tv Q A CSPAN May 5, 2014 6:00am-7:02am EDT
washington post," how many years were you there? >> i think it was 23 years. >> what is one of the highlights that comes to mind? >> one of the highlights has been that i was covering the mets in 1969 when they finally won. they wouldn't let me in the press box because i was a "girl," as they said in those days. i had already covered the indianapolis 500, where i had been the only woman in the country. i found this interesting because it was a magical place to work. ben bradley hired me for "style," and it really transformed and revolutionized the paper business. it is not at all like it was then. you would do 2000-word pieces and people would read them. that business of not being able to go into the press box to write and file my copy -- it struck home and red smith, the
great columnist wrote a piece saying, "isn't it time we change some of these rules?" i felt it was a bit of moving on up for women. >> what excuse did they give? >> because i was a woman. they just didn't have women in the press box. they used to say that if a woman was on a ship, it was bad news for the ship. i have no idea, but they just banned them. there were a lot of places that banned women. in the press club, the women had to sit in the back when they were interviewing somebody or somebody was giving a major speech. the cosmos club, not until the 1980's did they admit women when the discrimination laws came in. they were more afraid of losing their liquor license than they were interested in being egalitarian. it was a strange "mad men" era for many of us.
>> do you remember how old you were when you met jack kennedy? >> 24 or 25. >> what do you remember from that? >> being scared. >> what were the circumstances? >> i was doing a column five days a week. the first time, they were on the tarmac waiting for the children to come to the white house. he was mr. effusive, talking to everybody. jackie kennedy was in the limousine with all-black windows. this woman that i didn't know said, "let's go ask her a question." we went over and this woman said, "do the children know they are moving into the white house?" jackie rolls the window down this far and says, "what?"
she said, "caroline knows, but she doesn't understand the full significance." then, up went to the window. that started a great friendship. i had a couple of times when i covered the press conferences and talked to him. he was very eager to talk to journalist. he loved that give-and-take and conversation. i got ted kennedy a lot more because i covered him on health issues. >> thinking back to the days when you couldn't get in the press box, did that have an effect on eventually writing this book called "the scarlet sisters?" >> my first book was called "the power lovers," and it was on the effect of marriage. everything i have written comes off the news in many ways.
with that book, i was watching the primary. muskie was running for president. all the male reporters said he cried in the snow after there had been this hideous editorial about his wife. i am not so sure he cried in the snow. anyway, it came through. i was in the bus and he was talking with some reporters. i looked up and saw the children with a whole lot of luggage sitting around and said, "what is going to happen to the children? they won't see their parents for two months." that was the genesis of how difficult is a political marriage in the time. that was pretty much a feminist book then. i always have this desire to go
back to the feminist movement. i covered the equal rights amendment and all the issues in the 1960's and 1970's. this time around, everybody in 2008 was talking about the possible year-ago dream team of hillary clinton and vice president obama. there was this tiny bit that said in 1862, victoria woodhull ran with frederick douglass, on an obscure third-party ticket. i had read something about her, but not the whole thing about frederick douglass. then i read about her sister, which had been pretty much eclipsed in all the books about victoria, and decided to do a dual biography of these symbiotic, fascinating, and outrageous women in american history.
i decided i could never make up -- >> your first line in chapter one, victoria and tennie's father -- >> they grew up in this ridiculously dickensian world of debauchery. this family was nothing you could believe. the father was sort of at the head of it all. everything he did was a scam. at one point, the story went that he was making counterfeit money. when the sheriff came, he put the money in his mouth and swallowed the evidence. he was always doing something, painting horses black and selling them before the rain
came and get out of town. these two women grew up with nothing but shyster tricks and not being real people. when she was 11 years old, the youngest, tennie, was put to work as a fake fortuneteller. she sat in a dirty old hotel for 13 hours a day, selling fortunes, and the father collected the money. there is a scene in the book, they were chasing her for manslaughter based on one of the things that their father had done. they had a horrible childhood. vicki had gone ahead and gotten married at age 15. that wasn't looking well. everybody says, how do you think these women came from such a very low rent part of town?
