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tv   Book Discussion on Mary Mc Grory  CSPAN  January 10, 2016 4:00pm-5:01pm EST

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it? came in second out of two pretty lousy. so, with carly, all of them, that's why donald trump is so popular. not only because he does have practical solutions. pretty practical so say you build a wall, a fence, right? and that keeps -- that keeps illegal immigrants -- all these common sense things. but what really shot him to the forefront what his candidness.
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>> to stand up and accept the title of heirs of freedom, or we're going to hand freedom away, and that's what this book is all about. god bless you for writing in this, and thank you for being here with us. >> well, i appreciate that so much. thank you. you are awesome. [applause] thank you. bless you. so nice. [applause] thanks, guys. thank you. >> the standing ovation is more than appropriate, but i'm going to ask you to the take your seats again -- [laughter] for just a moment longer.
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did our friends in the overflow room enjoy the programsome -- program? it's always, i thought so, i thought so. i do want to thank you both for being here. governor, it's awkward standing back behind you, but i need a microphone. since you mentioned the book cover, i do have to say that is one of my few claims to fame, perhaps my only claim to fame, that, of course, the great john barleta was on leading the charge, and i was on horseback behind you, so my left shoulder made the book. [laughter] >> i'm sorry we crossed that out. >> my left shoulder is available for autographs -- [laughter] >> maybe a watch is showing. >> no, it is an honor to have you with us. again, thank you for this wonderful book, for your willingness to share your faith and your heart with us and with the country, and thank you both, governor and kate, for being here with us today.
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really a privilege to have you with us. >> thank you. [applause] >> as i mentioned earlier, we'll be concluding our 2015 reagan ranch round table series this evening with a special dinner featuring congressman salmon. there's never been a more important time to here his message, and i know you will want to hear what he has to say. many of you, i know, are planning to join us this evening. if you are not signed up, i think we do have a few seats available, talk to me or one of my colleagues to see if we can fit you in. we would love to have you back here at 5:30 for the reception and 6:30 for dinner. the governor has an important engagement down in, i think, orange county, and we all know what traffic is like heading that direction, so i'm going to ask your help in getting her out of the building efficiently.
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kate and the governor are going to exit ahead of us, so you can give her another applause, ovation on the way out. [applause] but then thank you all for being with us. [applause] all right. well, thank you again. merry christmas, and we hope to see you later this evening. [inaudible conversations] >> we want to hear from you.
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tweet us your feedback about the programs you see here. >> now let's turn to tonight's event. mr. norris will be interviewed by press club member dan balz. dan is the chief political correspondent for "the washington post" and the author or co-author of four books including two new york times' bestsellers, collision: 2012, and with the late haines johnson, the battle for america, 2008. he's a regular panelist on pbs' washington week and a frequent guest on cbs, nbc and cnn. and dan is so busy that he will probably have to leave this event in less than an hour to be one of the roasters and toasters of gwen ifill, who is receiving the national press club's fourth estate award. at that point i'll handle the questions from the audience, so i hope you have a bunch.
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afterward mr. norris will sign copies of his book at the table. by the way, mary mcgrory was the recipient of the fourth estate award in 1998, and her picture from that night is just outside the room on the wall here. now, ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm national press club welcome to dan balz and john norris. [applause] >> larry, thank you very much. thank all of you for coming. we're here to celebrate and life and times of a great washington institution, mary mcgrory, a former colleague of mine and many others, some of whom are in the room. john's written a wonderful book. it's a very engaging book. we'll give you a flavor of it here tonight, and i hope you all, if you haven't already bought a copy, go out and buy one and get john to autograph it. john is a senior fellow at the center for american progress here in washington. he's served in a number of senior roles in government and international institutions,
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nonprofits including the united nations, the state department and the international crisis group. he has written for the atlantic, "the washington post," foreign policy and a number of other publications. the book he has just authored about mary mcgrory is his third book. john, welcome. i want to, before i begin the questions, just read a couple of blurbs from two reviews. one by my colleague at "the washington post," carlos lozada, who says: mcgrory is what you get when proximity to power, keen observation skills, painstaking reporting, a judgmental streak and passionate liberalism coalesce in a singularly-talented writer. and in "the new york times" review, anna marie cox said mary mcgrory, the first queen of journalism, will scratch every nostalgic itch with ink-stained fingers. so with that, let me just ask you i think what is an obvious question. what prompted you to write a
