tv QA Susan Page CSPAN April 14, 2019 11:00pm-12:01am EDT
♪ brian: susan page, why did you call your book "the matriarch"? susan: because she was a matriarch. she was a funny, smart, caustic woman. one of two women to be both the wife and mother of presidents. the only person ever to leave to see both her spouse and child move into the white house. she was someone i think americans loved but did not really understand, and i thought that deserve the story. brian: tell us how you decided to do the book and why you think
mrs. bush agreed to talk to you and when. susan: i wanted to do a book about something i had covered after all of these years in washington, and i thought about some different books that involved the bush administrations, because i had covered both of those. it turned out barbara bush had written two best-selling memoirs, but there had not been a muscular biography done on her. it seemed like a great topic to me. i got an agent, we pitched the book to publishers. a publisher signed a contract, but i have not contacted her to see if she would cooperate. which may have been stupid, but my reasoning was if she said no, i would not know whether to go ahead, and if she said yes, she might think she had say over what i wrote. so i took a leap of faith, and so did my publisher.
i wrote her a letter, i sent her an email, and asked if she would let me interview her once. after about a week, she said yes. in 2017 i interviewed for the first time, the second time, and third time, and so it went. she died almost a year ago on april 17, 2018. brian: five interviews, you were scheduled for six. what were the circumstances? susan: at the end of each interview, we had no great arrangement, at the end of the interview i would ask if i could interview her again and each time she said yes. i had five interviews and we had scheduled a sixth. i had been doing archival research in texas and she fell the night before the interview
was scheduled and she never recovered. the fifth interview was the last one i did. she did do something remarkable in that fifth interview, which is, at the very beginning, she said, you will never see my diaries. her diaries are kept at the bush library, but they are not available for public view until 35 years after her death. i understood that and i thought she was unlikely to let me see her diaries. at the end of the fifth interview, she said, and you can see my diaries. and that was an incredible gift. brian: how big are the diaries? susan: she started keeping these diaries and papers in 1948. 1948. as a young bride with a child, george w. bush, she began to keep these intermittently.
she did not always and invariably keep a diary, but she came back to it over and over again. she made the last entry in her diary 12 days before she died. brian: how big a difference did your access to the diaries make for your book? susan: a tremendous difference. it was a contemporaneous account of what she was thinking about all these things that happened in her remarkable and long life. brian: what was your biggest find? susan: well, i'm not sure this is the biggest, it's one of the funniest, which is -- she had a difficult relationship with nancy reagan. she really bit her tongue when nancy reagan did various things she found difficult. and it turned out that nancy reagan was worried about what barbara bush was going to write in barbara bush's memoir.
but nancy reagan did not feel free to call barbara bush directly to after. nancy reagan went to an aide who had been with both presidents and bush, and he called jean becker, who asked barbara bush. what she would say about nancy reagan in her memoir. barbara bush then wrote a mock chapter that recounted every offense she felt nancy reagan had ever made on her, and she gave that to jean becker saying, this is what i am going to say. it was that she did this, did this. she said she wrote, "and this was just a joke." she kind of unloaded on nancy reagan. but in her memoir, she did not really say a critical thing about nancy reagan. brian: we have some video that you will recognize, prince
philip of great britain came to the white house during the reagan years and vice president bush and mrs. bush were or were not there, and we will talk about that when we look at the video. [video clip] >> things about coming to the united states, you have this extraordinary gift for making people feel welcome, and apart from the friendliness with which you greet everybody, it really does warm the heart to come here and be made to feel welcome. brian: what is the significance of that? susan: it was the hottest ticket in the reagan white house, that dinner. it was a really glittering dinner, it was amazing. and john travolta dancing with princess di is a picture that
i'm sure everyone who was alive at the time remembers. the bushes were pointedly not invited. in doing research for the book, we found the original guest list that was sent to mrs. reagan with the guests, and the first name on the list was president and mrs. reagan, and the second name on the list was vice president bush and his wife. barbara bush crossed their names out. we found repeated list, where mrs. reagan had crossed them out. repeatedly they proposed inviting the vice president and his wife, but nancy reagan did not invite them. she was not required by protocol to invite them, it was not a state dinner, she always included them in state dinners, but she did not include them and it was quite deliberate. brian: in your book, i'm reading, nancy reagan never disparaged barbara bush in front of the east wing staff.
