Guest: Jack Ryan, Tom Fiedler, Michael Isikoff, Sally Quinn
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: Sex and politics. Jack Ryan was the GOP’s best shot for an Illinois Senate seat until “The Chicago Tribune” went after his personal life...
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JACK RYAN (R-IL), SENATE CANDIDATE: I’m not going to reopen those discussions. It’s not helpful.
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NORVILLE: ... and sued for access to his divorce papers. Tonight, an open discussion with Jack Ryan about the allegations that he asked his wife to visit sex clubs and how it put an end to his political dreams.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It’s amazingly destructive to democracy.
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NORVILLE: Plus, a look back at some of Washington’s most notorious sex scandals, the silence, the denials.
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WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did I do anything immoral? I absolutely did not.
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NORVILLE: The indignation.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is an unpleasant issue. It’s an ugly issue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am witnessing the destruction of my integrity.
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NORVILLE: And the disclosures.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My actions were just plain wrong.
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NORVILLE: Just where do we draw the line between the public and private lives of our political leaders?
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CLINTON: I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.
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ANNOUNCER: From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.
NORVILLE: And good evening, everybody. We start off tonight with the story of Jack Ryan, a millionaire investment banker. In March, he won the Republican primary to represent Illinois in the United States Senate. Then “The Chicago Tribune” and a Chicago television station successfully filed suit to open his 1999 divorce records from his marriage to actress Jeri Ryan. Those records revealed that Jeri Ryan alleged that her husband took her to sex clubs and asked her to have sex with him in front of other people. Jack Ryan denied it, vowing to stay in the race. But Republican leaders began abandoning him, and last month he withdrew from the Senate race.
And joining me now is former Republican candidate for Senate, Jack Ryan. Good to see you.
JACK RYAN (R-IL), FORMER SENATE CANDIDATE: Thanks for having me.
NORVILLE: Why did you want to be senator, in the first place?
RYAN: Well, you know, I left Goldman Sachs to teach on the South Side of Chicago and really had this idea that no one in politics is talking about the poorest of the poor. Look at even the presidential race right now. No knock on either of those two good candidates, but no one’s talking about how do we make life better for those who’ve been most left behind?
NORVILLE: And why did you think you could make a difference?
RYAN: Well, because I have a—I have, I think, a pretty unique idea about how to help those because the Great Society programs, for all their good intentions, if you drive on the South Side of Chicago or the Bronx or East LA, haven’t really worked very well. Just drive around and look around. It has not worked. And so I decided (UNINTELLIGIBLE) take the Great Society resources, slip them on their head and empower individuals, not institutions, so provide help to the families, not to the school, if the school is failing, so they can go to the school of their choice.
NORVILLE: So you would do the school voucher program.
RYAN: School vouchers. Or if the family can’t get good service from their landlord, don’t make them beg the landlord for the toilet to be fixed, give them the resources so they can move to another housing area or pay their own rent with their own resources.
NORVILLE: This was what your campaign was about.
NORVILLE: It’s over.
NORVILLE: It’s not happening.
NORVILLE: And it’s not happening because very personal information about the break-up of your marriage got into the public domain.
NORVILLE: How did that happen?
RYAN: Well, how it happened, conceptually hard to know. How it happened in pragmatics, a media organization in Chicago filed suit against me and my former wife to get access to our sealed custody and divorce records, if you can believe it.
NORVILLE: How did they know there was something in there they wanted to see? There must have been a rumor of some sort floating around.
RYAN: Well, they said in their editorial that they didn’t know what was in there, and that’s precisely why they wanted access to it because they didn’t know what was in there. There was no rumor of infidelity or being physical abusive or breaking any laws or breaking my marriage vows. Nothing like that was ever accused of me. And so they just wanted to get access to it, which is why I think the biggest casualty of this whole was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this idea of how do we help the poorest of the poor, but second, a new, I think, precedent’s been set, which I think is very harmful for U.S. democracy, that you can now sue people to get access to their custody or divorce records. Who’s going for office who’s divorced?
NORVILLE: I wonder about that. And I’m just trying to get a handle on what’s expected of candidates these days. Can there be absolutely no embarrassing moment—and we’ll get into the embarrassing moment in just a second...
RYAN: Thank you.
NORVILLE: ... in someone’s background in order to be politically viable?
RYAN: Or no accusation of an embarrassing moment in someone’s background to be viable. And that’s just a standard no one can live to. And you may know, in Illinois now, they can’t find a candidate to replace me. They’ve been looking for a candidate for three weeks now. And they see what’s happened to, me and I think everyone’s saying, I can’t live with that standard. This is a ridiculous standard, in my view, that no one can live to.
