tv Keynote Address by Robert Caro CSPAN December 25, 2021 12:56am-2:01am EST
whether it's fiction or poetry or nonfiction or investigated as. we need that depth. >> that is wonderful i'll just conclude i was thinking something earlier the earlier piano. if the poetry mix, nothing happens but it survives i was thinking in that panel history makes nothing happens but it's survives. what i heard here today and what the historical societies doing i have to say robert caro page inside the
robert caro on five adjust by the author himself. >> welcome to the auditorium whether you are in person or lifestream. i'm delighted to welcome another trustee. i would like to thank you for all that you have done on behalf of new york historical. all the great work that i will know that will happen under leadership of our board. thank you for the unwelcome. >> our keynote is turn every page to be delivered by robert caro reflecting an exhilarating thrilling experiences that shaped his career. the program lasted an hour and it will include a session. the q&a will be conducted as
once again that you make sure anything that makes a noise like a cell phone is switched off and remember to keep your mask on. no photography except for the house photographers and just before we welcome them to the stage we are pleased to share a very special video tribute to robert caro fire 42nd president william jefferson clinton. >> i wish i could be with all of you. one of my favorite places in new york city. the new york historical society. as you pay tribute to one of my favorite writers. the great robert caro. this was written a few years ago bob has given us the gift of some of the finest books on politics and poetry ever written. always meticulously researched, worded and always cutting to the heart of the matter.
chattering what drove people in power to make the decisions that they made and how those decisions affected real lives both positively and negatively. and i will always remember the afternoon bob and i spent in harlem a few years ago talking about history in the writing process. there is a greater appreciation for his book. now his archive is at the new york historical society i can't wait to visit. who knows bob maybe you could give me a tour of the exhibit. in all seriousness i want to thank you for all you have done to help us expand our understanding of the past, the present leading to our ability
to envision the possibility of the future. i wish you a wonderful celebration in many more years of continued good work. >> thank you bill. >> thank you louise. this is such a thrilling day for me. to have people that i so much admire talk this morning about what is called my archive. bob douglas, bill, lisa, jane, i said what i wanted to about each
of you. i could use up the entire time a lot of the syllogistic from the bottom of my heart you given me a day i will never forget and thank you. to have people i so much admire here to talk about me makes the stay that is accurate. today is thrilling because it's an announcement that my papers are here. they're always going to be here. i will tell you why one person why am so happy, thrilled at the new york historical society. i grew up in central park on 94th street. my brother, my mother are very sick and i was pretty much bedridden after that. every saturday her little sister my aunt would come take me down
to the museum of natural history or to the new york historical society. both were something special to me when i was a little boy in that is one reason that is great for me too be here. in another aspect to the story people ask me why i wanted to be a writer. the only thing i can answer to that is as far as i can remember as far back i always wanted to be a writer. i used to walk up to central park west and i would have under my thoughts. i went back a long way to give them to historical society and i found the short story that i wrote pritikin until that was a fifth or the sixth but it was a
biography it was called honk the moose. i started to read it in my overwhelming thought is certainly isn't a lot. i used to watch as a little boy he wanted to be a writer and now when i am no longer quite so little of a boy to have my life's work as a writer preserved here to make this perfect circle. i use the word thrilling to describe my feelings. it is a corny word but it's the right word to describe the way i feel today. those have personal reasons but there are professional reasons, historical reasons. some of us call herself
journalist and some of us call historians. there is no distinction between the two professions. we are both after the same thing. there is of course, i said that this morning. he said it very well, no truth with a t-uppercase-letter. no simple truth, no and simple truth either. but there are a hell of a lot of facts in the more facts you can compile the more facts you can find out the closer you come to whatever truth there is. that's what binds us all together journalist and historians. as for myself i may have started now called a historian when i
look back at my life i don't see it that way it seems to me my life has been single and broken. so much that i learned during my seven years as a reporter translated into the books that i wrote. journalist or historians, whatever the research i was doing whether it was for an article i spent my life doing the same thing. i tried to illustrate that. i was an investigative reporter almost by accident without knowing the first thing about being an investigative reporter. they decided they great reporter bob greene he was a very hefty legend msa. bob weighed approximately 300 pounds. in the sitting room in those
days. they put me next to bob greenman and he was sitting at his desk once were doing a piece it was about some state senator who was selling and seeing when properties had been bought. i wasn't having any luck finding out where the relevant records were in the county office and i was on the telephone and green said in exasperation you look under the name of the secretary activate violet it's years later
i'm writing a biography of robert moses and am writing the part which is a relatively young man he is a great dream he envisions he envision when it was a young man he had a a rowboat and every morning his wife mary would give him a couple of sandwiches and he took it all day. he found himself retracting by the sandbar across the bay.
