about red Washington and blue Washington. As I said, you know blue Washington deep, because I think Andrew Breitbart would say, they’re joined at the hip, th media, Manhattan-Beltway media elite, and Democratic elites. Not so much red Washington, and many, many obscure blues are feted in This Town, but very few big reds. For example, Krauthammer doesn’t show up. Brit Hume, Fred Barnes, there’s a nod towards Kristol and towards Bennett and towards Rove, but here’s what I finally said to myself. This is like if Paul Zimmerman, the world’s best NFL reporter for the SI, was assigned occasionally to write a profile of someone in Major League Baseball. That’s what you write about Republicans. I think of Paul Zimmerman writing about baseball. And what do you think of that?
ML: Well, I mean, look, I think…I think that’s an interesting comparison. First of all, Paul Zimmerman, I love Paul Zimmerman.
HH: Right. He’s the best there is.
ML: And I love him on football. I don’t know if he’s ever written about baseball. No, I mean, look. I feel like the…I agree with you. I mean, I think blue Washington, which is almost redundant in many ways, is, I think the people you see around are far more Democratic than Republican.
ML: But I don’t feel like Republicans are an alien species to me. I mean, first of all, my job enables me, and one of the privileges of my job is that I get to get out of town, right? I mean, one of the great parts about living in Washington is leaving Washington, especially in a political context. And look, I mean, I have been around long enough now, and obviously, I haven’t been around as long as some people, but neither party has a monopoly on good people or bad people, or good ideas or bad ideas. But I also think that look, I mean, you see a lot of Republicans in these circles, too, I mean, whether they’re the correspondents dinner, or what have you. I mean, just because Charles Krauthammer…
HH: But I didn’t notice them at the Tamster’s house, and we’ll talk about Tammy Haddad. But let me name check a few people.
ML: All right.
HH: Arthur Brooks, Rich Lowry, Steven Smith and Mark Tapscott over at the Examiner, Phil Anschutz, who owns most of the media properties there now for the conservative side.
HH: Or Ed Atsinger, all the talkers. You know, Mark Levin lives in the Beltway. You don’t see them in the background of your stories, because they don’t do it, I think.
ML: That’s a good question. Rupert Murdoch goes to the Tamster’s house. I’ve seen him from time to time.
HH: Yeah, but he is not really red Washington.
ML: No, he’s not of Washington. There’s no question.
HH: No, he’s a different planet, different world.
ML: You do see Bill Kristol around, you do, and you’re right, Brooks is kind of, Books you see, but you don’t really see. And I don’t know, I mean, David sort of plays, I mean, David sits about, like, 20 feet away from me, and he’s a dear friend and I love him. But no, you’re right. He does sort of play on a much more kind of think tanky realm. I think, I mean, you see people like Ken Duberstein around, you see a lot of Republican lobbyists around, but you’re right. I mean, I actually have not done a full census of, like, the Tamster. But mostly, she, I mean, the Obama administration, you’ll see some of those people there. But I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s a representative sampling of the kind of people I hang out with.
HH: Yeah, I just, I think it’s telling that in a book that is deeply knowing about Washington, D.C…
HH: There are so few bit parts played by Republicans or conservatives. And I think it’s because that merger that I speak about, that many conservatives deeply resent between big media and big Democrats.
ML: Yeah, could be, yeah.
HH: It doesn’t, it’s not even conscious. They just, they’re not fish…
ML: You’re probably right. Look, I think that’s actually a legitimate criticism, and I do…
HH: Not a criticism, just an observation. In fact, I’ll be back to expand on it.
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(Clip) Robin Wright may be America’s most experienced reporter abroad on the nature of the Arab world. She has reported for the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the New Yorker, the Sunday Times. She’s won all the journalism awards you could possibly want. And she’s got a brand new book out, Dreams And Shadows: The Future Of The Middle East, which is as comprehensive and riveting an assessment of the region that you will find. And Robin Wright, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you. RW: I’m delighted to be with you. HH: Now if I recall correctly, are you a daughter of Ann Arbor? RW: I am. HH: Yeah, I took my tax from Doug Kahn and not from your father, but boy, would he be proud of the way you wrote this book. This is an amazing piece of work here. RW: Well, I’m honored that you know the family connection.
HH: I played that excerpt, Mark Leibovich…
ML: Ann Arbor, right?
HH: Robin Wright is of a category of really serious journalists like Lawrence Wright. You know many of them, really serious journalists who did, John Burns is one of my favorite guests.
HH: I’ll play a little Burns later. They don’t show up in This Town.
HH: And I wonder is it because that’s not who they are?
ML: Yeah, probably, and I think, first of all, I won’t show up, because I won’t be invited anymore.
HH: You’re definitely not getting to the Aspen Institute.
ML: Yeah, well that’s fine. This is one of the many sort of secret motivations here was like not getting invited to these things anymore. And with any luck, I’ll be run out of town, and I’ll get to come back to California. No, I think that that’s right, and actually, I do have an almost some…I mean, the people you see at all of these things, I mean, after a while, you say, I mean, if they’re like my age, you say why aren’t you home with your kids, or I mean, there is a level, there’s a critical mass you reach when you just sort of see, you become a guy who hangs around a lot. And I don’t know. I mean, look, I would be thrilled if I became someone who was sort of scarce around these things. And look, John Burns, his work speaks for itself, and so does Robin’s. I mean, I used to work with her at the Post. I like her a lot. And look, the best journalists, and the ones that I admire, are not the people that impress me just over a tower of cupcakes at a lobbyist’s house, which I think is when the last time I was talking, there was a scene at a party…Anyway, yeah, I’ll let you go.
HH: I bring it up, because I want people to understand you’re not slashing and burning through Washington. In fact, you’re not slashing and burning through anything. You’re just capturing a part of the town, which is the influence peddling part of the town, which…
ML: Very much.
HH: …is why I wanted to let people understand that this isn’t it. But there is one talk about journalism in here that I’m looking for my notes here where the Rolling Stone reporter, Michael…
ML: Michael Hastings.
HH: Michael Hastings, who died just a month ago today, in fact.
ML: Yeah, yeah.
HH: Michael Hastings died. The Rolling Stone began his obituary, “Michael Hastings, the fearless journalist whose reporting brought down the career of General Stanley McChrystal, has died in a car accident in Los Angeles, Rolling Stone has learned. He was 33.” That’s it. What a miserable way to open your obit. I mean, it’s like a horrible, pardon me, America, fart of an opening graph of an obit, that your career was to bring down General Stanley McChrystal, and maybe thereby costing millions of Afghan girls a shot at literacy. What do you make of people like Hastings?
ML: You know, I didn’t know Hastings well. I mean, I think Hastings was sort of a minor character in the book.
ML: And so what I thought was interesting, and obviously, the book was written before he died, I didn’t, I think what was interesting to me about the Hastings thing in the McChrystal story was look, McChrystal obviously screwed up, okay? I mean, there was some sort of back channel speculation, I mean, did Hastings burn him? Did he violate an off the record agreement? And obviously, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. But I did, I was somewhat struck by the coverage of that story. I mean, obviously, the immediate story was will he or won’t he get fired, meaning McChrystal, and then Obama fired him a couple of days later. But I also think that Hastings, without having known him, I had an almost immediate sympathy for him, because he was treated as an interloper. He was the outsider. He was the guy who was not in the club, and how dare he violate all the unwritten rules that we journalists and people…
HH: In fact, let me play for you, this is John Fisher Burns and I talking after the story came out, about that story with your colleague from the Times. Here’s Burns:
JB: I think it’s very unfortunate that America has lost the services of such an outstanding general. I think it’s very unfortunate that it has impacted, and will impact so adversely on what had been pretty good military media relations. I think you know, this will be debated down the years, the whole issue, as to how it came about that Rolling Stone had that kind of access. My unease, if I can be completely frank about this, is that from my experience of traveling and talking to Generals McChrystal, Petraeus and many, many others over the past few years is that the old on the record, off the record standard doesn’t really meet the case, which is to say that by the very nature of the time you spend with the generals, the same could be said to be true of the time that reporters spend with anybody in the public eye. There are moments which just don’t fit that formula. There are long, informal periods traveling on helicopters over hostile territory with the generals chatting over their headset, bunking down for the night side by side on a piece of rough-hewn concrete, you build up a kind of trust. It’s not explicit. It’s just there. And my feeling is that it’s the responsibility of the reporter to judge in those circumstances what is fairly reportable and what is not, and to go beyond that, what is necessary to report. And I think that much of what we learned about General McChrystal, in what was really a very powerful Rolling Stone article, and that the general feeling of unease and disrespect towards the administration in Washington, could have been done without directly quoting things that were said, and I would guess, in a very ambiguous kind of circumstance, mostly by the General’s aides, which they could not have, I think, reasonably expected to end up being quoted as saying. The same point could have been made without the use of quotations, which in my mind, were highly unlikely to have been understood to be on the record.