NORVILLE: I want to get into what the allegation was against you. When “The Chicago Tribune” and the local TV station successfully sued, the judge did open parts of the custody records from your divorce. And one of the allegations that your ex-wife, Jeri, made was about some clubs that you took her to, and she describes them in the papers this way. Quote, “The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs.” One of them she calls “a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling. Respondent—meaning you—“wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching. I refused.”
That’s an allegation that she made. And that’s what was in these sealed papers. I assume that’s what you didn’t want the public to know about.
NORVILLE: Well, it was that, and other disagreements that she and I had in that custody dispute. What parent wants their child to hear them arguing to each other and about each other? No parent wants that to occur, especially of things as intimate as this. And so we both—she and I both tried very hard to keep these documents sealed. And so I’m sure in everybody’s custody or divorce documents, there’s something that’s—you prefer—you know, that’s a very—that’s a very heated moment. You prefer that it not be open for the public to look at, or most importantly, for your child to hear about.
RYAN: I guess, first off, did it happen? Did you guys go to this club with the things hanging down and...
RYAN: Well, you saw...
NORVILLE: ... public sex?
NORVILLE: You saw the response that I had in the document, which is that I referred to them as nightclubs. But we’ve done a very good job, I think, of saying whatever happened four years ago, we’re not going to reopen it to the public discussion. We’re going to keep those between she and myself. We do a great job of co-parenting our little boy, and it’s not helpful, after four years of work to rebuild that relationship, to have a public discussion about what went right or wrong in the marriage.
NORVILLE: How angry are you at the media for suing to have this brought out to the public?
RYAN: You know...
NORVILLE: Forget about the Senate campaign, just your personal business.
RYAN: Oh, about my son? Oh, can you imagine? I mean, every parent—no one wants their child to be abused on the playground or made fun of or hear about things. And so...
NORVILLE: Has he made fun of? Has there been repercussions to your 8 -- your 9-year-old little boy as a result of these...
RYAN: We’re doing the best we can to shield him from those things. But of course, he’ll be on the Internet at some point, doing a Google on his parents, doing, like, a book report on his mom, who is a very good actress, in her own right a very successful person, or me, and it’s all going to come up. No parent would want that to happen, or my siblings or my mom and dad or my former in-laws, who’ve been terrific. No one wants that in the press.
NORVILLE: What’s incredible is that while the two of you obviously had your disagreements and your marriage ended, that you were both very, very united in this. And your ex-wife came forward and spoke on your behalf. She said, Jack’s a good man, a loving father. He shares a strong bond with our son. I wish him all the best in his life and his career. I have no doubt that he’ll make an excellent senator. The two of you went together to the judge and petitioned, Please, sir, keep these records closed. He opened them, and yet acknowledged that he thought there could be a harmful effect to your child. And here’s what he said. He said, quote, “The nature of publicity generated will become known to the child and have a deleterious affect on the child.” If the court knows this is going to be harmful to the child, why would they make it public?
RYAN: She and I both cannot understand that. The family law judge is supposed to protect the family from harm. That’s his first job, in our view. And he said four or five times this will harm our child. And for the media organizations who sued to get this information, who was benefited from this? Was the public benefited in some way, or the issues that we’ve talked about at the start? Those are the issues of this campaign. Does this imply anything about those issues at all?
NORVILLE: Well, what it—what it implies—I mean, you were asked point blank, Is there something in your divorce papers that would be embarrassing to the Republican Party? And you said, There’s nothing in there that will be embarrassing to the Republican Party. Is this embarrassing?
RYAN: Well, I think you’re...
NORVILLE: This allegation?
RYAN: I think you’re referring to one person who said that, I asked him this question privately, and that’s the response he gave me. I gave everybody the exact same answer for a year, which is, There’s nothing is in there that prevents me from being a great U.S. senator. And I still think that’s true. I still think that’s totally true.
NORVILLE: So when you’re quoted as saying, There’s nothing in there that’s embarrassing, are you being misquoted, or was that a private conversation that say should have never been made public?
RYAN: Well, I was—it was a conversation between me and the chairwoman of the Republican Party, and she says I said that. But I’ve said the exact same thing to everybody’s who asked the question. And when pushed, I sometimes said, Well, there’s no allegation of infidelity or breaking of marriage vows or breaking of any laws, but I can’t say anything more. The documents were under court seal, which meant that I could not, legally could not talk about what was in those documents.
NORVILLE: So you felt like your hands were tied. You couldn’t acknowledge what was in there because they were under a legal seal.
RYAN: Exactly. So I couldn’t talk about what was in there at all.
NORVILLE: You know what a lot of people—because the remark to Judy Bar-Topinka (ph), the state GOP chairman, did get a lot of media play, a lot of people thought you were trying to have it both ways, that you were not being entirely candid. And a columnist for “The Chicago Tribune,” Rick Pearson, said this about that. Let’s give a listen.