kate said, she never gossiped to her staff, never, never. do you believe that? susan: i believe her, but nancy reagan gossiped to many people. not to her staff, but to others. one thing nancy reagan i think did not understand was the network barbara bush had built over decades in washington. barbara bush would recount in her diaries that nancy reagan would have said this about her at some dinner in new york, which immediately would have gone back to barbara bush by some friend who had been on the guest list. i think nancy reagan did gossip and did not like barbara bush very much. that was something barbara bush understood. but in response to your question, i believe tate.
brian: friend after friend would report from small dinners in new york, as you said. nancy reagan would say, i don't know why the press let's barbara bush get away with designer clothes. barbara wrote in her diary, i wonder if it ever occurred to her that george bush paid for my clothes. what is that about? susan: nancy reagan famously got into some pr trouble in two ways. one was by seeming very concerned at how she was dressed. the other was accepting dresses without paying for them by designers, and it became a controversy. one of the things it was interesting and her diaries is barbara bush really like to designer clothes, too. she liked to dress well. she was not known for dressing well in the same way nancy reagan was and she was not a close horse in the same way, but she got a lot of pleasure from clothes, but she always paid for them. nancy reagan would say that the
press never gave her the benefit of the doubt, but it gave barbara bush the benefit of the doubt. and that made a big difference in their press coverage. i think that's a fair observation. brian: you tell a story about something called first monday. what was that in what did frank fahrenkopf tell you? susan: first monday was a magazine that the republican put out that had not that great a circulation, and who would really care? the circulation was entirely republican activists, the type of people who would walk the neighborhood for you when you were running to office, the type of people politicians wanted to cultivate. frank fahrenkopf was often
invited to dinners the bushes would give that the vice president residence. usually he would be at the head of the table himself. he arrived for one dinner and he was seated next to barbara bush, which he was pretty sure was not a good thing. as the dinner was winding down, she invited him to have a private conversation with her, and she complained that george bush had not been featured in first monday for months and months, not mentioned. frank fahrenkopf said he was sure she was wrong and he would check on it and get back to the next morning. so he is driving home and he calls bill greener, one of the aides of the rnc, and said, you have to look at all of the issues of first monday and find george bush. barbara bush was right, they had not been featuring george bush in first monday, and believe me, they started to include him in every one. brian: i want to show you six seconds of video from a program back in 1983. barbara bush came to our studios.
the only time she did this. it was a call in show. it is only six seconds. i want your reaction to what she does when i ask her this question. [video clip] brian: do you have a position on e.r.a.? >> i came to talk about education. [laughter] brian: shut me down. susan: she did not want to create problems for her husband. she endorsed, supported gun control, but the republican party was not agreeing with her and so she did not want to create problems with the nra. oh, you asked about the e.r.a. you look just the same. [laughter] susan: she supported the e.r.a., and when george bush first ran
for president, he supported the e.r.a. but the party moved in a different direction. she did not want to create problems for her husband. so she just refused to discuss it. brian: what about abortion? susan: abortion is so interesting. she supported abortion rights, definitelyty was moving in a different direction, and when george bush was chosen as ronald reagan's running mate, he made a commitment to support the republican platform, which opposed abortion. so he did, he changed his view on abortion. she never did, but she stopped talking about it. in her diaries i found something quite extraordinary, which is, in her diaries in early 1980, there were four pages of loose paper folded over and tucked in. it was essentially a letter she wrote herself trying to figure out what did she think about abortion. she knew she would be asked in
the 1980 presidential campaign and she wanted to know what she thought. it is a very thoughtful, poignant letter. and she concludes that she supports abortion rights, and she concludes that for an interesting reason. it's because of her experience with the death of her daughter, robin. robin died in 1953 of leukemia. she died when her mother was 29 years old. barbara bush wrote that she could sense when robin was born, when her soul entered her body. she said she knew when robin died, she felt her soul leaving her body. to her, that meant abortion was not murder because your soul had not entered your body until you were born, and therefore it was an issue that should be left to a mother and a father and their doctor, and not something up to the government.
