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tv   Keynote Address by Robert Caro  CSPAN  December 16, 2021 9:57pm-11:03pm EST

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lbj books or others, there's authority, that rigorous attention to detail, and that much rigorous attention to the larger picture. and i think whether it's fiction or poetry or nonfiction or investigative journalism or something prescriptive, we need that kind of death. >> that's wonderful. and i will just conclude, i was thinking something earlier, the earlier panel. w. h. auden has a line, poetry makes nothing happened, but it survives. and i was thinking that from that panel, history makes nothing happened, but it survives. and given what i've heard here today and what the historical society is doing, i have to say, robert caro survives and make something happen. so, thank you all. >> [applause] up next, from the robert caro
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symposium, held in conjunction, it's the keynote address by the author himself. >> welcome once again to new york historical's robert h. smith auditorium. whether you are joining us here in person or live stream, i am delighted to welcome another new york historical trusty who has join us, agonist -- and agonist i'd like to thank you for all you've done on behalf of new york historical and all of the great work that i know will happen under your leadership with our board. so thank you for that and welcome. our keynote lecture's turn of a page and it will be delivered by historian and biographer robert a. caro, reflecting on the thrilling experiences that
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have shaped his prolific career. the program will last an hour and it will include a question and answer session. the q&a will be conducted, as earlier in the day, via note cards. you should have received a pencil on your way in. if not, my colleagues are circulating with note cards and pencils. that note cards with your questions will be collected later on in the program. there will not be a formal book signing today but please signed copies will be available for purchase in our and why history store on 77th street side of the building. we are so very honored to have robert caro on our stage today. he has twice won the pulitzer prize for biography, twice won the national book award, three times when the national book critics circle award, and also,
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one virtually every other major literary honor, including the gold medal from the american academy of arts and letters, the frantz apartment price, rewarded by the society of american historians, to the book that best exemplifies the union, of the historian, and the artist, and, our very own barbara david's elastic, american history book price, as well. mr. carroll's national book award, is for lifetime achievement. in 2010, president barack obama awarded mr. care of the national humanities medal. in 2019, he published a memoir, working. mr. carroll graduated for harvard, and worked six years, as an investigative reporter, for news day. he is, currently working on the fifth, and final volume, of the
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volumes of lyndon johnson. just before we begin this part of the program, i ask, once again, you make sure anything that makes a noise, like a cell phone, is switched off. and, remember to keep the mask on. no photography, except for the house photographer, and, just before we welcome mr. carroll to the stage, we are pleased to share with you, a special, video tribute, to mr. carroll, by our 42nd president, william jefferson clinton. here we go. >> i wish i could be with the wall today, 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. since the release of the powerbroker, nearly 50 years ago, bob gave us the gift of some of the finest books on politics, and policy, ever
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written. always, meticulously, researched, beautifully worded, and always cutting to the heart of the matter. capturing what drove people in power, making the decisions that they made. and, how those decisions affected real lives, both positively, and negatively. i will always remember the wonderful bob, in my office, in harlem, a few years ago, talking about history, and his writing process. they came away with an even greater appreciation for his work, and now that his archive is at the new york historical society, i cannot wait to visit it soon. who knows, bob, maybe you could give me a tour of that exhibit. but, only if it doesn't pull away from finishing that final volume of the lbj series. in all seriousness, i want to thank you for all you have done.