HH: Now Mark Leibovich, a minute to the break. John Fisher Burns may be the greatest journalist at work in the world today.
HH: And so is, are the new generation destroying your profession?
ML: You know, I would make a distinction. I mean, first of all, war reporting and military reporting in the theater where they are, which is not the theater I’m writing about, are, I think, extremely different. I mean, I would always defer to a John Burns in an argument like this. And he knows this theater better than anyone, as you said. I mean, I think, and I think that unwritten rules are obviously very valuable, and understandings like this are very, very valuable in a scenario where you are in combat, where you in obviously a life and death situation. But I think where you get into trouble a little bit is when you try to extend the unwritten rules of sort of embedded journalism.
HH: Okay, hold that thought. We’re going to come right back and go to the unwritten rules of embedded journalism with my guest, Mark Leibovich.
— – – –
HH: We were talking before the break about the unwritten rules of embedded journalism, and generally, whether or not the rising generation is destroying your profession by destroying the ability of anyone to speak candidly ever on the record, Mark Leibovich.
ML: Well, again, okay, so I think that embedded journalism in a military theater is extremely important and unique, and is governed by, I think, what sounds like pretty understood rules. And again, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t, for the Hastings interview, and I’m not a war reporter. So, but I definitely, I mean, as a common sense matter, see why these rules would have a place, and would be worthwhile, and would, frankly, be completely appropriate. I mean, my quibble is when those rules of embedded journalism spread to the kind of clubbish, mutual-dependent world of politics in America, which is not a life and death situation in most cases. And I mean, I had an interview yesterday with a reporter for, I guess it was Politico, and essentially, I was being accused of violating the unwritten rules of This Town, meaning that people inside the club are not supposed to report on other people inside the club.
HH: Fight Club, right?
ML: Right, exactly. And I said to this person, I said look, there is a very important distinction here. Ground rules, journalistic ground rules are sacred. When I enter into an agreement with a source, with a subject, I honor them. If I didn’t, I’d be out of business, and any reporter would hopefully see the same thing. However, the unwritten rules that you are talking about, whether it’s at a party, or whether it’s at a dinner, at a funeral or something, you know, these same settings where Politico will have two videographers covering the whole thing, or they’re on live television, I mean, I consider that fair game. And the notion that it’s not right to make other people inside Washington uncomfortable with my reporting, I mean, I absolutely reject that. I mean, I think it’s a very, so I think it’s an important distinction to make. And obviously, the Hastings situation was very, I mean, it was of a place. I was not in that place. And really, I don’t’ know how to speak to it. But I do think the larger issue of too much embedded journalism in a domestic setting is…
HH: That’s a fair distinction, but I’ll have to come back next hour. There are some brilliant talents out there, guys like Dave Weigel and Jonah Goldberg, who are funny and always on, Guy P. Benson. They’re on Twitter all the time, and I think eventually, no one’s going to say anything that isn’t on the record. I think the on the record/off the record thing is done. 30 seconds, do you agree with me?
ML: I think it’s certainly been tarnished a lot. I mean, I think Twitter has ruined that. I mean, if you go on a campaign plane, I mean, no one will, it’s like a bunch of robots running around. But I still have very fruitful off the record discussions and meals with people, in which I learn a lot.
HH: All right, we’ll come right back.
— – – – –
HH: So Mark, having given you great praise, and it’s linked over at Hughhewitt.com and bookstores everywhere, go and get it, I want to…
ML: Here it comes.
HH: Here come the two criticisms, one big and one small.
HH: Let me do the small one first.
HH: I greatly admire Mitt Romney, I wrote a book about him, didn’t know him when I wrote the book, came to respect and deeply understand him as a smart, wonderful human being, great family, everything he is – authentic, wonderful, blah, blah, blah. In your book, you refer to him as Mittens on Page 265, twice on Page 275, on Page 282, on Page 275, on Page 283, on Page 313 and 314, three times as Mittens on page 316, on page 325 and Page 337. And as people know, there is no index to This Town, so I counted. It’s a term of contempt, and it was not, I don’t know why you did it.
ML: I would say that first of all, I was channeling the press bus. That’s what everyone sort of called him. That’s no excuse. Look, I take your point. I mean, it was me having fun. I probably had a little bit too much fun there. I probably would have cut a few of those out. But year, I hear you, good point.
HH: Is there any analog to, you call President Obama, and I always refer to him as President Obama…
HH: Because my first job was working with Richard Nixon, so I’ve always called presidents, presidents.
HH: But you call him the Big O at one point, which is mildly contemptuous.
ML: Did I call him that? I guess I did.
HH: But is there any analog in press circles for President Obama as Mittens is to Mitt Romney?
ML: Probably Barry. Maureen Dowd calls him, I mean, not that Maureen is my model here, but I think she calls him Barry quite a bit.
HH: Okay. Actually…
ML: I see your point. I sort of lapsed into columnist mode there.
HH: All right, now second point. Okay, and duly noted. Second point, much more important, and it’s not a criticism of you so much as it is the scene on which you’re reporting. The war isn’t here. I am really struck at the end of this, for the same reason I was struck after I listened to Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech in Tampa, and I said my first thought was my God, he didn’t mention the war. And in this book, you talk about McChrystal a little bit, but at all these parties, there is no sense that there is a terrible war underway in which thousands of Americans have died, and thousands more have been terribly injured. And I thought to myself if a book was written about Washington, D.C., ’39-’46, like David Brinkley wrote Washington Goes To War.
HH: It would have infused every page. And it’s just not here. What do you make of that?
ML: Here’s what I would make of that. When you live in Washington today, and I think this was probably, this was true five years ago, too. There was no sense that a war was going on then, either. I mean, this is not just me. It’s just, there is never, except for in the period immediately after 9/11, maybe actually, I would say, a year after 9/11, and maybe the first few years of the Iraq war, there was never a, there has not been a wartime sense in Washington beyond the rhetoric. I mean, people have said we are at war. Both President Bush and President Obama have said we are at war quite a bit. But that has never really taken hold as a sort of a cultural sensibility of Washington. And I don’t quite know why. I mean, I guess I’m just as guilty of that here, but I think maybe one of the things that I’m responding to almost perhaps unconsciously is that a sense of wartime does not permeate the culture today in any way, except in some pretty sort of cloistered rooms, whether they’re hearing rooms or policy rooms, and which is not to say no one cares about it, because people do. But it’s not something that is, I mean, if you look at, if you interview, if you look at polls, I mean, Afghanistan was not one of the top three issues that voters cared about in 2012. I mean, so I don’t know, I guess that would be my answer to that.
HH: You know, it was interesting, on one of the two occasions that President bush invited a few talkers to come back to the Oval Office and spend an hour with him, one of the things he said is I don’t do a thing, I don’t make a statement, I don’t do any kind of public appearance without thinking how will it impact the men and women at war and in the field. It infused him, and I think it’s infused his post-presidency, by the way. I think it explains everything he’s done post-presidency. And I do not presume to know how it’s impacted President Obama. It may be the same way. I think I’ve told the story before on the last Wednesday of the Bush presidency, he had us in, and the purpose of that meeting was to ask us to go easy on the new guys, because it was a hard, hard job in wartime. And so I think that the fact that it’s missing from so much, there are almost two categories – those who really go to Walter Reed, and those who go for a photo op. And I don’t, at the Tamster, she may be a wonderful person. Do you think she’s ever been to Walter Reed?
ML: I don’t know. I mean…
HH: Legit question?
ML: I wouldn’t presume. What’s that?
HH: Is it a legitimate question?
ML: Sure. Yeah, I mean, it is. I mean, it’s interesting you should say that, though. I mean, I think you do sense, and this is something I get from pretty much every president, and I would probably, I would guess, and I don’t know President Obama well at all, or I certainly don’t know him at all. But I would guess that it does seem to impact him, because I mean, he’s the one making these decisions, and I don’t think that that cannot impact a human being. And I guess I would even take it a step further, and this is possibly an antidote to the Mittens thing. I was reading, I was looking at the front page of the New York Times today, and I guess we’re, this is running tomorrow, but it was today’s New York Times, and there was a picture of President Obama and the first President Bush in the White House, because the first President Bush yesterday visited the White House, and he was given an award. And it was a very touching photo, I though, of President Obama and President Bush in a wheelchair. And one thing I really give pretty much every president I’ve lived through a lot of credit for, and I was thinking about this, this morning, is just the grace with which, I mean, the job demands a lot of grace. I mean, I don’t care where your beliefs are, or what you stand for, or what you do privately, but the presidency demands grace and some level of class, and I think that when you see presidents together like this, I’m always sort of gratified when they are respectful of each other when…I just like the fact that grace is something that I think we’ve been able to see at one time or another from every president.
