tv Gail Collins Discusses When Everything Changed CSPAN January 28, 2017 10:01am-10:46am EST
good afternoon. i'm here with gail collins and i don't think i have to introduce her. she is a columnist for "the new york times" and among many illustrious points of her career i want to get to in this conversation i will leave time at the end for questions. i want to start by saying this panel i titled it comes from a quote i don't know if you remember bill ruckelshaus in the
nixon administration and his wife was also a policymaker and a woman of some influence. she said it occurred to me when i was 13 wearing white gloves and mary jane's going t to a dancing school but no one should have to dance backward all their lives and of course i was thinking about hillary clinton. and we will get to hillary clinton. i want to start with a little journalism first. you started in the early 70s and said you didn't have to break down the walls of the newsrooms.
when you started covering the connecticut statehouse in the early years that had to have been the years when he became governor and she was in a peculiar way she didn't bond with the women at the capitol with the fact she was there tried to make everybody more conscious. there are several occasions i would cover the personal legislators for them never been interviewed before. several say i'm very nervous about this and i'm not sure i'm
allowed to say this right now and i kept thinking this is one of the barriers and breaking down. it was a little weird but it was also humbling. there was no powerpoint among the legislative journalists you had to fight against. i'm going to tell a quick story about working at the journal. one of my predecessors was covering one of the first women reporters during the chemical industry. you could imagine how many men they were at the top echelons should go to conventions where she would be the only woman and of the guys would get out and say i have a great joke but i can't tell it because she's he
here. and you're not allowed to say go ahead. [laughter] but that was good political education that was a good way for political reporters to start up a statehouse. i don't know if there's any kids here thinking about journalism careers maybe you have sons and daughters and grandsons and others thinking about it. the question when you get groups of young journalism students as they pretend they want to know about you but they want to know how can i get a job. you've got to pick something that you love to write about because there's a good chance you won't get a chance "the new york times" and will wind up doing something else but if you spend five or ten years covering stuff you loved them those are
great years whether they lead to the career you were imagining or not. the other is to get yourself to the position that you are forced to write constantly just day and night. when we did the news service my partner became the op-ed editor at the times. we never made any money but it worked out for us in other ways. we would sit there every night and direct 20 stories we had like 35 papers and they were all expecting daily or every other day update on what the senator was doing that day so we were writing five, ten, sometimes 20 stories tonight and they were not great, they were not prizewinners but the fact of having to write so muc much alle broke down the barrier between
thinking and writing, it's like learning to ice skate. once you don't think about the basics it's easier to try to make it fancy and play around with it. so it worked out despite the fact we never made money. and you were writing on a manual typewriter using whiteout faqs to the hispanic weaver talking about this the other night at dinner. i was there during the transition of manual typewriters and computer processors. i think the text of the writing changed when we changed the way we input. it became more crystallized than just debasing stuff but in some ways less thoughtful and less
deep. the sentences got shorter, the paragraphs of smaller. now people are writing on their cell phones and it is changing the way people read and think about things. i know you worked at several newspapers and you mentioned in your earlier talks what is the general drift in your career and how did you go from the connecticut statehouse or news service to the new york papers? >> one of the great things covering the state legislature is you can get all kinds of because there's nobody else doing it. a lot of places would like to know a little bit about what is
happening at the state legislator. we had the newtown bee and there were a lot of antique stores so all they wanted us to do is cover the antique legislation which isn't substantial but "the new york times" asks me to help with their regional coverage and i asked if they wanted to come down. there was a strange place and she said you don't know m me but i'm a copy editor at the times. don't do this whatever you do
it's terrible. you will be trapped copy editing the stuff you used to write. don't do it, so i didn't do it. [laughter] then a while later someone told me there was an opening at upi that was going bankrupt in new york. i spent most of my career going bankrupt one place to another. then i went to the daily news, the daily news business desk hired me and i had no idea that they had a business desk but i went down there and worked and that's how i got to be a columnist. >> and it was at the daily news business desk you had your first
encounter with donald trump? >> yes, she started the same time i started sort of. i was doing real estate stories and there was this guy who was a very rich powerful old guy. his wife got to be famous later on. anyway, i went and interviewed and said can you tell me about using your expertise to create housing for the poor and he said what the fuck but i want to do that for. [laughter] there is a very big classy hotel
and i asked him the same question. he paused for a minute and said what i would like is to have a disease like jerry lewis has muscular dystrophy. i would like a disease of my own i could cure. he went through when i was there talking about which ones would be cool for him to cure. he never did take a disease that was the first time i met donald trump. [laughter] >> and it's only gotten better. >> when i was at the daily news, that's when he was going through his marla maples stage, he was married but having an affair with marla.