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to help expand our understanding of the past, the president, and leading to our ability to envision the possibility of the future. i wish you and your wife a wonderful celebration, and many more years of continued, good work. >> thank you, bill. thank you, louise. this is such a thrilling day for me. to have people, who i, so much, admire this morning, and talk about what is, potentially, perhaps, called my archive. bob woodward, douglas, bill,
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lisa, jane, brenda, if i said what i wanted to about each of you, i could use up the entire time they allotted me. so, i will just say, from the bottom of my heart, you have given me a day that i will never forget, and i think you for it. to have people i have so much admired, here, to talk about me, making this stay -- the only work that i can think of that is accurate, thrilling. today is thrilling, also, because it is in a way, an announcement that my papers are here. and, there are always going to be here. i will tell you why, one personal reason, why i am so happy, and thrilled, that they are here, at the new york historical society. i grew up in central park western 94th street. my brother, my mother, were both very sick when i was five, and were pretty much bedridden
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after that. but, every saturday, our little sister, and my aunt, would come in, and take me down, either to the museum of natural history, or to the new york historical society. although, saturdays were something special to me when i was a little boy. and, that is one reason that it is great for me, that they are here. there is another aspect to the story. people ask me, who -- when i wanted to be a writer. the only thing i can honestly answer to that is, as far as i can remember, as far back as i can remember, i always did. i used to walk up central park west, i suppose, and have that in my thoughts. it went back along the way. going through my papers, to give up the historical society, i have found the short story
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that i wrote. i couldn't tell if it was in the fifth, or sixth grade, but, it was a biography. it was called home to the moose. i started to read it, and my overwhelming thought was, certainly, it is long. so, i would walk here as a little boy, when i wanted to be a writer. now, when i am no longer quite so little, to have my life's work as a writer, preserved here, sort of makes the circle perfect. a perfect circle. i use the word thrilling before to describe my feelings, it is a corny word, but it is the right to word to describe the way i feel today. so, those are personal reasons. but, there are professional reasons, and historical reasons, as well. some of us, as you heard this
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morning, call ourselves journalists. some of us call ourselves historians. but, to me, there is no real distinction between the two professions. because, and bottom, we are both after the same thing. there is, of course, as you said this morning, and brenda said it quite well, no truth, with a capital t. no simple truth, no one simple truth either. but, there are, out there, a lot of facts. and, the more facts you can compile, the more facts you can find out, the closer you come to whatever truth there is. that is what we have all seen together. as for myself, well it may have started as a journalist, now,
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being called a historian, when i look back at my life, i don't see it that way. to me, it seems as if my life has been a symbol, single, unbroken line. so much of my seven years as a reporter, translated, without a hitch, into the books i wrote, and helped me write them. journalist, or historian, whatever the research i was doing, whether it was for an article, or a book, in my opinion, i spent my life doing the same thing. i will try to illustrate that by giving you an example. i was thrown into being an investigative reporter, almost by accident. without, really, knowing the first thing about being an investigative reporter. so they decided to sit me next to the great investigative reporter, bob greene. he was a legend in his time, in respect to business. he was a hefty legend, i must
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say. bob wait approximately 300 pounds. in the sitting room, and those days, we all sat at these little tin desks. so, they put me next to bob greene, and he was sitting at his desk, half of him, sitting at mine. but, certainly, i learned a lot from him. once, we were doing a piece, and i remember this about a state senator, who was selling variances to put gas stations in a residential area. we had to prove it, by getting the realist state deeds, and seeing one properties had been bought, and when they were sold, how much, etc. i was having no luck finding out that we were finding the relevant records they were, and the county clerk was on the telephone, and green, over hearing the saying, said in
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exasperations, you don't look for them under the name of the president, you look for them under the name of the president secretary. that is how they file it, so that you won't find it. of course, that is where we looked. that is where they found me when we need it. years later, writing a biography of robert moses. we were writing, as a relatively, young man, he has a great dream for a sandbar off the south shore of long island called jones beach. he envisions it to be a great public park. he envisioned it when it was a young man. he used to take a little, he had a home in babylon with his wife, and two kids, and, what he called, a puppet rower. and, every morning, his wife would give him a few sandwiches, he would take the boat out all
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day. he found himself attracted by this sandbar across the bay. you would tell me about how the reads were so thick, he couldn't get into the sandbar. he would pull up, he would roll up his pants, pull up through the weeds, and when he stepped out on that deserted sandbar, he realized, he was standing on 40 miles of the cleanest, white as sand, he had ever seen. he wanted to build a beach there. but, he couldn't do, it because for some years, three as i recall, the republican machine which completely controlled politics in the county, did not want city people coming there. so they blocked it. then, suddenly, in 1928, the machine switched, and the legislative supported it. the great bathing beach was created. why had they switched? what had gotten them to switch? so, at that time, i was talking
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to whoever was left at the old timers, who remembered 1928. they said, the reasoning was, moses had told, and had given the machine politicians, that he was going to build a park, right in the middle of the parkway, from down, to jones beach, through, what was, then, a deserted part of long island. the land was not worth much. but, of course, wherever the exits to this parkway were, that way out would become eventually valuable. and, he told them where the exits would be, so that they could make money. so, i had to prove that. to say, that was what i was told, but i couldn't write it unless i documented it. so, i needed to find out, again, who bought the land, who sold it, when, and how much.
