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tv   QA Peter Osnos  CSPAN  December 10, 2018 12:28pm-1:29pm EST

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territories like puerto rico and guam. and the national park service to study whether george w. bush's boy hood home should become a part of the national park system. later in the week a resolution condemning russian aggression against ukraine aggressiveness. when the house returns to session we'll have live coverage here on c-span. >> when the new congress takes office in january, it will have the youngest, most diverse, freshmen class in recent history. new congress, new leaders. watch it live on c-span. starting january 3.
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trump. i worked firsthand with all four of them. i did tip o'neill's memoirs. i am just publishing right now at this moment. my public affairs is publishing paul volcker's memoirs. tip and paul are two of the
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most splendid human beings alive. one of the things that's most fascinating to me is the opportunity to work with these folks, not as an employee, but a partner. i've been able to really engage them in ways that i wouldn't if i was a reporter, which i once was. or as i was an employee which i am not. i'm trying to make something happen for them. there's an element that comes into it, a certain amount of gratitude and influence, and that's what made it interesting. brian: i want to go back 22 years, "art of the deal." here you are on april 24, 1996. of all the books you've been involved in, which one sold the ost? peter: well, all the books i've been involved with sell the most, the one i did before i started wearing the time mantle. it was donald trump's "art of the deal," which was one of the
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great phenomenon of the late 1980's. it sold well over a million copies. in hard cover. the return rate, which is about 8%, in other words, it was a phenomenon. and it was a great adventure for me. he whole experience of working with trump at that moment in his life and at that moment in the country, just watching this thing happen, it was extraordinary. brian: how did the book happen? peter: it's actually a pretty good story. the owner, random house was newhouse, who went to school in new york where his best friend was ray cohn, the awyer. they were real buddies. roy cohn said to si newhouse, there's this fella out there making a big wave, building this building on 57th
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street. you ought to take a look at him. so he did, and put trump on the cover of "g.q." old like crazy off the newsstands. in one of the very, very few times that si newhouse ever intervened at random house, he said we ought to do a book with this fella. i had arrived at random house with the mandate of doing books of this kind, biographies of high-profile figures. i like to put it tasked. i went to see trump with si and our then publisher. i took a big russian novel that, generations a winner, wrapped black and gold paper around it, put trump's name on it, and brought it to trump tower and showed it to him and said this could be you. o and behold, he agreed. actually he wanted the trump name slightly larger. we made a deal with him at that moment. this is extraordinary. no lawyers. we had no bargaining. we told him what we wanted to pay, which is not a lot of money, but not ridiculous,
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$250,000 for the rights in every conceivable way. and then tony schwartz showed up. tony was a journalist who worked at "newsweek" and the "new york times," and his idea was "at art of the deal." he regrets it profoundly now, but he did a hell of a job. e really channeled the trump character in a way that trump probably wouldn't have even been able to do himself. it wasn't he was misrepresenting trump. he was showing the trump personality and the way trump does things, the way he makes deals. published the book, and in the first three months it sold a million copies, as i said. a time you with significantly more hair than i have today. but it was an astonishing thing to see. it's still selling today at a very high rate. what's fascinating, because i had the opportunity to reflect a bit on the donald trump that
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we see now and the donald trump that i knew then. really, he's the same person, xcept on steroids. doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, rarely goes to a place that doesn't have his name on it unless it's a political rally. i think one of the really great political mistakes of the last 25 years was to say underestimate what goes on in donald trump's mind and spirit. and i think the country is seeing it now in every conceivable way. and i saw it in a sense in its incipient stage, and i'm not at all surprised whenever people would say to me during the campaign, don't worry about it. one extraordinarily important human being i said, you know, i'm a little concerned. he said, you worry about it so i don't have to. >> when you sat down with him for the first time, what did you see? peter: i saw a young man who
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clearly was full of energy and drive. he would show me, you know, his pictures on the wall and pictures in his drawer that were not on the wall. he and i had what i consider a relationship of peers. i thought that trump, although i could see his personality, i -- he knew i was doing something that he wanted done. i also came to understand about donald trump, and this is profoundly important for the way things work now, is donald trump in his heart of hearts believes he always wins. here's a guy who has been in new york real estate, but gambling real estate, boxing, wrestling, beauty contests, television, construction, never been the target of a criminal investigation.
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that's astonishing in new york city. and i used to say, you know, how is that possible? i'll tell you how it's possible. trump instinctively creates a buffer around himself. how does that relate to today? he didn't sign the stormy daniels deal. michael cohen did. when the "new york times" ran page after page on his taxes and finances, much of which was very, very substantial, he said, i had nothing to do with it, it was all the tax guys, the lawyers. that's trump. trump has an instinctive sense f how to protect himself and how to -- how the people around him, by and large, are the ones who take the hit. brian: if i can put the pieces together, you mentioned si newhouse, what was his role at that time?
