Time to review a couple of recent books. These two books are similar and dissimilar. I thought I’d dislike each of them; I did not. Little by little, each won me over.
I’ll Take Your Question Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House, by Stephanie Grisham, served a variety of roles in Trump World, and was there to work with both the president and first lady.
A lot of salacious tidbits were released prior to publication of this book. Of course, the condemnation by the Trumps was quick and brutally personal against Grisham. Attack and discredit the messenger is their normal mode of response to any criticism or challenge.
I found Grisham’s style quite relaxed and humble, and containing more than a smattering of profanity, which she claims is now she talks. No big deal. Working in the White House is the dream of many, and being able to stay there through Trump’s term is quite remarkable considering the revolving door of people hired and then decarded, like the day’s trash. She repeatedly says she was a true believer in the beginning, that Trump gave a voice to many who felt they did not have one.
Of all of Trump’s press secretaries, we probably knew the least about Grisham, who seemed to operate in the margins, and less bombastic and defensive than Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sean Spicer or Kayleigh McEnany. Grisham was the only press secretary who never held a press briefing, she says, because Trump ordered the briefings halted. McEnany resumed them, after she replaced Grisham.
Grisham seemed to enjoy working for the first lady much more than Trump. She implies that their relationship was close and respectful, and that she would generally speak frankly with the first lady. She also often said the first lady had her back, until she didn’t. She was witness to the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougald issues, and the jostling for position of the first lady with “the interns” as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were called in the White House.
Grisham recounts most of the sensational events and controversies of the Trump campaign and White House. There are events she leaves out or barely addresses. For fairness, she mentions the blemishes on your personal life and credibility, marriages, her two DUI arrests, and her relationship with a Trump staffer that turned toxic.
Here are a couple of quotes from her book that I could both funny and sad:
“He (Trump) finally decided that I should say, ‘I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president.’”
“Trump’s response was swift, and his tone was very serious. ‘No, no. It (eating healthy) messes with your body chemistry, your brain,’ he said, referring to something he’d apparently heard about vegetarian diets. He added, ‘And if I lose even one brain cell, we’re fucked.’”
I try not to make any judgements about Grisham. She was a public figure who did not seem comfortable being a public figure and the baggage that accompanies that role. She does her best to peel away the controversies of the Trump White House, including the first lady’s fashion transgressions (the I Really Don’t Care jacket, the pith helmet colonialism hat, etc.), like picking fur balls off your clothing. Is her book a way of setting the record straight on all that she disagreed with, or cleansing her soul, or cashing in? She says it is not about rehabbing her reputation (which she feels may never be repaired), rather about educating America about the chaos and behaviors within the White House since it appears he will run again in 2024. In a short amount of time, Grisham will be a small footnote in political history, maybe something she wants.
I had generally the same feeling with the Katie Couric, Going There, as I did with the Grisham book – is this just going to a series of disses and ugly stories about people who have crossed her path? Controversy sells books, of course, but it can also skew one’s perspective.
I was never a Couric fan, I found her too glib and cutesy for my taste. I stopped watching morning shows back in the 1970s. Happy talk is not my thing. Even though I was not a fan of Couric, I respected her integrity and efforts to move into a harder news direction.
Anchoring an evening network news program is obviously, no easy task. A lot of men, and especially women, have struggled in this role. I remember the Barbara Walters move to ABC and trying to co-exist with Harry Reasoner on the evening news. Jane Wallace tried on the Fox channel in the early days. The double-standard for men and women in the news profession is a long and wreckage strewn journey. I am not qualified to comment in depth, only that it was, and still is, a very difficult ceiling for women to crash. Couric recounts the challenges she faced and seemingly how quickly the network brass were to give up on her. She also had a role on 60 Minutes, which she described as a boys club and bastion of competing egos. So, her leap to CBS was not what she’d hoped.
Couric is very open about the challenges and the successes in her career, as well as being brutally honest about her personal life. Fame and fortune do not ensure a happy or perfect life. Couric recounts the tragedies in her life as well as the disappointments. She lost her first husband to cancer, and was with her second husband when he also discovered cancer. Difficult things indeed. I could have done without the dating relationship sections, but of course, that is what others probably find the most interesting parts of the book. Do you really need to know that creepy Larry King tried to seduce her or that writer Neil Simon couldn’t get an erection?
What many readers will be quite interesting are her comments and stories about Matt Lauer, Les Moonves and others, on their attitudes and use of power against women. These men are responsible for their own downfall, and it is creepy to hear what they did, but it is important to expose what they did, and how prevalent sexual harassment and retaliation are in society, especially the news and entertainment businesses.
One thing that clearly impresses me about Couric is how she has adapted and tried new formats and platforms as technology and viewing tastes have changed. She tried a daytime talk show and an Internet platform (Yahoo!), and wasn’t afraid to reboot her career, more than once.
I guess if I have to summarize what I gained from her book, I found Couric to be very much the same as her public persona, bright and funny, but also like Stephanie Grisham, quite capable of cursing like a sailor.