as you know, the victorian era is so stratified. there was the very rich, the middle class, and there were the robber baron achiever. the life and times of these women was in the most buccaneer time you can think of. you had all the barons out there making a lot of money. i think it was easy for them because they had been running around with low-rent con artists. now, let's go with the big boys. they were beautiful and they were tough, and they were driven. they were driven both for power and individualism, but as i say -- they could have courtesans but they were pushing for their independence and women's independence.
they were talking about equal pay for equal work. we still don't have it. everything they pushed -- they were for free love, which got them into a lot of trouble with the press and the clergy and other people. >> you do this in a five-act play. how did you divide it up? >> instead of doing part one, -- part two, i decided their life was such a drama that i wanted to do it that way. there is the beginning, then part two is when they went to wall street and made their fortune, bankrolled by cornelius vanderbilt, who was rumored to be the lover of tennie. it is sort of a given, historically. they had used their ability as clairvoyants to convince him
that they could talk to his long-dead mother. vanderbilt was the richest man in the world, but he was incredibly superstitious. he also believed in spiritualism. they wormed their way into his life and then he bankrolled them and they became the first women stockbrokers in the world. that was the beginning curve of their life. part two goes into the development of who they were, the newspaper they started, various other themes. i am forgetting which parts right now. i know the trial against henry ward beecher was this high drama and the final one was the siege of london, when they left the united states and married two of the richest men in london, after they were run out of the united states. >> the victorian age, where did it get its name?
and how long was it? >> queen victoria started in 1838 and it went until 2001 when her son became the king. she lived forever. >> what did it mean? why did they call it the victorian age? >> she was considered not the virgin queen, but her husband died when she was very young. there was this era that had preceded it, major debauchery. the concept of victorianism was that you have a moral fiber to life. a lot of it was hypocrisy. i have a chapter called "sex and the city circa 1861." the concept of the victorian era was a sense of fidelity to
marriage, a sense of honor, etc. which is just not the case. it was based on her life, living as the queen alone and ruling as the queen alone. >> vicki woodhull was born what year? >> 1838. she was named for the queen. >> and her sister was born what year? >> 1845. >> where were they born? >> i am not sure where, but they grew up in a little town in ohio. >> what was buck doing there? >> buck was supposedly setting fire to his gristmill so he could get money for the insurance. teaching the girls how to become clairvoyants, and then they were run out of town.
the citizens in this little town didn't take kindly to someone who was fleecing them to get money for the fire that he had started. he was always a con man. when they got out of there, he had been the post office manager and they found all of these envelopes that said, "money enclosed." the money was gone. they started this caravan world of just going all over the country. in that era, spiritualism had become enormously popular. various groups in the united states at that time were really into spiritualists. it is not much different from a lot of religions, the idea that
there is a life after death. they said they could see manifestations of that. he glommed onto that and said, "i have got two wonderful, good-looking girls." he touted them as spiritualists. he made up fake medicine. he called himself "the king of cancers." all things healed by little tennie. he was a real piece of work. in later life, this came back to haunt the sisters in a very sad way for them. their mother --their not wholly sane mother -- was a revivalist, eccentric, and they wanted the sisters to be with them, particularly tennie, because she was very pretty and vivacious.
when the women went off and became these incredible successes, not only were they the first women stockholders in the world, the first women to own a brokerage firm -- not to be repeated for 100 years -- they had a radical newspaper, they became lecturers. they were celebrities. they had headlines with just their names. it is like madonna. they were very famous based on their beginnings with vanderbilt. the family just kept threatening them with blackmail. they said, "we are going to expose you." the mother started this ridiculous court trial when she said that victoria's then-husband wanted to put her in an insane asylum, wanted to kill her.