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i used the very same methods that i had used as a reporter. but, this was very important for, not only, for everything, through the story of robert moses, because i knew he had started out as this idea list, and a key part of his idealism, is that they would ever deal with politicians, and they would ever give it with this inside information. but, he had turn to something very different. and it's been, that this is the place that they had turned. so, really, i needed to be able to prove this, of course, and i did. i can't remember the details, and i looked at the county clerks office under the names of the secretary of, not the president, but the secretary, of a newly-foreign corporation. of which in number of politicians, and stockholders,
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and found the proof i needed. so, it was a key, then the proof, then the great transformation of robert moses, in a way, to the start of what transformed the entire landscape. all that moses had built, that we had lived, and ever since. that discovery, talk to be more precise. the key to the discovery, how to find the records, what's the key to the book, and the key to the discovery, was bob greens, exasperated remark to the one reporter, that was me, that day, in the newspaper, in the sitting room, who's key to a work of history, but, the key came out of journalism. right out of that newspaper sitting room. there are so many ways that when i learned as a journalist helped me or were in fact the key to my research as a historian. as i look back over my life, as far as the research is
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concerned, the writing of course is a very different story. but as far as the research is concerned, i've been doing the same thing all my life. they only difference is that for the first few years i was doing it to write newspaper articles. and for the last 50 years i've been doing it to write books. of all the similarities between the two professions, i guess the key one was the incident that gave rise to the title of this exhibition, turn every page. i've told a story before but this is the day to tell it again and when i went to work at news day, i was the first reporter,, first person to be hired in the news de city room from an ivy league college. that's because the manager was a very crusty old newspaper man,
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alan hathaway, who came out of the hurst papers in chicago. he saw me and was a big burly guy, with the kind of stomach that looked big but wasn't soft at all. he used to wear brown shirts with white ties. his head -- he had no hair except for a monks touch or around his head -- he started drinking early in the morning. he had no use -- we never really knew if allen went to a college or not. he said he had but we never really were sure of that. but he certainly dislike graduates of prestigious universities. and none had ever been hired. i was hired when allen was on vacation. >> [laughs] >> -- .
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i sort of a joke to him. he wouldn't talk to me. and i would say, good morning, mr. hathaway, he would never say a word back. professionally i didn't have to deal with him very much because i was the low end of the totem pole, the newest quarter, doing obituaries, working nights. but i also worked saturdays and news day didn't publish on sundays, and so on saturday afternoon there was only one person in the city room and it was me. this particular news day had been crusading against the federal aviation agency. and there was a -- 1246 acres. the air force no longer needed it as a base. and therefore it was going to be turned over to the county and the question was, what was the county going to do with it? the federal aviation agency
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wanted to turn it into a private airport so that the executives of the corporations on long island could fly in and out on their private planes. news day wanted it to be used for a community college. i wasn't involved in this but one saturday when i was there in the middle of the afternoon, at the city desk, i picked it up and there was an official from the federal aviation agency saying that he really liked what we had been doing and he knew that very files we wanted to look at to prove our point. and if i came down, it was an idol wild airport, because president kennedy hadn't been killed yet -- if i came down early, he would show me the files and i would look through. and this happened to be the day of the "newsday" picnic. and so everyone was on the beach at fire island. of course, there were no
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cellphones then. and so i tried to call one editor after another and i couldn't get them. i finally got one editor who said, well, you will have to go down and look at the files yourself. and so i went down there and it was the first time actually that i have ever done anything looking through files and there was no one sentence that proved the point but you could put together enough from the conversation, the minutes of conversations and letters and all, to prove that "newsday" was right. and that was the reason that the faa was too friendly with the corporations, basically turning the last big hunk of land in nassau county over to them. and i wrote -- i wasn't going to write the story, the real reporters were going to write the story. and i left them --
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i wrote a long memo that i left to them. and early monday morning, the phone rings, and alan hathaway's secretary, june joan, and she says, allen wants to see right away. and i say, we are in new jersey. and she says, allen wants to see you immediately. >> [laughs] >> and i told byron, you see? i was right. i'm about to be fired. and all the way into "newsday", i kept thinking, what was a dignified way to take the news that i was fired? when i get to the office, allen had an office in the corner that was glass. and june, who stood in the doorway, it was me over there. and as i walk, i see this big, round head of his bent over, he is reading something intently. i get closer and i see that what he is reading is my memo.
