Note to readers: George Stephanopoulos signed in on Good Morning America Monday (Dec. 14th), joining incumbent co-anchor Robin Roberts and replacing Diane Sawyer. It's been a little over a decade since he toured the country on behalf of All Too Human, his look back at the tarnished Clinton administration. Absent any entourage or pretense, he visited Dallas during that time for a book-signing and a round of interviews. Your friendly content provider accompanied him for much of that day. Here's how it went. This article was first published on March 20, 1999.
By ED BARK
Limousine? Entourage? Security?
Maybe for Monica Lewinsky on her ongoing book tour. But not for George Stephanopoulos,whose own telltale hardback, All Too Human, is battling to topple Monica's Story from the No. 1 spot on non-fiction bestseller lists.
"So strange. My goodness," he says after being shown a preliminary USA Today survey that says his book already is outselling Monica's two-to-one.
Stephanopoulos and his interviewer have just been driven to the Crescent Court hotel in an unimposing 1996 white Mercury Sable with 85,000 miles on it.
The former senior adviser to President Clinton flew alone from Phoenix to Dallas Wednesday after appearing on The Tonight Show Tuesday. The band serenaded him with the theme from the 1973 James Bond movie Live and Let Die. ("Is that what they played!")
Stephanopoulos prefers to be a chorus of one during a marathon book tour scheduled to stretch into May.
"Generally, I'm just out on my own," he says, striking a responsive chord. A major media star fending for himself is both rare and refreshing, even if Stephanopoulos doesn't need anyone to instruct him about staying "on message."
That was his principal job when he worked for Clinton, who doesn't talk to him anymore. He and Monica both. Some now call Stephanopoulos "The Commontraitor," referring to the book he's promoting and his candid opinions as a paid analyst for ABC News and Newsweek.
"See, I can understand why people would say that. But I don't think they're actually looking at the history of the events," he says. "If anything, in my first year out of the White House (1997), people were saying I was too sympathetic. But events changed . . . It was difficult in the past year because I was trying to be honest and dispassionate and analytical. But it was almost perceived as if I'd walked out of the White House one day and revealed the Monica Lewinsky story myself, when in fact I was just responding to the events as they happened.
"I can only imagine what people would be saying if I somehow tried to tell them that what the president did was OK. Or that he was telling the truth, when in fact I didn't really believe that."
Hurricane Monica first hit in January 1998, more than a year after a burned-out Stephanopoulos had resigned his White House post. The revelations caused him to scrap much of what he had written and delay publication to see whether Clinton's presidency would survive.
The book's prologue, in which he recalls dreaming of "nude pinups of Monca" in a "pocket-sized room" across from the Oval Office, is dated Jan. 31. All Too Human hit bookstores just five weeks later.
"I really developed a much more personal narrative after everything broke," Stephanopoulos says. "I realized that I had to dig a little deeper and write it much more from the heart."
The book mentions just one firsthand brush between the author and Lewinsky, whom he characterizes as a "pretty, busty, flirty intern." It was on a Saturday morning in late 1996, when she approached him outside a Starbucks coffee shop and asked, "Does your president tell the truth?"
Aha, if only he'd known. And if Stephanopoulos really knows anything more, he's not telling. But "sure," he did watch the televised Monica-Barbara Walters spectacle. Every last minute of it.
"I thought she had a very composed, well-coached start," he says. "And then it started to fall apart over the course of the interview. I think she still has no clue that she had done anything wrong.
"It was, in a sense, gripping television," he adds. "You had to watch. I watched it with a group of friends. It was kind of like interactive television. We were all talking about it was we were watching.
"But," he adds, "I think it was also as much as most people wanted to see."
Or read? It's tempting to interpret virtually everything Stephanopoulos says as a calculated "spin" of sorts. In this case, the not-so-subliminal message seems to be: Why buy her redundant book when mine is now in stores?
He's affable enough, though. Smiling frequently and speaking expansively, Stephanopoulos seems intent on making every sales pitch count. But when it's over, it's over.
During his 24-hour stay in Dallas, he has a jammed schedule of 11 interviews and a public appearance at a Borders bookstore. Small talk isn't in the cards. A reporter is allowed to stay with Stephanopoulos and ride with him to his book-signing event. But there'll be no more questions or, as it turns out, even pleasantries. He's in the front seat resting his voice while the reporter sits in back, mum as instructed.
Earlier at the Crescent, Stephanopoulos quickly retreats to his hotel room between interviews with The Dallas Morning News and Channel 11's Positively Texas! show. He balks at doing a third Q&A with cable's MSNBC ("This was not on my schedule"), but performs flawlessly when the camera lights go on. Then it's briskly back to his hotel room again, with a Diet Coke in hand and no further comment.
His first event in Dallas is at KLIF-AM (570) radio studios, where conservative talk show host Kevin McCarthy takes obvious delight in describing Stephanopoulos as a "former inner-circle acolyte, now appalled outsider."
First, though, McCarthy wants to settle a bet. He has wagered $20 that he's taller than his guest, who's listed at 5-foot-7 but seems shorter. They stand side by side, with McCarthy looking to be at least a fingernail taller. Stephanopoulos good-naturedly demands that he remove his shoes. McCarthy does so and still come out on top.
The host then plays hardball, at one point terming Hillary Rodham Clinton a "socialist."
"Socialist? Please, Kevin, give me a break," Stephanopoulos retorts.
Some of the call-ins are rough, too. One listener terms Stephanopoulos a backstabber, asking, "How are you any different than Linda Tripp?"
His book is honorable, her actions were not, he replies.
After the show, Stephanopoulos says he's sometimes surprised by the "vehement" reactions to his book. "That said, it's also been very interesting to me, and gratifying. This is my first book, and I really poured everything I had into it. And it's incredibly gratifying to go out and see that people actually have read it and want to tell you what they think . . . I want to explain the book and what I did to anybody who wants to listen."
There are still plenty of takers. In the past 10 days, Stephanopoulos and his book have been sliced and diced incessantly on TV and in print. His tour has barely begun, though. Perhaps he should practice what he preaches about the perils of overexposure.
"I think there's been a basic demystification of the presidency, which the Clinton administration has hastened even more," he says near the end of our assigned time together. "At some level, that can be a good thing. We shouldn't expect heroes or kings in the Oval Office. But we did lose something by carrying over the very informal nature of the campaign into Clinton's first year in the White House. I think we sacrificed a bit of the aura of the office, which can be a source of presidential power. Too many pictures of him jogging and stupid things like going on MTV and talking about your underwear. People turn off.
"We should have learned more quickly that the president's words are a precious resource. And sometimes you have to pull back and not have him always in your face. It devalues what he says if he's talking all the time. It seems like The Truman Show."
For now, though, the Stephanopoulos show is in full view. Pulling up at Borders, he is buoyed by the hundreds lined up outside the store to see him. Bounding from the Mercury Sable, without so much as a goodbye -- "I'll get out here" -- he zips inside to cheers and an overheard observation that "he's cute on TV."
The first book buyer in line is Norma Williams, who's celebrating a milestone birthday.
"Happy 70th," George Robert Stephanopoulos writes above a decidedly shorthand autograph. If it weren't affixed to his book, you might never guess who "G.R. C I I L" is.
"I've been seeing him on a lot of the talk shows," Williams later says. "And I thought he'd be an interesting person to meet."