Hard to believe: The Gary Hart scandal revisited

     Presidential candidate Gary Hart faces questions about his relationship with Donna Rice in 1987. (AP photo/Jim Cole)

    Presidential candidate Gary Hart faces questions about his relationship with Donna Rice in 1987. (AP photo/Jim Cole)

    If you’re old enough to remember Gary Hart, you know he was a promising presidential candidate who’s political career went up in a media bonfire after it was revealed he’d had some kind of a relationship with a young model named Donna Rice.

     

    The sordid details included Hart and Rice taking a cruise to Bimini with another couple on a sailboat aptly named The Monkey Business.

    But there are details of the affair most remember incorrectly, such as reporters staking out his townhouse after he’d invited them to tail him (didn’t happen that way), or the People Magazine photo of Hart with Rice on his lap sinking his campaign (the photo didn’t emerge until weeks after he’d quit).

    Whether you’re old enough to remember Hart or not, I heartily recommend Matt Bai’s new book on the Hart debacle and its impact on American political reporting, called “All The Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid.” Bai is my guest today on Fresh Air.

    I’ve long admired Bai as somebody who reports his subjects deeply and writes with real insight. He’s a political writer who goes way beyond polls, endorsements and fundraising and considers real policy issues and the mettle of those who would lead us.

    Bai reconstructs the Hart affair by again interviewing all of the key actors still living, and while he comes up with some scoops (like the identify of the woman who tipped the Miami Herald to the story), the book is best in its reflections on the changes in the nature of politics and political reporting.

    Still, the scandal itself is a gripping tale, and Bai tells it well. In describing the moment when Hart confronts reporters staking out his Washington townhouse on a Saturday night, Bai writes:

    “There were no press aides or handlers, no security agents or protocols  to be followed. There was no precedent for any reporter accosting any presidential candidate outside his home, demanding the details of what he was doing inside it. It was just Hart and his accusers, or at least two of them for the moment, facing off in an oil-stained alley, all of them trying to find their footing on the suddenly shifting ground of American politics.”

    It’s great stuff. Get the book, listen to the interview, or both. You listen online here, or catch Fresh Air at 3 and 7 p.m. on WHYY, 91FM If you’re outside the Philadelphia area, find a station here.

     

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