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RICK PEARSON, COLUMNIST, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”: These Republicans feel that he had not been truthful or forthcoming, and they feel that both themselves and the voters, the Republican voters of Illinois, may have been lied to.
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NORVILLE: I think that might be the issue, that people felt you weren’t being entirely candid with them. Do you agree with that assessment from the columnist?
RYAN: No, because I couldn’t—because the documents were under court seal, couldn’t say, Here’s what’s in the documents, here’s what’s not in the documents. That was not possible for me to say that. So that’s the first level. And the second level (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ask you, Deborah, Tell me about you and your husband. What do you guys do privately? Now, if you answer that question in the wrong way, to your husband’s view, are you now not telling the truth to the voters? And is that an appropriate question to ask, of me to you, right now?
NORVILLE: At the end of the day, you weren’t winning anyway. When you look at the most recent polls, your opponent, if the election were held on the 21st of May, Obama would have had 52 percent of the vote, you would have had 30 percent and 17 percent of the vote. Is this a reflection of the smackdown politics for which the state of Illinois is so well known?
RYAN: Well, maybe smackdown for all of the country. But I think in the polls that we had seen just before this announcement came out, we were within 8 to 10 points, the daily south (UNINTELLIGIBLE) “Sun Times.” We were pretty close, and we hadn’t yet been on TV yet. And in Illinois, generically, you start down as a Republican down 10 to 12 points. We were doing pretty well. And I think once we engaged on this issue about who has the better ideas to help the least fortunate, on those issues, we win. I’m sure we win on those issues. I think we would have won.
NORVILLE: You know what’s incredible, is your candidacy was not the only one in the Illinois Senate race that was torpedoed by the public revelations from private divorce documents.
When we come back—we’re going to take a break, but when we come back, more with Jack Ryan, including the allegations of another candidate. And just what is fair game when you’re running for office? More in a moment.
NORVILLE: That is a cartoon from an Illinois political Web site which reads, “It’s Judy Bar-Topinka.” She’s the GOP state chairman. “She wants to know if anybody here wants to run for Senate,” a reflection of just how hard it has been to find a replacement, now that our guest has dropped out of the race for the Illinois Senate seat. Back now with Jack Ryan.
You chuckled when you first saw this.
RYAN: I did because I don’t think it’s a function of not finding someone capable to do the job, but under this new, ridiculous standard, no one thinks they can pass the standard. I think about everybody’s life and what happened to me, and everyone’s saying, Gosh, I don’t want this. Mike Ditka, called “Iron Mike”—remember this from your days in Chicago—“Iron Mike,” tough, strong guy, used to press scrutiny, the head of the Chicago Bears during the Super Bowl year, said, I saw it happen to Jack Ryan. I don’t think this is something I want to do.
NORVILLE: Well, he did. He toyed with it for a couple of days, and I’m sure that the courting was a very pleasurable experience for him. But at the end of it, he said, No, thank you, I’m not going to run, and here’s—here’s the reason why. Here’s Mike Ditka.
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MIKE DITKA, FORMER CHICAGO BEARS COACH: I’m not sure I really like the scrutiny. Not that I couldn’t handle the scrutiny, I don’t know that I would like it.
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NORVILLE: He said he didn’t know that he could—he thought he could handle it, didn’t know that he could like it. He also said that just in those few days, he had a headache the likes of which he hadn’t had since he was coaching the Bears. What is the standard, to your thinking, that is acceptable now for someone to run for office?
RYAN: Well, hard for me to set up. I know what’s not right. I don’t think it’s right to go into people’s personal lives in that level of detail because no one’s going to pass that scrutiny. But I think if there’s been some breaking of a promise that’s serious, either to your fellow workers or to your spouse or to the public, OK, that’s reasons to keep someone out of that because promises are part of politics. But beyond that, the level of scrutiny about what you do when, especially with your spouse, that there’s differing views of. I think that’s a very, very challenging standard for anyone to surpass.
NORVILLE: Mayor Daley even got into this and commented about the fact that divorce papers are now being used. There was another Democratic candidate before the primaries whose divorce allegations were made part of the public discourse. He ended up not winning the primary. But Mayor Daley said that, “The race should be on issues, not on someone’s personal life or their divorce. You get into that, and you really get into the gutter.” I wonder what you believe the upshot of this is going to be, both in terms of people declaring their intentions to run for office and the willingness of voters to connect with people. I don’t know that voters want to be down in the gutter, as well.
RYAN: Well, I had so many people over the last three weeks as I walked through the airport in Chicago, or New York or D.C., for that matter, Saying, Hey, Jack, get back in this race. We’re with you. We’re for you. It’s terrible what they did. And so I think in—the people in the street, they think this is beyond the pale. But in the end, it’s a lot of the media that controls the debate. I’d love to talk about the poorest of the poor and have the resources to put up ads about that, but to get the media to talk about that is a different matter. And so it’s one thing for the public to say, We want this, another thing for the conduit to the public to go along with that idea.