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peter: very important newhouse family. they owned random house at the time and "vogue," "vanity fair" and "the new yorker." "g.q.?" d they own peter: they owned "g.q." they owned most of the glamorous magazines. it was the newhouses and hearsts. brian: so he could say i want donald trump on the cover of "g.q." peter: he ownedin addition to which, trump was it. immensely flattered. he was immensely flattered to meet si newhouse and to have him come to his office. as far as i know, si newhouse, here are only two books from 198 owe to 1998 that si personally brought into the house. one was trump, and the other
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was roy cohn's friend, the writer norman mailer. and si gave him something that was a once and future contract, because mailer was irresponsible with money. random house put him on a monthly salary as long as he was turning out copies. sy -- very little is known about si, because that's the kind of man he was. but he was an amazing figure, and he was responsible in so many ways for "vanity fair" he created. e bought "the new yorker." he had random house all those years. and also the guy who spotted donald trump. brian: what did you think donald trump's politics were when you first met him? peter:you know, it's very clear that trump goes where he needs flexible. to. i would say that he is a man for whom principle as other people would describe it is unusual. he will do whatever he needs to do at that moment. somebody showed me some video of him being interviewed, larry
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king, right around the time the book came out, 1998, actually -- i'm sorry, 1988, and he was on larry king and told him, and the world is laughing at us, everybody is laughing at us. the germans are laughing at us. the japanese are laughing at us. exactly the same language he uses now, only ronald reagan was the president. he can call somebody my best friend in the world on tuesday and then on thursday trash him. that's what does he all the time. brian: explain tony schwartz. eter: tony schwartz is a very, very talented writer. he had worked at "newsweek" and the "new york times." he's the guy who came up with the idea. he came to trump and said we should do a book together, and let's call "the art of the deal." the whole concept of the book -- i would say many of the books i've done, i was really hands-on editing. in this case, there wasn't all that much to do, because it was that good. what i did do is come up with fancy jacket and very elegant picture of trump on the cover
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and take him around to meet book sellers. i mean, i guess in a sense the producer, not in any real sense the editor. schwartz was hyperkinetic, as he would be the first to admit. he had speed dial and he would call bookstores every day to find out whether they still had the book in stock, and if they didn't, he was very unhappy. and it is true, i have to acknowledge, the book took off much faster than we had thought. it came out, i think it was december 7, 1987, it was right before christmas. and it just exploded. brian: what did you expect to happen? peter: well, we knew it was going to be a significant book. brian: why, though? peter: well, trump had built trump tower, so you had this huge, fancy building on 57th street in gold. "the new york times" had put
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him on the cover of "the new york times" magazine standing in front of trump tower. it was done by bill geist, and it was a very flattering piece, capturing the essence of this glamorous young man. brian: that's willie geist's father, formerly on cbs sunday morning. peter: but at that time he was a columnist for the "times," and he wrote the big piece. my favorite fact about the "new york times" and donald trump, which they've now recently acknowledged, was the first mention of donald trump was in 1976. the reporter wrote that donald trump, fine young man, looks a lot like robert redford so you got to start somewhere. you know, i haven't been in touch with trump really since -- we did a second book together, which was a whole other story, because we called it "surviving at the top" when he wasn't.
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and it was a moment in which he was deeply in bankruptcy, deeply in debt, and i thought, when it was revealed that he had $5 billion in debt, i happened to be with him flying from las vegas to new york on his plane. he was slightly secret paramour, marla maples, mr. newhouse and i are on the plane, and i think since the world is learning that trump is $5 billion in debt, probably over kansas he's going to open the door and jump out. but over kansas he takes marla by his hand and goes into his cabin. a belief in this man in his ability to navigate any problem, and schwartz picked that up, and donald has lived it. and there's a certainty. when you look at his record as president, what is actually working, however you would describe it, in his advantage, is he said, you know, tax cuts, got it.
