Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book and Snake

A modern-day sequel to "The Help," set in Georgetown? Now you're talking! Washington society is just aghast over a new book about Ben Bradlee written by a former assistant, that reportedly casts the Washington Post legend, wife Sally Quinn, and Bradlee's star reporter, Bob Woodward, in a less than flattering light. According to The New York Times, "Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee," by Jeff Himmelman, who worked as an assistant to both Bradlee and Woodward, suggests that Bradlee had questioned Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate reporting methods, and "reveals intimate details of Bradlee's family life, including piecing together a letter Bradlee once wrote to Sally Quinn (then his girlfriend and now his wife), ripped up and filed away without sending."

Alexandra Robbins writes:


The couple, who were so close to Himmelman that they often traveled with him, shared meals and welcomed him as a groomsman at their son Quinn’s wedding, “feel utterly betrayed,” said Richard Cohen, a veteran Post columnist and a friend of theirs for decades. “Jeff was almost part of the family,” he said. “They were knocked over -- utterly surprised by the contents of the book.” He added, "They are repulsed by it."

Besides being nonfiction, what seems to make the book so shocking is that that unlike "The Help," there is seemingly no motivation for this so-called unprovoked attack. In fact, it is anauthorized biography. But perhaps there were clues. Himmelman says that he went through an "extra rigorous" interview process when he applied to be Woodward's assistant just out of college in part, he believes, to avoid allegations of favoritism, since he and Woodward belonged to the same Yale secret society. It is called Book and Snake.

For his part, Himmelman says everyone's just upset because he did his job.

He wrote at The Daily Beast:

In the permission letter that both Ben and Sally signed when I undertook my book, Ben wrote, “I have given Jeff full access to my archives ... he has our permission to use what he deems necessary for the successful completion of the project.” Ben explicitly instructed me not to pull punches, and he never once told me not to use something I had found, including personal correspondence. When I brought the grand jury memo to him in March 2011, he said, “Don’t feel that you have to protect me. You and I have a great relationship, and there’s nothing you can do in this book that’s going to change it. So just follow your nose.”

This is the danger of writing about powerful living people. Nobody has alleged that anything I’ve written is untrue; they can’t, so instead they’re trying to impugn me and my motives. My motive has always been to write the best, truest, and most thorough portrait of Ben Bradlee that I could muster. I did the best I could on that front. But this was biography, not hagiography, and for me to ignore depth and difficulty -- the fact that Ben’s life wasn’t always perfect -- would have been to commit a lie of omission that I could not square with my obligation to tell the truth.

Sign me up!

Order the hardback HERE, and eBook HERE.

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