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Suzanne Garment
Suzanne Garment
Scandal:  The Culture of Mistrust in American Politics
ISBN: 0385425112
Scandal: The Culture of Mistrust in American Politics
Ms. Garment, author of Scandal: The Culture of Mistrust in American Politics, discussed the way political scandals have reshaped U.S. history and influenced the way Americans vote and think about public policy. Her book cites over eighty cases of misconduct occurring within both political parties. She examines what she terms is the "criminalization of politics" and the roles played by the White House, Congress, the courts, and the press. A former Washington correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Garment believes that the increased coverage of scandals since Watergate has strengthened the influence of the media while reducing the power of government.
Scandal: The Culture of Mistrust in American Politics
Program Air Date: November 17, 1991

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Suzanne Garment, author of the book Scandal: The Culture of Mistrust in American Politics, what's it all about?
SUZANNE GARMENT, AUTHOR, "THE CULTURE OF MISTRUST IN AMERICAN POLITICS": It's about why we have more scandals today, since Watergate, than we've ever had before in American history. The reason turns out to be not that we're more corrupt than we ever were, but that we're better than we ever were at producing scandals -- declaring new things to be offensive, ferreting them out, publicizing them and punishing them.
LAMB: How did we get here?
GARMENT: We got here, I think, from the '60s which were the source of a lot in today's politics. Among other things, the conflicts over the Vietnam War produced part of the political elite with a very deep mistrust of the government -- indeed, an elite that questions the moral legitimacy of the government. From the '60s on you had reforms which we now think of as post-Watergate reforms, but they began before Watergate -- reforms designed to put this mistrust into practice and make public life cleaner. Campaign finance reform began before Watergate, and federal prosecutors began using federal laws in new ways to touch state and local corruption cases that they've never touched before.
LAMB: Is this healthy?
GARMENT: Partly. Today we expose some real, honest-to-God corruption that we probably wouldn't have reached with the older system. You see Senate aides brought up on charges for rape and aggravated sexual assault, a couple of them recently caught in FBI stings, doing things that are clearly illegal. But we also get a great deal of junk. When I started doing this, I started keeping the file of people who had been mentioned in the national press, together with allegations of personal wrongdoing. They had to be fairly high officials. I went down to the deputy assistant secretary level in the executive branch. Senior legislative aides in Congress were the lowest, and sadly there were federal judges as well. I stopped counting when they reached 400, and it must be closer to 500 now.
LAMB: When did you start counting?
GARMENT: With Watergate. This was a somewhat arbitrary dividing line, but Watergate was in one sense a symptom of the mistrust that had developed in the country on all sides. Also, though, it was a watershed in that it confirmed everyone's darkest views of government, and it institutionalized our apparatus for creating scandals or bringing about cleaner government, whichever way you want to look at it.
LAMB: What were you doing during Watergate?
GARMENT: I was an infant then. I was a graduate student then and I predicted, I think, that Nixon would survive. I always get it wrong.
LAMB: Where were you?
GARMENT: I was at Harvard.
LAMB: Studying what?
GARMENT: Political science.
LAMB: Did the Watergate experience make a real impression on you? Do you remember it having stopped you in your tracks and you would sit and watch it every day?
GARMENT: I watched, but I wasn't in politics for a while after I went to graduate school. I taught after graduate school, political science, and then one day corruption came calling in the form of Senator Daniel P. Moynihan who was then teaching at Harvard. I had met him when I was a graduate student, and he had just been appointed as ambassador to the U.N. He asked me whether I would come and be his assistant. I went to ask my department chairman -- I was then teaching at Yale -- and he said, "You know, if you go you'll never come back." "Oh, pshaw," I said, and went off to New York. That was my first experience with real politics and, of course, the department chairman was right -- I never went back. I went back for a very short time, and then saw it was no longer for me because I had become addicted to the ringing telephone.
LAMB: What did you do for then-Ambassador Moynihan?
GARMENT: Well, usually a special assistant in this situation does anything and everything, from writing letters and helping with speeches to opening doors for the ambassador and holding umbrellas over his head. But since he is 6'4", that was not in the cards. He took it very well. So, I did the other stuff for him. It was a little bit of everything.
LAMB: Did you see any scandal at the U.N.?
GARMENT: The U.N. itself, at that time, was one screaming scandal; that is, I was there at the low point.
LAMB: What year?