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book about mary mcgrory? >> i had the good fortune to know mary when she was alive, and like lots of her contemporaries, i pretty quickly got dragooned into helping out with the orphans from st. anne's. i got to see mark shields dress up as santa claus and lay on the couch and the kids come in and sing "jingle bells" to him in increasingly rising decibels until he got up and handed out presents. i had the good fortune to go to some of her parties and see that incredibly eclectic mix of people that she brought around her table. >> what did she call that group? >> the lower mccomb street society. [laughter] and it was. as a young person coming to washington, it was absolutely revelatory to, you know, you'd be taking drink orders with roger mudd, and there'd be copy boys running around and nuns,
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and it was really not like anything i'd ever seen before. everybody was expected to pass a dish, and everybody was expected to have a song or some poetry at the end of the evening after a few drinks. and the more i got to know of mary, it just occurred to me it was just an absolutely fantastic story. a great window into contemporary american history and a great hover roy show -- horatio alger story. mary came from a lower middle class family in boston. her dad was a postal clerk. she broke into the industry at a time when women reporters were rare, and women columnists were even rarer. she had no way that she should have succeeded. and she did so in a really blazing fashion. >> how did she manage to do that? how did she manage to succeed in what was then a very, very male world of washington journalism? >> you know, i think by just didn't of sheer stubbornness. she decided really early that she wanted to be a reporter. her papers at the library of congress, there were notes in her diaries contemplating either
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being a schoolteacher or reporter from the time she was 12 or 13. she was quite enamored with a comic strip at the time of a heroic female reporter. and she set her mind to it. and she languished in the book review department both at the boston herald traveler and the washington star for years. she kept pestering her editors saying i want to cover politics, i want to write about politics. her editor at the herald traveler said -- and those of you who knew her, will find this rather amusing -- that he thought she was too shy to to make a good reporter. [laughter] >> little did he know. >> more those of you who know her, the poor, reserved mary too afraid to ask the hard questions. but she kept on it until she got her big breakthrough. >> how did she get that break? she obviously made the most of it. >> i think noise at the old
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washington star was a really good editor. mary was known as one of sharpest wits on the staff. her book reviews were always beautifully crafted. he had let her loose on the hill to do a few profiles including of lyndon baines johnson, and i think he saw something there. i think he saw she had not only a real gift as a writer, but a real eye for observation that he thought could be unleashed on politics, and he was right. >> i learned from your book that she was not purely irish. [laughter] that she had some german on one side of her family. but when she came to washington, she was very much irish. and i wanted to talk a little bit about the relationship she had with the three kennedyss who were in politics, president kennedy, welcome bobby kennedy d senator kennedy. start with jfk. how did she get to know him? what was that relationship like?
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>> yeah. her relationship with the kennedys is more complicated than it's usually been portrayed, people seeing her as kind of a uniformed cheerleader for the kennedyss. she got to know jack when he was a young, single congressman here in washington. jfk asked her out on a date, and he did so in perhaps the most kennedy-esque fashion. he asked her out on a date through a proxy. [laughter] which mary took considerable umbrage with and said if the congressman would like to ask me on a date, he'll have to do it himself, showing that she wasn't too shy to be a good reporter. he went on a date with her, it never went anywhere. she wrote to one of her girlfriends that he absolutely had to do something about that unkempt mess of hair. but they became good friends. but for the initial period he was in washington and considering a run for office, mary thought jack was too green, too untested for the presidency.
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she was an ardent adlai stevenson supporter. and she thought that kennedy might get there, but she thought it was perhaps too soon, too fast. but by the time he actually did announce and run, she became a solid supporter. and be i think he was the kind of politician that her father growing up in boston had always hoped to see. boston politicians, when marie was growing up -- mary was growing up, were florid, to say the least. mar your curley served one of his terms while doing some time in a boston jail. this was the politics that mary had kind of gotten to know and love. and jack kennedy was articulate, he was quick on his feet, he was incredibly literate, he mixed that kind of hard-nosed, back room boston politics with a sense of higher calling, and she really saw that as an enormous -- >> was it the '60 campaign that won her over, or was it after that? >> it was the '60 campaign.