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immigration, got it. judges, got it. and these folks, they're the losers. and when you're in donald trump's orbit and he calls you a loser, because he really thinks so. brian: go back to the second book and the whole money background. you say the first book was a $250,000 advance. peter: right. brian: how much did he eventually get out of the book? peter: millions. and he tony, who struck a great deal, i don't remember exactly, as i recall it, it was 50-50. so if donald made a million, so did tony. tony did very well. brian: how did those two get along? peter: as far as i know they got along very well. i never saw any problems. the funny thing, the only time i ever saw trump blow his top was on the second book when we had a photographer come in to take a picture for the cover. and the photographer, artistic
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fellow, put black garbage bags on the ceiling of trump's office with tape. trump came in and just said, this is an outrage, i've never seen anything like it in my life. take it off. he was furious. i thought he was going to throw the guy out of the office. he may well have as far as i know. that was the only time i ever saw him lose it on that issue. never with me. brian: were you -- i don't know how to ask this question but were you comfortable being around him, flying around with him? i mean, what's it like? peter: i grew up as a reporter, and i've never really, i think, lost the capacity, even though i've been out of conventional daily journalism for a long, long time, i never really lost the capacity to be a reporter. reporters are trained to look upon things as an observer. and i always have. i still do. you know, i don't know if it's always an advantage. but i wasn't emotionally
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engaged with the man's temperament. well, it never crossed my mind he was going to be president of the united states. well, no, that's not true. because he was already talking in 1988. he had this fellow, roger stone, around, who's still around and still part of the trump universe, and roger stone was encouraging him to run, and trump was hinting in places like larry king that he would run. of course he didn't. in 2000, he was on the verge of announcing as the reform party candidate because ross perot had been so successful as the reform party candidate. ross perot, the businessman. trump said i'm going to do this. if he can do it i can do it. then it turned out that pat buchanan was the reform party candidate. and as i recall, trump decided to pull out, but on the way, he called pat buchanan a neo nazi. a term he's used.
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brian: tell me where i'm wrong here, 1966 to 1984, 18 years at "the washington post," foreign correspondent. peter: right. brian: 12 years as publisher and editor at random house publishing company. 1984 to 1996. and then for the last 21 years, you've been associated with something you started called public affairs books. peter: right. brian: go back, though, to the second book. how much of a advance did you have to give him for the second book? peter: well, the second time, still no lawyer, but because the book was such a huge success the first time, i remember being invited, mr. newhouse and i were invited to donald's yacht, which was moored in the east river, and we had an extremely lavish lunch. and at the end of it, mr. newhouse agreed to pay $2.5 million. so much of what we made on the first book was given back on
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the second, because that book ame out at the moment when his career imploded, or seemed to be imploding. as i said, it was reported that he was almost $5 billion in debt, of which $3.5 billion was personal. the marriage was unraveling. i tell you, i knew that there was a problem, because his favorite boxer was mike tyson. he was promoting mike tyson, and mike tyson lost. and then four of the people who ran his casinos in atlantic city went down in a helicopter, the guys who were in charge, four young men, business partners of donald's, employees, really, went down in a helicopter. i saw donald after that, and i said, it's just so awful. he said, you know, i could have been on that helicopter. that was his reaction. brian: how many books did that
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second book sell? peter: i was surprised to discover that it was actually on the best seller list for search weeks, but it didn't tell 10%, maybe 15% from the first. brian: what did you print, 500,000? peter: probably. couple hundred thousand, certainly. remember, the business was different then. you could ship all these books into places like barnes & noble and borders. they would take as many as you wanted to give them. today it's much more, people are careful. they weren't careful then. so the return rate was very high. the downside was significant. brian: returns rate has to do with what? peter: the publishing industry works, you give somebody a book, you give a book seller a book, if it sells, great. if it doesn't they have the right to return it. that is a protocol that goes all the way back to the depression era. the belief was if the book seller couldn't give you the book back, they wouldn't be able to survive. brian: before we leave donald trump, because there's so many others toe talk about, i want to you complete the story by
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telling us who roy cohn was and his relationship with si newhouse, and did you ever see politics with si newhouse? peter: well, roy cohn is a celebrated new york figure. he first came to national attention when he was chief counsel as a young man to joe mccarthy in the 1950's when it was the period known as mccarthyism, attacks on communists. cohn was at mccarthy's side. he then went on to be a major league new york fixer. brian: a lawyer? -fixer. ll, lawyer he knew everybody, represented everybody and i once had dinner with him, because he was thinking of writing a memoir, and i went, again, summoned to go to dinner with him at 21 with the
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then-editorial director. so i actually had a dinner with him and could see the guy's personality. he could be superficially charming, but he was a killer. anybody that he wanted to get rid of, he could get rid of. and yet he had extraordinary access in new york to everybody. and when he decided donald was his guy, it was really important. the only thing i know about the relationship between roy cohn and si was that they went to horace mann school together. i've been told -- i can't prove it -- i've been told at the end of his career, cohn was on trial, eventually disbarred, si went to the trial every day. that was the nature of their relationship. brian: it wasn't political then? peter: si was not a political guy. si, in a sense that you would ascribe politics, that's not the way si worked. si knew how to get things done. he was a very modest
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figure. people, if you passed him on the street, you wouldn't know. si newhouse would show up in his office at condi fast every day at sort of 5:30 in the morning, in a baggy t-shirt, baggy sweatshirt, kind of old chinos. he sure as hell didn't carry himself like a mogul. but he was. one of the more extraordinary moguls. people couldn't really get what si had. among other things, si had incredible guts when it came to doing the things he did in the heyday of magazines. "vanity fair," he started it from scratch. it lost millions until he said, you know, there's this young woman in the united kingdom, tina brown, let me bring her over and see what she can do. he bought "the new yorker" and "the new yorker" is an immense success. if si hadn't bought it -- brian: and we shouldn't skip
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over the fact that your son, evan, who's been here on many occasions, we've talked, is now working for "the new yorker." peter: staff writer. brian: let's switch to september of 1995. the name is barack obama. and he's talking about something called dreams from my father, let's watch it. it's about 41 seconds. [video clip] president obama: when i was elected, as i write about in the introduction, when i was elected president of the law review here at harvard, that generated quite a bit of publicity. immediately there's this entire industry of agents and folks, who if you get your little 15 minutes of fame, they'll call you and see if we, i suppose can make some money on it. and i think the idea that they had initially was sort of a -- sort of a feel-good story, young black man, successful. and then i had to explain to them, this is kind of complicated, you know? what's going on here.