the press went wild and wrote about this very trashy family. the sisters had been trying very hard to hide all that, and they were inventing and reinventing themselves. they were not the least bit educated, but they said they were. anything that would help them, they had moved on forward with. they were willing to wreck their whole life just to get tennie back to tell fortunes. they had some really rotten characters in the family. >> you say that buck's wife annie had 10 children. how many survived? >> seven. >> you write about annie where you say, one tale describes her mother --
>> it was in a book that i read. i thought, "do i use this?" i have to say unsubstantiated because i have no idea if that is truthful. it kind of fits in with who they were. >> you say the mother was not sane. >> their phrase was, "never wholly sane." she was always a bit off. they clung to them like burrs. once they started making money and became famous, the family would just turn up. there would be a raft of these family members that tennie called deadbeats. they were like locusts eating off of these two green stems that were upholding the whole family. they spent an awful lot of money on that, and were afraid to leave, because they understood how much
this family could do, the harm that they could do in the press. they had everybody's support. they had susan b anthony. they were looked at as the new wave of feminists. victoria became the first woman to address any member of congress. she addressed the judiciary committee and argued that the constitution, the 15th amendment, everything said "citizens."
it didn't say "male," it didn't say "female." the only time "male" was used was in the second article of the 14th amendment. it was used to define black male slaves versus female slaves. god forbid the female slaves could vote. she had a very strong argument. as i said in the book, they were absolutely keen on finding the best men who could help them. they had general ben butler, a great friend of lincoln and grant, a very powerful man. he pushed all that getting into the judiciary. they were very much a part of the more liberal ring of the women's movement. when this whole family scandal broke, everybody started saying, "how could susan b anthony have anything to do with these women?" it really was very hard for them. >> in your own life, how often have you seen favoritism toward men versus women? >> oh dear. [laughter] >> can you tell us plus give a couple of examples? >> there were these attitudes that there were no women capable of doing the same job. in 1972, the first year i
covered a presidential campaign -- i covered five of them. that was the first year. the book written about the reporters was called "the boys on the bus," because there were so few of us women. i would not say -- i have children and didn't want to be out there full-time. i remember talking to david broder about raising your son at 14-years-old or 15-years-old, and he said, "i skipped that year." he had a wife at home who helped. the system, while i was in it, was almost completely male-dominated. when you say "examples," the question is, "do you get passed over for an assignment?" i talked to many women on wall street today who say it is still the frat boy system. when the sisters were on wall street, they were considered
whores just because they were out there. i don't mean to be rambling, but it is hard to come up with a specific. you started out with -- i remember when i got out of college and i had been an editor at our state college. i won some awards, so i thought i was really ok. i went to detroit to look for a job and the "detroit free press" editor said, "we have no openings in the women's department." i said i wasn't considering the women's department. he said, "we have no women in the sitting room." two men with lesser credentials got reporters' jobs, and i got a job running copy. it was institutionalized sexism as opposed to totally being able to say i couldn't get this job because i was a woman. i think that happened a great deal.
if you look at politics, the treatment of women -- hillary clinton when she ran, it was fierce, the kind of sexism that went on. for a long time, women could never get enough upfront money to run for politics. the whole system was stacked. >> your late husband -- your first husband, what year did he die? the 1990's? >> yes, 1994. >> the reason i bring him up, you guys were in the same business. was he better? was he treated better because he was a man? >> yes. i have a story. i was at a table -- several
sports people. i said something and they said, we are not interested in what you think. you are only here because of mo. as far as i am concerned, all broads are a piece of raisin cake. i said something i will not repeat. i pushed out the table and walked away. this great sportswriter, he said -- let's not go. i walked in, and the first thing he said was, "myra, how are you?" i had distinguished myself by being enough of a male to tell him off, that he was respectful.
you saw an awful lot of that. the baseball dinners were always stag. after we got married, i said, you are just not going to do that. he said, "i am going to have a surprise." his keynote speaker was liz carpenter. some of the old guys were grumbling about it, really grumbling about it. it was an incredible thing. my daughter became a three-time emmy award-winning espn producer. when i meet young men and young women in sports, they are aghast. they can't believe that you couldn't get into the press box. when i covered the indianapolis 500 in 1960, i was the only woman covering it. i couldn't get into gasoline alley, i couldn't get into the press box. now we see women covering
everything, which is progress. >> you wrote a book about your daughter. what year was that? >> i didn't write about my daughter. i wrote a book called, "she came to live out loud." that was when i was at the hospice foundation. i interviewed a woman who had breast cancer. >> you lost your daughter to breast cancer. >> i did, 10 years later. 2010. it is emblazoned in my mind. she had given birth to her third child. she said, "i am going to give up working for a while." they came in and said that she had stage four breast cancer. there had been no indication whatsoever. she had a valiant fight in which she wrote a website that was so popular that 60,000 people
followed it. i still can't reread it, but she was just amazing. >> how old was she? >> 43. >> what did she do that got her into espn as a producer? was she treated equally? >> she thinks she was treated mostly equally. she had a few points where she didn't think so. she never wanted to go on air. she loved being a producer and being out there. we both knew john walsh, the news editor for c-span -- no, espn. he had been at the style section with me. she got her job through somebody that neither mo nor i knew. she said, "john walsh didn't give me the job. i did it myself."