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and i think it was in the run-up to the '60 campaign when they had a lot of back and forth. you know, and i think mary appreciated that not only was he a person who had soaring language and could inspire people, but he was also willing to engage in real politicking. and i think as much as mary liked adlai stevenson, the fact that he was always late, he was never very good at shaking hands, he didn't like to be out in the sun, he was kind of a disaster as a retail politician. so i think she was quite pleased by that point x it was a very exciting time for her. >> you write in the book that at the time of the assassination her writings during that period were some of the most, the best of her career. walk us through, i mean, she was emotionally rocked, or as the whole country was. the first day she had to write a column and an editorial. she had to go through that entire weekend. tell us a little bit about what
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struck you about what she wrote. >> it was the, i think, one of the most extraordinary periods of production by a modern american journalist. this was somebody that she cared about deeply, somebody who was a friend, somebody who had been killed in tragic circumstance. and she managed to write through it. as you say, given two assignments kind of on the night of the assassination, which is a lot. and people forget how much mary wrote. for a good chunk of her career, she was doing four columns a week. and there's lots of columnists, certainly in this town and new york, who complain about the unbear cial burden of turning -- unbearable burden of turning out one a week. and to do four and then three and two for the better part of her career was prodigious production. she really worked through her grief on the printed page. and it didn't come easy. i think that's one of the things that's really striking and important about mary, is she was
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an extraordinarily gifted writer, but she was never an easy writer. she would crump alling up 10, 20, 30 drafts of a column, often littering them in little balls around her desk. she worked, she reworked, she fretted over everything. and particularly the column about jfk's funeral that is probably the column that mary's best known for. she absolutely struggled to do it. she wrote long, morose sentences draped in black crepe, as she described it. and for her, it took her back -- finally in frustration -- to her education at a girls' latin school in boston. she decided moments of great grief, you needed to write short, you needed to write simply, and she produced a column that is still a hallmark of american journalism. >> i remember years ago at the post we had kind of an in-house university, and they'd asked me to do a class on deadline writing. so i went around the newsroom to talk to really good deadline
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writers and asked them their secrets, and mary was one because she was turning out so much, as you say, and on very short turn around. and she told me the story about that day. she said i had absolute writer's block that day. i could not write that column and final did, and it was brilliant. she had a much different relationship with robert kennedy and was resentful in '68 in particular because of the way he got into the presidential race. talk a little about that. >> yeah. her relationship with bobby is fascinating. and in some ways, i think bobby appreciated that he could never be jack in mary's eyes. and politicians and people like bobby and lyndon johnson cared a hot about how they looked in -- a lot about how they looked in mary's eyes, because it meant a great deal. for mary, bobby was always a little too hot, a little too aggressive, he was always a little bit too much of the enforcer. but in some ways they were an awful lot alike.
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they were both deeply devout. certainly, after jack's death bobby became much more interested in social justice issues than his late brother had been. and they had a real affinity as far as those issues go. but by 1967 and 1968, for mary the one issue in american politics was the vietnam war. she objected to it early, she objected to it often. she got lots of letters from readers who said your column's no fun anymore, because you keep complaining about vietnam. and she made it a cause. she bonded with young people, and she blew by pretty much every journalistic boundary you probably should in the process. she sat down with bobby kennedy in his senate office at the tail end of 1967, and her notes from that interview are in the library of congress, and they're still a fascinating read. she said, bobby, you've got to run. which is, perhaps, not the ideal of an objective reporter --
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[laughter] and said you have to do it, you know? the president can only appear on military bases at this point. this is a stain on the national con conscience. and there was a very rough back is and forth. -- back and forth. he was reluctant to get many, as we know, until later on, and that's the reason that mary really threw her weight and passion behind gene mccarthy, because he was willing to pick up the anti-war mantle at a time when nobody else was. and the fact that he did so well in new hampshire in the primary, for mary, was one of stirring moments in american politics. but to understand mary and her relationship with bobby, one of my favorite moments in the book and in real life was bobby came out and said that there was, made a rather sherman-esque statement that he would not run for president in 1968. through incredibly bad timing, he made the statement the same
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morning at the tet offensive was launched in saigon. so because people didn't have cell phones and everything else, it looked like bobby had come out and and said after the news of the tet offensive had broke that he wasn't going to run. mary was not amused and wrote him a cable, sent him a cable from western union that said in its full, apparently st. patrick did not drive all the snakes out of island. [laughter] you know, how many male reporters do you know that are tough enough to send that to bobby kennedy? you know? and bobby's colleagues said, you know, you've lost mary, and bobby said, no, this is an irish thing, you know? we've got to sort it out, and we will. >> but did they sort it out? >> you know, i think by the time bobby was shot certainly mary was pretty disaffected with
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eugene mccarthy as a politician and i think as a perp on a lot of levels -- as a person on a lot of levels. i think she recognized that bobby, as she'd maintained all along, was the only one who could get in and end the war and, ultimately, win the presidency. but i think those contentions were still there. mary was a person who held a grudge. i've run into any number of people, folks who had moved over to "the washington post" from the washington star at some point in their career, and as a result, mary didn't talk to them for a year or two years or got mad at them at a cocktail party and, god darn it, leaving the star was an unforgivable sin in mary's eyes. you know, so she held a grudge, you know? i think one of the really interesting things about mary's columns about bobby after he died, they weren't sentimental, they weren't nostalgic. they were very honest about the very difficult place that bobby had been in as a person dealing