the tabloids were covering it like it was the end of the wor world. the weird part about it, he's having an affair and huge stories about it all the time. he has a publicity team to write about the affair and there was no day but they said they don't write about the affair it's embarrassing. the day that he announced he was leaving her for marla, i was on vacation and he called me back from vacation and my job was to make fun of donald trump. his friend what kind of go back and defend him. >> do you remember the headline?
-- >> maybe he liked it so much because there was a headline best sex i ever had. [laughter] >> let's get to the present. on the day you do the two columns a week gives us a day in the life of tuesday or monday obviously you are thinking about all week but what is that column? >> i have an idea of what i'm going to do and i've got some stuff and i just come in and talk to people. you try to feel out what the others are writing about and it's easier with some than
others to try to coordinate. my partner on the page is great about it. i was going to write about the press conference and then he said i'm not doing it because there has been a breakthrough in my work. i said to people all the time that's the great thing, he's perfectly aware more than anyone in the world if he risks his life and writes about children dying, he's not going to get as much traction. he doesn't get as much if he
writes a but he does it anyway because eb leaves and omission. i just write it. we give researchers that fact check which is the most glorious lesson in the world. no matter how incredibly stupid, you have to write a correction and keep it there forever and it lives on in memory so it's important. it's fun. that's the weird thing about the columnist they don't say that paragraph doesn't make sense but are you talking about, it would
be interesting if you did this. none of that happened. but there was a copy editor who tells me what's good and boring and what it is. then we are done. i used to work with mary who would write a column every single day at the post where he did it every single day and he kept asking us how we could do it twice a week because that seemed hard to him and he said i feel like there is such a bar.
there will be another one tomorrow. tell us a little bit about the book you are working on now. >> [inaudible] [applause] >> it's one of the interesting things as i've been going along. back in the 16 hundreds when there were no women anywhere can if you were still menstruating that wiki for a prime topic. women coming off the boat there were 27 men coming after them so the idea was a different kind of
thing. there were cities that you didn't have an economic point. it just depends on where you are. >> i was talking this week and i'm not sure whether that will work out or not this do you remember from the cartoon she started off as an older woman that ran away from home from her house and and joined the crew and applied to law school and was 38. they'll send applications and he had to make up a name to follow through on this and was accepted berkley. he gave the commencement address
but when she was waiting for her applications to come back to find out where she was going, she was walking around saying nobody is going to want a 38-year-old middle-aged women past the prime. she said she is still around. now she's retired. we had been thinking about hillary. >> how much the fact she was an older woman hurt her in this campaign? >> i know the answer to that question but it is a totally central destroying issue if donald trump hadn't been a
70-year-old but given the fact he was 70, it didn't come up at all. bernie sanders is running around out there with joe biden so the age thing didn't come up as normally expected. >> do you know her? >> we don't hang out but we spend time together. >> i don't want you to try to oversimplify but what did you think of her as a candidate in this particular election? >> she was not terrific. if you look at the history of the recent modern history in
general, the pattern if you gote got a president again for two terms, the next person up will be from the other party. and besides the fact she wasn't from the other party. she was so attached with her about obama and his policies that she was an anti-change candidate. the democratic party believes in changing things in many ways but as far as what was going on in washington, there's nothing she was talking about it would be likely to make you believe there would be any stupendous change in the way things are operating. and it's not entirely her fault. it's the way things work. she's not politically the best candidate in the world. she is much nicer and more fun
in person and is very funny and charming. but when she's on, she's not the most electric candidate in the world. >> i want to talk about the biography of william henry harrison. >> on william henry harrison use of the most interesting thing about this race but of the dumbest race possibly in histo history. how does that compare to 2016? >> is a heartwarming thing when you think about it.
i was talking to a historian i can't quote because he belongs to another news organization that he was saying how it was the worst race after. i said what about william henry harrison and he said it's even worse than william henry harrison and i thought this is another discussion no one is having at this time. just at the beginning of the popular vote they were trying to think about ways to sell things and they stumbled on the idea of peddling william henry harrison is a humble soldier remembering how hard he fought. his bosses find the declaration of independence and was born on the plantation.