and how the weeds were so thick he could not get into the sandbar. he would roll up his pants and pull a boat through the weeds. but when he stepped out on the desert and sandbar he realized he was on 40 miles of the cleanest sand he had ever seen any wanted to build a beach that he couldn't do it because for some years the republican machine which controlled politics in nassau county did not want city people coming out so they blocked it. suddenly in 1928 the machine switched in the legislative supported in the great bathing was created. at that time i was talking in
1928 moses was told the politicians, he was going to build the meadowbrook parkway from down to jones beach to what was a very deserted part of long island. the land was not worth much but of course whatever the exits to this parkway that leanne was going to be immensely valuable. he told them where the exits were going to be so they can make money. i had to prove that to say that's what i was told and i cannot write it unless i documented it. i had to find out who bought the land, who sold and how much. i use the very same methods that i had used as a reporter.
this was very important for not only for everything, for the story of robert moses. i knew he started out as an idealist and a key part of his idealism. he would never deal with politicians they would never give him inside information. but it turned to something very different. now it seemed this is the place that he had turned so i needed to be able to prove it. of course i did. i can't remember the details but i looked in the county clerk's office under the name of the secretary of not the president but the secretary of the newly for one corporation and there was a number of politicians and stockholders and found the proof that i needed.
it was the key proof to the great transformation of robert moses and in a way to the start of what transformed the whole landscape and that we lived in every sense. so that discovery is more precise. the key to the discovery how to find the records is the key to the book and the key to the discovery with bob greene's exacerbated remark to the young reporter that was me in the newspaper city room was a key to a work of history. but the key came out of journalism right out of the newspaper sitting room. there are so many ways that i learned as a journalism that helped me were key to reach as a historian. to me as i look back over my life as far as the research is concerned. the writing is a very different
story. but as far as the research is concerned i been doing the same thing all my life. the only difference the first few years i was doing it to write newspaper articles in the last 50 i been doing it to write books. and all the similarities between the two professions. the key one is the incident that gave rise to the title of this exhibition. turn every page. i told the story before but this is the day to tell it again. when i went to work at newsday i was a first person to be hired in the newsday city room from an ivy league college. that was because the managing editor was a very crusty old newspaper man name alan hathaway in chicago in the 1920s. you saw him he was a big burly
guy with a stomach that looked big but was not soft he would wear black shirts with yellow ties and brownshirts with white ties. he had no hair except the back of his head and he was always read because he drank very early in the morning. we never really knew if alan went to college or not. he said he did but we were not sure of that. but he disliked graduates of prestigious universities and young had never been hired. i was hired when allen was on vacation as sort of a joke to him. when he came back he would not talk to me. he would walk past us and i would say hello mr. hathaway or good morning mr. hathaway and he would never say a word back.