GARMENT: This was in '75-'76. It was the year when they passed the resolution saying that Zionism was a form of racism. It was a year when they kept pursuing their agenda of economic reform that would redistribute wealth from the developed world to the underdeveloped world even though they had none of the means to make this operative. It was a time of American loss of confidence of people in the State Department, even, who ran us, in theory, at the U.N. I had the sense that we were on the losing side of history, and that these Third World nations were indeed the wave of the future along with communist or quasi- communist regimes. Moynihan, of course, said it wasn't so and said so very loudly. That was why he became such a popular figure.
LAMB: Were you, at the time you worked for now-Sen. Moynihan, a Democrat?
GARMENT: I still am a Democrat.
LAMB: But I mean you had a party affiliation and that's what drew you to that job.
GARMENT: No. I was a political appointee, but it was a personal connection from back at Harvard that got me there, not party politics.
LAMB: How long did you stay there?
GARMENT: Oh, about seven months. It seems like an eternity. But then he left and shortly afterwards decided to run for the Senate. Then I became active in party politics.
LAMB: Where?
GARMENT: I was issues director for his campaign for the Senate in 1976.
LAMB: Did you ever come to Washington and work in his office here?
GARMENT: No. Working on the Hill, even though in this book I criticize Hill staffers up and down, is a hard and unpleasant job. It doesn't pay much, the hours are horrible. I finally got sane and I didn't go.
LAMB: So what did you do during that period?
GARMENT: At some point I joined the staff of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. That would have been the beginning of 1977, actually.
LAMB: A Democrat on the staff of the Wall Street Journal editorial page?
GARMENT: I didn't tell them. It was something that was also done through friends. Irving Kristol, who was an old friend and a very dear one, knew that there was an opening on the editorial page, and I just trundled right in there not knowing what I had gotten myself into. Those years were years of great activity at the editorial page, partly because supply-side economics was taking shape there. I don't know much about economics, and I was not part of that, but I sat at a desk next to this fellow Jude Wanniski who was always on the telephone promoting this idea of supply-side economics. But I, of course, knew this would go nowhere just like I knew Richard Nixon would survive Watergate.
LAMB: And Jude Wanniski is credited with starting the whole thing?
GARMENT: He is one of those. Certainly he was the chief publicist of supply-side economics during those years.
LAMB: Did the Wall Street Journal write a lot about scandal in those years?
GARMENT: More than I had expected. The Carter administration, of course, came to office precisely because people wanted to be rescued from the morass of Watergate. Jimmy Carter was one of the most manifestly honest people ever to inhabit the White House, but from the beginning, the Carter administration was plagued by scandal. I was very surprised, then, to see it happen. The scandals were not as numerous as they were later to become, but they were there and they involved officials who were relatively high in rank and close to the president. It began with Bert Lance who left his job at the Office of Management and Budget because of charges of offenses like hiking checks, which is evidently a Washington perennial. It went on to encompass Carter's drug adviser who left after he was found to have written a false prescription for Quaaludes for one of his staffers. There was Billygate, there was the General Services Administration scandal, which is less remembered now, but in which there must have been 100 people who were indicted and convicted or pled guilty to various kinds of petty corruption. Then at the end, most serious, there was Hamilton Jordan and the accusation that he had snorted cocaine at Studio 54. It was pretty steady. In 1980 when it came time for the re-election campaign, I think the scandals had been just visible enough so that Carter had lost some of his moral legitimacy. He couldn't claim that as one of his political tools in the re-election campaign.
LAMB: Do you blame anybody in that administration for that, or if you were to go put your finger on the reason why all that scandal came to the surface, what would it be?
GARMENT: Well, there is always blame somewhere in these scandals. In politics there probably are no innocents; there are only people who are not guilty as charged. Some of the people in the administration were not guilty as charged. For instance, Jordan was found not to have done what he was accused of having done, or to put it another way, there was found to be no credible evidence against him. But it was a huge investigation nonetheless because by the time of Jordan's alleged offense we had an independent counsel law. The charge came originally from a man who had been indicted for tax evasion, one of the owners of Studio 54 who said, as part of a plea bargain, "I can get you Hamilton Jordan." People say this a lot when there are plea bargaining and no one thinks much of it, but this time because the independent counsel law had been passed -- it was then still called the special prosecutor -- the charge had to be sent to Washington, and in Washington unless the attorney general could really dismiss the charges and know that they were false, he had to go forward to appoint an independent counsel, which he did. There were lie detector tests and interviews of scores of witnesses. Because the investigation was public, secondary charges against Jordan began to come out of the woodwork. It took months -- six months, I think -- until Arthur Christy concluded that the evidence just wasn't there.
LAMB: So he was never indicted nor never convicted of anything.
GARMENT: No, nothing.
LAMB: Do you have any idea where he is today?