NORVILLE: Having said that, you’re still officially a candidate for Senate. We checked this morning with the Illinois Board of Elections, and you have not filed the notarized withdrawal of candidacy form.
NORVILLE: Why not?
RYAN: Well, it’s not a standard form, as you might guess. It doesn’t exist off the shelf. There aren’t a lot of people who say, I’m withdrawing for a race for the U.S. Senate. So we’ve got to make up The forms. We’re making up the form. And it’s a perfunctory task, but you got to do it right.
NORVILLE: I talked personally to the lady at the Board of Elections. She said it ain’t that hard to fill out. It wouldn’t take him that long.
RYAN: She doesn’t have a form. I guarantee you she doesn’t have a form that says, you know, “Withdrawal from race.”
NORVILLE: How hard is it? I hereby withdraw my candidacy for the Senate seat from Illinois as the Republican nominee, signed Jack Ryan. Three weeks have gone by. One wonders if you’re not dilly-dallying for a reason.
RYAN: Well, I’ve been doing a lot of this, No. 1. And No. 2, I have no intention of getting back in the race, if that’s the question you’re asking me. I can see of no reason to get back in, based upon what happened three weeks ago. I’m not bitter at all or upset, but the situation hasn’t changed that would make me change my mind.
NORVILLE: What would change to change your mind? What would have to change?
RYAN: Well, it would have been very difficult to have won this race against a very good, credible Democratic challenger, very good candidate, on the one hand, and then also without the support of the leadership of the Illinois Republican Party, on the other hand. Washington was terrific. The rank and file in Illinois were terrific. But you can’t fight a two-front war. And then we have to get the media to focus on the issues that you just mentioned. I didn’t see them getting off this fixation on, What happened with you and your wife, the most intimate moments of your relationship? I just—I didn’t see my being able to talk about the issues that I cared about.
NORVILLE: In the meantime, Barack Obama has been catapulted to the stratosphere, as a result of the attendant publicity of your withdrawal from the campaign. And even he, I think, is scratching his head a little bit about it. Here’s what he had to say the other day.
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BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS SENATE CANDIDATE: I started this campaign as David, and somehow, I’ve ended up being Goliath. It’s just a weird circumstance. The Republican Party had difficulties with its previous candidate, Jack Ryan, an unfortunate event which—I actually was very sympathetic about what happened to Mr. Ryan.
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NORVILLE: How do you feel about that? He’s sympathetic.
RYAN: Well, I hope he is. I think most of the population probably is. But this is not for sympathy. I would like people to address what is the limits for media because for American democracy, now more than ever, we need the best and brightest who want to run for public office.
NORVILLE: So why didn’t...
RYAN: And the best and brightest are going to say, I don’t want this, and that’s...
NORVILLE: But why didn’t you stick it out? Don’t you think you could have outlast this? If you believe so passionately in the need to change the system—vouchers for school programs, vouchers for public housing or whatever housing you choose, some of the things that were the linchpins of your campaign—if you believe in that so strongly, why let one newspaper and one TV station run you out?
RYAN: Well, I wish it had only been one newspaper and one TV station. Unfortunately...
NORVILLE: But they started it.
RYAN: Well, they started it, but then it kind of had a cavalcade effect, as you probably saw from a distance, because it was everywhere. And then we also lost support of some of our GOP leaders. And so for those two reasons, I don’t think—I don’t see how to get from here to there, based upon the current situation.
NORVILLE: So what you’re saying is you can’t be a credible candidate for and office in this country unless you got the political machine behind you?
RYAN: Well, you’ve got to have them.
NORVILLE: Even though you were an outsider.
NORVILLE: If you didn’t have the state GOP behind you, wasn’t going to happen.
RYAN: Well, I ran as an outsider, but I thought after the primary they’ll all pull together and support the nominee. That didn’t happen. And it is very difficult to win without the support of the party because imagine if George Bush, for instance, had the Republican National Committee say, This guy’s not credible to be the United States president. Very hard for him to win against a very credible John Kerry opponent. You need everybody pulling together because races are very difficult.
NORVILLE: So what is appropriate for the public discourse? How much of a person’s personal life is appropriate for the voter to know about because it helps them formulate a judgment as to their character? Do you think the Gary Hart-Donna Rice thing was fair game?
RYAN: I forget the details of that situation. I remember the fall-out, but I forget the details of that situation. I can’t remember if he was married or not married, all that detail...
NORVILLE: He was married at the time, and he had said, If you think there’s something out there, prove it. I’m paraphrasing, of course. And then there was this iconic picture of him on a boat called the Monkey Business with this young lady named Donna Rice.