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with his brother's death, with vietnam and with his family. >> and briefly on teddy kennedy, that was also a different kind of a relationship. >> yeah, absolutely. i mean, i think that they were very close, and mary would go up there in teddy's office, and they would have a scotch and talk politics. but, you know, i think mary also disapproved of teddy on some levels. that his personal life had been at times quite messy, as everybody in this town knows. she didn't like the drinking and carousing. you know, and mary liked a good stiff drink, but in a lot of ways she was still quite prim when it came to personal behavior. she didn't approve of gambling, of womanizing. so i think that she nor mousily respected teddy she enormously respected teddy, and teddy had enormous affection for her, but there was still that grit. >> you had a line in the book that quoted from her column at the end of the 1980 convention
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where kennedy, in a sense, upstaged jimmy carter in which she wrote that carter left the convention looking like an airline pilot whose passengers had been, had defected to the hijacker. [laughter] and it was a reminder to me of her ability to, in just deft ways, sum up a scene or an event. and the book is replete. i mean, if for no other reason to read the book -- and there are many good reasons to read it -- just to be reminded of her skill as a writer, to encapsulate events. what was her phrase on bush and gore, the unlikable versus the -- >> it was the -- yeah. you know, you're so right. it was her ability to turn a phrase, you know? with that really made things in washington much more enjoyable for the average reader than they are for the people who actually have to live through dealing with washington. [laughter] you know, you could go to a congressional hearing which
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could be dry as sand and bring it to life. she could look at the senate floor in the middle of a long procedural process, and as she did at one point describe two senators looking like a pair of elderly polar bears, dancing "swan lake" as they navigated a cloture vote. [laughter] and there's not that many people that can find magic and poetry in a cloture vote in this town. [laughter] one of my favorites was during the watergate hearings she described the goings-on at the white house, kind of the mix of evil and ineptitude as the equivalent of a marx brothers movie as retold by the german general staff. [laughter] and it was those kind of things that made mary's columns a must-read. the politicians wanted to appear in mary's column and absolutely dreaded -- >> you note that lbj, as an offhand comment, tried to
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proposition her once, which is described in the book. he said mary mcgrory gets better and better at my expense. >> absolutely. [laughter] >> you mentioned watergate. at the end of the 1972 campaign, she wasmore or less convinced that mcgovern had a real chance of winning. proved to be slightly off base with that prediction. [laughter] and she said or wrote later, i hit the pits in '72. but as you write, it set up what was in many ways a pinnacle of her career during the watergate years. how did -- i mean, her relationship with nixon, the nixon administration and particularly what she was writing in watergate was just so dead on. >> you know, mary thrived with good enemies and things to write about. and, again, her writing on vietnam was exceptional. and nixon and mary were just perfectly cast to not get along. they were, they were the best of enemies. you know, if you think about two week, it'd be hard -- two people, it'd be hard to design
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two individuals who were more dissimilar than mary and nixon. one of my favorite things about the nixon/mary passages was at one point nixon decided after having put mary on the enemies' list to unleash the irs on mary. and she got audited a number of years in a row, and mary took it very seriously. her mom had been an accountant, and her aunt had been an accountant, and she kind of saved receipts, but she was never the most organized of people. so the full weight of the irs comes down on mary. and after numerous audits, she gets a larger refund because she's underreported her charitable contributions -- [laughter] to st. anne's orphanage. and for me, that was kind of a perfect example of how badly nixon misunderstood what made somebody like mary tick. this idea that she's going to be fast and loose with her money or she's cheating on her taxes. no, she's helping out little kids that don't have much and buying them christmas presents.
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>> you also describe in the book two different occasions, as i recall, one where nixon came to the washington star for a lunch, andhe made her way into that lunch over the objection, i take it, of some people. but found him an engaging politician. and then was in the pew with him at martin luther king's funeral sharing a hymnal which the juxtaposition of those events with what later happened is quite striking. >> you know x mary said that -- and mary said that, she wrote a little bit about sharing a hymnal with him at mlk's funeral ceremony, and she said that he was as gracious as could be. that he waited to make sure that she was ready when he turned the page, he knew all the words which, you know, knowing your hymns put you in good stead with mary. [laughter] and there was that part of nixon that kind of mary appreciated. but she also thought that he was just incredibly poorly cast as a politician because he wasn't that comfortable with people. and that the idea of kind of
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engaging a natural back and forth was so hard for him. and for one of his appearances when he was invited to it, the editor at the washington star, the press secretary at the time asked that the lunch be made stag with only male reporters allowed to attend. and the washington star said yes initially, and there was an outroar over the fact that women reporters were being excluded. and it was clearly designed to keep mary specifically out of the room. and so mary ate her brown bag lunch in her office, and nixon came down, and they had some awkward small talk. but it was really telling that somebody from mary's position of having a column, being very earnest in her belief was seen by nixon as an enemy of the state and somebody that you had to bring the full force of government to bear upon. >> she said when she got the fourth estate award in 1998 that great men don't call me. i -- people who are losers call me. people who have causes and need things call me.