GARMENT: Last I heard he was head of a national tennis association, but I don't know whether that's correct.
LAMB: When you read the introduction, you come to the last paragraph -- I want to read the first line because I assume for a lot of people this will be the first time they will have heard this -- "My husband, attorney Leonard Garment, represented three of the individuals mentioned, Robert McFarlane, Edwin Gray and Edwin Meese III, during Meese's 1984 confirmation hearings." Does that change the way people look at you when they know you were, or are, married to Leonard Garment?
GARMENT: I've been a journalist now for 20 years, and I've been expressing those curmudgeonly opinions for better or for worse since long before I met Leonard Garment. In fact, I like to argue that maybe it's my opinions that influenced his choice of professional activities.
LAMB: How long have you been married to him?
GARMENT: Ten years.
LAMB: For those who have never heard of him, who is he and why would people be sensitive to the fact that you're married to Leonard Garment?
GARMENT: Because he was the counsel to the president during Watergate after John Dean had left, and Len lived to tell the tale, which is, I think, a magnificent tribute to his prudence and judgment.
LAMB: Never charged with anything.
GARMENT: No. He was the guy who told Nixon that he couldn't burn the tapes, which was not forgiven very easily. But he had that role in Watergate. Actually, he entered it very late. For most of the time, he was rather far from the action, which turned out to be a blessing.
LAMB: How long did you work for the Wall Street Journal?
GARMENT: Ten years.
LAMB: Left it when?
GARMENT: Left in '87.
LAMB: The reason for leaving?
GARMENT: It was time. I was an academic. I wasn't a journalist by birth. I wasn't very good at the deadlines; that is, they bothered me terribly. And there was this book to write because by that time it had become clear that Washington was a city that was absolutely inundated with political scandal.
LAMB: If you had to give a reason for somebody going out and spending $23 for this book, in a nutshell, in a paragraph, what would it be? What do they learn in this book that they won't get anywhere else?
GARMENT: Well, the chapter on sex is really good, for starters.
LAMB: I want to ask you about that.
GARMENT: This is a book about something that has happened to our political culture in the past 15 years that I think is dangerous, and it's something that we can correct only if people first recognize it for what it is. The book tries to draw the map, and I hope it's useful for that purpose.
LAMB: Is there new information in here, in your opinion?
GARMENT: I don't think so; that is, I know there is new information, but I did not go out to re-report scandals. I turned out to be reporting a lot of fresh things, just because I looked in places that people hadn't looked before. I don't think there are any earth-shattering revelations, but I talked some to the people who had been involved in scandals and they are very interesting.
LAMB: You said it first. We might as well get on with it.
GARMENT: It's my fault, yes.
LAMB: It's your fault. Why a chapter called "Sex"?
GARMENT: Because the sex scandals in Washington since Watergate have been a little bit special. They have been driven by the same dynamics that you can see in all of the post-Watergate scandals, but they also have a very specific origin. In the mid-'60s, when we were young, there was a kind of political alliance between political liberalism or progressivism and sexual tolerance. Partly it was that liberals remembered [Sen. Joseph] McCarthy and his use of innuendo about people's private lives as a political tool. Partly it was that the counterculture was all about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. But in the late '60s the alliance began to fray because of, I think, the women's movement. Important writers in the women's movement began arguing that sex was not fun, as Hugh Hefner had told us. Sex was the arena in which dramas of oppression were played out, from rape to sexual harassment to spouse abuse. So sex wasn't funny anymore. One result of this was that journalists and the rest of us became less tolerant of adultery among politicians. So, beginning with Watergate, you had a whole series of what I call the classic bimbo scandals, although the women involved in them were very different from one another. They can't all be put in the same box, but they began these scandals with Fanne Foxe.
LAMB: Who was she?
GARMENT: She was the Argentine firecracker, the stripper who was Wilbur Mills's girlfriend.
LAMB: Who was Wilbur Mills?
GARMENT: Wilbur Mills was then called, always, the "powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee," who was then being mentioned as a presidential candidate -- a man of judgment and sobriety, people thought, until the night when the park police stopped the car that Mills and Foxe were driving in because it didn't have its headlights on. She, probably in panic or an attempt to divert attention, jumped fully clothed into the Tidal Basin. There happened to be a camera crew cruising the city at the time.
LAMB: The famous Larry Krebs, as I remember it. The reason I remember it is because he's still doing it. He roams the city at night for Channel 7.
GARMENT: That's it. It was Channel 7.
LAMB: Listens to the police radio.
GARMENT: That's right, they were listening to the police radio. So they scooted over, and Fanne Foxe became a name that was on the "must list" for every serious student of American politics.