brian: to go back to what you said, after five interviews, she let you see the diaries. had anyone else ever seen them? susan: john meacham, who wrote the wonderful biography of george h w bush, had been allowed to see them. brian: what you think she wanted you to see them? susan: you know, i think she liked me. i think she felt after five interviews that i was doing a serious piece of history. and she knew i wanted to see them. and i think she also knew she was not going to live very long. as i said, it was unexpected and extraordinary. brian: this is from your book, on page 102. overwhelmed by pain and loneliness, she contemplated suicide. what is the story behind that? did she talk about that before? susan: there is a reference in her memoir -- she had not
discussed it as far as i know with anyone publicly before. it was in 1976, george bush had taken over the central intelligence agency. she had been so involved in all the aspects of his previous jobs and no she wasn't because he was heading a spy agency. they moved back to washington from china. she had kind of an empty nest. dora was at high school, the boys were in college or beyond. she fell into a really serious depression. she told me that she would be driving and she would have this urge to direct her car into a tree or steer into the path of an oncoming car, and she would have to pull off the road until the impulse had passed. brian: how did she get over it?
it is depression, she had it for how long, do you think? susan: about six months. at one point she told her doctor and he did not take it very seriously. they discussed that later. she never really sought medical treatment for it. the only person she talked to was her husband. she eventually felt better, she's not sure why. she went and volunteered at a washington hospice. that made her feel better, taking care of someone else. brian: the next page has something that has not gotten a lot of attention, although it has gotten some -- jennifer fitzgerald. how big a deal with that in her depression, and who was she? susan: jennifer fitzgerald was an aide to george h.w. bush. george bush hired her when he went to china, she went to china
with the bushes. and continued to be close to him, worked closely with him until he became president. there have long been rumors about a personal affair between president bush and jennifer fitzgerald. i think it is important to note that president bush and barbara bush and jennifer fitzgerald all deny they had an affair. but it was hard to understand president bush's decision to keep her so close to him, even after she became controversial publicly, and also controversial privately, within his staff. she was someone other people in the staff often did not get along with. some people left his staff because they couldn't get along with jennifer fitzgerald. so people i think need to make their own decisions about what the nature of the relationship was, but i can tell you this for
sure -- it was enormously painful for barbara bush to deal with these rumors. because she adored george bush, and she would have to deal with it, especially in interviews during the 1992 campaign, and you can tell from her diaries how anguishing it was for her. brian: is jennifer fitzgerald so -- still alive, and if she is, did you talk to her? susan: i believe she is still alive and living in florida. i reached out her and she did not return my calls and i did not talk to her. brian: the wellesley commencement speech. what is the story behind that? susan: such a wonderful speech. such a great speech. how many commencement speeches have since quoted barbara bush's wellesley speech? it was in 1990 and she had agreed to give so many college commencement speeches. the students at wellesley started a petition drive
protesting her being the speaker because she had basically been just a housewife, all of her fame was through what her husband had done. numbernumber -- a fair of the students at wellesley find the petition saying they wanted an additional commencement speaker. not that she was disinvited, but someone they felt was more worthwhile. this became such a national controversy. between those who thought the students were making a fair point and those who took offense at barbara bush's behest of how she was being treated. she was wounded by this, we know this from her diaries. it bothered her. in public, she was breezy about it, but in her diaries she was distressed this is what they thought of her. brian: when did she find out she was the second choice? susan: you know, i don't know when she did.
when the head of the university, the head of the college contacted her with a very fulsome letter about how the students would like her to be bigger, she did not reveal that she was not the first choice and that the first choice had to back out. in any case, she gave a speech that is a wonderful speech, and a wonderful statement of her values, and was very well received. brian: we've got some clips from there. the woman invited first who could not get there was alice walker, and she refers to it. let's look at wellesley. [video clip] >> i know your first choice today was alice walker. [laughter] >> guess how i know?