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brian: when did you first meet him? peter: well, i didn't meet him until sometime that spring. what happened was, as barack said, that he got a contract with simon & schuster for $125,000 to write a book, strictly on the basis of the fact that he was the first african-american editor of the harvard law review and a very -- an energetic agent signed him up immediately, and simon & schuster picked it up for this substantial advance. barack was young, as you can see in that. and he was getting himself started, and he missed their deadline. so they cancelled it. and so the agent called me because of the kind of books i did, we were part of random house at the time, and the agent called me and said you can have this book if you pay
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only what he already had received, so he can pay it back, which was $40,000. so we paid $40,000. and barack came to see me. i remember it vividly. even though he was at that point not the barack obama we know. he was a young man who was obviously -- but i thought, i was impressed. brian: he wasn't a senator yet? peter: no, he was still living in chicago as a community oregonner. he may not have even run for the state senate yet, i don't remember. but he came in, and we spent an hour, and i said, well, we would love to do this book with you. a young man named henry ferris was his designated editor and e had written about 2/3 of it. henry worked with him on the last third, which involved going to kenya, because that's where his father was from, and did he that part. when he was elected president, i gathered all the people who worked on the book together on
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the day of his inauguration. i got everybody that worked on the book on the phone, and i said, this is historic. what was it like working with barack obama? and everybody said the same thing. we just wish he was more trouble. we'd have more stories to tell. so the book came out in the spring of 1995. and it did ok. it was viewed in the "new york times" and "the washington post." there was a multicultural japanese owned imprint. we gave the paperback rights for $10,000, and that was the end of the story until 2004 when, by now, a national figure, he gave the keynote. brian: this is a nine-year period? peter: nothing happened. book sold about 8,000 copies, not even that many. and then he gives the speech in boston at the democratic convention. and the next morning, i said something's going here.
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i call, times books no longer existed at random house but we had descendents that were part of the random house empire, and i said there's something on your shelf you might at some time look at, "dreams from my father." i don't know if they had that idea but crown books ended up the publisher of the re-issued "dreams." nothing changed. same beautiful cover, which, you know, iconic now cover, done by an art director named robin schiff and it sold four million copies. brian: hardback or paperback? peter: well, total. it was at least three. i mean, it still sells a ton of books. you find it never where, all over the world, exactly the book this young man had written. brian: was it your idea to do audio? peter: i have no idea. brian: he read it.
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peter: yeah, why wouldn't he? i think the audio probably didn't come out, because audio was not part of the deal, i think, originally, and so he would have read it later. but it's a beautiful book. i don't think anybody would argue the fact that it's the book of a writer. brian: did he write it? peter: oh, no question about it. there's not a word that's not his, absolutely not. he wasn't in a position at that stage of his life to hire somebody. there was no tony schwartz in barack obama's life. barack obama, among presidents, is a writer. genuinely a writer. and you can hear that in his speeches. one of my favorite sort of facts about the whole obama experience, which is that we gave him $40,000 for the contract that he and michelle got after he left the white house for their books, $65 million. i said, you know, that may be the biggest arc in the history of publishing, $40,000, $65 million. brian: what do you think he made off "dreams from my father?" peter: eventually a ton of
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money. that's in his tax returns. he made millions. but not from us. from us he made $40,000. but from the re-issue of the book, it sold, it was a huge best seller, huge. brian: you wrote about it in 2006, in a century column that you used to do, century foundation, and it says here, i just want to read this, he speaks well and writes well, americans admire people who make the most of what they have and obama is certainly doing that. this is 2006. " -- brian: explain that comment that you made. peter: well, that represents, i would call one of my don quixote strains. it bothers me a lot that people see public service as the way to a payday.