one of the assistant producers went to pick her up at the airport. he said he was so taken with everything she said, he said, "you are hired. you don't even have to go anywhere else." john said, "that is myra's daughter." she was very independent. there is one hysterical story. they stationed her in dallas. they were covering the cowboys. they were at the center line and they kept moving them farther down the goalposts. they said, "why?" they were sitting on the cowboys side and they were behind them on the bench. he said, "well, her cell phone ring bothers them too much." she was playing "hail to the redskins." [laughter]
>> as long as we are talking about your previous books, i want to run some video. you were in the audience for this. tell us what you got interested in this person. >> i believe that no society is good, even if it has social welfare, free rent -- where men are not free to speak their minds. in that sense, i believe very thoroughly in america and its egalitarianism. i criticize its shortcomings, but i have not lost faith in it. i am not an anti-democrat like my poor friend socrates. therefore, i will not drink the hemlock today. >> what did you think of i.f. stone? >> i quite adored him. i interviewed him and his wife
at their 50th wedding anniversary. he was a neighbor and i did not know him well. my second husband said that was my next book, because we both decided it many ways that he was the pivotal, defining voice in the 20th century that could have kept this country honest. i realized that three weeks after lyndon johnson used the gulf as a point for escalating going into vietnam, that he read every single document, and he ended up saying that this can't possibly be true.
he said there was no after-report or debris. he raised a specter of it being false three weeks after lyndon johnson. i always thought if the president was more interested in doing the world a favor, he might have avoided that terrible war. >> what did he do back then -- i think you said he had 70 house and -- >> >> they were mom-and-pop stores he literally went to and carried them out. he just seriously was a democrat.
he was unbelievably thrilled about j edgar hoover, he had more coverage than anybody i ever knew in the business. >> you read all 5000 pages? >> yes. i knew who was saying what. they followed it him into a cigar store and reported he purchased two cigars. there have been a lot of very controversial books. the timeframe when he knew this one man who turned out to be a kgb agent who was also a press attaché, i found and proved with
he talked to him a lot more. people are adding 2 plus 2 and getting 5. his treatment of human beings, he was invasive of their lifestyles. >> i know that he wrote books. was most of his work done in a weekly newsletter? >> in the 1930's he was an editorial writer at a liberal paper and he was writing about the possibility of hitler becoming chancellor. i -- walter -- was also accused. and he did not cover anything
about the holocaust for the longest time. this reporter had all kinds of scoops. his background, which a lot of people didn't know, happened to be amazing. during the horrible years of the mccarthy period, all of the little papers were shut down and he had no place to go so he started his own little rag and because the timing was fortuitous because he was so anti-vietnam, and the antiwar movement began, everybody had to read it and pass it around. he got very lucky with that. he wrote something about
underground palestine, he was the first reporter in the world to go over to the holocaust survivors. it really reads like a graham greene novel. it is really a wonderfully-written book. i do not think there is another journalist who could do that. >> do you remember what it cost? >> five dollars per year. i think, if i am adding right. >> do you remember what year he died? >> maybe 1987 or 1988.
no, right after tiananmen square. 1989. >> if someone wanted to read it now, where would they go? >> there is a website. he got two different awards. one for excellence in investigative journalism. there is a lot that is online now, that i was not able to read. >> you put an emphasis on tennie, let's get back into the
story and listen to this. >> he borrowed money, brought back his own stock at reduced prices. profited in the stock market, got control of a major railroad, and all he had to do was not cause a major financial panic. he was able to go in and stop the panic and show up on wall street. one broker said, i knew it. >> cornelius vanderbilt. how did the ladies meet him, and why did they find him?
