The Unique Challenges of Writing for LBJ

Lyndon B. Johnson
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Of course, he was also helped when LBJ called a bombing pause late in the campaign. So, conceivably, LBJ might have squeaked out a victory by signalling, as McPherson suggested, a change in his Vietnam policy in line with the bombing halt. But we will never know, will we? Good catch!

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The Unique Challenges of Writing for LBJ eBook: JOSEPH CARTER: Kindle Store. Memoir by a former newsman Turned speech writer During the final months. Of President Lyndon B. Johnson's White House years. By Joseph H. Carter Sr.

I definitely need an editor — second factual error in this post that alert readers caught. Fascinating commentary. Harry Macpherson was a remarkable public servant and outstanding man.

The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives

Considering the recent confirmation in John A. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Share this: Share Email Facebook Twitter. Jack, I hope readers are having as much fun with documents as I am — they are a wonderful glimpse into presidential history. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. Do not use:. Create a Site Search Sites Log in. And one of the things you did, as I recall, you wrote a six-part series on a proposed bridge that was going to really dig into every ramification—political, financial, environmental—on this bridge in the New York area.

Could you tell that story? Because it seemed to play a pivotal role in your career. Newsday assigned me to look into it. And Newsday sent me up to Albany, and everybody seemed to understand that this was a terrible idea. So I wrote a story saying, basically, the bridge was dead. And I went on to other things. So I had a friend in Albany then. And I think you ought to come back up. And, not only that, the state was going to pay for getting it started. So, I remember driving home from Albany that night was a hundred and sixty-three miles to my home in Roslyn.

And in a democracy power comes from being elected, from our votes at a ballot box. So here was a man, Robert Moses, who had never been elected to anything, but he had more power than a mayor and governor put together. And he had held this power for forty-four years, almost half a century, and with it he had shaped New York City. He built six hundred and twenty-seven miles of parkways and expressways, every modern bridge in New York, reshaped the whole park system, et cetera. And I realized, driving home that night, neither does anybody else.

That power is something invisible to even the most entrepreneurial newspaper reporter. Were there biographies, were there books, were there things that you were reading that impressed you as a potential model? You will be learning something, and teaching some, about political power.

So at first I actually thought I was going to do it as a long series, you know. And then I just said, No, I can never do this as a series, it has to be a book. So I at that time knew only one editor in the entire world in the book world. So you went to town. Now, at a certain point in your research, you had a meeting with some of the public-relations guys that were around Robert Moses.

What happened? Well, they said to me, you know, many people, some famous writers, had started doing biographies of Robert Moses, but none had ever done one. And I guess it was said to them, pretty much, what [the P. Well, I knew by that time I was going to do the book. But I had to figure out a way to interview these people.

So what I did, actually, was I drew a series of concentric circles on a piece of paper. And in the center I put a dot.

On a Presidential paper trail.

The dot was Robert Moses, and the innermost circle was his family. And then, the next one, his friends. Now, why do you think that he eventually wanted to see you? Because he felt the hot breath of the reporter getting closer? But this is the only explanation I ever got. He said that Commissioner Moses—they all called him Commissioner all the time—had realized that finally someone had come along who was going to do the biography whether he wanted it or not. And, you know, maybe you disagree with me, but Robert Moses was not the subject of countless books at that time.

Political attention on the front page of newspapers went elsewhere, to officeholders, world leaders, and all the rest. He did not hold an exalted-seeming office. Is it possible that he was, in some perverse way, flattered by your attentions? I gave it my best try.

What was Robert Moses in it for? Robert Moses was in it to build his dreams. You know, as a young man he did wonderful things, and his dreams were incredible. But he learns how to accomplish them by using power. And then he changes. And so he starts to build different kinds of projects. So the story of his—I mean, you looked at his life. I remember thinking, How did this one man turn into this other man, this idealist who just wanted to dream dreams, how did he turn into this guy who controls city and state and really destroyed whole neighborhoods in New York for his parkways?

One of the things that so fascinates me about this book and the writing of it is that, at a certain point, Bob, you think of the last line of the book hundreds of pages before you get there, and you write toward it. Tell me about that. Forgive me, just to put a pin in that—why did he cut off communications with you? And I found the original maps, and the parkway was a straight line right through the estates of the great robber barons of the nineteen-twenties.

In two places, the road suddenly dips down about three miles before it comes back to the other route. So Moses accepted the money, so he had to move it south almost four miles, as I recall.

How Did LBJ Make His Money? The Disturbing Story of His Political Rise and Corruption (1990)

So, O. And they told me the story how they had bought this farm. It was so filled with trees and rocks that it was not arable. And they finally got the farm so that the center portion was clear. And then one day, right then, a representative of Robert Moses shows up and says that the Long Island State Park Commission is condemning the middle part of your farm, the good part of your farm, for the Northern State Parkway.

If he took it right out of the center of the farm, the farm would never work for us.

LBJ: Still Casting a Long Shadow

Now, I knew that, in fact, the road ran through his farm only because Robert Moses had bowed to the power and the money of the Otto Kahns and the J. No, no, no, but it goes to this. So, Bob, documents are essential. Interviews are essential. It seems revelatory to you. I will never forget the experience, in the eighties, of picking up Volume I of Johnson. And reading about the Hill Country, about the physical environment in which he grew up, and electrification, that came later.

Should LBJ Be Ranked Alongside Lincoln?

All this stuff is absolutely thrilling, which would seem routine, usually, in a nonfiction book. You and Ina moved to Texas. Can you talk about that? Yes, well, you summed it up very well. And, basically, you know, he was a big drinker, as you said, and a lot of the stuff that he said was exaggerated or false. Or he would repeat these anecdotes that everybody told, and they were part of every biography on Lyndon Johnson which portrayed him as sort of a Horatio Alger figure, you know, popular, charismatic, who rose to power.

By this time, I knew that whatever the secret was that drove Lyndon Johnson to this was his desperate ambition, you know, that everybody talks about. Whatever that was came out of his relationship with his father. So I thought of a way to try to put Sam Houston back in the mood where he would tell the true story. I asked the National Park Service, could I bring him into the Johnson boyhood home—which is re-created just the way it [was], accurately—after the tourists were gone for the day?

So we went in there about dinnertime, and I took him into the dining room. It was a plank table with two benches.

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