HH: Yeah, my biggest criticisms of President Obama have been his lapses in graciousness, you know, the middle finger stuff. And there are other examples of that, but I don’t want to, I want to stay on the war for a second, because I’ve got a proposition for you.
HH: I personally know five individuals who are of Washington, D.C. in whole or large part who have sons on active duty or sons-in-law on active duty in the military. And I think, and some of them show up in your book, and some don’t. I think they take this thing very differently. Theyre’ not in the correspondents’ dinner. They’re not, and I think one of the reasons Brokaw emerges as such a critic is that he also, and I’ve had my differences with Mr. Brokaw. He’s been on this show at great length, and we had off the air conversations about that. But I think he takes it very seriously. Do you think there’s a defining line between those who are actually touched by the war and those who aren’t?
ML: Yes, I actually do. And actually, I find that with politicians themselves, too. I mean, the combat veterans of both parties, I find to be, I don’t know, I mean, there’s a refreshingness to them, I think, in some ways. And I think you do, and I think that you cannot not be shaped by that if you have a loved one, of if you yourself have not been in battle, and I have great respect for that, and I think that look, I think anyone who doesn’t is seriously flawed, and I think that that is something that we should all have great respect for.
HH: Have you met Tom Cotton, yet?
ML: No, I haven’t.
HH: Yeah, go write a profile on him. The guy’s going to be president. Now here’s my ultimate test.
ML: All right.
HH: It’s called The Looming Tower test, and I’m ambushing you. Have you read The Looming Tower?
ML: I have not, but I hear it’s phenomenal.
HH: All right, here’s my argument. And I’m amazed that, now you don’t write, it’s not your job to write about the war on terror.
HH: But I talk to people all the time who presume to legislate on the war, and on terror interrogations and Gitmo, and they’ve never read the seminal work by a man of the left, Pulitzer Prize-winning Lawrence Wright.
HH: They’ve never touched it.
HH: I’m amazed at how lazy Washington is. They don’t do, it’s like the one book you could read that everyone recognizes is The book on al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood and everything. What is it with D.C? Why are they so lazy?
ML: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I think people actually work very hard in D.C. I mean, maybe they should read more, but I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that.
HH: I don’t know if they work hard. If there’s a book that will explain to you our enemy, and they don’t read it, isn’t that like failing to do your basic job? By the way, this applies to a lot of Republicans.
ML: Yeah, I mean, I guess. Sure, I mean, look. There are actually a lot of books I feel like I need to read, and I will hopefully get…Actually, I will have you know, because of this conversation, I will put this at the top of my lists for my, if I get a vacation.
HH: Oh, that would be well spent. I’m coming right back, America.
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(Clip: It’s Hugh Hewitt with Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post kicking off this third hour on my anniversary day. Chris, I don’t think I’ve talked to you since the end of the season of Game Of Thrones. I hope you found it satisfactory. CC: You know what’s real funny, Hugh? You don’t understand I was thinking as I heard the music is man, I missed Game Of Thrones.)
HH: So Mark Leibovich, who is my real guest, not my taped guest, are you a Game Of Thrones guy?
ML: I’m not, actually. No, I mean, I’m, look, I’m a see-my-kids-when-I-possibly-have-any-time-so-I-don’t-get-in-trouble guy at the moment.
HH: Good dad. Good dad.
HH: So the reason I bring up Cillizza is he is emblematic. He is very good at what he does. He’s very smart, he works hard, he writes a lot. And he’s emblematic of a rising group of journalists, and I want to talk to you about new media and old here.
HH: The Dan Balz’ and the Jonathan Alter’s, and the Mark Halperin’s, long-form, serious writers, but the Jennifer Rubin’s, and the Greg Plum’s, and Ezra Klein’s, and the Chris Cillizza’s, and everyone at Politico, and everyone at the Washington Examiner, and everyone at the Corner, they’re not the same as they used to be. And what is happening in D.C. as a result of that?
ML: Well, I mean, I think it’s again, it’s emblematic of the culture at large. But I think journalism, I mean, the gold standard in journalism has become punditry, where it used to be reporting. And…
HH: Oh, that’s interesting. Oh, okay.
ML: Now, in punditry is where you get the attention, it’s where you get the money, and it’s not just TV. I mean, you know, you can get your own blog or get your own Twitter feed, and suddenly, you’re going to have a network that’s going to be itself marketable. So I mean, part of is it just where the business is going, and it’s where attention spans are going. And look, there was, there wasn’t an appetite for a 400 word blog post in 1979, right? And so I mean, because the platforms exist, I mean, and the technology exists now, I mean, I think…
HH: Well, here’s where I was going with it. A lot of people have these huge platforms now.
HH: And they don’t know much, and they haven’t experienced much. If you graduated from ’87, you put in 20 years before you ended up being a national correspondent, and I don’t mean to be the mean, grumpy, old, 57 years old white guy whose saying I earned my stripes.
ML: Hey, I’m a 48 year old white guy.
HH: So no, that’s not what I’m saying.
HH: I’m just saying that they’re not going to have the perspective.
HH: They’re just simply not going to have lived the lives.
HH: I mean, Ezra Klein is a nice, young man, and he’s very smart. And Joshua Micah Marshall’s got his PhD, and Matthew Yglesias is a nice, Harvard guy, and I used to have him on until they got mad at me and they left, and ditto Chait. They’re all nice, young guys, but they have never done anything. And yet we’re entrusting the keys of reporting to them, and those years in the newsroom, or in government, where you learn things. Does that, do you not see that changing the way it’s done?
ML: I think it has to change the way it’s done. I mean, sure, I mean, look. I will say this. I mean, the miserable years I spent answering phones and then covering city council meetings in wherever, I mean, were extremely informative. I mean, I didn’t love it at the time, but I really sort of, I’m very grateful, especially in retrospect, for the dues that I had to pay, and really, for the life experience I’ve had. And I think, which is not to say, look, everyone has their own life experience, and if you can build your career by sitting at home and blogging, I mean, it’s probably easier to do that than to go write four city council meetings a week, stories a week in Ames, Iowa or something. But no, I think, look, you lose a lot of the world perspective. But frankly, culture-wide, perspective has moved indoors to some degree. A lot of it has moved behind a computer screen, and that’s true of the world in general.
HH: Well, let me throw four names at you on the center-right, and see if you can match them with anything like this on the center, because my premise is the left is getting dumber and dumber, and more closed in on itself. Byron York, Eli Lake, John Podhoretz, Pete Wehner, very good, serious, shopped-up credentialed writers/journalists. Anyone like them on the left?
ML: On the left?
ML: You mean, now as far as in what categories?
HH: In journalism, in commentariate. They’re part of the commentariate, they’re part of the center-right commentariate – York, Eli Lake, Podhoretz, Wehner, and they’re reporters, and they’re writers, and they have lots of life experience. Who are their counterparts? I mean, are you going to say Jonathan Chait? I mean, I don’t think he’s ever done anything.
ML: Yeah, let me think about that. I mean, I guess you could say Chait, Alter, maybe, let’s see, I won’t mention who I’m thinking. This is the kind of thing where live radio, or even taped radio…
HH: All right, think about it, because I would have said Andrew Sullivan, who’s a very serious guy. We’ve had some memorable, a very memorable interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show. But Andrew’s very smart. And then I want to contrast it with the guys at Media Matters and Think Progress. First of all, Mark Leibovich, do you think those are real journalism organizations?
ML: Yeah, sure. Why not? I mean, I don’t read them that closely, but I mean, it seems to be, and I’ve actually picked up some stuff there. I’ve picked up some stuff on the right wing analogs also.
HH: Would you be more or less likely to hire someone at the New York Times if they had worked at Media Matters or Think Progress?
ML: Oh, I have no idea. I mean, first of all, I don’t have a staff.
ML: I mean, I’m now betraying my life experience. I’ve never hired a person in my life. So look, I would look at the whole of their experience. I mean, I would not, I would look for quality, I wouldn’t look for ideology.
HH: Oh, I think they’re killing themselves with their brand. You see, there are people on the right like Powerline, and on the left like Talking Points Memo, which are serious, thoughtful, if you disagree with them, whatever, they’re smart guys. And then there are these machines of smear. And Media Matters and Think Progress, I mean, they’re just terrible machines of smear.