LAMB: Would that have happened 25 years ago? Was there something special about that time that made that such a visible scandal?
GARMENT: Well, at that time the authorities were becoming less willing to cover these things up when they involved congressmen and other high officials. In this case, I'm not sure what they could have done since there was a newsman right there on the scene. But in general, what was happening was that congressmen who were arrested for solicitation, for instance, before that time were never booked -- were not charged. Now they started to be, and that was one reason that everything became far more public.
LAMB: A good thing?
GARMENT: Partly. Wilbur Mills was an alcoholic, which people then found out and which turned out to be much more important than any dalliance with Fanne Foxe. You could argue that if we have a real alcoholic on our hands in a position of trust, we should know about it. But that's the question that's still a question that hasn't been settled. First we would want to know what it was that Wilbur Mills did that we think showed him debilitated by alcohol. This was the first time that we started having to ask that question because it was the first time that we knew enough about our public figures' private lives to have this information to speculate on. Fanne Foxe was followed by a string of young women, many of whom were much more manipulative than she had been.
LAMB: Namely . . .?
GARMENT: Elizabeth Ray was the one that came next, I think. She was the mistress of Wayne Hays, chairman of the powerful House Administration and Rules Committee.
LAMB: No longer alive.
GARMENT: I believe that's true.
LAMB: He went back to Ohio. I think he became a state rep or something.
GARMENT: State legislator. Yes, that's right.
LAMB: How did that happen? How did we learn about that?
GARMENT: This started with a chance encounter. A Washington Post reporter was on the Metroliner in Washington and ran into Elizabeth Ray. The reporter said she worked for the Washington Post, and Elizabeth Ray said she slept with congressmen. Nothing came of the meeting then, but later on -- it was a couple of years later, I think -- Hays treated Ray very badly, she thought. He had divorced his first wife, was marrying a second wife. Not only was he not marrying Ray, she was the only member of his staff that he did not invite to the party. When she went to his office to protest, he had her thrown off the grounds bodily by Capitol Police. So, she stepped into the phone booth and called the Washington Post. At first the Post couldn't see what business it was of theirs. That was in the days when we still asked those questions. But it turned out that Elizabeth Ray was on his staff and was being paid with public money, so it became a public issue.
LAMB: Did the Post break the story?
LAMB: What was the result of it all?
GARMENT: The result was that Hays resigned and Elizabeth Ray did not get what she had expected. She had thought that there was going to be fame and fortune, and what she got instead was notoriety. Like others in her situation, after a while she left Washington and became what they call an aspiring actress. I don't know where she's been in the last couple of years.
LAMB: In the recent Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy, the television show "A Current Affair" had a reporter in the room by the name of Rita Jenrette. Who is she, and why does she fit in your chapter?
GARMENT: She fits, but she succeeded, so that's a nice ending, I suppose. Rita Jenrette was atypical; that is, she gained notoriety as a sex object not because she had brought down a politician, but because she was married to a politician who was bringing himself down with dispatch. She was married to Congressman John Jenrette who was one of the Abscam defendants. During the trial it was noted that Rita Jenrette was one gorgeous person. She had become friends with a couple of Washington reporters -- Rudy Maxa was one of them and his then-wife Kathleen Maxa was another -- and they conveyed to her Playboy's offer to become the centerfold, which she did and, I think, regretted it ever after.
LAMB: Why?
GARMENT: Because, again, what she got was not fame but notoriety. She went to California, came back from New York, trying to pursue a serious acting career. When I first met her -- this was, I think, 1989 -- she was, in fact, in a very serious off-Broadway play.
LAMB: Did you talk to her for the book?
GARMENT: Yes. It was very hard for her to overcome that image she had developed. Now, Rudy Maxa pointed out to me that if it had not been for the notoriety, she might never have had the chance to act at all, which is also true. But most of the people in her situation really got mowed under. She was different. She really kept at it.
LAMB: All along through this process, what is changing in this town with the media and members of Congress? Are they stopping their dalliances? Is the media beginning to change the way it publishes this?
GARMENT: The media are becoming ever more aggressive in treating sex scandals and reaching ever farther for the public hook to hang the story on. For instance, Don Riegle -- then Congressman Riegle -- got into some trouble because a woman with whom he had had an affair some years before had made tapes of phone conversations between the two of them. Those tapes somehow found their way into the hands of the Detroit News.
LAMB: What were the tapes? What did they show?
GARMENT: It showed the relationship between this young woman . . .
LAMB: Showed their relationship in what way?
