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What Is The Biggest Political Ramification Of A Tell-All Book?


President Trump hasn't even been in office for two years yet. And already, there are several political tell-alls written about him. "Unhinged" is the title of the latest. The author is former Trump aide and "Apprentice" star Omarosa Manigault Newman.

Here's a clip of my interview with Manigault Newman a couple of weeks ago.


OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN: The things that I heard come out of this man's mouth that I describe in this book - it completely shattered my belief in him being a decent person.

MARTIN: Omarosa Manigault Newman's attacks have many of you asking about political tell-alls - what the impact of them can be, how they come about. Who better to ask than commentator Cokie Roberts, who joins us now?

Hey, Cokie.


MARTIN: All right. Let's get right to these questions. First one is a history question from Aaron Gibson. He asks, quote, "What are some of the first or earliest examples?"

ROBERTS: Well, the first I know about is Paul Jennings, who was a personal servant to James Madison. And he published "A Colored Man's Reminiscences Of James Madison" in 1865, which, by the way, was almost 30 years after Madison's death.

That very flattering account was followed a few years later by Elizabeth Keckley's "Behind The Scenes, Or, Thirty Years A Slave, And Four Years In The White House." When it came out in 1868, Mary Lincoln was still very much alive, and she was humiliated by the revelations of her conversations with the president, her views of Cabinet officials. And Lizzie Keckley was her very good friend and former dressmaker. She didn't have tapes like Omarosa does. But she did have letters from Mrs. Lincoln, and she published them.

MARTIN: Oh, it makes you wonder if this is all just part of a dark part of human nature.

So let's get to the next question from our listener Mary Dorsey of New Orleans. She wants to know the following.

MARY DORSEY: How have the authors of political tell-all books faired both politically and socially in the aftermath of the book's release?

ROBERTS: How nice to hear someone from my hometown.

Well, it depends on the person and the time they're writing in. Keckley's very substantial business was ruined. African-Americans thought she was disloyal to Lincoln. Her white customers thought she might write about them. Others were vilified at the times their books came out, like Arthur Schlesinger's "One Thousand Days" (ph) came in from criticism because it was so soon after Kennedy's death and revealed so much. But he had a fabulous career, whereas Warren G. Harding's mistress Nan Britton and her children and even grandchildren were scorned and harassed for her 1927 "The President's Daughter."

By the way, in 2015, DNA tests pretty much proved that Britton's child was, in fact, Harding's daughter.

MARTIN: All right, what about other, perhaps more severe consequences of these kinds of books? That's what our next listener wants to know.

JOE KUSHNER: This is Joe Kushner from Chicago, Ill. My question is, what would be the biggest political ramification for a tell-all book - the party losing power, jail time, suicide? Looking forward to the answer. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Well, those could be ramifications. They haven't been, except for the question of political losses. Jimmy Carter did feel that - his former speechwriter James Fallows wrote a piece in The Atlantic just as the 1980 election was heating up, and it was a blistering piece. And Carter did blame Fallows for some of his difficulties.

MARTIN: All right, commentator Cokie Roberts. You can ask Cokie your questions about how politics and government work by emailing us at askcokie@npr.org, or you can tweet us your questions with the hashtag #AskCokie.

Thanks so much, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.