RYAN: Right. Well, I do know that if there’s—in my view, if there’s no allegation of infidelity, no allegation of breaking the laws, no allegation of breaking your marriage vows, it seems to me that puts you in the range of people who are qualified to hold public office, and now let’s go to the issues. And I think I checked those boxes very well, with respect to my life.
NORVILLE: How are—how is your little boy dealing with this? Does he know what’s happened to Dad’s campaign?
RYAN: Well, he’s going to find out and...
NORVILLE: Does he know now?
RYAN: A little bit. And he’s young. We’re doing the best we can to make sure we bring him along, like any parent would do, and let them know information at a relevant time. But he knows, most importantly, that Dad and Mom love him very much, that we still care a lot for each other and he’s the most important thing in our lives, and that I know he knows. And that’s the most important thing to us. With respect to the other information, we’re doing the best we can to make sure that he’s prepared.
NORVILLE: As far as that other information goes, I don’t know—I think a lot of people have always sort of felt you should never do anything in your personal life that you wouldn’t want to see blasted on the front pages of the paper. If that’s true, do you wish you’d never gone to those clubs?
RYAN: Well, the assumption underlying your question is that we went to the clubs you described and the way they’re described. And I don’t...
NORVILLE: You describe it as an avant-garde club.
RYAN: Right, on a weekend romantic getaway with my spouse. And believe me, Deborah, I’m not going to ask you what you do on your getaways with your spouse, but it seems to me that should be beyond the pale for the press to put on the front page of the paper.
NORVILLE: I’m not sure if that was a yes or a no.
RYAN: What was the question? I’ll answer it again, if I can.
NORVILLE: Do you wish you hadn’t gone to those clubs during your romantic getaway with your wife?
RYAN: Oh, well, if those clubs is ambiguous (UNINTELLIGIBLE) those clubs, yes, I do. I think I’ll probably never go to a nightclub again in my life, based upon this experience. But it seems to me—who could—every decision you make in your personal life is fraught with peril, if the risk is if someone, the press, puts it in a certain way and puts it on the front page, they can make you look bad. And that’s...
NORVILLE: So you think anything...
RYAN: That’s where I go...
NORVILLE: ... has the potential to be spun in a negative way.
RYAN: Yes, I could take anybody, I think, and if I wanted to, put it on the front page of the paper and make it look bad. I’m not saying—I’m not saying that’s what they did to me, but I’m just saying it’s a very bad place for American democracy to be because no one’s going to run for public office, as Illinois is now proving.
NORVILLE: Interesting. Well, Jack Ryan, it has been an incredible campaign for you. And let us know when you file those papers that you’re not running again, OK?
RYAN: OK, Deborah. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
NORVILLE: Jack Ryan...
RYAN: Thank you.
NORVILLE: Thank you.
RYAN: Thank you.
NORVILLE: We’ll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: Up next: Are the personal lives of politicians fair game, or has the press gone too far? Just how much do voters need to know about a politician’s private life?
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GARY HART (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Did I make a mistake in putting myself in circumstances that could be misconstrued? Of course I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Political insiders Sally Quinn, Michael Isikoff and Tom Fiedler look back at the scandals that have tarnished and ended Washington careers. DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.
NORVILLE: We just heard from Illinois Republican Senate candidate Jack Ryan about his decision to pull out of the race after a sex scandal.
Joining me now to talk about Jack Ryan and to look at some other political sex scandals are author, “Washington Post,” reporter and Washington insider Sally Quinn. Also with us tonight, “Newsweek” magazine investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, he was among the first to report about President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. And the executive editor of “The Miami Herald” joins us, Tom Fiedler. He was part of that newspaper’s team, which broke the story of then-presidential candidate Gary Hart’s affair with Donna Rice back in 1987.
Michael, I’ll start with you, since you have got more recent experience on this type of reporting.
What did you think of Jack Ryan’s comments?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”: Well, they made a lot of sense.
In fact, I thought it was a fascinating interview. I would have liked to have heard from the editor of “The Chicago Tribune” or somebody to explain a little bit from the newspaper’s perspective just why it is they felt it necessary to look at his sealed divorce papers.
NORVILLE: The editor has said in an op-ed piece that because those records were sealed, they felt it was important for the voters to know what was in there. And in a report, a commentary that they made afterward, one of the comments made by their public editor was, “A news organization that wouldn’t challenge such a secrecy claim may certainly enjoy the protection of the First Amendment, but can’t say that it’s earned it.”
So we don’t have the “Tribune” guy with us, but that’s what they said.
ISIKOFF: Well, maybe, but we have a presidential candidate with sealed divorce records, John Kerry, and I don’t see any public clamoring for the unsealing of those. And absent a predicate allegation that there’s something in there that bears on his public performance or on his character that would be of great interest to the voters, I don’t see any reason why any news organization would want to open them.