they would have all of these log cabin parades and they got to drink a lot and they portrayed martin van buren whose father was a humble bartender in upstate new york and this rich guy that went around wearing women's clothing and had the shrubbery in the front of the white house re- shaped so it looked like the amazon. [laughter] i want to ask about something you wrote about. when i was writing a column at the daily news i got a letter addressed to gail collins,
liberal bitch and i felt that this person really think i'm going to open the envelope, and that's only gotten worse. do you read your e-mail and has it gotten considerably worse? >> that one interested me thinking a person wanted to communicate with me. putting that on the front seemed geared. there is a team that goes through and screams at. they take out all the racist stuff and homophobic stuff as the kind of thing that makes you want to shoot your self when you read things on the web, so i missed all that.
i do read a lot of this but i have to tell you if you think this is true, let me know later. we would get the columnists to intervene in the discussions where people are writing. i tried it for a while and realized when people write about the column they are having a discussion among themselves of whatever topic you brought up and when you get in there you disrupt and get in the way so i tended to stay out of it now to see what people are thinking. so it's not worse at the daily news in particular. you don't feel a decline in civility. >> i am not a particular target. so many younger women that are online a lot but if not i have
to admit a problem that's been terrible for me. >> is there any way to put the genie back in the bottle or are we on a one-week course -- >> the only way is to do with the times do and have somebody screaming this stuff before it goes up and becomes available to the general public to push the civility. you can't say why oakley -- it brings things when people try to have a discussion and dialogue but that costs money. >> i know you were going to cover the inauguration next we week. i wonder what do you do when you cover an inauguration, that is like one of the people standing on the street watching them?
made a difference in their perception of politics or the political world or the they knew there was a significant change in the something in political or social terms and i would like you to do that again. >> i picked uncle tom's cabin. looking back at history seen through the eyes of something that lasted forever for western civilization in which the outside order, women did that the domestic order and women were not supposed to mess in any way with politics or the outside order. in the 1800s as the media grew, there was a lot of writing to
housewives. they became a good market and there was a lot of extolling of housewives as the heart of the family, conscious of the family, it can only be the family, not talking the outside world. the heart of the family. harriet beecher stowe in uncle tom's cabin figured out a way to speak to women to say this thing, slavery, is about family. it is about letting young girls be ravaged by slave owners, it is about mothers being separated from their children, old people being alone and left alone since their families are not allowed to help them. she framed the whole thing in terms of stuff that women were supposed to be in charge of and that brought women into the political scene. they went crazy over abolition, they knitted things they
auctioned off, they ran around collecting petitions, sent them to the only guy the house who kept reading them, drove everybody nuts. it was the first time and she did it. it was her book that made that bridge. it would have happened sooner or later. you can see this, it was one writer who did it. >> it was great, thank you. when will we be seeing the memoir? the gail collins memoir? >> guest: i am tired of memoirs. it is not the thing on my list of things to do. >> host: have you thought about fiction? >> guest: i started doing fiction, it wasn't that great. i seem to do best when writing about actual real things, other people are kind of in charge and i am showing their patterns and
making their history so i am close enough with the older women that i can interview people. until now no one older is still alive. i did ruth bader ginsburg a while ago and talked to gloria stein and, looking forward to going out and collecting more of this stuff as i go along, so many older women are running around. >> host: i want to circle back to statehouses where you started, a subject of interest to you are your career and i want to ask if you think for those of us who are terrified and anxious and worried about the next four years, shall we pay attention to our -- --
>> guest: that is the super passion of mine. states are where all the stuff happens. the real stuff that affect your life. whether or not, the entire obamacare is all because states made different judgments whether to implement it when it first came out. the states decide what your taxes are, how your schools -- everything starts at the state and the state seldom let local governments have enough power. the states are the critical thing. nobody pays attention to them. whatever they do they do it by themselves and fewer and fewer newspapers and other forms of media are bothering to subsidize a reporter to sit there and cover the stuff. there are four five people in the permanent press corps and the only people except the
lobbyists who are watching what these guys do and it is getting tinier and tinier and if any of you would like to do something about state government, cover state government, hire somebody to cover state government, a thing called the connecticut state news bureau, it is ridiculous because the next person didn't take money either. in the press room, in the center of the desk. this is in the late 70s and early 80s and i was talking to somebody the other day, the desk is still there with a banner, since 1982 is sitting there because nobody covers -- i am