[cheering and applause] >> known for "the color purple," and i am known for the color of my hair. [laughter] susan: she was nervous about this speech. she did not usually get nervous for speeches, but she was nervous about the speech. she invited mrs. gorbachev to go with her, just because they were in washington at a time, and she was so relieved it went well. her staffers knew more than anyone how worried she was about it, and they did a big banner that said "a job wellesley done." they were going to stand up there with the banner whether she did well or not, and it was a an enormous relief. brian: how old are your boys? susan: they are in the 30's now. brian: so you would understand
someone in the 1990's protesting the speaker. this had been going on for some time, when people protest the speaker they got coming to their college. susan: it is more common now than it was then. the fact that the protests had such a personal tone i think made it a controversy, in the fact that barbara bush was by then, quite beloved by americans. by the time she was first lady, she became a norm is that popular than her husband. brian: this is for content, this was at the june 1, 1990, another 30 seconds. [video clip] >> one of the reasons i made the most important decision of my life to marry george bush is because he makes me laugh. it's true, sometimes we laugh through tears, but that shared
laughter has been one of our strongest bonds. find the joy in life. because as ferris bueller said on his day off, life moves pretty fast, and if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you will miss it. [laughter] brian: did he proposed to her? you imply there were a lot of things george bush did that he never told her he was going to do when she was expected to go along with. susan: and i think he ever proposed her. he talked about this just before he died when he was in maine that last summer. neither of them describe it as a proposal, it's more like they both knew it would happen. brian: the second part of that question is, how often did he decide he was going to go to
china or to the cia or republican national committee and did not talk to her about it? susan: he did that a lot when they were young. when he decided to move to texas. it was basically a fact when he presented it to her, and she was all for it. he took a series of jobs she did not think he should take. she did not think the cia job was a smart job for someone who wanted to be president. but that changed over time, and during his presidency when he had big decisions to make, i think he wanted her by his side. even on decisions of foreign policy. i interviewed the prime minister of canada at the time, and he described a secret meeting at the white house right after the iraqi invasion of kuwait, he had never disclosed this before, and it was to discuss with the american president what he was going to do about the invasion of kuwait. barbara bush was there and he told us ambassador afterward
that barbara bush was there because when george bush was making the most consequential decisions of his presidency, he wanted to know what she thought. brian: speaking of george bush, he gave you the last interview he did in his life. susan: the last interview with a journalist. as did she. what a privilege that was. brian: what was the last interview like? susan: it was difficult. he was suffering from a form of parkinson's and it made it difficult for him to speak more than a word or two at a time. so i had to pose questions that have short answers. but we had a good conversation. i said, do you remember the first time he saw barbara bush? he said he did, and then he said, she was so beautiful. brian: at the end of the book,
you discuss a lot with her about dying. what was her position -- was she 92 when she died? susan: yes. brian: what was her position on dying? susan: she was ready to die. she was mentally sharp but physically and a lot of pain. she was not afraid to die, she was a person of great faith so dying was not the end of things. but she worried about him, she worried about her husband and how would he do if she died first? both of them worried about that, how the other would fare if they died first and i think it kept her alive a while, not wanting to leave him. but the time came when her physical health was in such decline that her life was going to end and they had this final
conversation in the den of their home, where i interviewed her while doing the book, and they gave each other kind of permission to move on. george bush said to barbara bush, i'm not going to worry about you, and she said to him, i am not going to worry about you. and then they had a drink. brian: how many of the children did you talk to? susan: i talked to george w. bush, jeb bush, and neil bush. the other two declined. brian: did they give you a reason? susan: marvin bush sent me a very nice email saying they were out of his interview business. which i respect, because no one had an obligation to talk to me and i am grateful to everyone who did. brian: you quote neil, what does he do and where does he live now? susan: he lives in houston,