ML: Yeah, I actually don’t read them very much.
HH: All right, let me move on, then, to talk about whether or not Hillary is ever going to speak to you again.
ML: Which one?
HH: I’ve got to divert. Arianna Huffington, I’ve known Arianna for four Ariannas ago, and back when she would come to my little, tiny studio on the weekends when she was running for Senate with Mike…
HH: And I mean, after the English phase, and before the Newt Gingrich phase, and she is, have you ever profiled her?
ML: No, I never have, and I can’t, because my sister works like directly next to her at the Huffington Post.
ML: So I put this disclosure in the book where I was talking about her, and I said disclosure…
HH: Oh, yes.
ML: My sister, Laurie, and then I just wrote the one sentence, one word sentence: Awkward.
HH: Well, she is a force of nature, but she’s also very, very smart. And I…
HH: This is where I come down to, is that there are smart people and not smart people, and I think your book illustrates that the rise of the not smart people is pretty overwhelming.
ML: Well, I would say this about Washington, D.C. I mean, it is a, I call it a mediocretocricy in many ways.
ML: I mean, you just don’t, I mean, there are some really marginal people doing very, very well there. And again, that’s probably true in a lot of cities. But I just think that you probably have a higher proportion in D.C.
HH: Is Jeffrey Goldberg your best friend? I’m just guessing.
ML: No, he’s not my best friend. No, he’s a close friend. I like him. He’s a good guy. I think he’s funny. I think he’s got some, I almost said something I couldn’t say on the radio. I think he has a certain courage. I think he likes to shake things up. But no, I get a kick out of Jeff.
HH: And so that’s my idea of someone who’s actually smart and credentialed, and it helps to have been in the IDF. I think he was in the IDF.
ML: Yeah. No, no, yeah. He was in the Israeli military. I mean, he’s paid some serious dues. He’s been in some real war zones. And no, Jeff is a really honest guy. I mean, he’s a little combative at times, but he is someone who, he likes a good argument. He will listen to a good argument on both sides. And no, I respect him a great deal.
HH: So he shows up in the book at a few places. And so the number of those types…
HH: I keep coming back, what I took away from This Town is that they’re draining away, and they don’t get paid the way you get paid to be something else like, and I’m not slamming Weigel. I think he’s a good, young man. But Weigel’s making his fortune with one liners. Goldberg has made his…
ML: Actually, Jeff gets paid pretty well.
ML: In fact, I’ve actually found myself jealous of what Jeff’s getting paid.
— – – – –
(Clip) We begin today’s program with Candy Crowley of CNN. You can watch her, of course, on State of the Union on Sunday, and she’s got a great lineup of guests on the fiscal cliff. Candy, welcome back, it’s the first time we’ve spoken since the election. CC: It is true, and it seems like now with the fiscal cliff, the election was months ago, doesn’t it? HH: It does.)
HH: Candy Crowley, of course, has not been back since that interview in which I brought up the Benghazi intervention, Candy Crowley’s famous Benghazi intervention. I’m talking with Mark Leibovich today. He’s the chief national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine. His book is This Town. Mark, first of all, what did you make of Candy’s intervention in that debate?
ML: That’s an interesting question. I thought that, well, I thought she was accurate. I mean, I thought she probably shouldn’t have said anything, but I actually didn’t remember at the time who actually was right. And luckily, I mean, she was there with the answers, so I guess I appreciated that.
HH: But she was wrong.
ML: But no, I know she took a lot of heat from it. I don’t know if she would do that same thing again.
HH: And she was wrong. She wasn’t right. She was wrong.
ML: Well, but didn’t he, wait, didn’t she say that the President used the word terror in the Rose Garden or something?
HH: We’ll put that on a sidebar to do at some other time. But I am of the firm opinion that she was both factually and professionally incorrect, although I think she’s a great journalist. The reason I bring it up? Benghazi. And you write a lot about Hillary in This Town. And so I want your take on this. 2am in the morning, Hillary on the night of the attack speaks with Gregory Hicks. The Ambassador, Stevens, he’s missing, they’re getting ready to evacuate from the Tripoli embassy, they’ve got axes out, secretaries are smashing hard drives. It’s chaos, there’s a siege in Benghazi, they’re preparing dangerous evacuation there, Special Forces going all over. Hillary talks to Greg Hicks at 2am. She never calls him back. Ever. What do you make of that?
ML: You know, I don’t know. I actually have not, I don’t know who she called. I don’t know what she did that night. I mean, I remember vaguely from her testimony that, what did she say? She said she, I don’t know. I mean, to be honest with you, I mean, that’s not, if I start talking about that, I’m going to go down the rabbit hole.
HH: Well, here’s my proposition.
HH: She is so self-aware of the way Washington works, she knew that her survival depended on not calling back the man and the team that most needed her. And she left the scene, because she is such a finely evolved D.C. creature, she knew she had to leave the scene. And it fits completely with their mastery of the game in This Town. And I don’t know how anyone voids it. They are creatures of your book.
ML: Oh, they’re very much creatures of my book. I mean, I don’t know if she will like the book or not. I mean, Hillary Clinton and I have had, we have a bit of a history, and I mean, she talks to me, but I think the basic code of Clintonism is people, they will do what suits them. And if she runs for president again, and she decides that it’s a good idea to talk to me, she will. But no, look. I mean, yeah, those guys have been, I mean, they’re the ultimate survivors, and here they are again. I mean, what’s interesting about the first scene in the book, at Tim Russert’s funeral, is they walked into the Kennedy Center, and Hillary had just been laid low. I mean, she had just conceded the Democratic nomination. They were mad at the Democratic Party. They were mad at the media. They didn’t like Tim Russert. Tim Russert didn’t like them, either. But they were paying their respects. I mean, it was sort of like a mafia funeral. All the people were, all the tribes were sort of coming together to pay respects. And look, I mean, here she is now, I mean, the frontrunner in 2016, and I’m sure she has been thinking about this for a long time.
HH: Well, as inevitably you will have to cover that, and it draws close, and Benghazi becomes exhibit A in the case against her…
ML: Yeah, no I will.
HH: Think about what she didn’t do, and how it relates to This Town, because it’s just, it was self-defense. It was what she did. I want to go to the funeral of Holbrooke, very telling episode in This Town, Page 243. Hillary is speaking about a man who I think she genuinely liked, Richard Holbrooke, and calls him a genius of friendship, which you call, “a classic construction of This Town, Clintonian vintage or otherwise, friendship as craft, demanding expertise or genius. The elite practitioners collected the biggest friends, and then exhibit them at grand pageants such as this. If Holbrooke was a genius at friendship, the Clintons were grandmasters. FOB’s, FOH’s, became their own subcommittees of the political class.” Now this raises the obvious question. Are there any, not the old, get a dog, but are there any real friends there ever?
ML: It’s funny. Tony Snow, the former White House Press Secretary and commentator has this great quote, which is that in Washington, no one takes friendship too personally.
HH: I knew Tony. I didn’t know that.
ML: I mean, look. My one rule of thumb with this book was that I was not going to lose any real friends. And I have not. I have plenty of fake friends. I mean, if you’re in Washington, and especially if you’re attached to a major news organization, you’re going to have plenty of fake friends. I mean, I think the only place that has a cheaper notion of friendship than Washington might be Facebook or something.
HH: Well now, that’s interesting. Which real friends did you not put at risk?
ML: I mean, most of them are not in politics or media, so it was pretty safe. I mean, these are my neighbors, these are people I grew up with, people who live in other cities. I don’t have a lot of friends, believe it or not, in politics. I mean, I have people I’m fond of in both parties. I have people who I’ll go to my daughter’s soccer games with who happen to be in politics that I like. And frankly, I love politics. And I mean, I think my closest friends who are in media and politics are my print colleagues.
HH: Hold onto that thought. I’ll be right back with Mark Leibovich.
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(Clip: And I’m going to talk about debt in the United States with United States Senator Tom Coburn, or as they day, Doc Coburn. He is the author, along with John Hart, of a brand new book, The Debt Bomb. He’s a frequent guest, and a welcome one. Senator, welcome back, it’s always a pleasure to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show. TC: Hugh, is it great to with you. How are you? HH: I’m tremendous, and Happy Easter to you.)
HH: His new book, This Town, features Tom Coburn quite a lot. And it’s a perfect time to bring that segment in, because Tom Coburn may be the closest thing to a friend that Barry Obama, the President, of course, and you have to have been listening to the show to know why I used Barry, President Obama has in the Senate…
ML: That’s disrespectful, Hugh.
HH: I know, it was disrespectful, but Tom Coburn’s a genuine guy, and it’s obvious he has genuine affection for the President, and genuine friendship. But as I was asking you before the break, your friends are primarily not in that world. It’s your workplace.