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and so i get to the door, he doesn't look up, and i say, mr. hathaway, or whatever, and he waves me to watch, here keeps reading. after a while he looks up and says to me, i didn't know that someone from princeton could do digging like this. from now on you do investigative work. well, with my usual soft there savoi faire, i said, i don't know anything about investigative reporting. and allen looks up at me for a very long time and says, just remember, turn every page. never assume anything. turn every gosh darn page. so i will tell you one story, among a heck of a lot that i could --
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upon allen's advice, well -- not so much as advice as an order, turn every page. it helped me throughout my life. i'm now at the lyndon johnson library. as bill kelly said this morning, they have 44 million documents. you won't be able to turn every one of those pages. but you could narrow it down. i was writing about lyndon johnson as a young congressman and i think there were only 267 boxes, maybe 200,000 pages, that dealt with, that you couldn't get through all those pages but you could narrow it down. and one was a particular month that seem to me to be the key to how lyndon johnson began to -- political power. you can tell in this change happened. he was a junior congressman and the letters in the files that he's writing to older congressman or the letters of a junior to a senior. can i have a few minutes of
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your time, he might write, to a committee chairman. that was true up to the single month of october 1940. at the end of the month of october 1940 and for the entire rest of his career in the house of representatives, the letters had a different tone, the other way. he was the committee chairman, the senior congressman, writing to this junior congressman, lyndon, can i have a few moments of your time? so, what had happened? what's changed in that moment? in that month? i was doing a lot of interviewing and i was told that what had happened, really, was that he made himself the source of political money, of campaign contributions from the texas oil industry and texas contractors. and so that was important. they told me that he got the
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money from george herman brown, george and herman brown, the two great principles of the texas contracting, a politically well connected firm called brown and root. i had talked to george brown for some years, he would not talk to me at all. a secretary would say he was busy, would never call back. i wrote letters and he never responded. but i needed to talk to him if i wanted to try to understand what's happened in this month. one day, i had an inspiration about how to get him to talk. herman brown, the older brother, had died. george idolized his older brother. and what he had done, he was trying to build things around texas with his brother's name on it. there was a herman brown laboratory at rice university, etc.
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and so one day i'm in this little country town, it's a little town that looks like a scene out of a western set, with wooden buildings in the square. but on that square there was one leading two story building and on it said herman brown memorial library. i knew a lobbyist for george brown who had helped me, and i try to get him to talk to me before. he was partial, and said if i had an inspiration right at that moment, what to say to get to george brown to talk to me. i remember right on the square, putting a call to posh and i said i'd like to talk to george brown one more time. and i said, no, i am not going to do that. and i said, all you have to do is say one sentence to him. tell him it doesn't matter how many buildings after herman
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brown, no one is going to know who herman brown was unless he's in a book. so, posh made the call and at about 6:00 this morning, the phone rings and george brown himself is inviting me to lunch and he tells me that, he had raised the money, 30,000 dollars, a lot of money in those days, remember. 1940. and that in fact had bought texas the influence in congress that it needed. and he told me that i couldn't use this story unless i had some sort of documentation. and i had been told over and over again that i would never get any sort of documentation about lyndon johnson's move because it was said to me, over and over again, lyndon never
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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. i remember those letters were in a lot of different files. and in the johnson library, you request files and the archivist brings the files up to your desk in boxes, right boxes, each box holds about 800 pages. in fact, one of the archivists, and the one who has been helping me the most over the years, claudia anderson, who has been nice enough to come today -- and you look at these boxes, each crammed with papers and you really say, you know, your heart sort of sinks about how long it is going to take you to look through these pages. but whether consciously or not, i was then in the habit of
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turning every page. and i remember finding what i needed in some file, turning page after page, letter after letter, it had no significance to you. and then all of a sudden, there was a yellow western union telegraph form. and on it was signed by george brown, dated october 19th, 1940. and it said, lyndon, you are supposed to have the checks by friday. and on the bottom, one of johnson's secretaries had written of reply -- all of the folks you talked to have been heard from. i am not acknowledging their letters, so be sure to let these fellows know that their checks have been received. well, that was part of, it okay? who would these fellas? who were the people that had