basically across the street from his folks. he spent a lot of time with them. he has a business, he is very involved in educational related businesses. he was a great interview about kind of the inter-workings of his mother's mind. he was the one person i interviewed who said, especially with the benefit of hindsight, that he understood when she was very depressed, and he wished he had seen the signs better. but anyway, yes, i interviewed neil bush. brian: this is neil bush. dad had an amazing relationship with bill clinton, but mom does not have the same affection for bill. she still remembers how bill beat dad, he apparently cheats in golf and does things mom does not like. but it shows that dad has a
forgiving nature and mom is more black and white. susan: how grateful was i for that kind of insight? it is true that george h.w. bush and bill clinton, to everyone's surprise, he came quite close after bill clinton left the white house. but barbara bush was much slower to warm to bill clinton, for some of the reasons neil said. although eventually i think she came to terms with bill clinton because she knew how much the relationship meant to george h.w. bush. brian: in your opinion, how to -- how do george bush become president? and i am referring basically back to the lingering unhappiness between the bushes and the reagans over how large -- how george h.w. bush got there. in other words, that ronald reagan, according to nancy reagan, did not get enough credit. susan: the fact that ronald reagan chose george bush as his
running mate was a critical part of george bush becoming president, but is not the reason he became president. maybe necessary but not sufficient. it boosted him, it made the 1980 election were he failed to get the nomination, it turned that around. he was elected in the wake of a president who had been enormously popular. george bush was elected because he is been a lifetime in preparation for being present. have we ever had a president with the depth of experience george bush had? i think it's fair to say that ronald reagan deserved credit but it is not due to ronald reagan george bush got elected. brian: between the reagan presidency and bush presidency, something soured nancy reagan's relationship with barbara bush.
susan: you mean in 1980. brian: when george h.w. bush became president. mrs. bush was not invited to tour the white house before they took over nine days before the inauguration. susan: this became a big issue between them. nancy reagan i think was not enthusiastic about leaving the white house. i think she liked the white house. she was slow to invite mrs. bush to take the traditional tour so she could take a close look at where her furniture was going to go and who was going to sleep in one bedroom, and all the things you manage when you move into a new house, even if it is not the white house. nancy reagan was very slow to come through with the invitation, and it was enormously annoying to barbara bush. so that was a point of contention that recurs at key
moments later, including when the bushes are moving out of the white house. george bush has been defeated by bill clinton, they are evicted from the white house, bush does not get a second term he wants. they are flying back to houston. nancy reagan does and -- an interview on abc in which she basically, preemptively says she did give a tour in good time to mrs. bush four years earlier, and at that moment, who would've cared about it? but that interview prompted the final and most combustible exchange between barbara bush and nancy reagan. brian: there was the time they had that telephone conversation. susan: two days later, nancy reagan calls barbara bush. barbara bush is pretty sure this
is to try to explain away this interview she gave. she also complained that the bushes had not treated ronald reagan well, which the bushes would also disagree with, that they were very deferential to ronald reagan. but it was something nancy said in this interview. that first day, barbara bush ducked the call. the second day, the operator said, it is mrs. reagan, aren't you going to take the call? so she took the call. nancy reagan began to try to explain what she had meant. this is the kind of conversation barbara bush have had many times nancy reagan after public comments that seemed dismissive or disrespectful. barbara bush had finally had
enough. they were out of the white house, she didn't need to buy -- bite her tongue anymore. she said that she took offense at it, reporters were at her door asking questions about it, which was not true, it was just to find to give nancy reagan heartburn. and she said to nancy reagan, and don't you ever call me again. and she hung up. here is what is interesting. in the first interview i did with barbara bush, she told me that story, which i found jaw-dropping. when i read her diaries, it was precisely the way she had described it in the interview, which meant it was a memory that was still, all these years later, perfectly clear to her. brian: that she ever told that story before? susan: no. brian: here's some video of an interview with barbara bush back in 2013.