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and yet she existed in a world unlike any reporter i can, or columnist i can think of in the relationships she had. as you say, in the lines she crossed. this wasn't just that she operated in a different era, she operated differently than most people in that different era. how did she balance that? >> yeah. and i think, you know -- >> or did she. >> >> some of mary there are times you have to take some of it with a grain of salt. she would talk about being an outsider and not having access and, you know, the great and the good never return my calls. not returning a call quickly enough, you know, clearly landed you on a list with mary no matter what your stead or position. but, you know, for somebody who claimed to be an outsider, she -- you'd go to her parties, and there were supreme court justices and senators and vice presidents, and she did have rather extraordinary access. but she never really used that access for kind of quick or easy scoop, you know? she wanted to understand
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politicians as people, she wanted that proximity to see how they behaved, to see what drove them, to see how they thought, what made hem think. you know -- them think you know, and i think one of the really interesting things about mary is that she was an anachronism throughout her career. when she got into the industry, she was really one of only one or two women on the campaign bus. and by the time she finished her career, you know, women were getting maternity leave that they were able to balance home life and work life to a certain extent. whereas with her career she was given a very stark choice; you can have a family, or you can be a reporter. and it was not acceptable to embrace both. so i think she created her own world. and really through force of will was able to carry it off in something that we don't really see today. >> she moved to the post when the star folded, but her heart never left the star, and she
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always even years later still seemed uncomfortable as a postie. can you explain why that was? what was it about the star that had so much grip on her? >> you know, i don't think it was just mary are. almost everybody i've met who did a shift at the washington star fell in love with the place. it was eclectic and free-wheeling and fun and disorganized and a poorly-run family empire, and it has a lot in terms of feel with kind of the front page, that it was pioneering journalism in a lot of ways. and it was a family. people, people stayed for a long time. and i think mary, though she may have had some faults, loyalty and lack of loyalty was not one of them. she was enormously loyal to her longtime editor at the star. you know, she called him by his
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last name for most of her professional career. in a very old school way of doing business. you know, and she just, she loved everything about the star. almost had to be dragged out of the building when it closed down. and i think the post was a real, very jarring transition for her. she thought it was too corporate -- >> explain the rome/paris -- >> yeah. she always compared, and this was always quite shrewd of mary, because she realized nobody could object too loudly to being compared to paris. [laughter] even though it was a kind of backhanded compliment for the post, she knew how can you complain? you're being compared to paris. but she thought the star was rome. it was beautiful and messy and disorganized and that the post was paris because it was aloof and a little distant and a little imperial. and to know mary was also to know that she absolutely loved everything italian. she vacationed there every
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single year for 50 years in a row. [laughter] so anything that got compared to rome was being praised about as highly as possible. >> tell me a little bit about the source material you were able to plum for this. i mean, there's just some remarkably intimate detail about her life that you were able to find. how did you get that? >> mary was a saver. she answered all her mail. she answered every single letter she ever got as a journalist unless-profane throughout -- informs it was profane -- unless it was profane throughout her career. she donated 184 boxes of her letters and notebooks in shorthand and longhand to the library of congress. her family was quite generous in sharing some papers, letters that had not been turned over to the library. she wrote 8,000 columns or so
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during her career, just an enormous written trail. she appears innumerable times in other people's books and speeches and stories. and i sat down with scores of journalists and friends and colleagues and family members, and i've got to say that was one of, for me, the most fun parts of the entire project. as mary said, when reporters are approached noncompetitively, they are incredibly gracious, they're incredibly thoughtful. they know what makes for a good interview, and it was a great pleasure getting to talk to a lot of giants in the field, sitting down with haines johnson, who i know was such a good friend and colleague, ben bradley, jack germand, folks like roger mudd. people were just so excited to see that this project was happening, wanted to participate and were just a blast --
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[laughter] >> jack had some tough things to say about her. they must have had a competitive relationship. >> they were. they were a bit, you know, their comments and views, they were a bit like a cranky old couple in some ways. >> that's the way it came off in the book. >> yeah, you know, jack was messy, his shirt was untucked, and he liked to bet the pointnies which i'm -- the ponies which i'm sure mary disapproved of. he didn't want to carry her bags, i've got my own bag to carry. he'd been an editor for a period of time at the star, you know, and i think like many of mary's editors over time that, you know, mary approached editors with good help is hard to get attitude of kind of you've got the pleasure of editing my column, please don't mess around with it very much, thank you very much. yeah -- >> at least one of her former editors is in this room tonight, so -- >> yeah, you know, jack and mary jousted a little bit.