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given the 30,000 dollars? let me tell you, there are moments when you really felt that it was beyond you to find out. i actually found the answer in a file, one of several, that were called general arranged. to this day, i can see the general and arranged files, file folders into which some secretary, 30 years before, had shoved a bunch of letters that were sticking out in all directions. but in the air there was an acknowledgment from six texas contractors who had given the money to lyndon johnson. i think allen for sticking that out. that was how he got the money. but, how had he handed it out? what had provided him with political power? how did he use that money to
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create political power? this was a man who never wrote anything down. but, okay, i had learned he had taken an office suite for, the month of october, in office building, in washington, called the monkey building. out of which this little democratic congressional campaign committee would work. and, in that office building, with him, was a secretary named walter jenkins. about walter jenkins, they said, he wrote everything down. i am looking through the papers there, and there are four pages, clipped together, with a paper clip. there are three tight columns. on the left column, the name of the congressman, and the district he represents. in the center, is what he needs the money for. the amounts are so small, in
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terms of today. lyndon, 1500 dollars, and i can buy another round of ads. lyndon, 500 dollars for poll watchers, they are trying to steal the election. and then, in the right hand column, the third tight column, is the amount of money that the congressman asked for, as i said, a small amount. 1500, 2000 dollars, 500 sometimes. but, in the left hand margin, in lyndon johnson's handwriting, was what he decided to do with each request. sometimes, he wrote, if he was going to give the full amount, okay. if he was going to give part of the amount, he wrote, okay, 500, or, okay, 1000. but, sometimes, he wrote, none. he would not handle their request. sometimes, he wrote, none out.
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so, i asked one of johnson's assistance, what did he mean when he wrote none out? the assistant, whose name was john connally, later, governor of texas, said to me, none out meant he would never get money from lyndon johnson. lyndon never forgot, and never forgave. so, there it was. you sometimes hear, and political science courses, how difficult it is to track the exact influence of economic power, and on political power, you didn't have anyone agreeing it here. this cave lyndon johnson, this first toehold on national power, and founded on by trying to turn a lot of pages. it came by was lyndon johnson,
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who had his own version of allen's saying. lyndon johnson was saying, if he told his staff, in a campaign, if you do everything, you will win. want to know what everything is? i will give you one example of that. one of the key southern senators in washington, was a man named harry byrd, who is the senator from virginia, for i think, six terms, starting six years. so, he really doesn't like the young lyndon johnson. lyndon is brash, he is always pushy, and this is a courtly southern gentlemen, and this is a very courtly one. he has a daughter named westwood, and westwood dies in a hunting accident. so, the funeral will be held in
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winchester, and virginia, 72 miles from washington. and, the day of the funeral, there is a heavy rainstorm. johnson persuades another freshman, and named warren magnificent, from washington state. they say, warren, we have to go to the funeral, every senator will be there, even the republicans. of course, no senators were there. but, lyndon johnson told a friend of his, a they would back. that, we were the only senator is there. we were standing on one side of the grave, and larry bird was in the other. in the middle, lowering the coffin, he turned his face up, and looked at us. he looked at me, a long time, and said, i don't know what that look meant. but, i bet that look was an
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important one. it was. in a lot of ways, when lyndon johnson needed something out of the committee in which harry byrd was the chairman of the senate finance committee, somehow, they almost always seem to get it. and, the finance committee, has jurisdiction over medicare in the summer. and then, harry byrd was in 1938, i guess, the year 38, or 39, the funeral. lyndon johnson, and trying to pass medicare. they were in the finance committee, and they never seem to come out. larry bird, they didn't open hearings, and there are so many witnesses that the hearings would never end, or have it in
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this is coming back again. . linda needs to agree that the bill, in 1965, is the representative, when it comes over to the senate, it is going into the finance committee. lyndon johnson needs harry byrd to agree to, is to not delay the hearings. so, he tricks him. by this time, larry bird is old. he is not the politician, or the senator, he once was. he is an old man. he has always liked lyndon johnson. so, johnson tricks him. they asked him to come down to the lighthouse, for some meeting in the cabinet, and he doesn't tell harry byrd, the television cameras will be there. and, they turn for the cameras running, he turns to harry bird,