professionally i did not have to do with them very much because i was the low end of the totem pole i was reviewing obituaries but i also worked saturday in newsday they do not publish on sunday so saturday afternoon there was only one person in the sitting room and that was me in this particular newsday was crusading by the federal aviation agency there was an airport and nassau county with 1246 agents. the good needed as a base. therefore who will be turned over to the county and the question what was the county going to do with it. the federal aviation wanted to turn it into a private airport
so the executives of the corporations on long island could fly in and out on their private planes. newsday wanted it to be a community college. i was not involved in this, one saturday when i was there in the middle of the afternoon the phone rang and i picked it up and it was an official from the federal aviation saying that he liked what we had been doing and he knew the very files that we wanted to look at to prove our point and if i came down in idlewild, president kennedy had not been killed yet. if i came down the afternoon he would show me the files and let me look through them. so there happened to be the day of the newsday epiphany. everybody was on the beach at fire island. there were no cell phones so i tried to call one editor after
another. i cannot get them and i finally got one that said he will have to go down and look at the files yourself. so i went down and this was the first time i'd ever look to files. there was no one sentence that prove the point that you could put together enough from the conversation in the letters to prove that newsday was right. that was the reason they were friendly with the corporation in turning the last hunk of land and nassau county over to them. i wasn't technically going to write the story the real reporters are gonna write the story. i wrote a long memo and left it. we were still living in long island monday morning and the phone rings and alan hathaway
secretary says allen wants to see right away and i said what were in new jersey and she says allen wants to see you immediately so i said i was right not to move. i'm about to be fired. in all the way into newsday i kept thinking how it was a dignified way to take the news that i was fired. when i get to the office alan had an office in the corner that was glass and closed in june waives me over there and as i walk i see the big redhead of his bent over in his reading something intently. as i get closer i see what is reading is my memo. i get to the door, he doesn't look up nicely mr. hathaway or whatever and he keeps leaning.
after a while he looks up and he says i didn't know someone from princeton could do this. from now on you do investigative work. with my usual savoir-faire in moments like this i said i don't know anything about investigative report. alan looks up at me and i still remember a very long time and says just at
6:00 o'clock the next morning it is george himself invited me too lunch. he tells me that lyndon johnson had asked for money and he had raised the money, $30000. he remember that was a lot of money in those days in 1940. that had brought texas influencing congress that he needed. he had told me that i basically got the story accepted and i couldn't use it unless i had a documentation. i had been told over and over that i would never get any documentation about lyndon johnson's move because it was said to me over and over again that linda never wrote anything down. but then i thought george brown was a businessman.
he wrote things down. i started looking for george brown letters in the lyndon johnson library. his letters were in a lot of different files. and in the johnson library he would request files, bring us the file up to your desk and read boxes. each box holds 800 pages. one who has been helping amongst those who is nice enough to come today. you look at these boxes each crammed with papers in your heart sinks and how long it's going to take you to look through the pages. but consciously or not i was in the habit of turning every page.
i remember finding what i needed and some file in turning page after page, letter after letter and no significance to you and all of a sudden there was a yellow western union telegraph form. it was signed by george brown and dated october 19, 1940. his head lyndon you are supposed to have the checks by friday. on the bottom lyndon johnson secretary had written a reply. all of the folks that you talk to haven't heard from. i am not acknowledging their letters so be sure to let these fellows know their checks have been received. that was part of it. who were the fellas and the people that were given a $30000. let me tell you there are
moments when you really felt that you were going to find out. i found the answer in a file and they given the money to lyndon johnson. i remember i think alan in my mind. that is how he got the money, how did he handed out though. what had provided them with the political power how did he use that to create political power. this is a man who never wrote
anything down but i learned that he had taken an office suite for the month of october in an office building called the monthly building out of which this congressional campaign committee would work. in the office building was the secretary. walter jenkins wrote everything out. i'm looking for the papers and there are four pages together with a paperclip. three columns. on the left hand is the name of the congressman in the district he represents. in the center is what he needs the money for the amounts are so small. lyndon $1500 and i can by another round of at.
>> lyndon $500 for pole elections are trying to steal the election. >> in the right-hand column is the amount of money that the congressman asked for. it was 1500, $2000, 500 sometimes but in the left-hand margin lyndon johnson's handwriting was what he decided to do with each request. sometimes if he was going to give the full amount, okay . . .
you do everything you will win. and i will give you an example. with a key southern senators in washington is a man named harry byrd who is the senator from virginia. but he does like a young lyndon johnson. he thought he was brash, pushy, courtly southern gentleman and bird was a courtly one. but then westwood dies in a hunting accident so that funeral will be held in winchester in virginia, 72 miles from washington. so the day of the funeral is a heavy rainstorm.