babbling on. >> host: we take some questions. are there microphones? there's a microphone there and there. looks like high. >> you had the privilege of watching the evolution of journalism from the typewriter. to being revered to dealing with fake news and sweets of the headlines. i never saw this coming. could you pull out your crystal ball, and the future of journalism based on what is going on today. >> guest: if we knew where the future of journalism was people would be investing, no one has any idea, they are bounding all
over the place. one thing we have been discovering at the times is within the confusion that is the new media, there is a market for stuff you can rely on. after the election, our circulation popped up 100,000. it was stupendous and just because suddenly people thought i want to keep an eye on this but want to find a place where i can do it, trust that they will be reliable reporting, not going to make stuff up and there will be somebody censoring the letters, nobody calling anybody 8 parole bitches in the columns and so on. they ask me about it all the time, is there a future for the new york times? there is a future for that kind of media. beyond that, how twitter is
going to become -- we have done all this weighing for 20 years now. the last we 10 crazily. nobody has found a way, providing content does not pay. they believe it will and they will invest in it but it hasn't happened. when the great moment comes that people figure out how to make content pay, we will know what it is going to look like but right now if i knew i would buy it. >> i don't know if you heard today, congressman priebus discussed moving the white house press office out of the white house. obviously that is a concern, the position of the press during
this administration and people i see most vocal about it are people like dan rather and bill moyers who, thank god, are not quite retired. i am wondering whether there is any unity among the press to avoid going under and submitting to what are going to be efforts to divide and conquer? >> we were talking about the cnn reporter trying -- nobody else leapt up and said listen to this, i am spartacus. it is not in the tradition even in the white house press corps itself, not normally a tradition of people jumping up saying you didn't answer this question, go
back and answer his question. that never came up partly because of competition, partly because it is the way they always operated. the white house press corps offices used to be stupendously important because people would be there and they would wander to the back offices and talk to people and see what is going on. very little of that has happened in the last 20 years or so. you can't get anywhere much from it. in theory you could survive if it was someplace else but symbolically, it is just awful. the idea that you are saying there is no for being open to the press in this administration even to the point of letting them have their really uncomfortable, lousy, little, tiny room in headquarters that they have down there, it is just
wrong and it sends a message that is so profound. it would be more difficult. the problem is there are no press conferences anymore. the things you go to -- all that needs to be worked out and changed, there has to be pressure in this administration to have regular press conferences, there has to be pressure. [applause] >> you have to have a press secretary who goes out and answers questions from the press. you have to do these normal things we have always done. not because any individual one is that critical but because it is a routine that reinforces the basic belief that this is a critical part of governing, being open to the media. i really appreciate it. [applause]
>> you will be covering the inauguration. will you be covering women's march the next day? >> yes. one of the older people who will be there, the attitude to taking these feelings to the street. >> guest: everybody is going. i don't know any reporter who is not covering one of the women's marches. it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. it has been hard for me to get my finger on how organized this effort is. and where we will end up. the problem with protests in general has always been once you have the protest and the march you got to wind up somewhere and do something or say something. i would like to see that. this reminds me in 1970, betty called for a woman's march off
the top of her head in august and they were going to go to central park and walked down the sidewalk and she got to central park and there are all these women there and she yelled take to the streets and they marched and took to the streets. by the standards of then it was huge. it changed the sense of empowerment people had even though it was one thing, there will be marches all over this country. i hear from people everywhere. there will be some here too. will there be one in key west? one in key west, there will be reporters in all those places, people sending pictures. i'm looking forward to it. it will be amazing. i will see you then. >> time for one more question. >> speaking of the importance of having marches and rallies from your point of view, what are the issues women and all of us
should be working around? >> guest: everyone is so stunned. stuff is going to happen very fast. and to pick a thing. that is where you will wind up in the fetal position under the bed. pick a thing, pick planned parenthood, abortion rights in general will be under attack, climate change, public school education if you're interested in that we have a secretary of education who hates public schools, it is incredible, all these issues after the march, after, pick one, really dig into it, figure out what you can do and you will feel more empowered and things will get done. >> host: thank you so much, gail collins. [applause]