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and, says now, this is my version of the, quote is not exactly right. now, harry, when the bill comes over from the house, is there any reason why you can't start the hearings right away? it is being flustered and not that they know of, and they say, so, we will have the hearings right away, and they will be expeditious here mate, and harry byrd says, yes, in front of the television cameras. they not even angry about it, because he is so fond of lyndon johnson. reporters ask him what he thinks about it, and says, if i had known i would be on television, i would've worn a better suit. and, he holds the hearings, and johnson's relations with harry bird, are probably, summed up
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by what happens within the next year, and larry bird's wife dies. lyndon johnson, goes to the funeral, and as harry byrd, after the funeral, is harry bird in his car. he is driving away. the president of the united states, lyndon johnson, bending over, and kit kisses the old man's hand. so, we are talking about a politician, who wasn't afraid to do anything that was necessary, to get somebody on his side. there is a lot of material, and that history will be interested in. it was the lyndon johnson library. and with one piece of material, it was on the second floor of this building, right now, and it was not on me, and pages
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were written by me, by a man named louis. their life was in 1948 election. he's been in the house of representatives for 11 years. he's, really, not getting anywhere. they keep saying, the house is just too slow. too slow for his ambitions. he decides to give up his house, and run for president, and the guy he is running against will be the most popular governor in the history of texas. at the end, and this is the election that johnson has gambled everything on. his aides, calling, at the all or nothing election. either he wins, or he will be out of politics. at the end of the election, he is 30,000 votes behind. but, he starts stealing votes you because you could executives have said antonio.
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but, still, he is going into the last few weeks, several hundred votes behind. then -- six days after the election, they find a box from precinct 13, in the desert, and it has ballots in that. it has 202 ballot senate. and, 200 of them, cast for lyndon johnson. and he wins the election by 87 votes, one week later. so, louis was the enforcer for the boss of the border counties, regarding george par, the duke of the valley. he was a big guy. tough, barely, and he always wore a revolver with a handle that was so long, it almost reached all the way down to his knee.
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he was the precinct judge they had put in, saying that they made sure things went right at box 13. so, hearings actually held, and louis is put on the stand. he denies, anybody stuff, anything, into that ballot box. he was about to be cross-examined. but, as the cross examination is about to start, a man rushes into the courtroom, and he is carrying a telegram. it is from the office of the supreme court justice, hugo black. what it says, basically, is that the hearing is called off, and, in fact, there will never be another hearing. this is a key story, and a key element, in the story of lyndon johnson's life. he was to go on to the senate, and then become president, but if he had lost the election,
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there, probably, we would have been no further, political, activity. he was talking about running his wife's radio, and television stations. so, when i came along, there were already seven biographies of lyndon johnson. they, all, of course, went into the selection. it seemed like there was several hundred articles that had been written about the stealing, or an stealing. about the 87 vote election. he had the nickname landslide lyndon. and they all contained, -- they'll accepted the contention of johnson's partners, that he never stole anything in the vote, never stole any votes, or, they would say, no one will ever know if the election was stolen. that was a sentence i read,
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over and over. no one will ever know if the election was stolen. i said, and i felt, it was never going to write a book, and no one ever know if the election is slow enough, and it is done everything possible to find out if the election was stolen. and, the key to that, in my mind, was finding luis alice. everything else pointed to it being stolen, but, in fact, only stand, the man who knew the most, the precinct judge, had testified that it wasn't. so, i drove back down to the valley, along the border, and i go into the mexican café, and they ask about luis alice. over, and over again, i hear, he is dead, he is dead. but, then, one man said, he is
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not dead. he went back to mexico. turns out, he had murdered a man, and fled, down to some town in mexico, and had been moving, from town, to town, over some years. people ask me, why do my books take so long to write? now let me tell you. >> let me tell you, finding a mexican gentleman, who is trying to not be found, takes a lot of time. finally i found, in fact, he had moved back to texas, and was living in a trailer in the backyard of his daughter, in houston. so, i 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 out to his house. now, remember, he is this tall, barely guy, this image of this
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tall man. so, i knock on the door, and i'm expecting to be looking up at this guy. instead, the door is opened by a frail, old man. and i said to him, my name is bob caro and i'm writing a book on lyndon johnson. and louis salas says, then you want to know about box 13. and we went inside and he says without saying anything. and you know, i've written it all down. and he is sort of an old-fashioned -- there's a old-fashioned trunk in the corner. and he takes out a manuscript of 97 type and several handwritten pages and on the title page it says box 13.