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but, you know, there were also some very poignant appearances together late both in their careers where they were talking about how the industry had changed. neither one was nostalgic that, you know, the '50s or '6s were a golden era of american political life or politics or the mccarthy era or nixon. but, you know, what really came through was they loved politics. they loved it. they could sit there at the bar talking about who's up, who's down, chatting with campaign managers, handicapping the race until four in the morning. and the thing that bothered them most about the industry and how political reporting was changing wasn't the technology even though that drove them both crazy, it was the fact that there were more and more journalists who were just kind of cycling through, punching their ticket, hoping to go on to cover a bigger beat, a different beat, and weren't just there because that's what they wanted to live, breathe and eat. >> she did eat, sleep and
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breathe politics her whole life, but it was other columns and other kinds of writing that captured the imagination of a lot of readers. she'd write about gardening and squirrels and her trips to new hampshire. she seemed to have a gift. she wrote about jane austen. she had a gift about writing about things that people who weren't political junkies could attach to and find something in them. it was a remarkable talent. >> you know, and it's interesting that her gardening columns and her columns about the more offbeat topics really came out after the '60s. and it was kind of into the mid '70s when they really started to appear. i think part of it was, you know, '68 had been such a wrenching period for mary personally, professionally, you know? it was just the year when everything went wrong. i think she understood that you had to leaven the bread to keep people's attention and to keep focused as a writer. she loved her gardening column, you know? she turned this little, scraggly
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plot of land behind her apartment off of connecticut avenue into this place of mystery and wonder. you know, she had a horrible black thumb. the squirrels were always digging up her bulbs, and things were dying on the vine -- [laughter] and it was only the sturdy impatiens that rescued her gardens. those and the jane austen columns elicited such an amazing response. the letters i read on the squirrels were amazing. people would send in these three-page diagrams with wires and plastic tubing -- [laughter] and do this. and i throw potatoes at them, you know? she asked sandy berger, who was at the time the national security adviser of the united states of america, who i assume had a fair amount going op in his day job, to see if he could perhaps get lion dung from the national zoo -- [laughter] because somebody had told her that that was helpful in keeping squirrels away.
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sandy shared that because they're an endangered species, they weren't allowed to take dung from the national zoo. but, you know, people absolutely responded to those columns. and i think it really went to the fact that they were funny, they were self-depracating, and they were just beautifully crafted. >> she wrote one column at the time of the invasion about iraq that juxtaposed the coming of spring in washington with the invasion. and the way she wrestled with the iraq war, particularly as it was about to happen, was one of the more remarkable periods of her career. and that, too, drew incredible response from readers. >> you know, the tail end of mary's career, you know, she was faced with seismic events at the end of her career as she was at the beginning. you really look at the army mccarthy hearings as kind of the first book end on the beginning of her career as a political reporter.
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september 11th and the iraq war, really the tail end bookend. they were very tough. after september 11th, she wrote a column that if you read it today, you would find it absolutely uncontroversial or unspectacular, you know? she said that george w. bush on september 11th was indecisive, he wasn't particularly presidential, he was seen being kind of escorted from military base to military base. he just wasn't a very commanding presence as president. which in retrospect is not even that harsh a judgment on the bush presidency. at the time it elicited more hate mail than mary had ever gotten in her career. hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters, often in the most vile terms imaginable that anyone would dare to be critical at such a moment in american history. and for mary, being critical at high moments and important
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moments was the thing you do as a reporter. that's part of the national fabric. that's part of why democracy works. and she didn't shy away from that. the iraq war columns, i think, were quite tough because after colin powell appeared at the u.n. making the case for the iraq invasion with his kind of bag of flour or sugar, i forget what it was, saying that this amount of chemical weapons would destroy an american city, mary was persuaded by that. as were a lot of americans. and wrote a column saying that seeing that, her mind had been changed on the merits of it. she got a furious response from readers on the other side of the aisle in that respect. though she said the letters from democrats were much more gracious and had much better punctuation -- [laughter] an issue for a different day. and then she flipped back to opposing the war. and the column that you mention, contrasting the onset of spring
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in washington which she absolutely loved with the bulbs starting to peek their heads up along the slopes of rock creek park as she made her way in and out of work with the military positioning themselves to go into iraq, was her last column. and she had a stroke as she was trying to craft that column, and dan eikenberry did the last little edits to finish the column. and as birthsweet -- bittersweet as it was to have a stroke affect her, in some ways it seems very fitting -- >> and your description of those last years was so poignant. a woman so gifted with words unable to speak or write could understand. i mean, i know various friends, people would, you know, we'd go see her, and she would struggle with it. and just couldn't make it work. but, i mean, i say your description of it is so touching and poignant, but what a tragic ending to such a great life that
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that was. >> yeah. it was incredibly fortunate, she'd been robbed of her ability to communicate. she couldn't make an intelligible sentence most of the time. she could get out a few words, every once in a while she could string together a sentence or two, but for somebody who was as good with language as anybody we've had the pasure to know, it felt so mean for her final days to be that way. but, you know, in a lot of ways it was also quite touching, the outpouring of help and support from her friends in those final days. you know, one of my favorites was al cayman, who just wrapped up a very notable career, he'd go to her house, and he realized how difficult it was to communicate with her. he'd trundle her into his convertible, put classical music