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he was elected to the senate, and even before he was sworn n, because of the success of "dreams from my father," he had a multimillion dollar contract with crown books. he hadn't been sworn in. and i wrote that column. and, of course, i had never heard from him about it, but his agent was then bob barnett, a significant washington figure, was serious. how dare you say these things about this great man. i'm not surprised that he would be angry, because after all it was a business transaction. brian: but you say he dumped -- first agent and then peter: yeah, but dumping his first agent -- dump is a word. he moved on from this agent who was not a major publishing figure to bob barnett. that doesn't surprise me. brian: but stop there and explain who bob barnett is and what impact he had on publishing. peter: bob barnett is a great, great figure in washington. bob is a lawyer. he was and is a partner at williams & connolly.
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and in 1984, he was active in the democratic party politics. he was part of the team around geraldine ferraro, who was the woman who was nominated for vice president. and he learned the mechanics of the kind of celebrity process. . . and eventually he decided, well, i could represent this, and he started by representing, as far as i can recall, tv people.
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the market in tv journalism got very lucrative. and he came up with a brilliant concept. literally agents tend to take up to 20% as their fee. and bob said, i will charge you by the hour, not a percentage of the overall figure, but by the hour. so let's say the advance is a million dollars for a 15% agent, that's $150,000. for barnett, even if he charges what he does, which is a lot of money, $1,000 an hour or something like that, it's probably $50,000. so you can see why he became the center of an enormous industry of people coming out of public life and, in my view, cashing in. and what i think is a really serious problem, and i know i'm in a tiny minority on this one, is that we created a system in which public service becomes pay day. and one of my most recent examples of that is james comey. james comey's book, "the higher loyalty," whatever it's called, he was the f.b.i. director.
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trump fired him because of his doing the russia investigation nd other reasons probably, and comey, you know, was a man of principle. then he took $2 million to write a memoir. and on the night that the memoir was released, he had a one-hour interview with george stephanopoulos. it was featured on abc at 10:00 on sunday night. and 10 minutes into it, they paused for the first toilet paper commercial. i thought to myself, this is fundamentally wrong. he had just said president of the united states is not fit for office. and now we're on to a toilet paper commercial. and that is the way the system now works. he had seven million viewers. a month later, six months later, or whenever it was, stormy
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daniels was on "60 minutes," 22 million viewers. we've turned political crisis, political beliefs, into entertainment. and the people who offer these books expect to be paid accordingly. and i don't approve of that, and that puts me in a very distinct minority. brian: another person you did books with is bill clinton. here is bill clinton in an interview he did for this program in 1996, after he had been re-elected, talking about between hope and history. >> by the way, why didn't this book sell? >> because i didn't promote it. you know, i didn't want them to make -- first of all, i thought we should have made a paper back book and copied that, because my experience is, i know how hard hillary worked to sell her ook.
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books sell when people go around and go on book tours and talk about them and go do interview shows like this. you know, sit in bookstores and sign copies for hours. brian: his book had been out before this interview, and then it turned into really what his second inaugural was. when did you get involved with bill clinton? >> when i saw that interview, i wrote to clinton and said you are the first author in the history of publishing to not say it's the publisher's fault that it didn't work out. what happened on that one, i had done putting people first, which was the clinton-gore manifesto in whatever it was 1992, their first election. we did that as an instant book, didn't have to pay anything for it. it was public domain, and it was a huge best seller. the cover became the symbol of the campaign. it was used in posters and so n.
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so in 1996, at "times books" look at the budget for the year and said we have a problem. we need to make some money that we don't have in the budget. my college roommate was then assistant to eli segal, was assistant to -- clinton had been chief of staff in the campaign in 1992, which was how we got the first book. i called eli and said, hey, anything you can do here to help us with clinton and the book? eli said i'll see what i can do. and on president's day, 1996, he called me and said, you aren't doing a book? we're going to do a book. and i had my little team around me, and they were all cheering, and i said, oh, guys, this is going to be hard. because you had to figure out a way to do a book with a sitting president. we couldn't do it with political money, because then it's a political contribution, and that
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wouldn't have been right. you certainly can't sign a contract in the conventional publishing sense with a sitting president. so we had to invent something. and what we did was, we will pay everything connected with making this book happen. and so we hired a lawyer, a washington lawyer named bruce sanford to be clinton's lawyer. there was supposed to be somebody helping him write the book. we bought that person a futon so he would have a place to sleep. and we proceeded. well, getting a book out of bill clinton in 1996 was not for the faint of heart. it was really a struggle. and every time i thought we were getting close, something would happen. a plane would go down. i remember one particular meeting we were supposed to have, and the plane went down and his secretary of commerce, ron brown, was on it and we lost the meeting. >> he was killed. >> he was killed. so finally we wrestled this
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hing into something. it was august now, just before the convention, and i got a call from the guy at the white house who had become our kind of liaison, and he said he just finished editing on the plane, we're flying to wyoming, and then he called back 15 minutes later and said we can't find the manuscript. we did find the manuscript. but the fellow who was going to be editing the book in the random house office on august 9, he said, when i told them they couldn't find the manuscript, he said i had a migraine and went blind in one eye. but eventually the manuscript came, and since we had somehow, for reasons i've never completely understood, kept this book secret, we announced it in the second week of august at a sales meeting. it was a front-page story in the "new york times." we announced the printing of 00,000 copies.