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and i start reading it and it contains the sentences, i lied on the stand. and it says, in fact -- and he details exactly how the 200 votes were put in there. so i said, can i copy this? and he says, there's a copying machine at the 7:11. so we went to the nearest 7:11. and i copied it. and in fact, it's in the exhibition. it's up on the second floor and it's right outside the door to the library there. it's on the lower right hand corner and you can see it yourself. so future historians writing about lyndon johnson will, thanks to the new york historical society, be able to read it for themselves.
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there's a lot of stuff in my papers that i boast fully think future historians will want to read. i don't think that more than a few percent of what i've learned in the amount of time that i've been doing research into some lyndon johnson's life and robert moses is like life -- there are so many interviews, so many notes, i think it will help so much, on aspects of our country's history. there are so many interviews, hundreds of interviews, really. 520 key interviews in "the power broker" alone, with people who can never be interviewed, of course, any more, because they are long dead. and i tried to find everybody who could help me understand
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the senate in 1950's. all the senators, the very few who are still alive, their assistance right down to the cloakroom. it's a great story. and as i say, very small percentage of it actually made it into the books. what was politics like when america was still rural, as america was still rural for the first 125 years of its existence? what was politics like? what was it like to campaign? that was fascinating to me. there is a chapter in my first book called the first campaign. it's about a rural campaign. how lyndon johnson won a campaign going from little town to little town, to individual farm to farm, as an unknown candidate, running for congress. very little of that made it
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into the book. so we are in a time right now in america, right now, when the truth is more important today than ever before. and therefore, we are at a time when facts, the basis of truth, are more important than they've ever been before. and not just the truth about current events, but the truth about our history. to whatever small extent these papers at the new york historical society may now cast any light on that history, i am glad that they are here. and that they will be here forever. thanks a lot. >> [applause] >> thank you.
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>> [applause] [applause] >> thank you so much, robert caro. this was spellbinding, should i say? just so wonderful. we could listen to you all day. >> thank you. >> and now we can listen more with some of the audience questions. now you did give us some clues, and the audience member wants to know, what drew you to write about lyndon johnson? >> what drew me to write about lyndon johnson? >> yes. >> well, everything, when you talk about it, it sounds like you have this plan and everything was rational. but i can't really say that
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that is true. what had actually happened was, in order to get an enough money to write "the power broker", i had to sign a two book contract. one was for robert moses and win was for biography of laguardia. but i didn't want to do the laguardia biography and i cannot stand to do something that i've done before. i had already written about new york in the 1940s. but i realize that when it started that with the "the power broker" is about wasn't so much about the life of the man but the life of how power works in cities, how urban political power works. and that happens in textbooks. but i wanted to see how it works. and when i wanted to do was national political power and the perfect guy to do that with
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i thought, was lyndon johnson. he had national power better than anyone else, since roosevelt. but i thought the publisher would never let me get out of the laguardia contract. so i started and i really aided doing. it but one day i got a call from my publisher, my editor and he says, now bob, we all know your famous temper. no i don't really have a bad temper. i hope no one for my family is here. >> [laughs] >> but i want you to promised me that you won't lose your temper. i have something i want to suggest to you. saidand i want you to promisede you won't lose your temper until i finish. now, i know you are in love with this la guardia biography but i think you should do a biography of lyndon johnson. and i always thought that i
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increased my advance by a lot by saying, well, i will think about that. >> [laughs] i >> okay, the next step. how do you start an interview and how do you keep them talking? >> oh. well, i actually try to start interviews in -- i always try to start chronologically. what were you doing at the time i'm interested in? that sort of thing. how do you keep them talking? i don't know. another thing allen said to me -- i once came back from an interview without the information he wanted and i remember he said to me, i can't do his accent -- he said, listen kid, he said. you are not they are to find