ML: No, I mean, I think, I have colleagues. I have print journalism colleagues. I mean, these are my people. These are people who, first of all, none of us are good-looking enough to be on TV, so we have that bond, right? And we’re all, we’re not making TV money or lobbying money, or anything like that. So we have that. But no, look, I’m not, I don’t think I’m careful in choosing my friends, but I think you just intuitively know who is working you, and who is being transactional about it. And I think that your radar might be a little bit more finely honed when you’re in D.C. And look, I mean, I think there’s a great term that someone in the Obama administration uses, and he’s no longer in the Obama administration. He says look, it was never me that was invited to parties. It was my job that was invited to parties. And it’s true.
HH: Okay, now you did a bit for the New York Times website with Richard Berke, a little video bit that I watched. It was very funny in an interesting way. I haven’t seen anyone that uncomfortable doing a walkthrough ever.
HH: How many times did they make you do that?
ML: You know, if maybe they had done it more, it might have looked more natural. But actually, I was just dying to get back to the office so I could go to the bathroom.
HH: It was just very awkward. So is Richard Berke a friend?
ML: Rick is, yeah, sure. I mean, Rick, I’ve worked with him for a while. I mean, he was actually one of the reasons I went to the Times originally. I don’t see him a lot these days, because he’s up in New York, and I’m in D.C. But yeah, no, Rick’s a friend.
HH: Is Tammy Haddad a friend?
ML: Not really. No, I mean, I’ve barely spent any time with her. I mean, I certainly, I think I was part of the larger cast, and I would get invited to her parties. But I think those days are numbered, but no, I wouldn’t put her in the category of friend.
HH: Okay, now you’ve got quite a lot about Jack Quinn, whom I do not know, except I think I met him once, and Ed Gillespie, who I’ve seen in a million green rooms.
HH: But they appear to have your respect and affection. Am I right about that?
ML: I think so. I haven’t talked to Gillespie. I mean, look, Jack and Ed are sort of in the category of people who know who they are. And they’re pretty unapologetic. I mean, they are, they’re lobbyists, or I think, I don’t know, I think Ed’s not a lobbyist anymore, but I mean, look. They’re consultants, they know the game, they’re basically going to do what’s expedient for their clients, and look, I think, I mean Jack especially has been through a lot personally, and he’s been through alcoholism and depression. And look, I’m very, very, another bias I have are people who are willing to open up to me and talk about their life and their demons. And I guess maybe I’d pay that back with a sense that I’m fond of them.
HH: People who know who they are, that’s a pretty interesting categorization of people.
HH: What percentage of This Town knows who they are?
ML: Not enough. I mean, it’s funny, I was having this conversation with Senator Coburn, who for a while, he was talking about writing another book on human nature, and I think it was something about shame and humiliation. It was a very psychological book about Washington. And I hope he writes it. I think it was on hold, he said. But ultimately, I mean, Coburn was talking about, I think we were talking about Tim Russert, and he said I always had a sense that Tim Russert sort of turned on the light and let me look inside and see what was there. And the notion of people being comfortable in their skin is a cliché, but I think it’s also true. And you just don’t see it that often. So I mean, I wouldn’t put a percentage on it.
HH: I reconnect it to in the first hour when we were talking about religious faith.
HH: And I think you’ll find with people like David Brooks and Jeffrey Goldberg and Michael Oren and Daniel Silva…
HH: These are people who are serious, like on the Evangelical side…
HH: And they tend to be more grounded. Now the most awful moment in your book, it’s aching, actually, is Page 249. Tammy Haddad is having a party for Gordon Brown, and I quote, “Lots of dire talk in Gordon Brown’s book in there about global poverty and income disparities, the kind of thing you think about as you’re eating salmon and crepes under the chandeliers of the Jefferson.” That is awful. Is anyone aware of that? I mean, that this party is going on in the middle of…
ML: The thing is, I mean, you find that everywhere. I mean, the juxtaposition between the kings fiddling and Rome burning is really pretty stark, no matter where you look. I mean, it’s not just that party, it’s, I mean, it was funny. One of my favorite ironic points was Tammy had a book party for Arianna Huffington, who had written a book called Third World America, and I think the first line of, my line there was who thought there would be valet parking in third world America? And if you went to the Third World America book party, you got a special Third World America embroidered pillow.
ML: But no, I mean, look. I mean, I think it’s just emblematic of a kind of disconnect that you see on a fairly regular basis.
HH: Well, it’s Versailles, isn’t it? I mean, it’s Versailles.
ML: There is that sense sometimes. And I think it’s unfortunately, especially given where the country is.
HH: And that’s where I think the Tea Parties’ energy is rooted in this increasingly…
HH: …obvious knowledge of the contempt with which Washington holds them and their lives.
ML: Well, and I think, though, that one of the things that I’ve been really gratified with, again, the early responses to the book has been people, you know, who I imagine would consider themselves part of the Tea Party, have been, I mean, is it really like that? And people think that they know why Washington has become so awful and so arrogant. And what I hope is that this book will provide more of a user’s guide, almost. I mean, there was someone actually on the left who said you’ve always hated Washington, but this will tell you why. And I think that that’s a valuable tool. Now people, I think, will criticize me because well, Mark doesn’t have any grand solutions. He doesn’t come out for a third party candidate or term limits or what have you. He doesn’t give any prescriptions for this. But look, I think the job of a journalist is to hold a mirror to a culture and…
HH: No, it’s a novel of manners. It’s what it is. It’s a novel of manners, and I think tremendously revealing of D.C. as a result. But I, people on the left are going to shudder. I think the people on the right are going to yell.
— – – – –
(Clip: President George W. Bush, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you. GWB: How are you, Hugh. HH: I’m great, and congratulations, four weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list for Decision Points. GWB: Miracles never cease to happen.)
HH: I do now know if he profiled George W. Bush for the New York Times Magazine. I think that gig came afterwards. Did you, Mark?
ML: Not for the magazine. You know, actually, George W. Bush, I’d never met. And I wish I had, even in a receiving line. But no, I mean, I did a big profile on Vice President Cheney, actually, two of them. One at the Washington Post, and one at the Times, but no, I’ve always been fascinated by President Bush. I think it’s interesting what’s happening with him just through the lens of the brief history that’s passed since he left office. And I’ve always admired his grace.
HH: You know, I am now about to hit President Obama. There is a portion in This Town that has gotten a lot of press where he’s meeting with his informal reelect group.
HH: And he says I trusted you guys, and he leaves. It’s supposed to be…you know, I can just imagine Millard Fillmore doing this, because I think he’s actually launched into Millard Fillmore land, and he’s going to end up being one of the most disastrous historical figures ever. But what, they weren’t supposed to notice he couldn’t find his way to the bathroom, that everything is collapsing, and they’re not supposed to tell people about it? What does he expect?
ML: Well, what you’re talking, okay, so let me just give the proper context. This was a, they did a Saturday strategy meeting with some members of the reelect campaign, and his White House staff. This was in, around midway through 2011. And he said look, I want to be honest in here. We have about 15 people in here. I want to be able to talk straight with you guys. And then about the fourth or fifth meeting, he listed a few issues that he had been, he felt like he had not been outspoken on enough in the first term. I think they included climate change, and maybe Guantanamo, or I think gay marriage was in there. And then a week later, he got word that this leaked to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, who were writing the next Game Change. And Jim Messina, the campaign manager, went back to the President and said uh, Mr. President, this leaked. And then he began the next meeting by sort of expressing his disappointment and then storming out. And then Vice President Biden sort of lectured everyone, saying they’d let the President down. And then they had this big sort of reckoning session, all of them, and the line I guess I have coming out of that is Robert Gibbs saying did we change Washington? Or did Washington change us?
HH: I know. It was so, it was like a bad movie.
HH: It was so pretentious.
ML: It won’t be my Game Change scene, huh?
HH: No, it’s just so pretentious, as though what did he expect? Is there anything authentic about this gang at all? I mean, Axelrod is actually authentic. I loved that, I’ve never met him. I love CURE. I know people with epilepsy.
HH: I know what he’s doing there. I like the fact that you give him the head nods there. But the rest of the gang is about as fake as they come.
ML: I don’t know if that’s true. Look, I have met fake people in every administration. I think there’s some good people in this administration.
HH: Well, we’ll come back and talk about that. But we’re going to talk one more hour with Mark. There’s some, obviously some good people in this. I’ve got friends in the administration, but I’m telling you, this senior staff…
— – — –
HH: The only people who are going to be mad at you are going to be the greens, because you do not pay homage to global warming. You don’t, by the way. They’re not there – the NRDC, the whole regular gang, they’re just not in the book.