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on, put the top down, and they'd go for a drive on rock creek park and around. and, you know, i think that ez things and, you know, and the kennedys would stop by with a casserole, you know? i think it was those things that really showed how many lives that mary had touched. the number of letters that mary got from readers wishing her well and saying that it feels a little forward, but i really need to call you mary because you've been such a part of my life for so long, i think, was really a touching testament to her accomplishments. >> well, john, thank you. it's a wonderful book, congratulations. i'm going to turn it to larry, and to all of you, i'm going to slip away, but thank you again for coming -- [applause] >> let's have a hand for dan who did a great job interviewing. if you have questions, please come up to the microphone. we have one microphone over here, so please come by and ask your question. and while people are making their way to the microphone,
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i'll tell you my mary mcgrory story -- >> please. >> -- which will take about 30 seconds. at the democratic national convention in 1968, i was a young college student, was out there working for the maryland news covering montgomery county delegates, and i went to a breakfast one morning with the maryland delegation, and some presidential candidates came by. i forget which one it was that had spoke, and after he was finished, the delegates applauded, and i was sitting there at the press table, and i applauded. and mary looked at me -- [laughter] gave me the hairy eyeball and said, we're the press. we don't applaud. [laughter] and i never made that mistake again. [laughter] eleanor. >> yes. i wondered about mary's personal life. i think she never married or had children? [inaudible conversations] i just wondered, you know, others in her column and, of
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course, her green thumb and her fondness for squirrels, what else did she have going on in her life? >> you're right. mary didn't ever marry. she never had kids. you know, she had an incredibly private view towards her private life. one of the things that really struck me as i made the rounds doing interviews and talking to people was friends, family, people didn't know what went on with romances. and after a lot of digging and letters and a series of interviews, the great love of mary's life was blair clark who'd been a reporter at cbs. you know, and it never worked out for a bunch of different reasons. you know, there were sometimes that i thought because mary had been so conditioned to thinking that a romance would end her career in the '50s and '60s, and-a time when getting married
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was a fireable offense at a lot of papers in the '50s. literally, there were women reporters who hid their marriages so they wouldn't get fired including at "the new york times." so, you know, she was given a very stark choice. so there were times that i think that mary's approach to romance was to gravitate towards men that in some ways were unattainable. whether she was kind of softly sabotaging her chances or just thought she really had to make a choice. for somebody who loved jane austen and loved good romance, her romantic life was hard, frustrating and incredibly private. >> i'm going to invite people to come to the mic, but she did have a whole life with chirp. so tell us -- with children. tell us about the role of children in her life. >> sure. mary volunteered at the st. anne's orphanage. when she first came to washington, it was just off of dupont circle, just north of
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dupont circle. she had jutte moved here. she -- just moved here. she showed up at the orphanage and said i'm mary mcgrory, and i'm here to volunteer. they'd never had a volunteer, and the nuns were trying to find a very polite way to tell strange, rather intrusive i don't young woman that they were good when a kid came in off the playground, sat in her lap and asked if she was going to stay the night. and that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. mary volunteered at st. anne's almost every week for five decades. she helped out, he threw parties for the kids, she read to them, she helped pay school fees. she was just incredibly committed and connected to kids that really didn't have a lot going for them. and one of the really rewarding things about the book is i had a chance to reach out and talk to a couple people who'd grown up
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as kids at st. anne's and still remembered mary's influence and were incredibly touched by it years after the fact. and it wasn't just mary, it was the literally scores of friends, colleagues and others that she dragged along, sometimes willingly, to help out at the orphanage. >> but i don't think most people knew that, or did they know that at the time? >> no, mary didn't advertise it. marry's faith was -- mary's faith was very important to her, her volunteer work was incredibly important to her. she rarely talked about it. >> hi. i wondered if you would compare and contrast her with maureen dowd. >> you know, that's a dangerous comparison to make. [laughter] you know, maureen dowd got her start at the washington star when mary was there. one of my favorite little bits about the very long relationship between mary mcgrory and the dowd family, maureen dowd's father was a capitol hill
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policeman and helped escort mary to a front row seat at the army mccarthy hearing the very first day because he wanted to see a nice irish girl get ahead. obviously, mary and maureen -- who is here tonight -- were very good friends, close friends. you know, i don't think mary was a mentor to writers and to women. i think her style was to show how it can be done. she wasn't necessarily somebody who kind of pulled people under her wing. she was somebody who was going to send nice notes to people who did good work, make people stay after it and was there to support people who were doing good work. and i think, obviously, mary recognized maureen's considerable talent, and i think they both made all of our lives richer for really illuminating the american political scene for decades. >> you mentioned her, talked
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actually quite a bit about her relationship with the kennedys and with nixon. what about lbj? >> you know, it was a very complicated relationship in that lbj could never be jack ken bty. kennedy. and i think that lbj in oral histories and interviews really recognized that very immediately. and referred to it as this thing that he'd fought for and craved and really had led his adult life to become president was suddenly this poison chalice because the president had been assassinated in dallas. and he recognized that. he desperately wanted to woo mary as a columnist and as a person. he made an incredibly clunky pass at her one night at her apartment, showed up with the secret service kind of after hours, up a announced. the secret service had said he was appearing, and mary thought it was one of her colleagues pulling her leg.