GARMENT: That they were having an affair. It proved that they had had this relationship. This was the kind of thing that used to be thought of as none of anybody's business, but the Detroit News published it. They got a lot of flak from commentators and pundits and critics, but they had crossed over a threshold. Not long after that Paula Parkinson went on her famous golfing weekend with Tom Evans and his housemate Dan Quayle, among others. The Delaware papers . . .
LAMB: Tom Evans was?
GARMENT: Tom Evans was then a Republican congressman who was one of President Reagan's chief spokesmen in the House. He was rising very fast. The hometown papers found out and -- once again, it used to be the kind of thing that you thought of as a very private matter, but Paula Parkinson was a lobbyist, and at the time she went on that weekend, she was lobbying against a crop insurance bill that Evans then voted against. Now, the fact was that all the Republicans and conservatives voted against it. The chances were almost nil that Evans would ever have voted for it, but this connection was the hook. They ran the Evans-Parkinson story and he lost the next election.
LAMB: The story still follows Vice President Quayle?
GARMENT: She came back, as you know, during the last presidential campaign. By then we had become much more cynical about these women. She made her charges against Vice President Quayle -- I guess then candidate Quayle -- saying that while they were on that weekend he had propositioned her, but she had said no because she was there as another man's date. She had told the FBI the same thing when the whole episode had first been investigated. Nobody much cared. She went on "Geraldo" and named five Republican congressmen she said she had slept with. They didn't air the show because there was no corroboration, but she finally said it on "Larry King" and no one cared -- still no one cared. We had become somewhat jaded about these scandals.
LAMB: Let me go back to your Sen. Riegle story in the Detroit News. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Detroit News editorial policy, I believe, is either conservative or Republican.
GARMENT: It is conservative now. I don't know what it was then, and I don't know whether Republicans were out to get Riegle. I don't have the sense that it originated in editorial policy, but it may have made it easier for the management of the paper to approve what their reporter was doing.
LAMB: Did he survive?
GARMENT: Riegle did, that's right. He survived to get involved in a much bigger scandal which was, of course, the scandal of the Keating Five. He may well survive that, too.
LAMB: You mentioned Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill before we mentioned Rita Jenrette. You talk about Clarence Thomas in your book, but nothing to do with sex. Before we get to that, 30 percent of the nation at any given time during those recent hearings watched on television that set of hearings on the Hill. How much of that was sex?
GARMENT: Oh, a great deal of it was sex.
LAMB: Why are we so interested in it?
GARMENT: We always have been. That's the first answer. We have been infamous among nations for many years for our obsession with sex and sex scandals. We don't do as well as the Brits, but we do okay. People ascribe it to Puritanism, which may be true. But in recent years there is something new, which is this notion that politicians' private lives are fair game, and we have a much bigger press corps and a much more efficient and skilled one. More and more reporters consider themselves investigative reporters, meaning that they think their job is to do just this kind of thing. So we see more of it.
LAMB: What were your thoughts watching the Thomas-Hill hearings and having this book right there in front of you as your life's work?
GARMENT: I had grim satisfaction; that is, the Thomas scandal was a scandal waiting to happen -- perhaps not to him. After the bimbo scandals were rolling, something else starting happening in the mid-'80s, and that was that the theme of sexual coercion came to be very powerful in our sex scandals. This was something new. We had had sex scandals before involving prostitution, but now you also began to get scandals involving charges of rape, sexual harassment and spouse abuse. This wave began, I think, with John Fedders in 1984. He was then chief of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission, and he admitted in court papers that were part of his divorce proceedings that he had hit his wife seven times. This was printed in not some supermarket tabloid but the Wall Street Journal, which judged, using the new standards, that this was relevant in a story they were already doing about Fedders.
LAMB: What year was this?
GARMENT: '84, I think.
LAMB: And you were at the Journal then?
GARMENT: I was on the editorial page, and those were two very separate organizations. It was sometimes said that they didn't talk to one another, and a good thing because when they did talk to one another it wasn't very pleasant.
LAMB: At the time, do you remember, did the editorial page come out against the idea of publishing this kind of thing?
GARMENT: I don't remember. I don't think so. I'm just not sure.
LAMB: That story, as I remember, ran up on the first page.
LAMB: About John Fedders.
GARMENT: Yes, it was a front-page story.
LAMB: What impact did it have on his and his wife's life?
GARMENT: Oh, he quit his job, and the last time I saw him -- I only met him once, but he was in a law practice -- it was very small -- and trying to come back. He had been through therapy and told about it and how it had changed him.
LAMB: But the information of his beating his wife or hitting his wife seven times was in a public document.
GARMENT: Yes, it was.
LAMB: Years ago would that have been published?