Yet if they opened them in Ryan’s case absent an allegation of—absent some sort of allegation, then I don’t know why “The Chicago Tribune” isn’t banging down the door to have John Kerry’s divorce records unsealed.
NORVILLE: Well, by that standard, if you were John Kerry’s advisers, would you be a little nervous right now about “The Chicago Tribune”?
ISIKOFF: I don’t know. That’s why I say, I’d like to hear from them.
Look, I don’t think that, you know—the way I understand where you draw lines on this, you know, this one crossed it. But maybe there’s something here I haven’t seen.
NORVILLE: Tom Fiedler, what’s your take on all this? You heard Jack Ryan. You heard him explain his reasons for getting out of the race.
TOM FIEDLER, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, “THE MIAMI HERALD”: Yes, I did.
NORVILLE: Where do you fall on him?
FIEDLER: Well, I partly agree with Michael and partly disagree.
I do think he’s right when he says that there ought to be a predicate before the press goes and invades an area clearly of personal integrity or personal character. But frankly I think that in the case of John Kerry, I’m not quite sure where this stands legally. I think it was an annulment from the Catholic Church.
But I do think that that’s an area that the public may want to know.
NORVILLE: Why? Why would the public care?
FIEDLER: Well, because our role in the media is basically to bring forward the information that voters may or may not find relevant to their decision. Now, a lot of what we find may be absolutely extraneous. And a lot of what we find may be to the public even offensive.
But what’s important for us is to just at least bring it forward without judgment and let the public act on it and I think in this case that’s exactly what “The Chicago Tribune” did.
NORVILLE: Sally Quinn, is Jack Ryan naive in thinking that something like this that was part of his divorce proceedings would have never come out into the public?
SALLY QUINN, “WASHINGTON POST”: I think so. I just—I can’t imagine in today’s world any politician running for office, particularly a higher office like Senate, the Senate or vice presidency or the presidency, and not expect everything in their lives to come out.
I remember when Hillary Clinton first came to the White House and she was so shocked at the kind of scrutiny she was getting and she said don’t we have any zone of privacy? Well, the answer is no, particularly in the White House. There is no zone of privacy. And I’m not saying this is a good thing, but I’m saying that anyone who goes into public life needs to understand that they probably aren’t going to be able to keep any secrets.
And I do agree with Michael, though. I’m not sure why “The Trib” went after this story in the first place. But in the case of Jack Ryan, I just think he must not have had a public career in mind when he went to these sex clubs.
NORVILLE: I don’t understand where the line is, where the press is supposed to say, stop. We don’t go past this point. Sally, as Mr. Ryan said, it was not infidelity. It was not me breaking a vow to my wife. I was not breaking any laws. It is legal to go to these avant-garde clubs. Where’s the crime?
QUINN: Well, there is no crime. But I do think it’s a story. I think that this is outside of the cultural norm to go to a sex club. And he did go out into a public place. He could easily have been recognized by a friend or photographed by somebody, so he was taking a chance on getting caught.
So I don’t—I really don’t think that’s—that is delving into somebody’s private life when they have gone to a public place that is outside the cultural norm.
NORVILLE: But would you say, then, the flip side, that if this had happened, I don’t know, if they were swingers in the privacy of their own home with other couples, that would have been off-limits to the media?
QUINN: I think what they do, the two of them in their own home, is off-limits to the media. I think, if they’re swingers, it’s going to get out, and that, again, it goes against the cultural norm.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing or a good thing. But I’m saying that if you want to go into public office you’d better think very hard how you’re going to behave because it’s going to get out. It always does.
NORVILLE: Michael Isikoff, Jack Ryan just a moment ago that by the standard by which he has been judged, no one could pass that level of scrutiny. Is that a fair thing to say?
ISIKOFF: Well, I wouldn’t be quite that absolute about it. I’m sure there are plenty of people who could, but certainly there are a lot of people who would fall in this category.
Look, I don’t know enough about the background of this. A couple of things just come to mind. Sally’s point about, well, if you want to go into public office, you shouldn’t go in a public place. I think it’s true, although my understanding is this happened a number of years ago. He didn’t hold public office at the time. He may not have even been contemplating public office at the time. So I think you get some latitude there.
This one baffles me a little bit based on what I know. But I don’t think that there’s a sort of hard-and-fast rule you can draw in these instances, in these sorts of cases. I think everything is particular to the circumstances. I think there used to be a hard-and-fast rule that the press never went after this stuff.
NORVILLE: Those days are gone, aren’t they?
ISIKOFF: Yes. Well, those days are surely gone.
And, actually, it’s interesting. I’ve written a bit about this in past years, about how that evolution began. It began, you know—John Kennedy is always sort of cited as exhibit A of—the press never touched it. Well, it’s actually what the press learned and what the public learned after John Kennedy’s death that I think caused the thinking on it. You know, you can date it to the Church Committee in 1977, when they discovered that one of the lovers that John Kennedy was having in the White House happened to be the girlfriend...
