Patterson novel a tale of the times
Web posted on: Monday, September 14, 1998 2:05:32 PM EDT
(CNN) -- The presidential race of 2000 is already a topic of serious consideration, especially in light of the scandal swirling around President Clinton and the White House. "No Safe Place" is a new novel that offers a realistic, though fictional, account of the next presidential campaign. Some of the story's elements seem to have been pulled directly from the nation's headlines. The author, Richard North Patterson, spoke with CNN's Miles O'Brien on CNN Sunday morning.
MILES O'BRIEN: Tell me, your research on this was rather exhaustive. I understand you spent quite a bit of time riding those buses, on those planes during the last campaign. Tell me about it.
RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON: As you know, presidential politics is something almost no one understands, and there are only four people in this country walking around who have had the experience of running for that office and winning. So I got out with Bob Dole. I traveled with the press. I hung out with the Secret Service. I went to conventions. I did everything I could to give my readers a realistic sense of what that world is really like.
O'BRIEN: When a novelist approaches many of these sources, are you likely to get more or less information than a journalist would?
PATTERSON: I think I have a tremendous advantage over journalists because politicians are very cautious around you all, as you know, because you are going to have what they say on camera or in print the next day. I think because people knew I wasn't going to report what they said and because I was very curious to get it right, they were remarkably candid with me.
For example, my candidate, Kerry Kilcannon, is facing a potential scandal which could destroy his career, a potential devastating affair with a reporter who's covering him. I went to some of the best political minds in America, and I said, "OK, what do you do about this? What do you tell the guy to do? How do you kill the story for the next seven days until the critical California primary if that's what you want to do? And what do you do afterwards?" And the answers were just fascinating. They're all in the book.
O'BRIEN: And one of the things about the book that I found interesting is that one of the members of the media that finds out about this affair doesn't report on it. Do you think that's realistic?
PATTERSON: I think that people in the media are tremendously concerned with where we are now. And there seems to have been a real meltdown in commonly understood standards about what if there is not a private issue that becomes a public issue and on what basis we report it.
We have Matt Drudge on the Internet. We have tabloids. And we have sort of the lowest common denominator driving the news. My reporter character is an ethical person who is conflicted about this trend. And yes, I think it's possible if you have an exclusive, to still make a moral decision about whether or not you want to go with it.
O'BRIEN: What was your overall impression of the boys on the bus, as it were -- no longer just the boys, of course.
PATTERSON: Well, it's the boys and the girls on the bus. I found they were remarkably bright, younger than I expected them to be, I think still idealistic in a sense that they feel if they give the American public the facts, the American public will do the right thing.
But I think they're very conflicted about this issue because my character, Kilcannon, for example, is a good man who could be destroyed by a media story. And the reporter who's reporting him at once has the excitement of a story that any journalist would want, a potential career-making story, and, on the other hand, the realization that that career-making story could destroy a man who could offer a lot for the country.
O'BRIEN: You know that it's been said time and again, truth is stranger than fiction. And novelists, as they watch events unfold, must take that more to heart than the rest of us. As you watch this scandal unfold in Washington, what are your thoughts?
PATTERSON: It was very strange because I'd finished this book before anybody had ever uttered the "M" word. And in a way, I expected this, if not to Bill Clinton, someone else, because since Gary Hart and that scandal essentially changed the rules, and there has been a probing of people's private lives. And in a political environment which is increasingly shoot to kill and adversarial, it's not surprising to see political forces attempt to use the media to help destroy other politicians.
O'BRIEN: I asked you what you thought of the boys and the girls on the bus. What do you think of the people who make such tremendous sacrifices to try and reach the Oval Office?
PATTERSON: Well to me, running for president is the American odyssey. It's the hardest thing somebody can do because you face the invasion of private life in an increasingly critical media, ferocity from your opponents, and the chance that one slip or one mistake can destroy you.
I think it's admirable that people enter that environment and still are, at the end, good men and women, and there are some. I think we've become too cynical about people in public life. And there are people like John McCain, like Bill Cohen, our Secretary of Defense, who have for years demonstrated they have a core of principle which is not subject to polls or trends. And I think we should recognize that.
O'BRIEN: We always like to ask our authors what they're reading. What's on your reading list right now?
PATTERSON: Other than "The Starr Report," I've been reading a lot of a writer called James Gold Cozzens who published in the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s, a wonderful novel called "By Love Possessed," which is a story of a New England town and the people in it. And go to the library. It's really a great read.
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