GARMENT: I don't know; that is, I never understood why Fedders had allowed the divorce open proceeding in the first place. It had been published. I do not think that newspapers that considered themselves serious newspapers would have picked it up.
LAMB: What happened to his wife?
GARMENT: His wife had a rather different fate. She wrote an article, was a co-author, for the Washingtonian magazine. She wrote a book based on her experience. There was a TV docudrama based on her life.
LAMB: Do you remember the name of it?
GARMENT: I don't. I believe that she has stayed active in this cause of spousal abuse and violence against women.
LAMB: Go back over the John Fedders thing. When it became public, what was he doing?
GARMENT: He was chief of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission, and he was giving a lot of other people a very hard time about issues like insider trading.
LAMB: Was that a good thing for this country that he ended up quitting?
GARMENT: Well, there are some people who didn't like his policies and think it was marvey that he left for that reason.
LAMB: Did the Journal like his policies, do you remember?
GARMENT: The Journal's news department I don't think was particularly antagonistic to his policies. Whether it was good in principle that a public official should resign because of this sort of thing is another question, and we all have our prejudices. When there is violence involved I really tend to get off the train and say, "Go!"
LAMB: How much of all this comes about because someone in the media has an ideological feeling, and do they only go after people in the scandal area that they dislike because of their policies? I mean, is there any correlation there?
GARMENT: It's certainly true that if the press likes you, you're better off. John Sununu's frequent-flyer escapades got much more sustained attention than had Jim Baker's very serious conflict of interest scandal some years before. The difference clearly had partly to do with the fact that Baker was friendly to the press and Sununu was not.
LAMB: In your opinion did Clarence Thomas get into trouble because someone in the media felt ideologically one way or the other?
GARMENT: I'm not sure whether it was ideology; that is, the media are now sensationalist enough so that you don't need ideology to explain the big coverage that was given. Someone involved in the hearings clearly had an ideological motive, but I'm not sure that it was the press that had it.
LAMB: Let me ask you about how you did this book Scandal. Where did you write it?
GARMENT: At the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, which is a wonderful place.
LAMB: How long have you been there?
GARMENT: Three years.
LAMB: Who owns that?
GARMENT: Who owns it? That's an interesting question. It's a non- profit organization that is run by a board of directors and a president and that lives on contributions from foundations and other such people. So the question is whether the contributors own it, and so far I haven't seen much evidence of that.
LAMB: Does it have an ideological bent?
GARMENT: It's very free-market conservative when it comes to economics; hawkish when it comes to domestic policy, which is the field I'm in. It's a little harder to characterize. One of the resident scholars is Bill Schneider who does public opinion polling. Our Congress person is Norm Ornstein.
LAMB: You mean the person that . . .
GARMENT: Handles the field, that's right. No, he'd be good at it, but it hasn't happened. The person who writes about social policy is Ben Wattenberg. So we're a very mixed bag in that area. I don't think we're so different from Brookings.
LAMB: You were a DeWitt Wallace fellow?
LAMB: What is that?
GARMENT: It's a fellowship that was set up by the Reader's Digest to give itinerant journalists a place to come and alight while doing what hopefully is serious work.
LAMB: Do people support you because they know what you're going to write, or do they support you and say, "Suzanne Garment, have at it"?
GARMENT: Tell me, which people?
LAMB: In other words, did you get your DeWitt Wallace fellowship because they knew what you were going to write? Did you get your fellowship at the American Enterprise Institute because of your political views? How does all this work here?
GARMENT: My political views made me congenial to the American Enterprise Institute, and because I had been writing for a long time -- I had been writing a column in the Wall Street Journal -- everybody had a clue as to what kind of thing I was going to write, what kind of views were going to be expressed, so even if someone had the inclination to corrupt the process and lean on me, it wasn't necessary in this case, and certainly no one did.
LAMB: How about Random House? Why did they pick this topic? Why were they interested in publishing your book?
GARMENT: Well, that was a little different. My editor at Random House is Peter Osnos. He worked for the Washington Post before he joined Random House. He has a terrific news sense. He is not an ideological publisher, but he knew that this had been happening in Washington. In that sense, this is not a particularly original book. There are lots of other people who have seen the same thing. Peter certainly saw it, and that's why he wanted the book.
LAMB: On the back flap, "Advance praise for Scandal." From Mike Wallace, "This 'scandalmonger' was entertained and provoked by Ms. Garment's remarkable catalogue." By Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, "Suzanne Garment attracts our perennial prurient interest in scandal and then gives us a wonderful lesson." From Steven Brill, president and editor in chief of the American Lawyer Media, "Suzanne Garment's book is not only important, indeed profound." From Seymour Martin Lipset, professor of public policy at George Mason University, "Why is distrust of government greater than ever in America? In this brilliant book . . .," on and on.