talks about the difference between being first lady and second lady. [video clip] >> i did notice the difference between being a vice president's wife and president's wife is huge because the vice president's wife can say anything and nobody cares. the minute you say one thing as president's wife, you have made the news. that was a lesson i had to learn. brian: you've been reporting washington politics for how long? susan: 100 years approximately. brian: when did you start? susan: 1980 was the first presidential campaign i covered. brian: the reason i ask is why is there a difference the way of media looks at the first lady in a second lady? susan: a first lady is the wife of the president, and is not that you don't pay attention to the wife of the vice president, it's the same for the president and vice president. brian: how many presidents have you interviewed? susan: nine.
three out of office and six in office. brian: who was the hardest and who was the easiest and why? susan: that's a hard question. i don't know who was the hardest. i can talk about who was the easiest, of presidents. the thing interviewing presidents, and you know this -- how many presidents have you interviewed? brian: i don't know. susan: beyond count? 44? brian: [laughter] thanks. one of the things i know, when he interview a president, everybody is watching -- not you -- but everything they say. which is different from almost everything else you interview.
i wonder what that experience would be for you. susan: the worst interview i did with a present was with ronald reagan, the first i did. i was like, i am in the oval office, this is the present. -- the president of the united date. i did a terrible interview. i did not get one bit of news. i came out of it not even knowing what he had said. i then had to write a story about the fact that i had done a terrible interview. i didn't say that in the story but it was clear to me. i decided i would not repeat that experience. when you go in to interview presidents, you need to have a plan. you need to know you're talking about and have a plan for how you are going to get the president to say something he hasn't said a million times before. because presidents get interviewed all the time. they are very skilled, they become president because they are skilled at keeping on their message. if you want to get something spontaneous or new or real, you need to be at the top of your
game. i took a lesson from that terrible interview with ronald reagan. the best presidential interview i have done i think was with bill clinton. who was easy to interview because he was willing to engage, he knew a lot about policy. he was a good person to interview. one thing that made that interview good was it was on a flight back from chicago at the end of a long day. the interview was not supposed to be that late got pushed back and pushed back. we were like landing at andrews air force base at 11:00 at night when interview is taking place, and it was a hard time for me because i am an early bird, but he was a night owl. i did that with my college at usa today, and it was a really good interview. brian: you talked to bill clinton for this book about barbara bush. was he aware what she thought of him? susan: yes. barbara bush made it pretty clear what she thought of you.
that would be true in her relationship with bill clinton as well as everybody else. brian: what did he tell you his opinion of barbara bush was? susan: he liked her a lot and he knew it took a while to win her over. he understood that. he had a great perspective on her, and kind of what she had done for him. one of the questions i ask almost everybody i interview was, if george bush had not married barbara pierce, would he have become president? bill clinton said no. he said he would not have become president if he had not married hillary. and he talks about what it was that barbara bush did for george bush as a person politician that was so critical. brian: i know you asked that question of a lot of grandkids. who thought the whole idea of asking that question was ridiculous?
interviewed -- george bush's younger brother, just a week before he died, before he fell and passed away in i asked him this question, and he took offense. think he thought i was in some way denigrating his brother's achievement, which was not my intention. he said he would have become president of matter who he married. most of the people i interviewed, including people very close to him, said that he was indispensable. this is the word that so many people use. >> what is your sense, would george bush have been elected without her? said, that is a good question, i think i would have. brian: he said he would have been elected without her? susan: yes. which is surprising, because if you have been a husband any length of time, you know the right answer to that question.
when i asked her, she said absolutely, he was meant to be president. but i think they're both wrong. i think their partnership was indispensable. brian: here is more from the interview in 2013. you write about this in your book. [video clip] >> you've been referred to by some family members as the enforcer of the bush family. what do you think about that reputation? >> i'm not sure i am good with laura saying that, but i deserve it. anything they do is all right with george, but someone has to make sure standards are kept. he leads by example, i lead by denying some things.