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out what he wants to tell you, you are there to find out what he doesn't want to tell you. and so you have to find some way of getting them to keep talking. >> well, you've done a very good job, robert caro -- >> [laughs] >> sometimes -- >> if you were given the opportunity to write a biography on another historical figure, who would he, she or they be? >> i'm very bad with pronouns. can i stick to hear she? >> yes. >> well, if i had my choice, i wanted to do a biography of al smith. someone who is forgotten by history, partly because there is no good biography of him. i learned about him because he was the man who raised robert
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moses to power and when moses was 30 years old, he was out of work. he was standing in a line outside cleveland ohio trying to get a job. smith saw something in him and raised him to power. al smith fascinates me. franklin roosevelt once said to francis perkins, you know, francis everything we've done in new york, 90%, we've done in new york. when he was the ten many henchman, the ruthless henchmen of 14th street, tao many hall. and he says, you have to free them now, let me do something for our people. and he passes so much of what we think of today as pensions, disability benefits, unemployment compensates chen -- al smith started that a new
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york and i would love to do a book about that. but i may not get to do it. >> and then again, you might. >> [laughs] >> how do you consume current news? are there certain periodicals you gravitate towards? do you watch the major -- >> networks? >> news networks, that's what the word was. >> i watch the pbs news hour. >> [applause] >> i don't watch much of the cnn or msnbc. mainly because i'm writing all day in the last thing you want to do when you come home is get some more facts put into your head. right? i don't consume cnn. i don't watch the 24 hour
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cycle. >> and you sleep at night? >> well, this is getting more and more personal. >> [laughs] >> i don't see all the sleep all that much. i've never slept all that much. at the time bill clinton talks about, we spent part of the time talking about how little we both sleep. i don't sleep a lot. >> well, while you are up thinking -- >> i didn't say i was up thinking i >> [laughs] >> what i said was, i was up trying to go back to sleep! [laughs] >> well, while you are up, have you formed an opinion, or my to form an opinion about what would have become a vietnam, had jfk lived? >> i'm sorry, i didn't hear the end of that. >> what do you think might have
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happened to vietnam if jfk lived? >> tha>> that's a great questio. and i have to say, i am working on that right now and i try never to talk about something that i haven't finished writing. because i found when i do that i found it doesn't come out as good in the writing. so can i take a pass on that question? >> yes, yes. >> okay, i'm trying to find the best last question here. well, here is one. did you ever leave something out -- and i guess not -- but we are going to ask the question, to protect a source? is there anything you would now want to add back? >> no, i don't think -- that covers a lot of decades. off the top of my head --
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no, i don't think -- >> okay. >> i think the answer is probably no to that specific question. i tell people, when i start interviewing them, you know, i try to say something that says, you know, i'm doing this for a book. so we both know i'm going to write it down. you know, bob woodward, one of the great interviewers, it is here today. he does more on current things. part of what makes my job easier than his is that my people die off. >> [laughs] >> [laughs] sometimes long before i've interviewed people -- i've interviewed people back in the 19 80s or 1990s. no one is writing about what i was told in about the 1920s --
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>> okay, that's good -- >> i maybe overlooking something but off the top of my head i can't think of it. >> all right, well let's leave them with this question. what advice would you give students in the writing and thinking's process? >> aside from turn every page? [applause] >> well we want to thank you again. did you want to say something? >> no. we want to thank you so very much in all the panelists today. and everyone for joining us on zoom and in person and bob caro's books are signed and museum stories as well, so stop by and pick up your favorite books there. thank you again and we hope to see you soon. thank you. [applause]
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[inaudible conversations] you can watch the entire symposium, online, and anytime, on cnn dot org's -- slash history. >> how, exactly, to the market up to its neck and it? [interpreter]
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