GARMENT: It's a good group, isn't it? It's nice.
LAMB: Do you have anything to do with those folks, and did you go to them personally and ask them to endorse this? Do endorsements matter?
GARMENT: I don't know whether they matter, but my editors told me that they do and that I should go get some. So, it's a very embarrassing process. You have to send the manuscript to people and say, "Do you like it, and if you do like it would you please . . . ," so that you really do put people on the spot.
LAMB: So you know these four men.
GARMENT: Yes. I know Steve Brill through his work. I have met him once, but I have not seen a lot of him.
LAMB: Did you have anybody turn you down? I'm sure you don't want to say who it was, but did people say, "I don't like it and I'm not going to endorse it"?
GARMENT: The only people who said no were people who had a firm policy of not doing it, and they are probably right.
LAMB: In the front, "For Len, Sara, Paul and Annie." Who are they?
GARMENT: They're the Garment children. After the Garment husband come the Garment children. Two of them are grown and living in New York. Sara is a student and Paul Garment is a musician like his father. Annie Garment is age 9 and has her father's temperament and just wrote an autobiography in which she said she wanted to be the first female chief justice of the Supreme Court, but if she could really be anything she wanted, she'd be her dog Lola. So Annie's got her priorities straight.
LAMB: Is this your first book?
GARMENT: No, it's not. It's the first trade book that I've done alone. I wrote one very academic book about anti-trust policy, and then I wrote a book with Pat Moynihan, after we had gotten out of the U.N., about those seven months.
LAMB: When you go to putting a dedication down, was this an easy thing to do or did you have to agonize over it?
GARMENT: I suppose that when people have written more books they have a harder time because they've already taken care of the obvious, and they have to decide what to do next.
LAMB: How about reaction to this book, and you're getting a lot of reviews. What are people saying that surprises you, and are they ignoring things in the book that you wanted them to pick up?
GARMENT: The reviews that have come in so far have been pretty good, and so I haven't read them with a critical eye saying, "Well, it's wonderful of him to call the book marvelous, but I sure wish he had looked at Chapter 6 a little more." But they have been good, and I am somewhat surprised. I had expected more hostility. I think the reason there has not been more hostility is that, as usual, I was a terrible predictor and that a lot of people are getting fed up. But this is not a voice in any wilderness.
LAMB: All right. For those that joined late, go back over the main thesis of your book. Scandal is the title of the book. What are you trying to say?
GARMENT: We have more scandals than ever before in our history, and they are making us not cleaner but only more afraid to do our jobs, and they are making political life very ugly. It about time we got hold of them.
LAMB: Got hold of what?
GARMENT: Got hold of our own scandal-making proclivity and started exercising a little more judgment.
LAMB: How can you possibly expect a nation like this, of 250 million people with all this freedom, to do that?
GARMENT: Actually, I'm very pessimistic, but these things have changed before. For instance, our 19th century press was much more sensationalist than the 20th century press that followed it, and the change came because people changed their minds. I mean, fashions changed and intellectual fashions changed, and this is a cultural phenomenon. It changes when people change their mood.
LAMB: You named the Brits earlier. Any other country in the world do what we do with the scandal?
GARMENT: No. There are countries whose scandals are becoming more like ours as our polities all converge, but we really do lead the pack in moralism. I'm told by people returning from Europe that the reaction of Europeans to this Clarence Thomas scandal is exactly their reaction during Watergate, which is, what are these people doing? What is this strange tribal ritual that they practice once every three years? Certainly no other country has conflict of interest laws and rules like ours. Nobody comes close.
LAMB: Does that make us better or worse?
GARMENT: That makes us more high-minded and sillier because those rules, or the extreme part of the rules, is making public service less attractive to good people. When good people are not there, the tone of public life is lowered rather than raised.
LAMB: Any evidence that people may be cleaning up their act?
GARMENT: People are still doing things that are bad. I have a kind of dark view of human nature -- there's going to be evil there. But I think that they're being much more careful about things that might show. There are congressmen who will not have their picture taken with a beautiful woman, at least all alone, because God knows how it could be used.
LAMB: Let me ask you what sounds like a leading question, but is it possible that the end result of all that's been going on here is that people in public life who do wrong things are getting what they deserve?
GARMENT: Some of them are getting what they deserve. Some of them have done some wrong, but end up getting a little more than they deserve.
LAMB: Name some of those.