ML: That’s true, although actually, people say that the only party in Washington is the green party, meaning money.
HH: Yeah, it’s true. They might raise money, but their earnestness must have disqualified them from the party circuit.
ML: No, you’re missing it, though. Like Democrats and Republicans, meaning like…
HH: Oh, money.
ML: …making money.
HH: Yeah, I know, but I’m talking about the fact that the real greens are going to be mad at you.
ML: Oh, maybe, yeah. I mean, everyone else is. They may as well be mad at me, too.
HH: Are they? Are they really? Because I think it’s…
ML: The real greens? I don’t know.
HH: No, no, I mean, are people mad at you?
ML: You know, I don’t know. That’s actually a really good question. I’m getting it a lot. I mean, I’ve gotten some how dare you voice mails, and again, how dare you, you sort of tell the secrets of how Washington works. I mean, you’re an insider, too. And look, like I said I think before, I welcome this discomfort. I mean, I think journalism, especially in Washington, is way too comfortable. And if I have to like get yelled at a few times and uninvited to some of these stupid parties, I mean, I think that’s a very small price to pay.
HH: All right, let’s get to the heart of the book. This is the most important part of the book, Pages 275-279.
ML: They weren’t anti-Hugh.
ML: Oh, good. I didn’t mention you, do I?
HH: No, no. No, I’m not. I’m not here, and I had to read the book to find out there is no index.
HH: But Page 275-280 is about Alexander Burns’ piece in the Politico, that is about the contempt that Washington has for the rest of the country. And actually, this is the mother lode here. Would you set up the piece and the reporting? And then let’s talk about it.
ML: Yeah, I mean, sure. I am really, really, really, okay, so this is sort of a seminal piece, I think, in sort of modern journalism, and that is Politico ran a story, I think I’m going to say it was maybe March of 2012, something like that, maybe April, sometime around then. And the headline was Are Voters Stupid?
ML: And there was a picture of Forrest Gump. It was a big picture of Forrest Gump, and it was essentially a piece by Alex Burns, who’s a good, young reporter, that was predicated on just that. I mean, well, you know, the polls say this, but then they say this. And then Obama’s approval numbers go up, but the then the price of gas goes up, and Obama’s approvals go down, and do they really know what they want? Then he quotes a pollster saying the first thing that you learn in polling is that voters are stupid.
HH: Democratic pollster Tom Jensen, let’s let the record note, yeah.
ML: Is that who it was?
ML: Yeah. So anyway, it just sort of went on and on, and I actually felt that was an incredible window into Washington. And not to pick on Politico, but I think actually one of the things about Politico that I like is that it’s actually quite transparent. And insomuch as they are channeling the Washington view, they do it effectively. I mean, sometimes, they do it in a way that maybe they’re not even conscious of, but I mean, the dirty little secret is, and I make this point in the book, is that Washington has a general great contempt for its customers. And whether it’s the electorate, whether it’s a lobbying firm talking about how dumb their clients are out in Kansas City or Detroit or wherever, whether it’s some sort of ad guy talking about his checkbook, meaning checkbook being a code name for a rich self-funded candidate in California or Texas or something. So yeah, I mean, Washington, and so the Are Voters Stupid piece was, I though, an almost, almost refreshingly transparent look at how Washington views its customers.
HH: And you quote it, Michelle Obama, the first lady, in the 2008 campaign, saying Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual – uninvolved, uninformed. And it’s the fundraiser, guns, God, people in Pennsylvania.
HH: And you also write that the primaries had moved into the heart of what the permanents of Washington think of as Deliverance country.
ML: Deliverance country, exactly.
HH: Mississippi and Alabama. And I thought to myself, Walker Percy, you know, Walker Percy. Really? Deliverance country? And so, I mean, it’s Louisiana and not the deep, but it’s still the deep South. So this contempt that is described in the Burns piece, and which is clearly part of the First Lady’s comment…
HH: That’s getting to the point where it has caused a mini-political revolution. And I don’t think any turnout machine, however well-oiled, is going to stop that in 2014, Mark Leibovich.
ML: Well, I think, and I mean, the question is who is going to channel it. I mean, I think, look, I mean, contempt is a very, very powerful political tool, right? I mean, people on both sides have seized it, and have, I think, been rather fairly genuine in channeling it. And look, I mean, I do think, one of the things that’s interesting about Senator Coburn and Barack Obama is I do think that they both actually have a level of contempt for Washington, too. I think, I mean, what we’re talking about it contempt for voters in the Politico piece as channeled as a larger sensibility. But I think that, I mean, the contempt sort of goes in many directions. But I think look, ultimately, what I’m hoping to do with this book is to tell the secrets of this contempt, but also to show the arrogance of this contempt. And people might not even know it as contempt. I mean, people like to think in Washington that they’re doing good, and they’re making the world a better place. And maybe that’s why they came here. And look, I’m not one to judge people’s motives. I mean, people are complicated in Washington as they are everywhere. And maybe their motives have changed over the years. And I know my, I mean, certainly my concerns have changed over the years as I’ve had kids. But no, I think that it’s important. I can’t make that distinction enough. I mean, this book is not written for people inside the Beltway. I mean, people inside the Beltway might be freaking out about who’s up and who’s down in this book, and what the gossip is, and what the revelations are, and what the nuggets are. But I mean, make no mistake. This book is written for people who should be angry.
HH: That’s why I’m giving it three hours.
ML: I appreciate that.
HH: It’s not a Beltway book. It’s a book…
ML: Look, it doesn’t even feel like three hours. It feels like we just started. Can we do six hours, Hugh?
HH: Well, I’m about to beat you up here. No, no. The fact is, though, people, they have this vague sense that Washington is broken. But it’s not broken. It’s just suffused with its own self of, sense of self-importance. And part of it is I don’t mind being condescended to by people who know a lot more than I do about something. But many of this, as you said, the mediocrity in D.C, is pervasive.
ML: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
HH: Now there are three people who are the most popular guests in the history of the show, two of whom have died – Christopher Hitchens, 70 times, Michael Kelly until he died, a weekly guest, and Mark Steyn. Two of those three are gone, so they can’t even answer this. But Steyn, I think, would agree with what I’m about to say. They don’t have contempt for ordinary people. But they were deeply, they have enormous talents, they are very widely read, and the reason that they were great, great at what they did is that there are so few of them. But most people who are in your world, journalism, or the world you cover of permanent government, they don’t even come close to this talent level.
ML: I think that, look, I think that’s right. First of all, you mentioned two of my idols right there in Christopher Hitchens and Michael Kelly. I just, I can’t read enough of them, and I wish they were both still here. I would say contempt for people is the single biggest thing that you really…when you spend time in Washington, you have to make sure if you are going to be honest about it, that it’s not going to bleed into your own sensibility as a journalist, as a public figure, or whatever, because it is so easy to fall into that trap.
HH: That is, I think the great revelation is that many have fallen into that trap. Another book quiz for you to put on your reading list. Did you ever read Condoleezza Rice’s first memoir, Extraordinary Ordinary People, about growing up in Birmingham?
ML: No, I didn’t. I heard it’s pretty good, though.
HH: It is, and you would realize why she could not possibly have contempt for people coming from where she is. But I think we are manufacturing a class of elitists. And you know the drill. University of Michigan, Princeton, Harvard, you come in, you intern at the San Jose Mercury News or wherever you go…
ML: I didn’t go to Princeton or Harvard, Hugh. Wait, don’t defame me like that.
HH: Well, the University of Michigan likes to hold themselves out as a great university.
ML: They do, but they wouldn’t let me into the bathroom at Harvard, let alone Princeton.
HH: But we both know better. But then there’s this track, and you end up on this track, and you end up living on that track. And it very soon, you begin to believe that you are entitled to govern.
HH: And I just don’t know when you look at Christopher Dodd and Ted Kennedy and their drunken revels, and you’re not into that. You’re not retailing that. I’m just referencing what people know. Where, does anyone ever walk around self-aware that in fact, they’re not very bright?
ML: No, because they have constituents. And look, the thing about politicians, and again on both sides, is they are staffed, and they are always going to be surrounded with people telling them how great they are. I mean, usually, sometimes they are paid staff, sometimes they’re hand-picked crowd, or sometimes they are donors who are paying a lot of money to get access to them. And look, so it’s very, very easy to sort of be given that arrogance, even if you don’t come in with it. I mean, I think one of, who was it, I think it might have been, I think Glenn Beck actually said that does anyone ever leave Washington better than they come in? And actually, I remember he asked that, I was talking to him once, and he asked me that, and I didn’t have an answer for him. I thought that was actually a pretty interesting question.