NORVILLE: Connected to the mob.
ISIKOFF: Of a Chicago mobster who had been hired by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro. And then I think at that point people said, well, yes, I guess there are circumstances in which one’s private life can, in fact, have public consequences.
NORVILLE: Well, he was also president of the United States at that time, too, and he was married.
I want to get back to the history in just a moment.
But, Tom, I want to ask you, Jack Ryan also worried about the future impact, that it’s going to be real hard, he contends, to get solid citizens to step up to the plate and say, I’m going to go out there and engage in the political fray. Do you think there is going to be a chilling effect based on these kinds of stories?
FIEDLER: No, not really.
I think what he’s saying is really—it’s self-serving. It’s to suggest that everybody behaves in the same manner that I have and so therefore only people who are somehow unworthy are going to be able to step forward and run for office.
But I want to touch back on something that Sally said about the cultural norms. What;s really at stake here is that Jack Ryan was seeking the nomination in the Republican Party. He was going to represent the Republican Party. This is a party that has embraced values as really the heart and soul of what they are going to appeal to voters all about. And to the extent that there is a candidate whose behavior might be contrary, I would say extremely contrary to the values you hear talked about publicly, that becomes an issue that I would think the voters would want to know about and I believe is something that the media would have an obligation to put forward, not to judge, but to put it forward and let the voters judge.
I’m going to let that be the last word for the moment. We’ll take a short break. More with my guests right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time, never. These allegations are false.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: A U.S. Senate candidate drops out after claims of sex club antics with his wife. Has reporting on candidates’ personal lives gone too far?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY HART, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Did I make a mistake in putting myself in circumstances that could be misconstrued? Of course I did. That goes without saying. Did I do anything immoral? I absolutely did not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: That was former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart back in 1987 on his relationship with Donna Rice.
We’re talking about political sex scandals. And I’m joined tonight by Sally Quinn, Michael Isikoff, and Tom Fiedler.
Tom, your paper broke that story back in ‘87 and a lot of people look at it as sort of the starting point for this debate over just how much personal information is public domain. Give us the nutshell of the Gary Hart story and why it was something the paper felt it needed to report.
FIEDLER: Well, it primarily grew out of Senator Hart’s own statements when he ran for president, when he announced for president that he wanted to be held to a higher standard, when, at the same time, there were many people who were saying privately, and not so privately—in fact it appeared in “Newsweek” magazine a quote that he may have a problem getting the nomination if his womanizing becomes public.
And he vehemently denied that that was an issue. In fact, the famous line out of that was in “The New York Times” magazine was, “Follow me; you’ll be bored,” insisting that there was nothing about those allegations. So, ultimately, what we showed in the stories that ran in early May of 1987 was that he was carrying on a relationship with Donna Rice, a woman who had no role in his campaign and, of course, was not his wife. And that seemed to call into question his public statements.
It was really a question of doing something in private that he was saying in public you weren’t doing, sheer hypocrisy, if not dishonesty.
NORVILLE: It was the hypocrisy then that got “The Herald” going? It wasn’t the relationship? It was the public utterance about it?
FIEDLER: Yes, I think that was at the center of it, although also a strong argument could be made that somebody running for the presidency and obviously the power involved and the ability to be compromised in that power, blackmailed, so to speak, that was present.
And if you were going to be acting in a way where you were subjecting yourself to that, there was an enormous risk there that would also I think have been a question that voters would have felt important to know.
NORVILLE: And, Michael Isikoff, when you first got wind of the Monica Lewinsky involvement with President Clinton, what was the thought process that you and the rest of the team there at “Newsweek” had to go through, because now you’re talking about a man who does sit at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
ISIKOFF: Oh, it was long and tortured and a lot of factors came into play. At the time, if you remember, there was a lawsuit going on, the Paula Jones lawsuit, in which a federal judge had ruled that the plaintiff, Paula Jones’ lawyers, could inquire into Bill Clinton’s relations with other government employees, both state, as Paula Jones was, and federal.
So one of the striking things that—about the Lewinsky episode is that his relationship with Lewinsky begins after the lawsuit was filed, while it was pending before the courts, and then he continued to have contact with her after a time that a federal judge had said that he was going to have to answer questions about it. And, of course, then it really sort of went sort of full bore when she subpoenaed and he does ultimately have to answer questions under oath.
And a federal judge later found him in contempt of court for giving dishonest answers to those questions.
Sally Quinn, give us a little perspective on this whole notion of the press reporting on these kinds of issues. How does the public generally react when they see these kinds of linkages made with elected officials or people who are seeking elected office?