>> they had a golden mind. they knew he was into spiritualism. tennie was known as having magic healing hands. many people, by then had moved uptown. he was 74 years old, and he had been quite a bounder. he was not faithful to his wife, and tennie was attractive. they met in 1868, and they did not start their bank until 1870. i think, probably very strongly,
that he did have an affair with tennie. it was a period inbetween his wife and when he married another woman. he thought the sisters were witty, and funny. there is a story of her coming into his office and sitting on his lap and him calling her his little sparrow, and she called him an old goat, too. he felt alive with the sisters around him, and he gave them money, which was a lot for them. the word on the street was that cornelius vanderbilt was helping them.
everyone, the major financiers of that time, wanted to see what they were like. people came out just to see them opening the doors and walking in. >> how many times were each of them married? >> tennie was only married twice. victoria was married three times, but the question was always whether she had really married her second husband, because you have to understand, the premise was you did not need a piece of paper. if you had a horrible marriage, a piece of paper did not help. and if you had a great relationship, it did not matter. you just needed to be in love, and it was very much the way it is today with people not getting married.
they strongly believed it was an okay thing at a time when no one else did. they went to england -- everyone made it seem like they had so many husbands but they really did not. when the family had this trial, it was disclosed that she was living with two husbands, a former and a current in the same house, which was a mansion. she tried to say to "the new york times" that she was helping take care of a man who was a morphine addict and was dying. but the press did not care, they just went wild.
it was the equivalent of the tabloids. they wrote everything you could think about and made the news up. >> how do you define a spiritualist? >> it is someone who believes there is some way of communicating with people on the other side, someone who is dead. there are various permutations of that. some people say there is evidence of that. people who are very interested in it, they started to say that the things that came up, the astral sounds and so on and having the tables move and all of this made it seem like there
was a possibility it could be true. but after all of this was discovered, something like 300 churches in america -- i think it was everybody's desire to believe. i think that is the bulwark of all religions, if you study them. that there is life after death of some sort. >> in your book you talk about whether or not the two women were prostitutes. >> it was very easy to be called a slut in those days. if you are by yourself walking down the street at night, it was
something you just did not do. edith wharton has this famous thing she said-- a woman has a lover who cared about her and although it was mean and awful and doesn't make sense, the rigidity was there so much, that they were immediately thought to be prostitutes. the idea that maybe they ran a house of assignation, maybe they were occasionally prostitutes under their father's wing. and
they were in jail for a while and were hounded. there was an impact on america and free speech because a man managed to get a very stern -- law passed. he was against all of the great literature that was written. he drove margaret sanger out of the country for -- . agents wrecked their printing press.
having been in prison was enough to make them no longer valuable. they tried to keep the newspaper afloat. and they did, for six years. it was amazing. they did, you should read it. you have to read it to see how i get around the question of whether they were or were not prostitutes. they could -- without saying yes or no, and it is amazing how they did that. >> here is a brief description,
i want to see if you agree or disagree. >> she was a presidential candidate, she was a prostitute. she was known as the prostitute who ran for president. she preached free love. she came under the influence of benjamin butler, who believed women should have the vote by a declaratory act of congress. she presented a memorial in front of the joint members of congress, the only woman who had ever done that. she was a mass of contradictions. >> first of all, i do not like to do this but i do have some negative comments. there are a lot of anecdotes that do not have a primary
source of verification. her comment that they were flat-out prostitutes is just wrong. there were people who said that constantly, but there was no proof. whether or not they had a house of assignation in chicago is not proven. i take issue with it because i think we ought to recognize, even today, -- tennie gave a great speech where she said if a woman is called into question for anything, her sexual life is always called into question. there is still this attitude. for them to be so outrageously upfront on everything, for example she loved her children but she wanted free love.
their attitude on free love was so strong, they thought divorce laws were horrible. women could not get divorces then. and if they did get divorces, they could not get her children. actually, the sisters tried to say they were more moral than anybody else, because they did not marry for money, and a woman who marries for money is a legalized prostitute. their attitude was that you should marry for love. you have to remember, that in those days, the temperance woman started out with the attitude
that drunken men were beating up women and marriage was the only legal way that a man could beat up a woman. >> what do you think it should matter to people when they think of the potential that a woman should run for president? i would like to combine this and i will show you why, let me read this.