i am the enforcer, there is no question about it. brian: people agree with that in the family? susan: everybody agrees with that in the family. brian: good examples? susan: well, small things like pick up your towels. big on the things -- on things don't be lazy, get a job. , she had standards and she enforces them. in 1990, the bushes would give this picnic for the white house press corps covering them during the summer, and i was there with my husband and our two little boys in 1990, and she came up and demanded to know how i could defend working when my children were so young. at first i thought she was kidding. then it became clear she was not
kidding and she really wanted to know why it was doing this and she made it clear she thought i had made the wrong decision. my boys were not helping by misbehaving and running around like they were raised by wolves during this exchange. [laughter] brian: however, she changed her mind on this. susan: she did. brian: what were the circumstances and how did you learn that? i think with her granddaughters. many people's view on the role of women changed within barbara bush's life. she was as proud of her granddaughters working as her grandsons. she talked a lot about how her granddaughters, who started the global health core, who worked on a feeding program for hungry people around the world ended all kinds of things. cohosted the "today" show.
jenna bush hager, one of her granddaughters, told me that her grandmother encouraged her to take on more responsibilities at the "today" show. but in 1990, her views were clear. brian: what about her twin sister? susan: barbara bush, her namesake, told me there was a point -- this is toward the end of barbara bush's life, she had not gotten married, she didn't have children, she is broken up with her boyfriend, and her grandmother told her, there other ways to have children. you don't have to get married to have children. basically giving her permission to have a child in the many other ways people have children these days, and as a single mom. isn't it extraordinary barbara bush would think that was an ok thing for her namesake to do?
since then, barbara bush has gotten married, but at that point, this was just before she had the blind date that led to her marriage. this was quite remarkable conversation. brian: did you find anybody in your research that just did not like barbara bush? susan: i think if i had the privilege of interviewing nancy reagan, she probably did not like barbara bush. there were people who found her imperious. she could be pretty sharp. if she thought you were doing the wrong thing, she would let you know. there were definitely people on the bush staff, both administrations, who found her really intimidating. but overwhelmingly, people liked her. her sharpness was part of her authenticity.
it was one of the things that made her so real. brian: you did get to read the diary. how long did it take you to finish it? susan: it took a long time. they would bring out these giant boxes from a cage, a locked cage at the bush library. they had not even been curated before. no archivist had gone through it. pages would be stuck together and out of order, and really quite extraordinary. i read them as fast as i could, and with complete delight. one of the nice things about reading her diary is i read what she thought about me. after an early interview, she wrote in her diary, susan page is writing a biography of me. boring. not at all clear whether susan page was boring or the idea of a biography of barbara bush was boring. after our last interview, she wrote, susan page was here to interview me again.
i like her, i hope she will be kind to me. brian: you think somebody named will in the back of your book for helping you. who is he? susan: he is the younger of my misbehaving children at that picnic. he went back to grad school as i was working on this book and he agreed to be my researcher. there was a point i was drowning in information, and he was a great researcher, and i am grateful to him. brian: what did she think of the press? susan: she, i think she did not like some of the things the press wrote about her husband. she found the press pretty intrusive, but when mrs. gorbachev complained about the press, she defended the press is a -- the press as crucial and i think she thought that true. brian: i have a quick clip of mrs. gorbachev with her at the wellesley speech, and then explain the relationship.
[video clip] [speaking foreign language] >> we wish to have good relations with americans and other people. [applause] brian: what was their relationship like, and what impact might it have had on international relationships? susan: there was friction between them. barbara bush thought that was not helpful to the united states. gorbachev was the leader, very important in these negotiations
in the effort to end the cold war. she wrote a letter to her brother, scott, before the first time she met mrs. gorbachev as first lady, and she said i'm going to like her no matter what she does. basically, i'm going to make him my friend, she can say what ever she wants and be as difficult as she can be, and she could be difficult and didactic, and i'm going to make front of her and she did. she cultivated her, she was deferential to her, taking her to the wellesley speech was part of that. she became friends with her. i asked barbara bush were they friends, and she said friends is a big word. meaning i think they were not friends in the traditional sense, but they became friends in a way that was useful and helpful to the end of the cold war. you wonder sometimes whether that matters. ronald reagan reached important agreements with mikell gorbachev even though their wives did not get along. but the canadian prime minister told me it did not make a difference.