so another freshman named warren magnuson from washington state says we have to go to the funeral every senator will be there even the republicans. of course no senators were there but johnson told an aide we were the only senators there. and was standing on one side of the grave that harry was on the other. and in the middle of flooring the coffin analogy me a long time and said i don't know what that meant but that look was very important when lyndon
johnson needed something out of what harry byrd was the chairman the senate finance committee and the book i am writing out. the finance committee has jurisdictional medicare in the center. so harry byrd at this time by 1938. it's now 1965. lyndon johnson is trying to pass medicare. somehow when it went into the finance committee and never seem to go out. harry byrd delayed the hearings were scheduled so many witnesses to have witnesses coming back again. and linda needs him to agree
that the bill in 1965 which is in the house and representative when it comes over to the senate will go over to the finance committee and what means what they did to agreed to was not to delay the hearings. so by this time harry byrd is old. he is not the politician that he once was. but he is always light lyndon johnson. so johnson tricks him and asks him to come down to the white house for some meeting in the cabinet and doesn't tell harry byrd the television cameras will be there. and with the cameras running, he turns to harry and says, this is my version.
is not exactly right, so when the bill comes over from the house, is there any reason you cannot start the hearings right away? and harry says, flustered, not that i know of. and lyndon says he will have the hearings right away? and they will be expeditious hearings? and harry says yes in front of the television cameras. because he is so fond of lyndon johnson reporters ask him what he thinks about it and he says if i had known i was going to be on television i would have want to better suit. [laughter] and he holds the hearings. and johnson's relations with harry are probably summed up by what happens the very next year when harry burns wife dies. johnson goes to the funeral
and after the funeral harry's car is driving away, the president of the united states, lyndon johnson, bends over and kisses the old man's hand. we are talking about a politician who is not afraid to do anything that was necessary to get somebody on his side. there is a lot of material that history would be interested in. in those archives at the lyndon johnson library. i will tell you one piece of material that is there in the exhibit on the second floor of this building right now, it is a manuscript written out by me. his life was in 1948 election
now in the house and senate for 11 years and really isn't getting anywhere the house is too slow for his admissions. he decides to run for president against the most popular governor in the history of texas and at the end, this is the election that johnson and with the effect of the politics at the end of the election he is 30000 votes behind. he thought stealing votes in the mexican sections of san antonio still going into the last few weeks several hundred votes behind the then to start
right and when put on the stand he denies that anybody stuffed anything into the ballot box. and as he rushes into the courtroom carrying a telegram and says basically that a hearing is now called off and there is never another hearing. and then to go on to the senate but if he lost the election there be no further
political activity in radio and television stations. there already seven biographies of lyndon johnson of course they were not all into the election. and with the 87 election. his nickname was landslide lyndon. and accepted that contention that he had never stolen anything or they would say no one will ever know if the election was stolen. that is the sentence i will over and over again. no one will know if the election was stolen.
i said i felt i was never going to write a book that nobody will ever know if the election is stolen unless in fact i have done everything possible unless i find out if the election is stolen. because everybody else pointed to it being stolen and with a precinct judge had testified that it was. 's original back down to the valley along the border and to the mexican café and ask over and over again but then he said he is not dead he went back to mexico it turns out he murdered a man and fled down
to a town in mexico and had been moving from town to town over some years. people ask me why my books take so long to write. [laughter] but that mexican gentleman who is trying not to be found? finally and found that in fact he had moved back to texas and was living in a trail your in the garden in the backyard of his daughter in houston. so wasn't going to give him a chance to say he didn't want to talk to me so i did not call. i flew to houston and went right to his house. now remember he is a tall burly guy. a tall man. so i knock on the door expected to be looking at and
instead the door is opened by a very frail old man. i said to him my name is bob caro i'm writing a book on johnson and luis says and you want to know about box 13. and we went inside and he says without me saying anything. you know, i have written it all down he is a big chunk in the corner and he takes out the manuscript 97 type several handwritten pages. and on the title pages it says box 13. i start to read and it
contains the sentences i lied on the stand. it says in fact, he details exactly how the 200 votes were put in there. so i said can i copy this? he said there is a copy machine at the 711. we went to the nearest 711 and i copied it. it is in the exhibition. it is on the second floor. and you can see it yourself thank you to the new york historical society people can read it for themselves. there is a lot of stuff in my papers that i don't think more
than a few percent in all the time to be in the life that has made it into my books, there are so many interviews and notes that will help to cast some light there are so many interviews 522 interviews with people who can never be interviewed of course. then i try to find everybody who could help me understand the very few who are still
alive at their assistance right down to the cloakroom. every small percentage of it makes it into the books but was politics like for the first 125 years of its existence? what was politics like? what was it like to campaign? that is fascinating to me. there is a chapter called the first campaign our rural campaign how johnson won the campaign as an unknown candidate going from middletown to middletown and individual farm to farm run for congress.
