18th conversation

My old boss, a new book, bombshells, and 7 other... yeah, I think "things worth your time." For now, anyway.

Think of some of your closest friends and family — at least, the ones you don’t live with.

How many times have you talked with them this year? A half dozen? A dozen? And how long each time?

My old boss Bob Woodward has a new book out next week. It’s called Rage, and it’s about President Trump.

Excerpts, scoops big and small, and audio tapes are all over the media. And one line leapt off the screen at me from The Washington Post’s article about his book.

Among Woodward’s sources, apparently, were “18 on-the-record interviews” with President Trump.

That is an insanely large number of interviews. Let’s assume they’re half an hour long on average. Nine hours of interview transcript, in my experience, would come to about 100,000 words.

To compare, The Grapes of Wrath runs 169,481 words. The Great Gatsby runs 47,094.

Having done hundreds of interviews like this, one very interesting takeway is how hard it is to remember what was said afterward. That’s why I like to record, and why I like getting transcripts.

Now, I tread a bit carefully talking about Woodward, because I helped him with two books in the mid-2000s.

On the one hand, I don’t want to hamhandedly reveal any confidences; on the other hand, people will naturally say, “well, he worked for the guy, of course he’ll take his side in all things.”

But, I am just wildly impressed at the craft involved in getting the sitting president to talk with you that many times—knowing all the while that you’re writing a bombshell book that will come out shortly before the election.

Indeed, there are some bombshells in it; that’s basically the kind of book Woodward has been reporting and writing for 40 years.

Two that people have seized on:

  1. Trump telling Woodward on February 7 that he thought the coronavirus situation was much more dire than he’d been saying publicly, and

  2. Trump telling Woodward on March 19 that he’d been deliberately minimizing the danger in his public talks.

(In its story, The Post embedded audio recordings of Trump saying both things to Woodward.)

Look, if you want to sell books right now, write about President Trump.

As I write this Wednesday evening, Woodward’s book is #1 on Amazon, followed by Micheal Cohen’s book about Trump at #2, former Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s book at #5, and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book about Melania Trump at #6.

And Lord knows, I’m not really here to tell you what to think of President Trump; every single reader who can vote will make up his or her mind no matter what I say.

So before we move on, just three quick points:

First, Woodward is taking flak from people who say he should have released these interviews months ago, instead of saving them for his book.

I’m not sure that would have changed anything — but there’s a point almost nobody has picked up on, which is that the terms of these interviews were almost certainly, “on the record, for a book in September.” You can’t just publish early, even if you want to, without “burning the source” as journalism school types say.

Second, the biggest thing I took away from working as a journalist for Woodward was simple: Always go back and ask more questions. Always do one more interview. You’re never really done; you only wrap up because you’re at deadline and have to turn something in.

(Although, when I tried to apply this to my first effort on my own, “In a Time of War,” doing 600 interviews for a 384-page book, let’s just say it wasn’t the most efficient way to go.)

And finally, it’s worth repeating: 18 interviews? Nine hours? (The length was confirmed separately, by Politico.)

What do you talk about in your 18th conversation? I can only imagine what else might be in them.

7 other things worth your time

(Things? People? I’m not sure. Just trying a few different ideas here.)

  • Another of the many trending snippets from the Woodward book: Trump saying he thinks Woodward “drank the Kook-Aid” and, “Wow. No, I don't feel that at all,” after Woodward asked if White people have a duty to “understand the anger and the pain, particularly, Black people feel in this country.” (NBC News)

  • Separately, Trump was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a Norwegian official, citing the UAE-Isreal peace deal. Worth remembering: Trump has been nominated before, but didn’t get it, and President Obama was awarded the Peace Prize in October 2009 — only months after taking office, and when (by his own admission), he hadn’t done anything himself to warrant it. (Fox News)

  • American Airlines revealed recently that as many as 85 percent of its passengers are flying on Basic Economy tickets, and the airline plans to embrace them. For Inc., I worked through why that’s a big problem for an airline. (Inc.com)

  • Los Angeles County walked back plans to ban trick-or-treating for Halloween due to the coronavirus, instead calling it “not recommended.” (LA Times)

  • NYC restaurants get the OK to resume indoor dining after six months on September 30 — at 25 percent capacity. (WSJ, $)

  • Whoa: JP Morgan Chase reportedly found that “some of its employees improperly applied for and received Covid-relief money that was intended for legitimate U.S. businesses hurt by the pandemic.” This prompted “an unusual all-staff message from JPMorgan Tuesday that puzzled many across the industry for its candid admission of potentially illegal acts by some of its own while not describing what they had done.” (Bloomberg)

  • I’ve been meaning to write about this: If you’ve ever received a completely unsolicited package from Amazon or another vendor, this might be why — “brushing,” a fairly inexpensive scam designed to inflate the number of 5-star reviews for products. (BBC)

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