QUINN: Well, I think it depends on who you’re talking about.
But I think great—with great interest, it seems to me
NORVILLE: We like to hear these jazzy stories.
QUINN: Yes, we do. The public loves to hear the stories. And then they love to say, oh, my God, how can the press do this?
But when you’re talking about what the standards are and how you draw the line, the old line about, you know, I can’t define pornography. I just know it when I see it. And I think that’s the same issue here with any news organization. Every single case is different and every single judgment, every single decision is made individually, so there really is no line to draw.
But I think particularly as you get higher up and when you’re talking about somebody who is president of the United States or wants to be president of the United States, I think almost anything is fair game, because what you’re talking about here is not whether they’re doing something moral or immoral, but you’re talking about judgment.
QUINN: And I think in Bill Clinton’s case, I think one of the things that had so many people upset, particularly Democrats who were against him, was the fact that he had already, as Michael said, been involved in several of these other incidents. And so everyone was out there looking for him. He had to know he was going to get caught.
QUINN: And the bad judgment it showed for him to do this knowing he was probably going to get caught, and what ultimately happened is that it pretty much destroyed his second term and it caused a lot of damage to the administration.
NORVILLE: Judgment is a word we’ve heard all three of you mention.
When we come back, we’re going to ask about the press judgment. How far might this go? More with my guests after this.
NORVILLE: Back with our panel.
As far as the personal going public, have we seen the worst or can it get even more dicey.
Sally, what do you think?
QUINN: Stay tuned. I think that every time we think we have seen the worst, it always gets even worse, so I would expect that we are in for some more surprises.
ISIKOFF: Sure. There are always new candidates, new facts, new allegations. I am sure this will be a perennial issue.
NORVILLE: And you don’t think that there’s a line that we won’t cross?
ISIKOFF: Oh, no, I think there are lines. And I think that they often are crossed, and sometimes legitimately, sometimes not so. It’s just very hard to sort of draw a general rule in this, because I think, as Sally said before, it’s individual. It’s driven by individual circumstances and individual facts.
NORVILLE: Tom Fiedler, what could possibly trump some of the stuff that we have seen in terms of personal information going public?
FIEDLER: Well, the volume obviously with 24 hours news and the Internet and so forth.
But there is a common thread here. Barney Frank once said that every politician is entitled to privacy, but no politician is entitled to hypocrisy. And hypocrisy is really what is at the root of all of these cases, from Gary Hart to Jack Ryan. It’s saying one thing in public and doing another thing in private. That will continue to be covered by the media in any form that it’s out there.
NORVILLE: But some people would say, where did the media get elected to be the arbiter of these things?
FIEDLER: Well, we are not elected, but our role is to provide the information that people may or may not use to cast an informed vote. They can disregard what we bring or they can act on it.
And, frankly, if the information we bring forward is of no use to them, they will ignore us. And that hasn’t happened in these cases.
NORVILLE: And, Michael, do you think there will be chilling effect on people declaring their candidacy in the future?
ISIKOFF: No, because I think people still want to be in public office. Actually, the most fascinating thing I thought in your interview was when you were pressing Ryan, why did he get out of the race? I thought that was a very good question. And I suspect that, if he really wanted to fight it, he might well have been able to do so.
NORVILLE: Well, he is still officially on the ballot. Do you think he will stay there? Do you think there is a chance he would throw his hat back in?
ISIKOFF: Oh, I have no idea. I just know what he said to you. But it wasn’t quite absolute that he was getting out. He didn’t hint that he was getting back in, but, yes, I think you brought out a very good point. Well, why didn’t he sign the paper and get out of the race by now?
NORVILLE: All right.
Sally Quinn from “The Washington Post,” Michael Isikoff from “Newsweek” magazine, Tom Fiedler with “The Miami Herald,” it’s been great to have you on. I appreciate all of you for being with us.
ISIKOFF: Thank you.
FIEDLER: Thanks for having me.
NORVILLE: We’ll be right back.
NORVILLE: Send us your ideas and comments to us at NORVILLE@MSNBC.com. Some of them are posted on our Web page. That address is NORVILLE.MSNBC.com, which is the same place you can sign up for our handy-dandy newsletter.
Thanks for watching. I’m Deborah Norville.
Coming up tomorrow, two controversial men, each in their own arena. First off, the Reverend Al Sharpton, a speaking role at the Democratic Convention coming up, and he is hosting, you got it, a reality show. We will get the lowdown. Then we’ll take you to Las Vegas. Who is behind America’s No. 1 tourist town? We will meet the very outspoken and always colorful Mayor Oscar Goodman. That and more when you join us tomorrow night. We’ll see you then.
Coming up next now, Joe Scarborough with an exclusive story. What one couple saw on board an airline flight was shocking, disturbing, and scary. You don’t want to miss it. Stay tuned.
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