>> i want to ask you about bill clinton. what do you think matters about the moral situation of people running for president? >> that is a very difficult question to answer. when i did my first book, i had a chapter about it. a psychiatrist said that these guys have so much testosterone which keeps them coming and going, and it is also what keeps them interested in other women. it can have a disastrous effect on families, that is for sure. if you want to know what we should be looking for in a male?
this is gail sheehy, who appeared when we are talking about bill clinton. >> right before the vote, we knew they were going to lose, she was the campaign manager. they were locked in a room together to find out what was really going on. hillary was giving him the third degree. she said she even had to take bill clinton's girlfriend as her babysitter to get her out of the way. hillary started swearing and cursing. it was a melee, no one ever mentioned that bill clinton had the passivity of buddha.
it was never his fault. it was always somebody else's fault. >> if mrs. clinton runs, this is going to come up again. >> it already has. guilt by association, if she could stay with a man like that, etc. i think the hardest thing is to make a decision about where does a private life have importance and where doesn't it? the women who are going to run are going to get an awful lot of heat about their relationships, no matter who they are. the treatment of wendy davis.
it was pretty funny, the sisters were accused of being too trashy and wendy davis was accused of not being trashy enough. she was only in that trailer three months. they say she exaggerated. calling her an empty dress as a takeoff on the empty suit concept. sexism is here to stay and it will be very noticeable if hillary decides to run. i happened to be on a bus in arizona the day ted kennedy died.
all of these people were bringing up chappaquiddick over and over again. they were saying all kinds of stuff about chappaquiddick. other people were saying that he had gone into a second life towards the end of his life and had done very important legislation work and everything else. >> what about you? what do you think? what was your reaction about what bill clinton did and how hillary handled it? >> first of all, it how hillary handled it and bill's handling of it. i thought it was a despicable act on his part.
a lot of women thought she should leave him. other women felt she should stand by her man and had that attitude. i think that she -- i do not know what their relationship really was like, and i do not think anybody does. but i think they have intellectual respect for each other's work and intelligence. she said at one point, keeping it together for chelsea was important. she is obviously very ambitious. i appreciate it that when a woman runs she is ambitious, and when a man runs, it's because he wants to help the world. we have these adjectives. but i think it was despicable on his part to lie. what do you think?.
>> let's go back a minute to "the scarlet sisters, sex and scandal in the gilded age." do you write your books based on how you feel about issues? >> everything i have ever written comes from how i feel. the vietnam book came after i had written a two-part series about vietnam. how they felt ignored for their homecoming. i interviewed a lot of of veterans. i interviewed about 500 veterans and put together a book that i had started out about veterans,
but there were so many feelings about how they came home and felt betrayed, post traumatic stress was not even mentioned at that time. i have a deep feeling of sorrow for so many of the men who went to that war and came back quite troubled. so yes, it is an ideological thing for me. i like the on-the-job training. you start out with an issue you want to write about and it always expands and explodes here and there. >> we don't even have time to get to henry ward beecher, which is the reason why many people want to get to the book and read it. senator jack gordon, is he deceased? >> yes.
for free >> coming up next on c-span, "washington journal." then live at 11:15 a.m., general carlyle speaking at the center for strategic and international studies about u.s. military strategy in the age should -- in the asia-pacific region. then, a discussion on russia's intervention in ukraine. u.s. response, and the role of nato. it is also live from the center for strategic and international studies. live next on "washington journal."
," midterm elections. then, conversation on tax credits. ter oftalk with david kaut american university. ♪ good morning, its monday, may 5, 2014. congress is back this week with senate expected later in today and the house returning to capitol hill tomorrow. meanwhile, we have a three-hour washington journal had for you this morning. will discuss a 2014 gubernatorial battlefield, and light key issues in capitol hill. we discussed how that effort has