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by the time 48 hours later there was 600,000 orders. i had two choices. first of all, i had bosses, and i had two choices. knowing that we were doing this book because we want to fill a budget hole, and it people think -- and if people think it's worth owning bill clinton's 1996 book, well, who are we to say no? so we shipped 600,000 copies. now, what i did know, and other people didn't, is that the book wasn't very interesting. what happened was, in the process of writing it, it had become smudged in the corners, they've been shaved off of it, and a fellow named dick morris, who became notorious, at that time very influential with clinton, and he was partly i'm sure responsible for kind of some of the stuff in it that was eally bromide.
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so the first week it was out, it was number two on the best seller list. then people started to see that it wasn't all that interesting. and that's why "the washington post," i was just leaving random house at that time to go start public affairs, but "the washington post" on the front page story said the book was being returned by the train load, which i always thought -- i think i would have been fine ith 200. brian: , i remember it sold about 160,000. but you had 600,000 out there. >> right. and the business -- he's right. i would have published it as a paper back, but the c.e.o. of random house said at the time, well, you're being too timid. it was a $14.95 hard cover, 128 pages. we didn't quite get the jacket right. so, you know, nothing ventured, nothing gained. brian: i want to ask you about it. this is not a a really -- not off subject but it's not one of your books. i always remember this from michael corda, who was editor in chief over at simon & schuster,
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talking about a book that he did with ronald reagan after he left office. i want to you hear this little bit. >> well, he probably printed about 300,000. i would be surprised if we sold 15,000 in the end. probably the largest factor in -- disaster to publishing. the answer to that is although people love ronald reagan, they didn't necessarily want to buy his book. i think that's often true of presidential memoirs. they didn't feel that they would learn something new and different. indeed, they didn't. although it was quite a fine book in its own way. and it always struck me that presidents tend to be onbooks. i think the last readable one was written by ulysses s. grant. brian: as popular as ronald reagan was, why did you think that did not sell? >> for a variety of reasons, one of which, it was a very boring book. it wasn't reagan's book.
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it was a book written with a collaborator, and it was written -- it was like a tailor made series. it was written to specification says. -- specifications. and i think the public kind of knew that. interestingly, many years later, a collection of reagan's letters, diaries, letters, was published, his voice, and it was a huge success. so many, many more times than the memoir. and why is it? well, the interesting thing about ronald reagan, one of the many interesting things about ronald reagan is, ronald reagan actually was a writer, better writer than people would have guessed. and he was especially good writing letters where he could express things that he would never say to you personally. reagan, in person, was almost extraordinarily impersonal. friendly, warm, gracious, elegant, but not there.
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on paper, there was a particular correspondence he had with a 14-year-old black kid in the district, which, if you read it, is really impressive. in person, very different. i worked with nancy reagan on her memoirs, and i'll tell you two quick stories about that. one was, we had to describe the nature of their relationship. and we went back and forth. i worked very closely with nancy as opposed to trump. on the text, and we talked about what she could say that would convey the reagan persona, and what she eventually said was ronald reagan likes people, but doesn't need them. except for me, and sometimes i even wondered about that. that's a hell of a line. and we used it. brian: who wrote it for her, by
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the way? >> well, she wrote the book with a guy named bill very advantage, but it was language that we created that would convey what she meant, even if it wasn't every last word of hers. she certainly wouldn't let us say it. the other thing about nancy reagan that i always thought -- i sent this actually to michael corda after i heard something like this interview, she was describing her relationship with reagan when they were just courting. reagan had been married to jane wyman, the actress, and jane wyman had said about ronald reagan, he's the most boring man in the world when she left him. so now nancy, who was a starlet, and ronnie, who was a movie star, were dating, and she said to us in a meeting in los angeles, she said, you know, everybody was all over us. every one of these movie magazines were writing about us, and it was just -- i said, nancy, did anybody really care about you and ronnie at the time? you were a starlet.