and right now when the truth is more important today than ever before. and therefore we are at a time with the basis of truth is more important than ever before. not just the truth about current events but about our history. with the new york historical society i'm glad they are here. and then to be here forever. thanks a lot. [applause]
then to write the powerbroker had to sign it to book contract that i really didn't want to do that biography but then to do something i have done before. and only that with the powerbroker what that was about it wasn't just about the life of the man but how urban political power works. that only textbooks but how it really works. it what i really wanted to do with national political power with lyndon johnson and understood power national power better than anyone else since roosevelt.
but i thought my publisher would never let me get out of the laguardia contract so i really hated doing that. one day i guide a call from the publisher, from editor and said we all know you have a famous temper. i really don't have a bad temper. [laughter] i have something i want to suggest to you. you to promise me and said i know you are love with this. [laughter] but i thank you should do a biography of lyndon johnson. and i increase my advance a lot by saying i will think about that. [laughter]
>> how do you start and interview and how do you keep them talking? >> i tried to start interviews i always try to start by going chronologically and that sort of thing. i don't know. but i once came back from the interview without the information and then said let me tell you what he wants to tell you and to find out what he doesn't want to tell you.
and then to try to find some way. >> you've done a very good job. you wrote a biography series on another historic figure when he and she. >> a very bad on pronouns. i always wanted to do a biography who was really been forgotten by history partly because there's no good biographies because the man who raised robert moses power and at 30 years old was out of work and in cleveland ohio
trying to get a job. and that's what fascinates me. that franklin roosevelt said that 90 percent of every city and there was a time from 14th street. and then says to the forces and then to do something for our people. and with that disability i would love to do a book on him. but i may not get to do it.
>> then again you might. how do you consume current news? are there certain periodicals you gravitate towards? do you watch the major news networks? >> i watch pbs news hour. [applause] i don't watch much of cnn or msnbc. mainly because i am writing all day and the last thing you want to do when you come home is get more facts put into your head. [laughter] but i don't watch the 24 hour. >> do you sleep at night? >> this is getting more and
more personal. [laughter] i don't sleep all that much as it happens. i normally don't sleep much. ms. bill clinton talks about you spent part of the time talking about how little we both sleep. >> while you are thinking. >> i didn't say i was up thinking. [laughter] i said i was up trying to go back to sleep. [laughter] >> while you are up, have you formed an opinion or might you come about what have become vietnam if jfk lived?
>> that's a great question. and i have to say i am working on that right now. i never try to talk about something you have finished writing it because i found what i do can i take a pass on that? >> the best last question. did you ever leave something out? to protect a source is there anything you would now want to add back? >> that covers a lot of decades. i think the answer is probably
no. we both know i will write the book. and bob woodward one of the great interviewers and part of what makes my job easier is that people die off. and then meeting people in the eighties or nineties. it doesn't come up that much. maybe i'm overlooking something off the top of my head i cannot think about it.
>> so what advice would you give students in the writing and thinking process? >> aside from turn every page? [laughter] [applause] >> we want to thank you again for so very much and all the panelist today for joining us on cement in person and bob's books are in the bookstore as well so stop by and pick up your favorite books. thank you again we hope to see you soon. [applause]