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lbj came, they sat down, they had a couple drinks. from what i pieced together, lbj basically said, you know, i know you loved the kennedys, and now you should love me, and i'm crazy about you, you know. >> and i can't think of a more awful pick-up line. [laughter] to be used on anybody, and particularly to be used on mary. and so, certainly, lbj tried to woo her. there were numerous examples from the white house tapes in his administration where he would yell at his press secretary to get things right with mary. you've got to fix this. i'm tired of this. but increasingly, as the vietnam war picked up steam, that was an absolute deal breaker for mary. and i think that mary always had been an astute observer of human nature and recognized how just incredibly needy lbj was as a person and thought it was just a fairly damning quality in a
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president. >> you mentioned that she not only wrote about politics, but she in some ways was sort of an adviser to some politicians. how do we square that with the role of a journalist? >> you know, it's certainly not a hanging offense in this down. and i think one of the things that stands out is you go back and look at, certainly, the period of the '50s, '60s, '70s and into the '80s and to a much lesser extent today, you know, reporters live with campaigns. they travel with them, they're in hotel rooms, they're on the bus, they're on the plane, you know? it's a lot of time to spend with somebody and not have an opinion about them, their policies or their approach to politics. in some ways it strikes me as almost naive that we churn out students from journalism schools hoping that they'll all be perfectly neutral and not have an opinion.
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you know, if you've ever sat down and played a game of poker with a bunch of reporters, they've got opinions. even if they're not opinion writers and not on the editorial page. you know, i think in a lot of ways mary's approach, particularly probably in '68 when she pushed bobby to get in, when she was part of gene mccarthy's kitchen cabinet, you know, that breaks all the rules of journalism. and she probably should have recused herself from covering the campaign. but it was also an era when almost every senior editorial writer and senior reporter was aligned with a campaign in some way or another, was offering advice. , you know, and i think that as every politician imagines that they are secretly a hollywood star, every reporter imagines that they are a brilliant campaign manager and that the campaign would work much better if they would just listen to their sage advice. >> i'm going to ask if there's anybody else who would like to ask a question?
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now is the time to come to the mic. seeing none, john, it is now my pleasure to present you with the highly-coveted national press club mug. [laughter] [applause] >> thank you. >> congratulations. thank you for being here. [applause] and, john, if you would go to the table, i will have people line up. but, first, i would like to thank ruth mohamed and julie chu for helping us to arrange tonight's book signing, and we are adjourned. so if you'll go to the table and sign books. -- >> and during world war ii he is working at this top secret and statistics lab right near columbia university. i actually had no idea until i was researching this that there was such a thing. it was kind of like the manhattan project, except it was actually in manhattan. it was all these very famous statisticians, and the story
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that i tell in the book is a group of generals come to this group, this statistical research group, the srg. they come to wald, and they say, well, we've noticed something funny. the planes that are coming back from flying missions over germany, there's more bullet holes in some parts of them than others. they're getting hit more in the fuselage and less in the engines. and they said we want to know how much more armor should we be putting on the places where the planes are getting hit more. like, how much more heavily should we be armoring the fuselage? you don't want to put too much armor on, or the plane won't fly. too little, and the plane's not safe. so they said, abraham wald, is there some kind of mathematical formula you can give us? and work ald says, you guys have it completely wrong. you have to put the armor where there are no bullet holes. okay, this is, like, kind of weird, right? put yourself in the position of the general.
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why are you telling me to do the exact opposite of what makes sense? wald points out that it's not that the germans can't hit their planes on the engine, it's that the planes that get hit on the engines are the ones that are not coming back from germany. so the planes that heir seeing, that's -- they're seeing, that's not like a random sample from all the planes. they are seeing the ones that didn't get shot in the engine and didn't get shot down. so what's interesting about this is he didn't give them the kind of answer they were expecting. he didn't give them a formula, a spread sheet, a number. nonetheless, what he did was deeply mathematical. mathematics is not just about numbers, right? mathematics is about understanding, and it's about taking a question and asking what assumptions underlie that question. is it correct? is it even the right question in the first place? giving the answers to questions is, like, pretty easy. but asking the right questions, that is profound. and that's what mathematical thinking is really about. >> you can watch this and other
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programs online at [inaudible conversations] >> welcome to the powerhouse arena. we're really excited to be celebrating the launch of drawing blood by molly crab crabapple. let's get a round of applause for that. [applause] so this program is going to feature a discussion followed by a signing right to your left. so as you see now, we've got lots of copies of drawing blood
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up at the register, and we'd really appreciate if you grab a few from us, because it helps us do more of these events for you guys. .. mollie's first ever book tour event, so i want to ask -- she
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might -- >> is this my hazing? >> exactly, yes. if you want to haze holly tonight, this is your unit, i'm honored to be the moderator, but she was a writer in edition. and this book, when i first read it reminded me of books -- adventurous lives and in addition were great artists and that's the way this book reads. >> did you make -- >> i come to this later in the book, but become a writer and


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