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so what? the next day, she came to the bel air hotel where we were meeting with the scraps, her assistant carrying all these scrap books. every single story ever about ronnie and nancy is in the scrap books. every reference to jane wyman, crossed out. you want to know what it was like to be nancy reagan? there it is right there. that's the nature of -- it's actually what makes these jobs so interesting is that you are looking at people's character. since you're not asking them to be your mother, you're trying to find out who they are. you're trying to extract their character. that was a brilliant one for us, because you could just tell how ierce nancy was. brian: you mentioned bill novak. he also had something to do, my memory, all politics is
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local? >> no, he did tip o'neill's memoir, which is "man of the house." brian: well, it's the same thing, i think. >> no, it was what we left out of "man of the house." brian: ah, ok. i'm confused. ok -->> when we were done with "man of the house," and it was a great success, tip said, well, you know, i should have -- and fine. honestly, now i think it was -- i think it was a guy who worked -- i think it was him who was actually the person -- but these were tip's stories, very short take stories in a very small package. brian: let me show you some video. tip o'neill was scheduled to come on and do this program, and he died on january 5, and the program was scheduled for january 17. so we asked gary, who had worked for him as his aide for a number of years -- >> and i believe was the writer.
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brian: came to talk about it. here's gary talking about tip o'neill. >> published, this idea of the shrunken -- shrunken white format, and we want to call it the elements of politics, as like the elements of style. but when peter osnos and the people the times books, you know, took a look at the book, they said it's got to be all politics is local. i mean, that's tip. so he added "other rules of the game," but everybody is so happy now that that was the title, because that was tip o'neill. brian: that was 1994, that interviewed. -- interview. >> yeah, i can imagine. tip's book came out in the fall of 1987, actual a couple of months before the trump book, and it sold like -- it was a very great success. and they were wonderful, wonderful stories, surrounding the publication of the book. tip was an extraordinary
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character, just a great man. brian: did you know him? >> oh, yeah, very well. again, there are books where you get deeply involved, and with the ones that i get deeply involved in, they tend to be books like that, where i actually go to the meetings and do the interviewing and work with the collaborator until we get the language. and we did that with tip. plus the fact that he was a fabulous character. just one anecdote involving the publication was that we were told that william safire was then a columnist for the "new york times," a former speech writer for richard nixon, and one of the more visible conservatives as they were called at the time, journalist, and that he was writing the review for the times, and millie, tip's wife, said, tom, he's going wipe the floor with you. because his politics were so different.
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you can't do anything about the reviews. the review came out, it was on the front page of the "new york imes" book review. it was a picture of tip, st. patty's day thing, and the book, the review was mostly about tip's use of language. ecause safire was a language maven. and it was a wonderful review. the book was a huge success, and tip, needless to say, here's an interesting one. tip got a million dollars for that book in 1980, probably 1985. i was still relative, i only got to random house in 1984. there was a front page item in the "new york times" said o'neill got a million dollars, which at the time was a great deal of money, i hadn't created my sense of enormous discomfort on the idea that we pay people that much money because of the service they rendered. tip, characteristically, said at
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the time, hey, i've been working here a long time. why shouldn't i have a little something now that i'm getting out of politics? and on some level, of course, he was right. one of our wonderful moments in that process, and it was wonderful, we had to figure out how to get thomas p. o'neill, the successor to john f. kennedy in congress from the cambridge district, knew the kennedy story really well, all the guys in boston were saying to me, look, if you don't get tip to talk , no kennedy and women book. and think particularly resent the fact that novak, who was not one of the kind of boston journalistic mafia was writing the book, so we went back and forth and back and forth. what are we going to say? and finally we came up with the following line, there are a lot of stories about jack kennedy and women, i'm just not going repeat any of them. tip always used to say
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privately, well, the widow is a wife, jackie. brian: you published a book with the former press secretary, very controversial with george w. bush. here's an interview from this program that we did with president bush in 2011, just asking him about why he didn't include in his book anything about scott mcclellan. you don't mention scott mcclellan, who was your longest serving press secretary. >> yeah, i don't know if that's true. brian: who went out and wrote a book that was critical. >> yeah. brian: why not? >> because he was want a part of major decision. this is a book about decisions. this isn't a book about, you know, personalities or gossip or settling scores. and i didn't think he was relevant. brian: what's the back story on publishing a book with scott mcclellan? >> well, the origin was book was conventional. i didn't know scott mcclellan.