HH: That’s a great question. By the way, you don’t deal with Rush at all in this book. You don’t deal with my world at all.
ML: No, I don’t. I don’t. Yeah, I don’t, and look, I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, and look, I know, I mean, when I’m driving around in Iowa, if he’s on, I’m going to listen to him. But no, I don’t. Look, there are a lot of people I don’t deal with.
HH: I’m going to come back and ask you about talk radio, though, when I return with Mark Leibovich.
— – – –
(Clip: Tom Brokaw, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. TB: Very happy to be here. Thank you very much for having me.)
HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt, proving to Mark Leibovich that anyone who writes a book will come on talk radio. Anyone at any time, if you’ll give them enough time, and that’s a good thing. And my point, Mark Leibovich, is the best sustained journalism in America is done on talk radio. And here’s my simple premise, which is whether, and there are only a dozen people I’m talking about here – Rush and Hannity and Levin, my colleagues Bennett, Gallagher, Medved, Prager and myself, Laura Ingraham, I hope I haven’t missed anyone, Glenn Beck. There are a dozen shows that make the weather in talk radio. And if you listen to them, you will have with their guests, Rush doesn’t do many guests, he does occasionally, long, sustained, serious conversations of the sort that people imagine are going on in D.C. And talk radio is mocked by Manhattan-Beltway elite. But in fact, those long, sustained conversations, they don’t actually happen in This Town that you cover.
ML: No, they don’t. I mean, look. I mean, this is why I love listening to talk radio, and I don’t say that as like a Beltway guy who, oh, I love to hear what the people…that actually had a patronizing ring which I did not mean in any way, shape or form.
HH: I didn’t hear it. All right.
ML: No, but I think it’s true. And look, I mean, if you just think about it, it’s talk. I mean, people don’t talk in Washington. They posture, they pose, sometimes they yell and scream. But it’s more, I mean, if you sort of even like deconstruct how people talk or don’t talk to each other, these are not how normal people talk to each other. I mean, I’m always struck by being in the presence of senators and congressmen, of either party, and just sort of watching them talk. Hi, how are you today? I mean, does anyone really talk like that? I mean, one of the great things about talk radio is that people have conversations.
HH: And when they do that, people’s opinions can change. But now in the era of confrontational journalism, that doesn’t happen. And in the area of D.C., and this takes me to my point about what’s really going on, there are transactions going on. And do you read David Mamet at all, his book, The Secret Knowledge?
ML: No, didn’t read that. You’re making me feel very poorly read.
HH: At the end of it, he says…well, you just read different. At the end of it, he says there is no secret knowledge. The secret knowledge is there is no secret knowledge. And at the end of your book, it’s all about influence and transactions. And so my question is, what are they actually buying, because everybody goes into the influence peddling business, and that’s okay, it’s a find business, people need lawyers and lobbyists, and I represent people in a different world, so I understand why they need them.
HH: But what do they actually get for that? That’s the one thing that’s not in This Town. I didn’t see any deals made.
ML: Here’s what they get, okay? I mean, first of all, they get a lot of money. I mean, I think…but I think if you want to look at it almost less sort of concretely than that, I mean, Tom Coburn has this wonderful essay, or this wonderful theme in one of this books on careerism, and just self-perpetuation is really sort of the be all and end all of Washington. It’s either staying in office, or once you leave office, it’s sort of punching your ticket for the right to stay in Washington, and trade off your former status. And I have a line in the book that formers, meaning former officeholders, stick to Washington like cheese on a gold-plated toaster.
ML: Or melted cheese on a gold-plated toaster. And I think that that’s right. I think if you can just stick around, you’re going to be paid well, for whatever reason.
HH: And that, but what do they get for it? What I’m getting at is okay, I’m going to hire Quinn-Gillespie, or I’m going to hire…
HH: The guy from Louisiana.
ML: Yeah, John Breaux.
HH: Yeah, John Breaux or the other guy.
ML: Billy Tauzin.
HH: Billy Tauzin. And they’re going to do what for me? And so the question is, you didn’t actually…
HH: Deliver the what?
ML: So what’s a lobbyist do, basically? Or what do they do?
ML: I mean, look, they’re going to try to shape opinion. They’re going to advocate for you, theoretically. I mean, I’m not sure exactly what they do. I mean, I think there is this whole subcategory of people, and it’s not clear exactly what they are doing for the $50,000 fee that they’re charging. And I mean, theoretically, they are selling you their influence. They are selling you their presumed access, their presumed knowledge. I mean, usually it’s just presumed.
HH: You see, there, just recently, we had the Corker-Hoeven amendment to the immigration reform bill. And the Corker-Hoeven amendment threw billions of dollars at border security, right down to the number of towers and what kind of systems were going to be purchased. It was a Defense contractor’s dream. And I had Senator Hoeven on the show, and it was clear to me that he really hadn’t paid much attention to what was in the amendment. Some staffer wrote that amendment with the help of some obvious contractors.
HH: And my question is, is that, are there shops within shops where people actually know what they’re doing in writing the law? Or is Obamacare such a disaster, because they pretend to know what they’re buying, but they don’t even know how to, it’s like me assembling a gymnasium. It would be a disaster, or working on a car.
ML: Yeah, no, I mean, look. There have to be people who know what they’re doing. I mean, there must, like otherwise, people wouldn’t pay for it, right? I mean, I say that almost rhetorically.
HH: But look at Obamacare. Nothing works.
ML: I don’t know if we know that, yet, Hugh. I mean, it’s early.
HH: Well, I mean, just the exchange…
ML: I get you. I see your point.
HH: I’m not being…the exchanges are not up, they had to suspend the rules for another year, a lot of the states are opting out…
ML: Right. No, I know. I hear you. I get it. Hey, you know what, can I, I’m actually now being called by a guy who says I’m like supposed to be downstairs. Hold on one second.
HH: So this is what we call I must be getting uncomfortably close to the truth here. No, that’s not true.
ML: No, no, not at all. No, actually, I think I’m getting uncomfortably close to, hold on, can you hold on one second, Hugh? Let me just listen to this voice mail.
HH: Sure. Go ahead, and I won’t tell people during that voice mail listen, that Mark Leibovich’s new book is This Town, and it is published by Blue Rider Press, which is of the Penguin group, and either he is getting a late-breaking story and there’s been an attack somewhere that we need to know about, but I do have to keep him for a little bit longer here, because I haven’t talked to him about a couple of the key thing.
ML: All right.
HH: You’re back. As iconic as a snowflake, an iconic tale of a snowflake, this is the Bardella chapter. And it’s gotten so much play, I haven’t talked much about it. But is Kurt Bardella still talking to you?
ML: You know, let me check, because I just got a text, and it might be Kurt. Actually, this is real-time breaking news. I got his area code. Hold on one second.
HH: All right. This is one of the most unusual segments…
ML: You know, I could be getting Kurt in trouble if I answered this truthfully. No, Kurt actually is someone, first of all, he was the press secretary to Darrell Issa. He is not allowed to be talking to me. I think we are supposedly in a dark period. However, in truth, he was on the cover of the New York Times Magazine this last week, which was an excerpt from this book. And I think, you know, he probably secretly has called me perhaps looking for extra copies.
HH: All right, now here’s my question for you, 30 seconds to the break, and we’ll come back and do one more segment, and I’ll let you go.
HH: Kurt never went to college.
HH: And that doesn’t mean anything other than he never went to college, but it does suggest to me that you ought not to be a press secretary in Washington, D.C. Does it occur to you that I’m right about that?
ML: Oh, I don’t know. I think Kurt got in trouble for reasons independent to what he may or may not have learned in college. I mean, I know, I think Kurt was very, very good at his job. He just made a few mistakes, and look, it’s all in the book. But I think he did a very good job for Darrell Issa for a while until…
HH: He did, but it’s a maturity issue.
— – – –
HH: Mark, you’ve been very generous with your time, but I want to wrap up by talking with you about people that you don’t see there. There are some enormously interesting people in town. They wear robes. Stephen Breyer has been on this show, Clarence Thomas has been on this show. They actually now run the town. They’re not part of the circuit. Is that, am I correct about that? You don’t run into them on the circuit?
ML: You see Justice Scalia sometimes on the circuit. You see, let’s see, who did I see the other day? I saw Justice Breyer at something. But no, as a general rule, the Supreme Court operates on its own plane, and I think that that’s perfectly appropriate.
HH: It is perfectly appropriate. Have you ever read Clarence Thomas’ memoir, I Am My Grandfather’s Son?
ML: You know, I don’t think I did.