gorbachev relied on his wife's advice and it mattered that his wife felt good about the bushes. the chancellor of west germany made the same point in conversations he had with gorbachev in material that has since been declassified. brian: this is off-topic, and correct me if i'm wrong, but you tell a story about a time at the library in college station where they are together there in the private quarters and john sununu is there. wasn't he fired from the white house? susan: this is before she died. he did get pushed out of the white house. brian: by george h.w. bush? susan: there is a long story about that, but with barbara bush thinking was time for him to go. she made that clear in her diaries.
sununu was unhappy at the time but that did not make a lifetime of enemies. they still had a relationship and time heals all wounds. he had written a book about the bush presidency defending the bush presidency, and he was one of the people i interviewed for this book. they had a difficult patch but they made up. brian: i'm going to read this and you can fill in the blanks again. george bush even moved to shield journalists from his wife's either. maureen dowd had been invited to a party at the former white house counsel. what was the rest of it? susan: marine dowd excepted the imitation. a new york times columnist that had written many things about bush and his son.
she was friendly with the family but tough in print. and she brought jill abramson, an editor, with her. jill told me that when they walked in the door, it was clear that george bush did not want barbara bush to see them. per impression was that george bush thought it was not a good idea to be seen by barbara bush. he basically pulled them into a side room, they had a friend the -- friendly conversation and were then escorted out the door. because she was tough and caustic. and he was not. he was unfailingly courteous. maybe that's why they were such a good pair, because they were different that way. brian: you have been a longtime radio interviewer here in washington. you have been at usa today how many years? susan: since 1995. brian: you have appeared on a lot of television shows, especially during this period we
are living in right now. what are your thoughts about the strong reaction to the mueller decision on the part of people who don't like what the media have done over the last two years? susan: i am so distressed by the loss of faith in the mainstream news media by americans. i think it is troubling and damaging to democracy. i think we have to do a better job of being fair and smart and transparent and making our readers and viewers know that we are being fair and smart and transparent to rebuild that trusted think it's one of the biggest challenges our democracy faces right now. i don't think one thing caused it. i don't think one thing will fix it.
you know, i think the proliferation of news outlets has been one thing that has changed the way people get news and who they trust. i think the rise of fake news is one factor, not the only one. but it is one factor, deliberate misinformation. the increasing polarization of our politics has, i think, made half of america not trust liberal sources, and half of america not trust conservative sources. news organizations like my own but try to be down the middle, i work for usa today, have had a tough time persuading people we are not going to take a side, we are going to give you the information so you can take a side. but if americans do not believe there are news outlets they can trust and we can agree on what happened and then disagree on what to do about it, i think
that is a foundation of our democracy. we need to make this work. brian: you have appeared on fox msnbc you are not wed to , one place. what you think of the cable news side, and they a definitely have taken a side the last couple of years. susan: they have taken a side and found an audience for that. a lot of americans want to read or view news outlets that agree with what they think already. that is ok as long as we also have news available that does not take a side. that's what i think is important. you are not going to eliminate advocacy in news organizations. we need to have sources that are not partisan that people believe are telling them the truth. brian: the hardest thing about writing this book? susan: the hardest thing was i wanted to do it fast.
the people i wanted to interview were elderly, many of them. i wanted to get to as many of them as i could. it was just the pressure of getting it done was the hardest thing. brian: did you record your interviews? susan: all of them. brian: what do you going to do with them? susan: i don't know. brian: we will leave it at that. the name of the book is "the matriarch: barbara bush and the making of an american dynasty." our guest, usa today's susan page. thank you so much. susan: thank you, brian. ♪ >> all "q&a" programs are available on our website or as a podcast at c-span.org. ♪ [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
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