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no one at public affairs, as far as i recall, knew scott mcclellan. but a proposal came in from an agent whose name i don't even remember, in a very, not in a very unusual way. i mean, just kind of came in. and we got off the phone with mcclellan, and i said to him, after all you were the press secretary of george w. bush, what do you know about public affairs? is this the place you would want to be published? you know, all of our books have a dedication page in the back to three people who i consider my mentors, one of them, the top one, was i.f. stone, one of the great radical journalists of the 1960's and 1950's, 1940's, and certainly not somebody who george w. would have found politically sympathetic. ben bradlee, editor of "the washington post," and robert ernstein, chairman of random house, the gentleman who hired me at ran come house, these are
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the three people whose principle values we're trying to reflect in our publishing. do you really want to be here? and he said yes. so we started. and in the course of it, we came upon the notion, came upon the fact that he had this sense of having been basically put out to dry, told to go out and say things in his briefing at the white house that were not true. and it deeply offended him, and he wanted to say that. and cut right to the chase, we got the book done, it was supposed to be published let's say on a tuesday. it was what we called embargoed, meaning it was not supposed to be. well, on a thursday night, a young fellow named mike allen, who was just starting out, writing washington stuff, bought a copy of the book, wasn't supposed to be on sale, bought a copy of the book, put up a little notice, a blog notice saying the book was skating, and
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-- kansas citying, and by 9:00 that night, it was taking off. and over that weekend, there were 80,000 orders for the book. it exploded. at "the washington post," we used to have something we call the nuclear tip. when there's something in a book that just -- and there was in scott's book. it was the fact that he had been ordered basically to lie, and he was saying so. and we call the book "what happened." "what happened" really referred to the fact, how did we get into iraq? weapons of mass destruction when there weren't any. and that was really where scott, i thought, was finding his voice. it did very well. it cost scott his washington career. as far as i know, he lives in oregon, where he is the vice president of communications at a community college. but he knows, in his heart of hearts, because it was checked since, that he did what he had to do. and it wasn't about making a fortune, because he wouldn't have signed with us if it
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was. it was about saying that he felt he had to say, and i admire that. i had nothing to do with him either before or since. that's the story. brian: need to tell our viewers a couple things. one, you have published every book we've published here, and we're about to publish our 10th on presidents next spring. two, we don't take money here. nobody involved in the books takes money. if we have any money left over, it costs us more than it does to -- money comes back to us, it oes into our foundation. but i think the audience ought to know that. and three, you've never been involved in a content in any way in what we put in our books, so it's not a question of you saying you can't do this, you can't do this. and i wanted to make sure the audience knows that. are you ever going to write a book about all the stuff that you know? >> well, i am. 'm writing it. i have a lot to say.
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we barely scratched the surface. i come from a family that survived world war ii. he was born in 1943 in bombay, india, arrived in the united states in a basket. i'm telling that story. but i'm not writing it probably for any kind of commercial distribution. as much as i love the "new york times" and places like it, i don't want my life to be -- to end up waiting around to see if the "new york times" wants to review my life. you can do these books now for your family, for people who care, by yourself, one way or another, and i will find a way to do that. so, yes, i am writing a memoir. i'm calling it a very good view, because that's what i think i've had. and i have a very strong belief now that people who have had interesting lives, including brian lamb, should be doing this, because we won't have letters.
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upstairs in our attic, where all the letters that my wife's father wrote to his wife, then-girlfriend, during world war ii, we're not going to have those things. emails are not letters. one of the things i noticed in going over some letters that i wrote to my wife when we were both very young, was i was mushy. i'm not mushy in email. people aren't. we don't express ourselves properly. brian: peter osnos, founder of public affairs books, thank you very much for joining us. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] >> for free transcripts to give us your comments with this program, visit us at q&a.org.
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q&a programs are also available as c-span podcasts. >> sunday night, on "q&a" -- >> this american nazi party had 20,000 supporters who came to rally at madison square garden. as that footage shows in the middle of new york, storm troopers giving the nazi salute with a swastika next to make ture of george washington. that rally was for washington's birthday. there was a very active fascist movement but associated with the phrase america first. >> university of london literature professor looks at the history of the terms america first, and the american dream. in her book "behold america." sunday night at 8:00 eastern on -span's "q&a."
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>> when the new congress takes office in january, it will have the youngest, most diverse freshmen class in recent history. new congress, new leaders. watch it live on c-span. starting january 3. >> the house will be back in session this afternoon at :00 p.m. eastern. on the agenda for today, a bill to allow offshore wind farms in u.s. territories like puerto rico and guam. also legislation directing the national park service to study whether george w. bush's boy hood home in midland, texas, should become part of the national park system. later in the week, a resolution condemning russian aggression against ukrainian ships last month. also possible the house could vote this week on the farm bill and a government spending bill. when the house returns to session, we'll have live coverage here on c-span.

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