“Four Things Worth Talking About…” is a new series of blog posts where we turn the tired, traditional book review on its head and instead focus on the four most powerful anecdotes, lessons, or observations contained in the book. All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid is the second book reviewed for this series.
In 1993, Richard Ben Cramer wrote What It Takes: The Way to the White House, the definitive account of the 1988 presidential campaign. Inspired by Cramer’s account, national political columnist Matt Bai decided to take a deep dive into one of the most noteworthy events during that campaign: the fall of Gary Hart. All The Truth Is Out chronicles that fateful week in May 1987 and its enduring impact on both politics and journalism.
Four Things Worth Talking About:
1 Everything You Think You Know About Gary Hart Is Wrong
Every American over 40 remembers Senator Hart’s downfall. We remember that there were rumors about marital infidelity, that Hart denied them and challenged the media to “follow [him] around,” and that a photo appeared of Hart wearing a “Monkey Business” t-shirt with Donna Rice on his lap. Most people assume that the media were simply responding to Hart’s challenge. However, Bai makes it clear that Hart’s words didn’t appear in print until the day the scandal broke. Most Americans also don’t realize how difficult a decision it was for media outlets on whether to cover the scandal, even after it broke.
2 Gary Hart Came Awfully Close to Being Our 41st President
In the spring of 1987, Senator Hart had a 28-point lead over his closest competitor (and a 42-point lead over eventual nominee Michael Dukakis) in the Democratic primary and a double-digit lead over then-Vice President George H. W. Bush in the general election. Those numbers weren’t surprising – Gary Hart was known as one of the most thoughtful, insightful politicians of his era, and he’d enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence, from campaign manager for George McGovern, to U.S. senator, to presidential candidate. He was extraordinarily popular in his party – so much so that he even briefly re-entered the presidential race in December 1987.
3 Turning Point in American Politics
In 2015, the private lives of politicians are considered fair game. But that simply wasn’t the case in 1987. The media in general would only cover an affair if it interfered in some way with a politician’s official duties or became impossible to ignore. But the arrival of CNN, the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle, and growing cynicism after Watergate all softened the ground for the dramatic shift that happened during that week in 1987. The Gary Hart scandal also marked the first time a presidential candidate was asked not just about a specific affair, but whether he had ever cheated on his spouse.
4 Crisis of Conscience for Newsrooms
The Miami Herald was the first media outlet to be alerted about Donna Rice. But they wrestled with whether to follow up on the tip. Tom Fiedler, the Herald’s political editor, asked himself and his colleagues the following questions, which seem downright quaint today:
- Should the media withhold publication until they have solid evidence of infidelity?
- Do the media have a legitimate interest in a candidate’s private sex life, assuming it doesn’t interfere with doing the job?
- Should the media just stick to analyzing a candidate’s ideas?
Even after the Herald first published evidence of Hart’s affair, other news outlets still struggled with whether they should be covering it as well, underscoring just how much things have changed in the last 30 years.
All The Truth Is Out is a well-researched political chronicle, and it’s a fascinating read. Bai’s interviews with Gary Hart himself provide a particularly compelling look into the life and mind of this complicated (and often brilliant) man.