Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tom DeFrank '67 makes a stir with Ford book

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dead men do tell tales: The late President Gerald Ford believed a successor, Bill Clinton, had a sex addiction and felt Hillary Clinton had "unlimited ambition" but the country was not ready for a woman president.

These juicy nuggets and more are included in private interviews Ford had with journalist Thomas DeFrank over the course of 16 years. DeFrank agreed to keep the conversations secret until Ford died, and after Ford's death at age 93 last December, DeFrank has published his book, "Write It When I'm Gone."

In comments that would have drawn major headlines at the time, DeFrank said Ford thought it might have been best if President George W. Bush dumped Dick Cheney as his vice presidential running mate in 2004 because of his muscular views on the Iraq war.

The book, which came out this week, is "Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford," by Tom DeFrank, Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News and a '67 A&M grad. Here, the Baltimore Sun blogs about the journalistic ethics in DeFrank's deal with Ford:

DeFrank is a solid reporter who made a pact with the former president. It began when Ford, as the vice president, blurted out to DeFrank that President Nixon couldn't survive and he would be the president, adding "but when the pages of history of written, nobody can say I contributed to it." Realizing that he had spoken out of school, he extracted from the reporter a promise that he would only write about his statement until after his death. DeFrank, who concedes he was a scared 28-year-old newsman, gave up a worldwide scoop for the promise of future candor.

... DeFrank will get his share of criticism for not reporting what Ford told him at that time, but his book raises some interesting questions about the relationships between journalists and political figures. The Scooter Libby case brought on criticism that journalists in Washington are too close to political leaders and all too often traffic in information provided by nameless sources.

But DeFrank did some good stuff, as we say in journalism. Ford said, for example, that when asked about Clinton in public, he would only say that he voted for former Sen. Robert Dole to be the president. But to DeFrank, he said, "Clinton's got a sex sickness. I mean that." Later on, he said, "he's so sick he gets away with it."

MSNBC publishes DeFrank's own words -- an excerpt from the book describing how the deal was struck.

Fittingly for Halloween, the Detroit Free Press' headline is "Ford sounds off from beyond grave." News outlets around the country and globe have written or picked up the story, with various takes on Ford's comments, including CNN, Newsday, London Telegraph, Australia's The Age (Melbourne) and Sydney Morning Herald, Canada's National Post; and a Washington Post blog eavesdrops on Karl Rove at DeFrank's book release party.