GARMENT: For instance, Geraldine Ferraro. You remember when she ran for vice president in '84 there were these charges of Mafia ties that were hurled at her. After the campaign, her family was in almost continuous legal trouble for five years. Her husband had his real estate license suspended at one point over a dispute on financing of one of his projects. Her husband was then accused of bribery -- much more serious -- of which he was acquitted. Her son was arrested by an undercover cop for possession of cocaine, and he got a sentence that was stiffer than what people usually get under that circumstance. This really was five years of purgatory, and I don't think she deserved that.
LAMB: Okay, she didn't deserve it but she's back running for the Senate. Why?
GARMENT: Yes. First of all, these people are in public life, and they wouldn't be there if they weren't resilient human beings. So it's easier for them to come back than it would be for civilians. Also, scandal has become devalued. There are so many of them that it's much easier now for someone involved in a scandal to portray himself or herself as the victim of overzealous congressional staffers or overzealous prosecutors. When he or she says that now to an audience, there is a good chance that he will be believed and a better chance as more and more of his listeners are people who have themselves had brushes with scandal. On the Judiciary Committee questioning Clarence Thomas, three of the Democrats who were supposed to be the opposition had been involved in their own scandals -- [Joseph] Biden with the plagiarism scandal, DeConcini with the Keating Five scandal, and Teddy Kennedy with, you know, everything -- with a whole series of scandals. I can't but believe that that affected their attitude towards Thomas, that when he made his statement about how much he had been harmed and how bad a thing they had done to him, it wasn't simply that they were afraid of him. My guess is that part of them sympathized.
LAMB: Were we better off knowing all of those things about those senators?
GARMENT: Probably not. With some of them, yes. DeConcini's connection with Keating is a matter of very direct public policy interest, though it turned out during the ethics hearings that some of the senators involved hadn't done anything all that different from what senators usually do. But DeConcini did do a little more, and that's a very straight scandal. Biden, though, and the plagiarism is a little bothersome. It's the kind of thing that politicians do all the time. The public probably doesn't suffer for it. The public, in fact, probably benefits from it since the British are much better speakers than American politicians. Then they went back to his law school and started investigating charges of plagiarism there. I think that there has got to be some kind of informal statute of limitations on charges like that. After 20 years or so, we really have to assume that a guy has gone straight, rehabilitated himself and led a useful life, or people really will be afraid to go into politics if they've ever been in trouble for anything.
LAMB: We're about out of time, but on page 144 you mention Clarence Thomas this way, "Clarence Thomas, who has since been named to succeed Thurgood Marshall." When was the last day you had to write something in this book?
GARMENT: That day. He had just been named. The galleys were open until almost the end, but if my thesis was true, there's no way that the book wasn't going to be out of date very soon because the scandals continue at a steady pace.
LAMB: But Clarence Thomas is discussed at great length in here for what reason?
GARMENT: He was involved in another scandal, a very different one. It had nothing to do with sex. It had to do with accusations that he had lied to Congress during an investigation of the EEOC, of which he was chairman, and he came out of that pretty well. I don't think he did lie.
LAMB: But it involved, what, a senator -- a couple of senators?
GARMENT: It was a couple of senators, but the main one was Sen. [John] Melcher who said that Thomas had withheld information about the EEOC's treatment of age discrimination cases. Probably the opposite was true; that is, Thomas was the one who put in a computer system for the first time at that agency, and the delay in getting the information was probably due to the transition. Ultimately the agency was much better off.
LAMB: Who refused to talk to you when you went to them? Anybody?
GARMENT: Oh, a number of people did. They would do so by not answering, or by writing something very gracious. For instance, Tony Coelho didn't want to talk about it, and I didn't want to pursue people who didn't want to talk about it.
LAMB: Who is the most interesting person that did talk to you about a scandal they were involved in?
GARMENT: Bert Lance. After he left office he was in further trouble for many years. He was indicted and there was a hung jury, and they chose not to prosecute him again. But he was the most interesting for his sense of just how the dynamic had worked in his case -- just how he had been gotten out of office. He knew all about the different stages and the different players. He's a very smart man.
LAMB: Did anybody talk to you that you said to yourself, "What a waste of time that was, and I didn't learn anything"?
GARMENT: Oh, yes. I talked to John Tower shortly after his nomination was rejected, and he was very nice and talked very graciously, but by then there had been so much reporting on the case that there wasn't much left to say.
LAMB: We're out of time. I'm sorry because there's a lot more to talk about. Suzanne Garment has been our guest on "Booknotes" this week, and her book looks like this. Thank you very much for joining us.
GARMENT: Thank you.
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