HH: That’s my third one. So here’s, so I’ve got three books for you – The Looming Tower, Condoleezza Rice, and Clarence Thomas. When the conservative world talks, and you’re the New York Times, you are working for…
ML: The Devil?
HH: The Devil.
HH: And do you guys ever listen? I mean, do you read and think and talk with people from my worldview to understand anything about us?
ML: Oh, come on, of course we do.
ML: Look, I have tons of people on the right that I talk to on a fairly regular basis. And I can’t speak for my colleagues, but look, I mean, I think that this is a cross I have to bear as a New York Times reporter, I mean, every day. And I think if I could put in a little plug for my newspaper, I have never, ever, ever talked politics or our own politics, or our own biases with my fellow reporters. I think clearly, our editorial page is liberal. I think people just tar us with the same brush. And frankly, I think there’s some great journalism in my newspaper, and I’m proud of it.
HH: Oh, there is. David Kirkpatrick, John Burns, I talk to your, I love your foreign guys all the time, but I think your political reporting, not yours, the paper’s generally, like the Post’s and like most Manhattan-Beltway media elite, is 95% staffed by center-left people. And so I just wanted to quiz you a bit. Are you pro-choice or pro-life?
ML: Oh, I’m not getting into my personal views, Hugh. You know I can’t do that.
HH: some reporters do. I mean, they…
ML: No, I can’t. I’m not. I’m actually not going to.
HH: Who’d you vote for?
ML: Let’s see. Did I…I can’t tell you that.
HH: You see, some people will say they don’t vote, like Dana Milbank says he doesn’t vote. And some people…
ML: Yeah, no, I’m not one of those people. Mike Allen says he doesn’t vote. Len Downey, my old boss at the Washington Post, talked about he didn’t vote. I do vote, but you know, it’s funny. My wife calls me the most nonpartisan person she’s ever met, and I think that that sounds kind of squishy, but I think one of the reasons for that is I’ve actually gotten to know people on both sides very, very well. And when you do that, you do realize that character matters more than politics.
HH: Well, I actually think one of the reasons I like This Town is like, as I’ve often said to Candy Crowley, and my audience, center-right, hates me for saying this, she’s very fair. I don’t know what her politics are. I think Jake Tapper is very fair. But most people believe that most of Manhattan-Beltway media elite is fixed. It’s a rigged game. And for example, George Stephanopoulos moderating the New Hampshire debate, when he brings up the contraception question, Mitt Romney was visibly stunned. I think that was cooked up and planted by Rahm Emanuel and Paul Begala in their weekly phone call with George. And am I, is it right for me to assume that?
ML: I don’t know. I mean, I’m not on the weekly phone call. I mean, look, my one, I would say this. I mean, people talk about a conspiracy. I just don’t think we’re that organized.
HH: Stop, stop, stop. Nobody ever talks about a conspiracy. You know that is, that’s sort of a canard of the left.
ML: The Clintons, okay, all right, fair enough.
HH: There is no conspiracy. It’s just a like-minded set of values that takes you guys away from, I mentioned earlier, you listen to talk radio. Most people don’t. The books we read are not the books you read. And as a result, the echo chamber doesn’t let America in. I think that’s actually what I walked away from This Town thinking, is well, the echo chamber doesn’t let us in.
ML: Yeah, I think it does breed a level of arrogance that I think is again, it’s a message that knows no political affiliation at all. But I think that I sort of came away from this, again, speaking as an insider, and speaking for someone who lives there and who absolutely loves politics, probably because I have some gene missing, but continue to love politics. But I think no, the arrogance, I was very, very attuned to it in reporting this, and just as, I’m attuned to it as I’m sort of suffering the slings and arrows of my fellow club members who are saying how dare you for writing his.
HH: And the club, what I’m getting to, the Finals clubs at Harvard for years didn’t let in Jews or blacks or many people. And I wouldn’t join them for a variety of reasons, one of which is they remained relentlessly discriminatory through the 70s on different bounds. The club you describe is completely discriminatory. Do you know in the club any seriously devout, Mass-attending Roman Catholics?
ML: Oh, yeah, I do. Yeah, sure.
ML: Yeah, I do.
HH: Okay, I don’t. When I went to this reunion I told you about, they had surveyed the class of Harvard of 1978. In the nation, 23% of people are self-identified Evangelical. In my class, 2% were self-identified Evangelical. Now we mentioned Mike Allen is one of them, so there are exceptions to the rule.
HH: But generally in the club, do you find not only devout people, but people who are ferociously Hayekian, the people who are really free marketeers?
ML: Yeah, I mean, I haven’t, I don’t really talk to people about like their religion. And sure, there are religious people. Yeah, I mean, look. I don’t, I just think that what I try to do is, and this is almost what one of the things of the book is about, is you have to answer to your own code of what is right and who you want to talk to. And I don’t like to make judgments on whether someone is…I don’t like to make sort of demographic judgments on who is in the club and who is not in the club. I mean, I think the overriding part of this book is that the club is an extremely powerful and permanent and growing entity that people need to be aware of, and that frankly is as powerful and ever.
HH: And all I’m going to add to that is that it’s very left of center, that the club that you describe is, its default setting, and this is where I mixed it up with Tom Brokaw a little bit.
HH: And when he did his book about the flower people, the 60s generation, his profiles ran four out of five of people who are on the left, and I counted them. And he said well, that’s kind of picky. And I said no, it’s not. It just reflects who you know and who you run with.
HH: And This Town is full of those people, which is why red America is so different from blue America.
ML: Maybe, although I would also, I would argue that I mean, there are a lot of big and recurring characters in the…I mean, Paul Ryan’s in the book a lot, Chris Christie’s in the book a lot, Haley Barbour, Tom Coburn, I mean, not that they’re members of the club. Actually, one of the reasons I profiled some of them, particularly Coburn, is that he’s so antithetical to the club.
HH: He’s the opposite of the club.
ML: The opposite, and I love people like that. Look, I think I do have a bias to people who are unabashed in sort of being themselves, right? But I will say this. So you went to Harvard, Hugh?
ML: You see, Harvard discriminates against me, because they would never, ever admit me on the basis of my subpar…
HH: I got in under the Ohio quota. Don’t worry.
ML: The Ohio affirmative action program?
HH: You betcha. They let the Buckeyes in. So I conclude with this. If we’re looking at 2016 now…
HH: And we run down the Republicans who are on…it’s going to be Hillary on Team Blue. On Team Red, it’s going to be Jeb Bush or Chris Christie or Marco Rubio or John Thune. Are they all in the club?
ML: Okay, so say it again.
HH: Jeb Bush is in the club, right?
ML: I mean, I guess.
HH: The Bush’s own half of the club.
ML: They’ve all been around.
HH: They’ve been around. And Chris Christie, is he going to, is he part of the club?
ML: I mean, he certainly is beloved in the club. I mean, it helps to be around the New York metropolitan area.
HH: Exactly. Exactly. And John Thune is so not the club, but that brings me to Marco Rubio and we’ll close here. Have you read his An American Life, yet?
ML: I did, actually, because I went to a football game with him a few months ago, and I wanted to be prepared.
HH: Oh, what did you think of the book?
ML: Well, I think it was pretty well done.
ML: A friend of mine ghost wrote it, or co-wrote it. Sorry.
HH: Oh, you broke Fight Club rule. I actually thought it was not ghosted, so I’m wrong.
ML: Well, you know, he actually, from what my writer friend who worked with him says, he actually wrote most of it himself.
HH: So is Marco Rubio authentic?
ML: He actually seemed to be, and I mean, I spent like five, six hours with him at a Miami Dolphins game, and he was with his kids, and he seemed as regular as a regular guy is I could have found, although the ground rules were we could only talk about football. So but I’m happy doing that.
HH: And so when you compare him, for example, to President Obama or Ted Cruz, Ted Cruz is as authentic as they come. He is who he is. He’s really smart. Does the President seem to have that level of familiarity with the ordinary lives of Americans?
ML: You know, I don’t know. I have not spent that much time with the President, to be honest with you, and I’m not expecting the phone to ring anytime soon. But look, I mean, I do think, and this is going to sound again, maybe squishy. I think the presidency is an extremely humbling experience, and I think you’re going to come into contact with a level of humanity and human suffering, and I don’t care how isolated the job is. That is going to change you in some ways. So I wouldn’t presume to know that, but look, I mean, I did spend time with Senator Rubio. I really liked him.
HH: Mark Leibovich, thanks for spending this much time. Congratulations on This Town, and I hope your security detail doesn’t have to be permanent.
ML: I think I’ll be fine. Thanks, Hugh, I appreciate it. This was fun.
HH: Take care, Mark. My pleasure.
End of interview.